How to Write a Mystery
Mysteries can essentially cover any topic, so long as there is something to be uncovered about that topic. Most of the time, the protagonist or narrator is some form of detective (whether official or not) who is solving a crime or uncovering a mystery that involves society, or, a character who is behaving as a detective would in order to solve a personal mystery. Most mysteries, whether fiction or nonfiction, feature one or more of the following things:
- A crime that needs to be solved, often a murder
- A missing person or object
- An unexplained disappearance of a person or object
- A narrator or protagonist who is responsible for solving the mystery
- One primary, substantial secret, or a series of secrets, whose telling could or will help solve the mystery
- Daunting and unfamiliar settings
- An ethical dilemma whose resolution is dependent on a mystery being solved
Furthermore, if the mystery is a work of fiction, it should generally end with the mystery being explained; i.e. a crime being solved or a murderer being found. Contrarily, a work of nonfiction mystery will more often than not focus on a topic that remains unexplained or a mystery that begs to be solved—which usually is why the topic is being written about to begin with.
When to use Mystery
Though it may seem more limited than many forms, mystery literature is actually a versatile form of storytelling when combined with other genres of fiction (fantasy, crime fiction, etc) and nonfiction (history, crime, etc). Depending on its subject, mystery can be an appropriate style for readers of all ages. For example, the well-loved children’s cartoon series Scooby Doo features a team of friends who solve the town’s mysteries, often involving the apparent presence of ghosts and other supernatural things. Essentially, the genre is best used when a writer wants to explore something unexplained (primarily with nonfiction mysteries), or to tell the story of something that was once a mystery but was gallantly solved by a protagonist (as in fiction mysteries).