When you want to lead your readers on a suspenseful journey, your story must satisfy their curiosity, as well as their need for closure; unless, of course, you plan on writing a series and wish to end with a cliffhanger. The best mysteries typically include a protagonist and antagonist—which are basically a hero and a nemesis. In addition to the overall good guy/bad guy theme, a top-notch mystery should include several more key elements.
There are various styles of mysteries, such as who-done-its, where-is-it (lost items) or how-did-that-happen tales. Whichever path you decide to take, you will weave a more interesting, exciting and mysterious story if you keep these elements in mind.
A mystery is not mysterious without suspense
Mystery and suspense go hand-in-hand when it comes to holding a reader’s attention throughout a story. Suspense is a key element that separates mediocre novels from the stories we never forget. You can boost suspense by maintaining control over the release of information. Create questions in the minds of your readers and lead them to the answers—not too soon, not too late.
Drop clues along the way
In between the presentation of the unknown and the solution in a mystery, readers enjoy being part of the process. Two people might read the same book, and one will solve the mystery long before the other. It’s all about the clues. As a mystery writer, you must learn to feed your readers bits of evidence or information that helps them solve unknown variables.
You can still create a suspenseful story without clues, simply by developing the incident that creates the unknown issue, then gradually leading readers to the solution. However, the best mysteries include clues, which enables readers to become investigators and sleuths in a race for the conclusion.
Throw your readers off the path with distractions
When writing a mystery, you might want to incorporate distractions that lead your readers on a temporary “wild goose chase,” to delay the ultimate revelation that solves the puzzle. Distractions often include things like surprise characters who enter the scene and appear to be relevant to the mystery or dropping in a false clue that keeps readers occupied for a few pages or chapters.
As you thread these three key elements into a mystery, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it in a structured, organized way. Nothing is worse than reading a suspenseful story that creates confusion and causes readers to have to go flipping back pages to re-read sections and understand what’s going on. Begin with the usual components of a story, including character introductions, setting, etc., then build up suspense with an inciting incident, followed by clues and distractions, until, at last, the mystery is solved, and readers are left wanting more of your writing!