How do you write a whodunnit?

I dabble with writing, I might show you some of my samples some time, but I have never been able to write a decent murder-mystery story, I just don’t know how to plan one out. Does anyone have any tips and suggestions there?

I think the most important thing would be to master the art of foreshadowing. Learn how to drop hints that are obvious in hindsight, but unclear at first glance. The tricky part is, you don’t to keep them from the truth by just keeping the important details away: Someone who is very good at picking apart the clues should be able to guess the person, I think.

Though, I haven’t read a lot of whodunnits, so take my advice with a grain of salt. But foreshadowing is very good to learn anyway.

My understanding: You plan out your murder. Then plan out the discovery. You’re effectively writing 2 stories at once and using the second one to tell the first. I would recommend looking at Murder Mystery dinners for example. There may be some or parts of some on youtube. Writing one adds an extra layer of difficulty, “show don’t tell,” type stuff.

That’s a good point, previously, I’ve only been trying to write from the detectives perspective. It makes sense to start with first the murder, which will be a story in and of itself, like you said. Then try to find out what clues might reasonably be left and then let the detective loose on it. Is there any chliches you’d rather see avoided? (adressing everyone here, you got any whodunnit chliches you’re tired off?)

Although I too have not read many murder mystery novels, I would advise against trying too hard to think of a shocking twist/reveal in regards to who actually did it. It’s not just the reveal, but also the nailing of a suspect which is very satisfying. The clues and solving of the mystery are where the ingenuity lies. I think it’s quite an easy trap to fall into to either make the murderer seem incompetent, or to have seemingly random leaps of logic from the detective. So think hard about why any mistakes on the part of the murderer would be made, what they would leave behind, how they would throw off the investigation. Plan a murder, in other words :P

As for cliches, a motive other than love, money or insanity would be nice.

I’d probably go with writing out a cast of characters first.

Victim, Investigator(s), Red Herring(s) and Murderer.

then you need to decide on motive, means and opportunity. Preferably pick a more interesting way for the victim to go.

I’ve always been a fan of twist ending Murder Mysteries. What was actually going on being completely different than what you thought was going on. Villain perspective can also be interesting, see how they view their actions and deal with the investigation.

In having written part of a whodunnit myself (which I should get on with finishing at a point, my that was 2 years ago since I’ve touched it), I find that the more clues there are the better. I’m not saying all these clues point the right direction or are all obvious. Some can be implications, some can be elimination through new discoveries, a piece of evidence that means one thing with cvertain information and something entirely different without it. Playing with details is essential.

Having a rich cast of ‘options’ for your reader is key as well. Motivations, demeanor, oppurtunity, there are so many ways to cause for suspect, get creative!

I remember reading some classic whodunnits.
My personal favourite is And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, one of the originals for the rigidity of an official Whodunnit by most of the unofficial rules. It is told from the perspective of one of the suspects. This story demonstrates lots of the lovely things I mentioned above about clues.

I’ve read “and then there where none”, something that story does well is that is is psychological as well as a whodunnit, which is an interesting change of phase, since many whodunnits are more “clinical” for lack of a better word, and its certainly an interesting option to not really have a “detective” character until the end. My favorite detective story is the Red-headed leuge, that one is noteable since it isnt actually a murder, in the beginning, its not even clear if there’s a crime going on, its just this really bizarre situation that gets solved by logic and reason, something I greatl aprpecihate in a whodunnit. It is also an example of how you don’t HAVE to have a murder in a whodunnit, a murder-less detective story is often seen as suitable mostly for kids or young-adults, where a murder isn’t necesserily parent-friendly (I don’t think the kids have all that much problem with it, I read Sherlock Holmes as a kid and I turned out allright… I guess…), but a murder-less story can still be mature depending on how you write it, you need to kick the writing up a notch since in that situation you can’t rely on the shock-factor that a murder provides.

Yes, a variety of crimes is good for be inventive as well for judging your audience. It does take writing stronger too, but it can also just as easily fall flat if you can’t make the lowered stakes seem important to the reader. But when done right they are excellent~

I’m not in the right mindset to help with those as much at the moment, since I’ve been working on a psychological and tension building sci-fi this year writing-wise X3

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