Monday, 4 March 2013

How to write a murder mystery, by Charmaine Clancy

I've been following along with writing prompts from Romantic Friday Writers to learn more about adding a little romance to my stories. I'm learning a lot from fellow RFW members, so I was very humbled when Denise invited me to share what I know about mystery writing. Thanks so much for having me here today! I hope what I have to share will help you write that murder for the March challenge.

I've been working on a mystery series for kids, and love reading crime fiction. If I was to pick one element of mystery writing that is essential (and writers sometimes overlook), it would be motive. 

Motive is essential because we need to know why the killer was willing to risk everything to commit murder. It is usually the undoing of the criminal, once the detective figures out motive the rest is just comes down to proof. To make it trickier for the detective, every suspect should have a strong motive.

Motive drives every decision and action for your characters. So why did the killer stab Old-man Hubbard in the library with scissors? Is it the struggling writer who received a bad review? The fashion-designer wife who will lose everything in a divorce because of the pre-nupt? Or the wife's lover, too passionate to control his jealousy?

Motive is not just for suspects. The detective needs a strong motive to solve the case. They may face danger, so the motive needs to keep them going, especially if they're an amateur sleuth and not employed to reveal the murderer. Do they need to prove their own innocence, like in The Fugitive?

Here's a few of the top motives, can you think of others?
  • Greed - character is usually seen following the money.
  • Power/Fame - this character is all about control.
  • Fear - possibly through paranoia or perhaps the threat is real.
  • Protection - someone the character cares about is at risk.
  • Revenge - driven by anger, bitterness.
  • Passion - love is the motivator and perhaps it's unrequited or there is a love triangle.
  • Blackmail - this character has a shady past they want to keep hidden.
  • Shame - this character acts through a sense of being unworthy.
  • Faith - even if it is misguided, it can be powerful enough to push a character.
  • A Rush - wild and untamed, this character comes across as spoilt.
Once again, thank you for having me on Romantic Friday Writers - happy writing!

Brisbane author Charmaine Clancy loves to create characters for mystery, fantasy and adventure.

Visit Charmaine's blog.


  1. Hello, and thank you for the timely post! My entry is a total mess as of now :) but working to salvage something. Hope to use your pointers for the rework.

    Have a great day!

    1. I think the motive is what the detectives look for. must be convincing.

  2. Hi Denise and Charmaine ... this sounds like a very good listing of possible motives within a novel - so many alternatives or mixes ...

    Cheers Hilary

    1. There are indeed Hilary. Let's see what we all come up with.

  3. Perfect Charmaine. I'll be saving this list to help me not only with the murder mystery, but I think these are good points for motives for ANY genre.

    Thanks for guesting with RFW. This is very helpful and well written :)


  4. Good list - CSI has taught me that investigating accidental murders can be entertaining as well.

  5. Thanks again for having me - this group rocks!

  6. Tuesday-Wednesday March 19th-20th, 2013

    Wonderful post, Charmaine!

    I have been having so much trouble with this text. I see that my problem has been motive! I haven't been able to create a villian with a convincing motive. After writing about 4000 words, I still may not be able to post anything for this challenge.
    We'll see if I have time to do it.

    It snowed again yesterday. It got suddenly cold again after almost spring weather. Elisabet had tummy-troubles last week and vomited in bed, all over the sheets, coverlets, pillows and pillow cases. I am behind in everything now and may have top drop out of A to Z too.

    Best wishes,


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