Mysteries & Writing a Whodunit

I don’t know about you, but I love a good mystery. The questions and hunt for answers, the misdirections and the red herrings…when an author can weave these elements so completely that they keep me guessing until the very end, that’s magic.

So this is why I’m so happy to introduce Michael Dickson, an online writing instructor at Udemy. Michael is just getting a new course up and running: Outline Your Whodunit Mystery Novel, which will help you design your  plot, subplot, and story arch to outline a Whodunit mystery novel.

Because this is a new course, Michael’s offering free spots in his class to Bookshelf Muse readers in exchange for an honest review of the course. So, read on and see if you’d like to try your hand at writing mystery, and snag the free code at the bottom!

Clues to a Whodunit Mystery – What are They and How do You Create Them?

Do you enjoy puzzles?

When you start one, do you search out the edge pieces first so you can be sure all the others are centered somewhere in the middle of your newly created frame?

A mystery novel is similar to a puzzle. The picture comes into view once you, the reader, place the pieces in the correct position. Just like a manufacturer provides in the box, authors give readers all the pieces to solve the puzzle. The finished “picture” in a Whodunit mystery novel is the killer, and it’s the reader’s job to utilize clues the author has sprinkled about to uncover their identity.

So, what is a clue?

Clues are facts. They are the blurry colors on the puzzle piece. Each clue builds on the next until the mystery is solved, much like how the colors on each puzzle piece help the picture to come into view. Eventually you narrow your focus down to one or two pieces and solve the puzzle.

The creation of the clue within your novel is the real test to your creativity. Sure, you could have the wine glass covered in red lipstick signifying the killer may be a woman, or the note pinned to the victim’s door written in the butler’s handwriting, but with today’s intelligent readers you’ll need to be far more creative. You need to invent new ideas and original clues to walk your readers alongside the sleuth until the killer is identified.

To accomplish this, consider beginning with your suspects. Have you crafted the characters  prior to writing? By having fully imagined characters before you develop the novel, you can utilize each character’s distinctive trait as a starting point to creating each clue.

For example, begin with a line-up of well developed suspects. You may already have an idea of who your killer is, but for the sake of this example, start by creating scenes where each suspect is introduced to the reader and the story’s detective. Through this introduction, sprinkle in ideas, dialogue, physical attributes, and items specifically associated with that character which will implicate them as a possible suspect. Do this for each character as they are introduced, and be sure to implicate several characters for each clue revealed.

You may find it helpful to create a small graph with each character listed on the top and the clues you plan to introduce to the left. As your introductions continue and the character traits, dialogue, attributes, etc. help to pile up evidence, the suspect pool will eventually narrow and you will have your killer. Or will you?

The clues you reveal through each suspect can also serve another purpose. Like the puzzle pieces you jam together, at first it seems that the picture is becoming clearer. But one misjudgement and you find out you were dead wrong. A clue can do the very same thing. These are called red herrings or false clues.
A red herring is a deceptive clue that leads the sleuth away from the killer. Red herrings can build on top of each other until they are it’s finally revealed that they are false, and have diverted attention away from the real killer. They’re a staple of the mystery novel and need to be included for your story to pack the punch the reader anticipates with today’s novels.

As I’ve described, creating clues for your mystery novel need not be a difficult task. By taking the time to create your suspects ahead of time, you can use your creativity to develop clues utilizing your characters unique attributes that point both to the red herring and the killer.

Michael M. Dickson is an author, blogger, and creator of Outline Your Whodunit Mystery Novel; (currently free for a limited time). He’s successfully taught hundreds of people his techniques to creating complete novel outlines in several genres including, mystery, young adult, romance and thrillers. You can find Michael on Twitter and Facebook.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Janel Gradowski
7 years ago

This offer couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I’m working on a mystery right now, so I can use all of the advice I can get. Thank you so much. I’ve already started the course.

Melissa Sugar
7 years ago

Thanks for the amazing opportunity. I write mystery/suspense and thrillers and I am always looking for new ways to plant and reveal clues and to keep the reader guessing.

Any news on when your new book is coming out? I am looking forward to it. I can’t wait. Congratulations on another success.

Angela Ackerman
7 years ago

Glad to see you all taking advantage of this offer! Hope the course is a fabulous one!

Donna K. Weaver
7 years ago

This is a great idea. I’m not a who dunit writer, but I know plenty of people who are. Good luck!

Laura Pauling
7 years ago

Thank you! I totally took advantage of this! What a great opportunity and I’d be happy to review when I’m finished. 🙂

Becca Puglisi
7 years ago

I’m so excited about this opportunity. If I wrote mysteries, I’d be all over this course. Thank you, Michael, for sharing your tips!

Charmaine Clancy
7 years ago

This is brilliant! Thanks for the freebie 😀
I do write mysteries for kids and am keen to always learn more.

7 years ago

This is a great opportunity. Thanks for the chance.

Fiona Ingram
7 years ago

Thanks for this great opportunity! I love mystery/thrillers/whodunit and just wish I had a clue where to begin. I am a great Agatha Christie fan and have always dreamed of writing my own ‘whodunit.’ Will report back if I can actually ‘do it!’