In general, mysteries follow the typical story structure of an enticing beginning, a middle building tension to the climax, and a satisfying ending. Sometimes these stories feel more like a circle, though, as they may open with a crime (often a murder) or other event that needs investigating and end with that mystery being solved. Many of them are part of a series of books that have the same protagonist. Those books may end with an event that leaves open the possibility of a new mystery.
Mysteries tend to be somewhat formulaic, with subgenres that have characteristics readers can rely on. The protagonists range from hard-boiled detectives to amateur sleuths and can be any age. Though characterization and setting are important elements, the plot is always the central focus of the story.
Clues are interspersed throughout the story so readers feel involved in solving the mystery along with the protagonist. An occasional red herring to throw the detective—and readers—off track is fine, but the twists and turns of the plot must make sense when the outcome is revealed. Mysteries must be solved using logic rather than supernatural means or deus ex machina.
This is a genre that’s popular with readers of all ages. Some mysteries involve elements of romance, fantasy, or suspense, and the degree of danger to the protagonist varies. Factual accuracy is important, and certain types of mysteries require extensive research to create a believable story.
Some common types of mysteries are:
The Cozy: usually involves an amateur sleuth in a small-town setting, with little violence involved
—For more on cozies, check out http://www.cozy-mystery.com/Definition-of-a-Cozy-Mystery.html
Private Eyes: a hired investigator follows clues to solve the mystery
—A good site for more info is http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/PI.shtml
Hard-boiled Detectives: police investigate crimes involving violence, with a gritty feel to the story
—If you’re interested in crime fiction, you might enjoy http://www.crimeculture.com/
For more tips on writing mysteries, here are a few helpful sites:
http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/genrefiction/tp/mysteryrules.htm General mystery writing tips
http://www.right-writing.com/child-mysteries.html Writing mysteries for kids
http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/floyd.shtml Writing short stories
What type of mystery stories do you enjoy? Who are some of your favorite mystery authors? Who is your favorite fictional detective?