Tag Archives: MayOfMystery

5 Deadly Essentials to a Great Mystery

Hello writer bees!

Some folks think murder mysteries are complicated to write. And they’re right. Mysteries involved many moving pieces. But once you understand the core elements of a mystery, writing in that genre won’t be as intimidating as it would appear.

So, continuing with the May of Mystery theme, let’s go over the essentials to any great mystery.

The Right Hook

Pin on 2017 Halloween ideas
Note: This is a Halloween decoration idea from Pinterest. And it’s hilarious.

Right off the bat, the crime has to grab the reader’s attention. If you don’t have the audience’s interest from the start, they won’t be interested in how the mystery is resolved. Take it from someone who has changed the murder of my WIP murder mystery before. Whether it’s a murder, a kidnapping or a theft, the mystery itself should bring shock and intrigue to the audience. Really set the scene for the reader, give them every bit of detail, no matter how small or how gruesome.

The Investigator

When mystery is afoot, someone’s there to crack the case. A sleuth character is the heart and soul of this genre. The audience needs someone to follow and root for in this mystery.

Keep in mind, the protagonist does not have to be a bonafide detective. They can be a private detective, a member of law enforcement, or a regular joe who fell into the scene. And more than one person can be involved, like a detective duo (ex. Sherlock Holmes and Watson) or a team of sleuths (Scooby Doo and Mystery Inc.) Regardless, the protagonist(s) is invested in the investigation and is determined to uncover the truth.

Phryne Fisher Jack Robinson GIF - PhryneFisher JackRobinson Mmfm ...
One of my favorite detective duos 😉

Also, ask yourself, why is the detective compelled to solve the case? The protagonist’s motives are just as interesting as the antagonist’s motives.

Suspicious Suspects

For any kind of mystery, a line-up of suspicious characters is assembled. And hidden amongst them is the true culprit. Each suspect must be memorable and standout from the rest. For example, take the suspects from the Cluedo board game. All distinct in character and yet equal in motive and opportunity to commit the crime. If not differentiated, characters will bleed together and get easily mixed up by the reader.

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How many suspects should a mystery story have? Personally, I think 3 to 6 suspects is a good number. Too many suspects will overwhelm, too little is too easy. Also, consider how the suspects relate to one another. Are they enemies? Are they lovers? How do those relationships effect the victim?

Clues and Red Herrings

Both the detective and the reader need breadcrumbs to follow. All of the evidence of the case must be out in the open. There’s no holding out on clues in a proper mystery, or the audience will feel cheated. However, not every hint leads to the truth. Some clues, called Red Herrings, divert an investigation, taking the detective down a dead end (no pun intended).

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Keep track of all the clues presented. Jot down a list of clues as you scatter them throughout the story. When does this piece of evidence appear in the story? How does it connect to the overall plot?

A Satisfying Finale

Every murder mystery needs a grand finale. The big reveal, when all the clues come together and the culprit is discovered. Sure, there can be some plot twists, but a mystery writer must deliver a satisfying ending to the audience. This means the other suspects are given alibis, proving without a doubt, the identity of the antagonist. And every bit of evidence is explained in detail. No loose plot ends, all story lines must be resolved in the end.

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What are some of your favorite mysteries? Let me know in the comments.

Stay safe and keep writing!

– Lady Jabberwocky

Writing Services // Follow Me on Twitter

Femme Fatale: The Secrets Behind A Dangerous Woman

Hello writer bees!

Today is the first day of May Of Mystery, an entire month dedicated to mysteries and detective fiction.

Let’s start May of Mystery with sheer sexiness, shall we? Today, I’m breaking down the iconic femme fatale. Here’s everything you need to know about the dangerous women of mystery fiction and film noir.

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What is a Femme Fatale?

A French term meaning ‘fatal woman’, a Femme Fatale is a promiscuous, mysterious female archetype. This seductress is sexy and she knows it, bending others to her will with her charm and beauty. Oftentimes, her story line concludes with her demise, whether by imprisonment or death.

Key Characteristics of a Dangerous Woman

As a character trope, there are some trademark characteristics a femme fatale has. Here are just a few.

  • She is street smart and vastly intelligent. Her observation skills can read anyone like a book.
  • Driven by power, independence, or wealth. Will manipulate, and probably murder, anyone to get what she wants.
  • A queen of fashion. Bold lipstick. Dramatic makeup and hair. Light colored clothing that gradually shifts to darker clothing. She makes a statement when she enters the room.
  • She uses “feminine wiles” to her advantage. When she is in a relationship with someone or sleeps with them, there’s usually an ulterior motive. Always looks after their own self interest.
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Detectives and Femme Fatales

The relationship between a hard boiled detective and a femme fatale is an interesting dynamic. While the hero seeks justices in his cases, they end up trapped in the spider’s wed. At times, they share a tumultuous romance, full of conflict and passion, eventually ending in turmoil. Will the detective turn her in to law enforcement? Or will the dangerous dame corrupt the hero?

Femme Fatale’s in Literature

Want to see a man-eater in action? Check out these

  • Brigid O’Shaughnessy – The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  • Cora Papadakis – The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  • Carmen Sternwood – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Final Thoughts on Femme Fatales

Am I telling you to shove a cookie cutter version of this architype in your work? Not exactly. If you create a perfect copy of the traditional femme fatale, she may come off as stale and unrealistic, readers won’t be interested in her or the overall story.

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Writers are meant to reinvent overdone tropes sometimes. Let aspects of a femme fatale inspire your own complex characters. The world could use more bold, fierce female characters, right?


Who are your favorite femme fatales? Let me know in the comments.

If you are interested in reading the posts from last year’s May of Mystery, click right here.

Stay safe out there, writer bees!

– Lady Jabberwocky

Do Ronald Knox’s 1929 Rules on Detective Fiction Still Hold Up in 2020?

(With May Of Mystery right around the corner, I’ve decided to repost this article for last year. Enjoy!)

Hello my amateur sleuths!

Did you know that one famous author actually wrote rules for writing detective stories in the 1920’s?

Ronald Knox was a prominent figure in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. As a mystery loving priest, he published the Ten Commandments on Detective Fiction. Are the rules still relevant or outdated? Let’s investigate, shall we?

1.The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

True enough. If the author introduces the real killer towards the end, readers will feel cheated. How can they suspect a character that came out of nowhere? The criminal needs to be introduced within the first couple chapters of the story. Also, the audience, usually, isn’t allowed to enter the thoughts of the murderer. Their inner workings should remain unknown to the audience, until the very end.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

Now, I disagree with this one, just a smidge. If done right, multiple genres can be featured in a single story. Maybe a sprinkle of supernatural could work in a murder mystery. It’s all about balance. As long as the integrity of the whodunit remains solid, other genres can join in. A little fantasy and magic never killed nobody.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

I mean, he has a point. A second secret passage won’t garner as much surprise as the first secret passage. One hidden room is enough. Don’t push your luck.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

Fair enough, Mr. Knox. Basically, this rule applies to all made up devices. Hard to acquire poisons from foreign lands or complex inventions are far too unlikely plotwise. Using an unusual method cheats the readers from unraveling the mystery themselves. Remember, detective fiction is meant to challenge the reader mentally, like a puzzle.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.

No, we’re not talking about those of Chinese descent. The term ‘Chinamen’ refers to evil mastermind character, maniacal laugh included. Antagonists need real motives. Their reason for committing a crime must be plausible. No sinister villains are welcome in a detective story.

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Frankly, this rule reminds me of those classic Scooby Doo cartoon, where clues fall into their laps. As tempting as it sounds, coincidences, chance happenings and bizarre hunches are just too easy. Every clue must be discovered on purpose, with purpose. Don’t just hand over clues on a silver platter. Make your detective, and the reader, work for every scrap of information.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

Where’s the fun in that? Listen to Knox, it’d be a disaster to have the detective be the culprit. Plus, you’re killing any chance for a sequel. No pun intended.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

For fairness, the detective and the reader must have equal opportunity to solve the case. However, the sleuth can keep some less obvious clues to himself. Just collecting the insignificant clues in his/her pocket until the big reveal. The reader knows every hint, but just isn’t sure how important each piece of information is.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

I object to this one. Although he wasn’t smarter than Holmes, I wouldn’t consider Watson an idiot. Seriously, Watson could pull his own weight. The sidekick can have brains too. Heck, they may even become as asset for a detective during an investigation. Instead of being slightly below the reader’s intelligence, why can’t a sidekick’s intelligence be slightly below the detective’s brainpower?

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

See, I feel like nowadays, audiences are thrilled by surprise doubles. Not all doubles or twin need a heads up in advance. (Side note: Have you guys been watching Cloak and Dagger? Talk about shocking doubles.)


Yes, all of these “commandments” have been broken in detective fiction before. However, some of these rules are still relevant by today’s standards. Murder mysteries are complicated games, whether you choose to take note of the rules or break them is up to you. You’re the writer.

What do you guys think of Knox’s rules from 1929? Do you think they still hold up to today’s whodunits? Let me know in the comments.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

Words for Writers Wednesday: Writers Needn’t Be Chained to the Writing Desk

Creative juices drying up?

Instead of burning sage to ward off writer’s block spirits,

Try a change in scenery.

Writers needn’t be chained to the writing desk.

Write someplace else.


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