5 Tips for Writing Mysteries and Thrillers That Will Hook Readers from Start to Finish

Posted on November 13, 2018

by April S

Did you know November is Nanowrimo (short for National Novel Writing Month)? Nanowrimo takes place each November challenging writers to complete a novel in 30 days. The novel must include at least 50,000 words, which amounts to producing about 1,667 per day for a month.

The Library can help you on your journey to becoming a published writer. We have experienced librarians that can help you find the information and resources you need.

5 Tips for Writing Great Mysteries, Suspense or Thrillers

The tips below were pulled from articles written by experts in the field.

1. Give Your Reader Information

Provide details that will make the story interesting in some way for readers.

The suspense drives the narrative and keeps your reader interested.

~ 7 Tips on Writing Great Mystery and Suspense Novels – Brian A. Klems, Writer’s Digest

2. Craft a Strong Hook

Think about what you can do to pull readers into the story from the start.

The hook is typically a line or image that creates curiosity and questions that keep readers wanting to know more.

~ Writing a Mystery Novel: 7 Items Your Story Needs – Now Novel

3. Create Complex Characters

Characters are only limited by your imagination. Flesh out your characters by adding to their backstory and including details that will make them interesting to readers.

The first place to fortify a thriller is its cast of characters. A critical mistake made here can undermine even the best story concept.

~ The 5 C’s of Writing a Great Thriller Novel – James Scott Bell, Writer’s Digest

4. Explore Psychological Tension

Time to throw a wrench in the works. To tighten the tension in your novel add conflicts that are tied to the character’s internal goals and their backstory.

The best mysteries are about the exploration and resolution of psychological tension. In other words, how do the characters interact? What do they want?

~ Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries – Dennis Palumbo, Psychology Today

5. People Respond to Emotion

How a story makes a person feel is just as important as any blockbuster plotline.

People do respond to fast-paced writing and smart plotting, but I think emotion is just as important.

~ How to Write a Thriller – Lucy Feldman, The Wall Street Journal

Books for Writers

The books below are geared towards writers (aspiring and experienced). These books include incredibly helpful tips on:

  • Adding suspense to captivate readers
  • Structure and pacing
  • Subplots and plot twists
  • Writing a memorable story

If you’re looking for information on another topic just let us know – call 419.259.5200 or fill out our online form.

Mysteries & Thrillers

Writing And Selling Your Mystery Novel (revised and expanded): The Complete Guide to Mystery, Suspense, and Crime by Hallie Ephron

This book features solid strategies for drafting, revising, and selling an intriguing novel that grips your readers and refuses to let them go. New York Times best-selling author Hallie Ephron shows you how to:

  • Create a compelling sleuth and a worthy villain
  • Construct a plot rich in twists, red herrings, and misdirection
  • Bring the story to a satisfying conclusion
  • Sharpen characters and optimize pace during revision
  • Seek publication through both traditional and indie paths

Filled with helpful worksheets and exercises for every step of the process, this book reveals the keys to writing a memorable story that will have fans of mystery, suspense, and crime clamoring for more.

Writing Thrillers: The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Tales of Suspense by Michael Newton

In this invaluable guide, thriller master Michael Newton shows you how to develop compelling plots and intriguing characters that grab readers from page 1 and won’t let them go. You’ll learn how to craft heroes and villains that are both believable and original and ground them in situations that push them to the limits of physical, emotional and mental endurance. You’ll also find details that will imbue your thriller with authenticity, from the specifics of using guns and knives to the inner workings of secret government agencies.

From global conspiracies and knife-wielding psychopaths to ruthless cults and political schemers, “Writing Thrillers” will give you the tools you need to keep pulses racing, palms sweating, and readers on the edges of their seats.

Mastering Suspense, Structure and Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories That Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats by Jane Cleland

Suspense is one of the most powerful tools a writer has for captivating readers–but it isn’t just for thrillers. From mainstream fiction to memoir, suspense creates the emotional tension that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

“Mastering Suspense, Structure, & Plot” is your hands-on guide to weaving suspense into your narrative. Award-winning author Jane K. Cleland teaches you how to navigate genre conventions, write for your audience, and build gripping tension to craft an irresistible page-turner.

Packed with case studies, exercises, and dozens of examples from best-selling authors, “Mastering Suspense, Structure, & Plot” is the key to writing suspenseful, engaging stories that leave your readers wanting more.

Mastering Plot Twists: How to Use Suspense, Targeted Storytelling Strategies, and Structure to Captivate Your Readers by Jane K. Cleland

Unlock the secrets to superior plot twists! The key to keeping people on the edge of their seat–from memoirs to thrillers and stage plays to screenplays–is filling your stories with unexpected twists and turns. By integrating Plot Twists, Plot Reversals, and Moments of Heightened Danger (TRDs) at crucial points, you can captivate your readers with I-can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens-next intrigue.

Building on the award-winning instruction provided in “Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot,” Cleland’s newest guide will help you create effective and credible twists, creating the kind of stories that will keep your readers up long into the night.

Learn More About Famous Mystery Writers

Agatha Christie: The Queen of Crime by Various Authors

Keen to learn but short on time? Find out everything you need to know about the life and work of Agatha Christie in just 50 minutes with this straightforward and engaging guide! Few writers have ever shaped a genre to the extent that Agatha Christie influenced crime fiction. The prolific British author, who penned a total of 67 novels over a span of more than 50 years, has had an enduring influence on every successive generation of crime novelists, having established many of the conventions that we associate with the genre today. Her plotting was so innovative that it often shocked or even scandalized readers in the early 20th century, and modern-day readers remain captivated by the challenge of unravelling one of her mysteries before the culprit is unmasked at the end of the book.

From Holmes to Sherlock : The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias Bostrom

Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a unique literary character who has remained popular for over a century and is appreciated more than ever today. But what made this fictional character, dreamed up by a small-town English doctor in the 1880s, into such a lasting success, despite the author’s own attempt to escape his invention?

In “From Holmes to Sherlock,” Swedish author and Sherlock Holmes expert Mattias Boström recreates the full story behind the legend for the first time. It includes tales of unexpected fortune, accidental romance, and inheritances gone awry, and tells of the actors, writers, readers, and other players who have transformed Sherlock Holmes from the gentleman amateur of the Victorian era to the odd genius of today. Told in fast-paced, novelistic prose, “From Holmes to Sherlock” is a singular celebration of the most famous detective in the world—a must-read for newcomers and experts alike.

A Mysterious Something In The Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler by Tom Williams

Drawing on new interviews, previously unpublished letters, and archives, this biography casts a new light on Raymond Chandler, one of the most mysterious of writers. The man revealed was troubled by loneliness and desertion from an early age – experiences that informed his writing as much as they scarred his life. This long-awaited biography shadows one of the true literary giants of the 20th century and considers how crime writing was raised to the level of art.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak

A plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers’ lives. Here, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancy’s adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon? The brainchild of children’s book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO after her father died. In this century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman.

Articles for Writers

7 Tips on Writing Great Mystery and Suspense Novels – Writer’s Digest

Writing a Mystery Novel: 7 Items Your Story Needs – Now Novel

How to Write a Great Mystery – NPR

Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries – Psychology Today

The 5 C’s of Writing a Great Thriller Novel – Writer’s Digest

How to Write a Thriller – The Wall Street Journal

Toledo Library Blog Posts on Writing

Writers on Writing: Tips for Aspiring Writers

5 Tips to Improve Your Writing Skills

The Art of Storytelling: 5 Tips on Crafting Compelling Storylines

How to Write a Novel in a Month

Learn How to Publish a Book

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