Mystery Genre: Definition, Characteristics & Elements

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:20 General Plot
  • 1:15 Literary Elements
  • 2:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we'll define the mystery genre of detective writing and examine some of the characteristics and elements that make this genre unique, such as the use of dramatic tension.


The mystery genre is a type of fiction in which a detective, or other professional, solves a crime or series of crimes. It can take the form of a novel or short story. This genre may also be called detective or crime novels. The purpose of a mystery novel is to solve a puzzle and to create a feeling of resolution with the audience.

General Plot

The main plot, or key events, in a mystery novel or short story focuses on the crime that needs solving. The protagonist, or central character, is the detective, and the rest of the characters are usually the suspects.

The plot of a mystery begins with an inciteful action, such as a murder, and uses suspense to draw the reader into the story. As the protagonist, the detective works to solve the mystery and often finds him or herself in danger. Each suspect and his or her motives are examined in the story.

Dramatic tension is heightened with foreshadowing, a literary device that hints at events to come, as well as plot twists and suspects' motives. During the course of the investigation, the detective examines all clues, motives, and alibis, which support suspects' whereabouts at the time of the crime, to find the guilty person.

Literary Elements

Authors often make use of tropes, also known as figures of speech, or other plot-related tools in mystery stories, such as foreshadowing, suspense and inference gaps. They may also hide evidence or try to distract readers with red herrings.

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