Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lisa and Laura Roecker with 8 Tips For Unlocking the Secrets of Mystery Writing

All stories have pieces that need to be put together in order for the protagonist to attain their goal. With the genre of mystery, those pieces come in the form of clues that the protagonist must assemble. If the book is well-written, those clues will nag at the reader’s mind, allowing them to try their hand at the game of “Who Dunnit?” Easier said than done is introducing those clues in a way that isn’t so obvious that the reader knows the ending before it’s reached. Still, providing clues is crucial so that the conclusion makes sense and can be tied with a nice neat bow.
Let’s take a closer look into what makes a mystery work. We all need a little help from our friends, so I’ve asked the bubbly, hilarious, and crafty sisterly duo of Lisa and Laura Roecker to chime in with their two cents. With their knock-out debut of LIAR SOCIETY, their forthcoming sequel THE LIES THAT BIND (Sourcebooks Fire, November 2012), and THE HUSH FUND (Soho Teen, July 2013) under their glittering pink belts, who better to share their insights on writing a mystery? Lisa and Laura Roecker can be found blogging here, or on Facebook and Twitter.

Tip #1: Create a setting that’s like a character. SO much about a good mystery is in the setting. Make it WORK. Books like Gretchen McNeil’s TEN are awesome because the creeptastic setting adds to the suspense and the mystery.
Tip #2: Don’t write a damsel in distress. This is a personal pet peeve of ours. It’s no fun to read about a protag who’s always being rescued.

Tip #3: Do not fall prey to the Scooby Doo ending. In the first draft of Liar Society, Kate figures out a huge chunk of the mystery via a long and detailed email from Liam. Um…no. Just no. Let things unfold organically. Do not fall into the trap of letting the bad guy explain the mystery to the reader. If you did it right, you shouldn’t have to explain!

Tip #4: We like to divide our mysteries up into three separate sections with a different suspect or red herring in each section. It helped give us some structure when we wrote the first book.

Thanks, Lisa and Laura! We’ve dug up a few additional considerations—

  • Keep the pace moving. Mysteries need tension to thrive and nothing diffuses it like too much narrative or a slowly-moving scene.

  • Piggybacking on Lisa and Laura’s tips above, your protagonist needs to take initiative but also still experience highs and lows. A super-star sleuth without faults or disappointments will fall flat.

  • Manipulate the hands of time to generate suspense. Creating deadlines or a sense of a timeline helps amp up the tension.
  • Create page turns. At the end of each chapter, building suspenseful transitions into the next chapter is crucial to maintaining tension and fluid pacing.

Can you think of other considerations when crafting a mystery? What are some of your favorite mystery books and what makes them work? What annoys you when reading a mystery? Please share to comments!

Happy writing,



  1. Just thinking out loud (I do that a lot)...all these tips and those you come up with...will apply to every genre. Even a romance must have mystery, intrigue, make the reader wonder what happens next...otherwise...why continue reading.

    *wink & a smile*

    - Mac

    1. Mac, so true. Everything must unfold, regardless of the genre. Isn't it terrible when a book is horribly predictable? Thanks for your comment!

  2. Great tips. I love mysteries where there are several viable suspects and the MC goes after the clues proactively. Fun!

    1. Jemi, me too! I love having that struggle where you think you know what is going to happen or who to blame, but then you find you're wrong. Agree on the point of a proactive MC. I just finished a MG book where the clues were all literally handed to the protag and it was frustrating to read. Thanks, Jemi!

  3. Great tips. I love mysteries where I'm thinking I'm guessing one person is the bad guy and then I see it's someone else and the seeds to guess it were there but the story is leading us in the wrong direction.

  4. Me, too Natalie. The worst is when you're able to figure out the gist and you have many more pages ahead. Striking that balance between dropping clues AND keeping the solution hidden is so hard.

  5. Love the tips. I've been contemplating a mystery and these tips will be super-helpful. Thanks, mystery-writing-divas, for the info :-)

  6. I'm so glad LiLa was able to break it down for all of us. It really helps to get the tips laid out so we can keep them in mind as we craft. Thanks for your comment, Angela!

  7. Love the tip about dividing the story into three and adding a red herring in each.

    1. Stina, isn't that priceless? Such a good tip for organizing your plot. Thanks for positive feedback!


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