Mystery Story Writing Activities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Many students find mystery writing captivating and engaging. This lesson offers some activities that will get students thinking about how to write strong mystery stories.

Writing Mysteries with Students

Mysteries lend themselves to the writing process since they require careful planning and thoughtful revisions. Mysteries are also exciting and offer plenty of opportunities for experimentation with language, structure and literary devices. This lesson offers you some activities that will help you get your students going as mystery writers. The activities should be modified to meet the age, sophistication level, interests and abilities of the students in your class.

Activities for Character

Character development can play a major part in mysteries. These activities will help your students build and think about their characters.

Draw Your Characters

Before students start writing, ask them to choose two or three main characters to focus on. These might be protagonists, criminals or supporting characters. Have students envision their characters and sketch pictures of them in their notebooks. Under each picture, ask students to write at least five character traits that go with the characters. Let students share their work and talk about how they will express the character traits in their writing.


In mysteries, motivation is key. What makes someone commit a crime? What motivates someone to try to solve it? Help your students create charts in their notebooks. One column should list characters' names. A second column should list motivations, and a third column should list actions. For instance, students might develop a character named Greg. They might imagine that Greg is motivated by money, and that as a result he steals from all of his friends. Have students complete the chart for all of the major characters they plan to include.

Witness, Witness

Many mystery stories have a witness, someone who sees the crime occur. Ask your students to reflect in their journals about how they would feel and act if they witnessed a crime. Then, have them choose one of their own characters as a witness. When they write the character, encourage them to refer to their reflections to make the witness' actions and emotions as authentic as possible.

Activities for Plot

Of course, without a plot, there is no mystery! These activities will help your students plan and construct engaging plots as they write.

What's the Mystery?

Before students write their mysteries, they need to be able to articulate explicitly what the mystery is. To do this, ask your students to work with partners. Have each student spend five minutes describing the mystery of their story in as clear terms as they can. Students do not need to have solutions to the mysteries prepared, but they need to be able to explain what the mystery is. After each partner has shared, give them an opportunity to ask each other questions and offer feedback. Challenge students to incorporate this feedback once they start writing.

Additional Suspects

One of the things that can make plots of mysteries interesting is if there are multiple suspects, only one of whom turns out to be guilty. Have your students work in their notebooks for this activity. They should create a chart and in one column, they should write the names of at least three innocent suspects. In the second column, they should write suspicious activities these characters will be involved in as part of the plot. In the third column, they should write the suspects' alibis or how they finally get off the hook.

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