Mystery Factory



Write Mystery Plots for stories or scripts

A mystery starts with a question and ends with the answer. The question starts with ‘What if …’ This question breaks down into a kaleidoscope of other questions. .. all of which must be answered by the end of the story. These questions are the life force of a mystery, the situation into which the characters are tossed and by which the reader or audience is captivated.


 Mysteries are Adventures












nibpenMickey Spillane
“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”

nibpenAnton Chekhov
“If somebody places a gun on the mantle in the first act, it must be fired before the end of the second.”

nibpenAlfred Hitchcock
“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

Building Plots

nibpenBenjamin Franklin
“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

question cube3Mysteries are incredibly flexible. They can bend and twist to fit any circumstances or situation. If you are writing an interactive mystery event, you just have to know what you have to work with in the beginning to save yourself the work of adjusting elements later on.

If you are writing a book, you have much more freedom – but you still need to know where you are going to end up. One of the great joys of being a writer is being able to lay the infrastructure so that it supports all the twists and turns you are going to pull your reader through on their way to solving the crime.why2

This does not mean you are married to a rigid outline or structure. Yes, you do have to make one, but if along the way a better idea pops up, follow it as far as you reasonable can. If this bright new idea is asking you to rearrange just about everything – it’s probably a different book. If you can easily tweak existing ideas to support the new twist – by all means follow it if it improves the story.

Mysteries are Circular by Nature

mysterycircle1Mysterys are circular by nature. Their construction is circles within circles. Because of the shape of a mystery there are many different points of entry when devising a cluetrail. In the centre of the circle is the crime. Around the circumference are the suspects. Orbiting between the centre and the circumference are the motive, method, opportunity – any one of them a point of entry into creating and solving a mystery. You can start with the big picture of what actually happened or begin with a small portion of the picture; motive, method or opportunity.


Basic Plot Points:

There is no particular order in which to begin your mystery because writing the plot is not a linear process. The setting, the characters and their motives and the crime itself are all intricately tied together.  If you are writing a scrip, then the parametres you follow are going to be narrower than if you are writing a story.

nibpenP.D. James
“With Agatha Christie ingenuity of plot was paramount – no one looked for subtlety of characterization, motivation, good writing. It was rather like a literary card trick. Today we’ve moved closer to the mainstream novel, but nevertheless we need plot.”

Plot point #1 – Setting

An interesting setting draws people in. Whether writing a novel or a script, it makes them feel like they are in a privileged position – privy to the dark secrets or strange inner life of something out of the ordinary. They get to watch something forbidden, in a safe way. In mystery events the setting refers not only to the place but what is happening in that place at the time of the mystery. 

What interesting occasion is happening when the murder occurs? For instance just having someone die at a regular house party or awards ceremony is boring. There must be some exciting reason for people to be gathered together; the guest of honor is going to prison after the party is over or to unveil a secret technology. This is a fictional event on top of if it is for someone’s birthday or anniversary.

One project I was involved in was a fundraiser for the community arts and culture centre and the local belly dance group. With a combination like Midnight Genie Bottlethat the title ‘Midnight at the Oasis‘ immediately popped into my head. Now what could be the fictional reason for the gathering? After a week of thought and trying things on I made up my own tale out of the Arabian Nights and set about using that as the raison d’être. The fictional reason for the gathering was that it was the one day out of the year that the Midnight Genie could be enticed out of his genie bottle to grant three wishes.


Plot Point #2 – Who Dies?

MotivationWho dies can be quite different in a written story than at a mystery party. In fiction writing, a writer has the ability to be subtle; in live events, not so much. The dead person in a novel can be good or bad or both. At a party, there is no room for subtly.  The dead person is always the deepest, darkest villain who truly deserves to die. Not one tear will be shed as he (or she) drops down in pain, rises up gasping for breath, pulling over chairs and knocking over lamps as he finally stumbles his miserable way out of this world.

Alice & SultanCase in point: In Midnight at the Oasis, the Sultan of Haberdashery with his drug sniffing camel Alice, is the villain. Well, the camel gets to live. The Sultan – no. A truly detestable bad guy, he gives everyone he comes in contact with a good reason for wanting him dead. Blackmail, burglary and betrayal are just of few of his horrendous habits. The Sultan has control over something which the killer and other suspects want; their hearts, their freedom, their pocketbooks. Motive is all about being in control at its bottom line. 

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    1. Hello Mystery Lover!
      A mystery has two components; ‘what actually happened’ and ‘what appeared to have happened’. You tell the story of ‘what appeared to have happened’ and your detective or protagonist figures out ‘what actually happened’. This is often accomplished by telling the story out of chronological sequence. Know what actually happened before you start, break it down into pieces and then toss them out there for your sleuth to find and put back together.
      A mystery doesn’t have to be a murder, in fact it doesn’t even have to be a crime. A ‘whodunnit’ simply means that an unknown person performed an action – no matter if the action is a murder, a theft, or the baking of a cake. Basically you want to have your theft have the motive, the method and the opportunity (The Mystery Bones) to have committed the theft and then create the clues to prove that he had, indeed, each of those three things. You will also need to create clues to show that other people also had one or two of the Bones (motive, method or opportunity) otherwise there is nothing to solve. You can get a bit of help with the clues here.
      Put the crime, or a piece of intrigue leading up to the crime, at the beginning of the story. You want to grab the reader and have them asking questions right away. Keep the action going right up until the end. ‘Give hope. Take hope away. Give hope. Take hope away.’ Let your detective make wrong assumptions and then figure out what a clue really means at the last minute. If you enjoy writing your mystery then others will enjoy reading it.