7 Fundamental Steps to Writing a Good Mystery | Mentoring in the Middle

7 Fundamental Steps to Writing a Good Mystery

Students love to write creatively, and my students are especially caught up right now writing narratives with lots of twists and turns.

I decided to take that interest and turn it into a set of mini-lessons on aspects of mystery writing that would strengthen their writing, while still allowing them to have fun with plot, dialogue, and characterization.

Want to take a look at how you can do this, too?


  • Organizing their thoughts is KEY.  Before they can begin to write they have to think through setting, characters, plotlines, incidents, and some dialogue.
  1. Where do they want the story to take place?  What's the time period?
  2. How many characters do they want?  For a mystery, they need more so that more than one person can be suspected.
  3. What do their characters look like?  What are their personalities like?  (This is a good time to teach a mini-lesson on character traits)
  4. What's the basic premise of their story?  (I was very clear with my students, much to their disappointment, that blood and gore would not be included. Go figure.)
  5. What are the "inciting incidents"?  What are the events that make characters (and the reader) begin to wonder?
  6. Have your writers include some important dialogue, right away.  The dialogue helps them figure out more about their characters' personalities, and might lead to helping them figure out the details of a particular incident.
  7. Have them create a timeline for the events in their mystery.  I didn't think this was necessary at first, but it made a huge difference in making their stories more believable.


  • Yes, it is.  But as students start to work through each of these steps, their story will come together better than they had imagined.  They still have work to do to tighten their writing, edit, and revise, but their story will make more sense.


You can do this in a lot of different ways.
  • Invite other students to read their mysteries
  • Have a Mystery Day reading fair and invite other teachers and administrators
  • Submit stories to writing contests
  • Publish the stories in a book for students to have
I created a Write a Mystery product on TeachersPayTeachers if you're interested.

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