IWSG 45: What I Love About Mysteries

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.




Stephen Tremp | Pat Garcia | Angela Wooldridge |

Victoria Marie Lees | Madeline Mora-Summonte

IWSG Day Question: What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

I loved reading mysteries for a long while before writing a word. When I got going, I wrote shorts, learning and practicing a long list of skills. What I found for my style and ability was mysteries needed strong bones.

Therefore, planning and executing an outline turned out to be my favorite element.

Not every word, but specific plot points in the work need to be clearly placed. When the victim dies. The placement of clues and how/where to hide them. Following them up and determining if they are red herrings or more. The tripping up of the hero and the uncovering of the villain.

I also cross the genre with fantasy, paranormal, science fiction. My latest WIP is crossed with magical realism which may land up being urban fantasy, depending on my rewrites. Turns out there is a fine line between them that I keep crossing.

I’ve even tried my hand at a middle grade mystery and had so much fun.

The outline is only the beginning of crafting a story. The bones of it if you will. And from the bones comes the strength that allows me to the flesh out the rest.

How do you work out the bones—plotter or pantser?


98 responses to “IWSG 45: What I Love About Mysteries

  1. I work out the bones of a story by plantsing. I straddle the world’s of plotter and pantser, so I do outline my stories. But then, using them as guidelines, I let my characters take over in the storytelling. Sometimes they stray from the outline and come up with a different plot point that actually works better.

  2. I was a ‘panster’ for my first manuscript (a cozy mystery), but am taking a more ‘plotter’ approach for the next one. I’m hoping by doing more outlining and thinking this thru upfront, there will be less rework along the way.

  3. It’s awesome that you love your chosen genre so much. Happy writing.

  4. I like how your core genre is mysteries and you expand from there. Definitely something for me to think about.

  5. Very cool that you also grew venturing into other realms too. Enjoyed reading.

  6. Definitely a combo of planner and plotter. I believe Lidy expressed my writing method very well. High 5 for Lidy! I have never been a fan of having certain plot points at exact places in the ms e.g. at 25% the victim dies, etc. I know it makes a good structure, but so far, I haven’t tried to use that thinking. I just let it flow naturally and then clean it up after the first draft. Enjoyed learning your writing process. Thank you.
    JQ Rose

  7. I grew up reading mysteries and still love the genre, although I haven’t written much in it beyond having a mystery be the subplot. I’m definitely a plotter at heart as knowing what will happen helps me write what comes before.

  8. I love all these things about writing mysteries as well! Hate sometimes too. 🙂 Happy IWSG!

  9. I’m a bit panster. Sometimes I have no idea of more than the first scene.

  10. Awesome that you can write in so many genres. I love reading mysteries as well as fantasy but only write MG and YA fantasy. I tend to plot important points in a story and then plot as I go.

  11. I love mystery – it is so incredibly versitile! I’m definitely a plotter – too much lawyer in me to be a pansters, I suppose. I think it’s a curse.

  12. I don’t have experience writing books yet, but for my current memoir, I enjoyed writing the outline, and then writing the whole first draft, and now starting the editing process. It is all exciting and mostly fun.

    Creating a new project, in the form of an outline or a focused idea, seems to be the most enjoyable part of the writing journey. I can’t wait to get to my next project. But wait, first I have to deal with a second, third,… draft of this one! 🙂

  13. I don’t write mysteries. Don’t even think I can. I think this is probably the hardest genre to write, with all those clues to take care of. As a writer, I prefer a straight-forward fantasy or sci-fi.

  14. I definitely outline and reoutline. I allow for some give as I write but I try to stick to my original plans. I wish I had the mind for mystery and I am in awe of your talents, Anna. 🙂

  15. I outline and create a timeline and character outlines. Planning can be fun.

  16. Angela Wooldridge

    Mysteries are such a great way to learn about plot structure.
    I’ve experimented in pantsing, but at heart, I’m a plotter 🙂

  17. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

    I enjoy reading mysteries from time to time, especially if they have fantasy or science fiction elements. I’m a pantser, though, so if I wanted to write one of my own, I’d probably have to do a lot of revising and editing.

  18. I am a mixed plotter and panther. So, I’m a plotter panther. I work out the bones by plotting or better said writing out an outline of what I want to see happen. I enjoy reading a good mystery and especially one that is well plotted.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  19. I like when stories cross genres – makes for fun and often surprising reading.

    I used to be more of a “pantser” but lately I fall more into the “plantser” category – a little planning and a little pantsing. 🙂

  20. I struggle every time it comes to structure. I get the concept and know when stuff is supposed to hit, but I have no idea how to apply that to my multi-POV epic adventure. I love that figuring out the bones is the best part for you. I typically have an idea of all the big things that need to happen in my story, but when I reach them and what roads I might veer off on before I get there usually change when I write.

    • Execution is the worst. For the moments I dread the most, I write 500 words or so of the scene, trying to capture the important bits.

      Then I return to the beginning of the project. When I get back to my prewriting, my mind’s been mulling it over and expanding and deepening is slightly easier.

      I hope it helps. 🙂

  21. Mostly a plotter, although I’ve since realized that so many of my best ideas only come when I’m writing the words (or I spot logic holes) that I have to go back and revise the outline on a continual basis. I’m definitely not a pantser–I have to know where I’m going–but I’m not quite a plotter either.

  22. Pantser! I go back through my manuscript after I’ve written it and add in any clues that I didn’t have before and red herrings.

  23. The analogy of bones is perfect here. I really admire anyone who can write a good mystery that keeps me guessing until the end, and positioning those clues and twists just right is essential. You made the process very clear and the challenge even clearer.

  24. I wish I knew how to outline. I’m a pantser through and through, which can get exhausting. Except for my mysteries, like you, I have to make some kind of outline, but I still do that in my head or scribble notes while writing the ms. The bones of the story mean so much.

  25. I’ve only done a little bit of mystery writing, for me the unique challenge of the genre is working out how to misdirect the reader, and how to present enough evidence that the reader can’t see the solution coming, but once the final, key piece of evidence is presented, the solution looks obvious in retrospect. Its kind of like putting pieces of a jigsaw down, but in a way that the picture isn’t obvious for as long as possible.

  26. I love to plot, but plotting a mystery needs much more attention for all the reasons you stated (red herrings). I think that’s why I can’t write a full-on mystery. Rather, I like to incorporate mysterious elements to my story. Doing that is so much fun.

  27. As a pantser, the idea of writing a mystery terrifies me. Even when I make an outline I can’t stick to it. I really admire people who have the discipline to pull this off

  28. I am trying really hard to be a better plotter. It is not easy. But I’m learning!

  29. I can’t just pants it anymore. No matter what I write, I have to have a basic outline. It might just be in my head, but I know how a story should begin and end. I know some of the in-between points but not all. As the story progresses, new ideas occur. Some will take me off track while others are good.

  30. Oh, I would probably be a plotter. 🙂

  31. Hi Anna. I take my hat off to mystery writers. My latest favorite author is Louise Penny. She’s in the mold of Agatha Christie. Great writing!

  32. I’m a plotter of mainly mysteries. I start with bones and from there construct the details but with room for the plot to evolve. However well I plot, there are always clues and red herrings that need rearranging in later drafts. I wonder how many drafts Agatha Christie needed?

  33. I wrote my first mystery short story this past month, and it was a lot of fun. I started with some ridiculous details then pondered how to make them make sense in the story. They led me to the actual cause of death and perpetrator, and then I was able to build that info in. I enjoyed it, so definitely want to try my hand at it more.

  34. I write totally organically – no plot outline – I allow it to emerge. I think if I wrote mysteries, I’d probably have to plot to work out the twists and turns.

    • Maybe, some clues/red herrings could be tossed in following your instincts then tweaked in rewrites. But I’d start off writing a short to see if you enjoy them. 🙂

  35. The mystery/suspense/thriller is my fave genre, one I gravitate to in reading and writing.
    When it comes to structure, I can formulate the actual twists and turns BUT I need to work on placement of specific plot points… that’s one of my weaker areas.

    • One of my cheats is determining my overall word count then marking middle and quarter points (approximately). It helps guide me determined my specific plot points. 🙂

  36. I’m certainly a panster. An overall idea and direction remain important, but that is about the extent. I can see that writing mystery would require a much more focuses and deliberate approach.

  37. You’re spot on with the mysteries, and thus the reason I’ve never invested enough into writing them. Granted, elements of mystery should be included in any work, and thus plotting will benefit any writer in my opinion. I’m a half and halfer, but basically, I have loose outline and write every scene in detail in my head before committing it to paper. Basically, I daydream a lot. 😉

  38. I’m very much a pantser and I think that takes mystery off the table for me. I agree with your post, that certain things need to be laid out beforehand for the sake of pacing of the story and I’m not sure I have that in me.

  39. I am probably more of a pantser but trying really hard not to be! I think there can be a lot of crossover in genre these days and it can be exciting to explore combing them.

  40. I do a little of both, but I do know a lot about my characters before I begin chapter one. They talk to me, hang around, sometimes interrupting whatever I’m trying to accomplish. Saying that makes me laugh because only another writer would understand what I’m saying. Non-writers look at me funny when I share this. LOL.

  41. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I find that I’m enjoying mysteries more and more as I get older. I think I would have always liked them if I hadn’t been afraid to read outside my comfort zone. As far as working out the bones, I’m a plotter all the way (note cards and timelines everywhere).

  42. Victoria Marie Lees

    Now you see, I’m an outliner too! I need to know where I’m going to be sure I get there and not write off on tangents. All your writing projects sound fascinating. All the luck this year!

  43. I’m pantser all the way, baby! I just love the magical process of the unfoldment of a story. I think you’re so lucky to write mysteries, I love the genre, but have failed whenever I’ve attempted writing one. Keep going, Anna 🙂

  44. Hi Anna! You made me think of this Great Lectures Course I took/listened to about fantasy. One of the points the prof makes is that the line between magic realism and fantasy are a lot fuzzier than many people think. I wish I could remember the name of the course. But basically he puts forth that the main reason we have magic realism is so that serious scholars can take certain fantastical works seriously. 😉 And some other “differences” too. This definitely sounds like an interesting work you have in progress!

  45. I can see how mystery is one genre where plotting and outlining are particularly important, so I’m glad you enjoy that stage. I’m trying to get better at it myself but I’m definitely a pantser by inclination!

  46. I’m a little bit of both, I guess the lesser of two evils doesn’t make a difference in the big pot called WIP. Great article!

  47. I’m a pantser, but crafting a solid mystery is tough. I wrote a paranormal one where I had no idea what was going to happen or how it would end, and that was pretty terrifying. Outlining mysteries is probably a good idea.

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