Creating Crime and Mystery
Sue Raines

In the Beginning

Inspiration is most likely to strike whilst people are travelling, relaxing at home or during sport. Some say the bathroom is a great place for ideas, particularly under a hot shower. Maybe that’s the ‘negative ions’ working.

As a writer of Crime and Mystery you need inspiration to create the right mood and start with an opening to your story that is evocative and effective in grabbing the reader’s interest.


What do we mean by evocative? This is something that immediately affects the readers senses. Remember writing is all about the five senses, sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Creating imagery - even shock in your opening will make the reader want to continue reading.  In fact, it will make them anxious to know more.

In 1830 a novel written by Edward Bulmer-Lytton opened with the words; “It was a dark and stormy night...” these words have been famous ever since.  However we may joke about this opening, it is an excellent example of how as humans weather not only affects our lives, but our moods as well. Writers can invent any weather they like for their story and thus create or change a mood, setting or even display fear in the characters. Weather creates a feeling of uncertainty, storms, lightning, thunder, wind, landslides, huge tides, or extreme heat all affect our mood and our imagination.  Anything can happen and the characters have to battle the elements as well as the evil in the story.

Lets look at story openings used by some well known authors - good openings to entice the reader.

The man in the skeleton suit was sweating, skulking in the darkness. (Deadline by Jennifer Rowe)

Thirty days had passed in measured shades of sunlit color and changes in the wind. I think too much and do not dream.
(Body of Evidence by Patricia Cornwell)

 I met Bobby Callahan on Monday of that week. By Thursday he was dead. (C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton)

If the bodies were there, I couldn’t find them. Outside the wind howled. Inside the old church , just the scaping of my trowel...
(Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs)

I woke up feeling like death. Ironically appropriate given what the day held in store...
(The life and Crimes of Harry Lavender by Marele Day)

In your opening you need action, or at least the suggestion of it. Action by your protagonist or by the person threatening him or her. You as the writer need your reader to ask why and what happens next?

Who was the man in the skeleton suit and why was he skulking?

Why thirty days? Who is this person who is unable to sleep, what troubles them?

Why did Bobby die.  Who killed him?

Whose bodies are they, and why is she searching?

Why was she feeling like death and what did the day hold in store?

The reader of each of these stories will immediately want to find out more and read on. In most things are not going right.  Problems have already been introduced.  By being part of these potential problems our imaginations are fired up to share in the action.

A well planned, well-written beginning to your story, makes writing the middle and the end comparatively easy.  For from that beginning develops everything else that happens to the last action, the last word.

Of course, you can open your story with a corpse taking centre stage:

Tony Morrow didn’t notice the slight breeze as it gently blew a strand of grey hair across his forehead. his features relaxed now in death, staring sightlessly up at the blue sky and small puffs of cloud overhead...

This one character will make action happen and your story will burst open with “Why is he dead?” Where did he come from?” How did he die?” “Was it murder or suicide?” “Is he a goodie or a baddie?” and there is your story being written for you, with almost endless possibilities. I have on three occasions seen the effect of using this technique by various authors and it works well.

The first sentence and first paragraph is your reader’s introduction to the story and if it is to be a fast-paced crime or a deep mystery about a lady detective who owns a large dog or who hates guns, but collects teapots for a hobby; this is where you announce it. That is not to say you indulge in long passages of explanation, or characterisation.  The information must be given in the least number of words. Keep it tight and provocative. Just glimpses of the entertainment to come, after all as readers we seek entertainment and an emotional experience from all our reading.

Begin Near the End

Always begin your story as near to the end as you can. This will help to shorten the time lapse, help to speed the tempo, tighten the action and give unity. Very few stories begin at the actual beginning. Actions and part of the story itself rely on what has gone before. Few readers will allow themselves to be bored, they will simple move on and the writer of crime must capture their immediate interest and promise more action, more mystery. It is quite common for openings and opening paragraphs to be rewritten many times, until the “hook” is there, drawing the reader deep into the story.


It is also not advisable to start your story with your protagonist alone on the page. There should be interaction with another person, or action happening to get the pace moving. Create a crisis, Let the weather help in creating a situation that may not only be uncomfortable but could be life threatening. Should you choose to open the story with your main character going solo on the page, get him or her into motion. Are they hurrying to an appointment, one that worries them. Why? Are they driving a car with the radio on?  Lots of possibilities there.  We have all heard news bulletins that could change the course of our lives if we let them.

First Person

When you write in first person, you can be as quirky as you like, but remember that your aim at the beginning of the story is to get the readers involved. So, be friendly. Give them the feeling that you are sharing your thoughts with them and providing that you have a reasonably entertaining story - they will be with you at the end.

There is much more, of course.  Set yourself the task of creating a few opening scenes.  Remember the fewer words the better, and the words must promise action then lead smoothly into the story.

Until next time when together we explore the realms of serial killers.

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About the Writer:

Sue Raines is a freelance writer and playwright. Having turned her talents to crime and mystery writing Sue has found a niche in teaching the genre. Other works include articles, book reviews and short stories published in magazines and anthologies. A member of Partners in Crime Sydney, she is also an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction.