Posted by: nancycurteman | July 19, 2011

Make the Middle of Your Mystery Novel Sizzle Not Fizzle

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The middle of your mystery novel is the longest story segment in your book. Don’t allow it to sink into a sea of insipid verbiage. Here are some ways to make the middle of your mystery novel sizzle not fizzle.

• Beat up on your protagonist. Give her one challenge after another. Each attempt she makes to resolve the conflict must result in a new, more overwhelming problem.

• Make sure  the protagonist’s efforts to meet one challenge precipitate the next challenge. In short, the character will usually be worse off. This makes the stakes a little higher.

• In the middle of your story, every victory should be followed by a disastrous event. Wait until the final climax to allow your sleuth to achieve her goal.

• Frustrate your protagonist. Everything she tries seems to worsen her position. Maybe her prime suspect turns out to be the wrong person. Maybe she finds herself accused of the very crime she wants to solve. Maybe she loses confidence in herself.

• Introduce new friends and enemies into your protagonist’s life.

• Have your protagonist discover new things about herself—some good things, some bad things.

• Create subplots—a romance, a friend’s battle with alcoholism, a jealous rival.

• Deluge your protagonist with internal conflicts that impede her conquering external challenges—She has a phobia. She suspects the murderer is someone she loves. She’ll lose her job if she continues her investigation.

• Introduce a second dead body. Whoa! Now your protagonist has to deal with two murders. Will there be a third?

• Reveal an unexpected clue or something previously unknown about your protagonist, antagonist or a supporting character.

• The middle of the story is the place for twists and turns—a secret relationship, the appearance of an unexpected character, a shocking revelation by a friend of the protagonist, or mistaken identity.

• Vary your chapters and scenes by writing them from different points of view—the viewpoint of the sleuth, the murderer, a supporting character.

Mystery novel middles that sizzle will keep your readers turning pages and buying your books.

More writing tips:

How to End a Mystery Novel

How to Open a Mystery Novel


  1. Good tips. Thanks. My worst problem is still how and where to start though. :-0\


    • Sometimes I just start in the middle. Others start at the end. Go figure.


  2. Nancy,

    I clicked through from my email while taking a break from doing a transcription. Turns out to be a wonderful change!

    This is like practicing the transitions, not just the 1st page or the main themes. The rest of it matters.

    How about introducing an identical twin 1/2 way through your mystery?


    • Music and writing have a lot in common. Identical twin—interesting idea.


  3. Here’s to sizzle in the middle. Thanks, NC


  4. I’m disappointed in this, Nancy… and you should take that as very high praise, indeed.

    Why? Because you have managed to show me an excellent step-by-step manner in which to construct a mystery novel through this, and others of your posts.

    Why the disappointment? Perhaps that was a bit of hyperbole, but in mapping out the how and whys, you’ve also sapped the mystery and magic of the writing process.

    (You make it sound so easy.)

    Yeah, yeah, I know, I do the same thing on UhW, but not so well as this, I fear.

    No, there is more to it than just following the steps you’ve outlined. You also need vision, discipline, imagination, and, dare I utter the “T” word? Talent?

    Hope you get the spirit of my “mixed message”, the bottom line of which is “WELL DONE!!”


  5. A gem of a post Nancy, thanks for writing it 🙂


  6. Thank you, Alannah. Coming from you, that is a nice compliment.


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