Posted by: nancycurteman | June 25, 2011

How to Open a Mystery Novel

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In a mystery novel, the opening of the book must hook the reader. So, before you type the first line of your masterpiece of puzzle and suspense, determine what your story will be about and decide on your main questions. You need to reference these questions early. In fact, you should ask at least one in the first couple of scenes. Here are 6 things to consider when you open a mystery novel:

1. Give the protagonist his first obstacle right away. Don’t open with tedious back story, prosaic setting, or character descriptions ad nauseam. Dribble this kind of information in as you move through the story. Try to couch this kind of information in behavior, internal dialog, and action.

2. Do not allow your protagonist to solve his first obstacle in the opening chapters. In fact, that obstacle may be the huge problem that will plague her throughout the book and that will not be resolved until the climax of the story.

3. This first obstacle should be the foundation for many other hurdles and questions that you will plant at various points throughout the novel.

4. Each of these hurdles/questions will increase in difficulty as the story progresses. This is important because you don’t want to give away too much information early in the book. Withhold and delay are key strategies for a great mystery.

5. Inference is a strength of most mystery novel readers. It’s part of solving puzzles. The desire to discover through inference is the reason they read mysteries. So don’t spell everything out for your reader in the first chapter. Drop little tidbits of information they can ponder, consider and connect. They’ll love making their own discoveries.

6 Make your mystery novel opening unique. Openings like “A dark and stormy night” have been done before. Grab your readers with something they’ve not seen before and do not expect.

With thoughtful planning you make the opening of your mystery novel action-packed, intriguing, original and an irresistible invitation to read on.

More Writing Tips:

6 Ways to Avoid “Information Dumps” in a Mystery Novel

How to End a Mystery Novel

Backstory: 10 things a Mystery Writer Should Know 

7 Story Structure Weaknesses That Collapse Your Mystery Novel


  1. Great post Nancy. In a way, I these tips are appropriate for any kind of novel 🙂


  2. Ditto what Alannah said ~ but the teasing is especially important in mysteries. I want to feel like with just one more fact I’ll “crack the case.”

    Thanks, NC.


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