Writing A Mystery

Writing A Mystery

I would like to write a story (a series of stories really) about Spooky Hawkshaw, an undead detective. My parents loved Mysteries and my mom was friends with two mystery writers, so it was a common topic around the house. Now days, the mystery has been over taken by the thriller, so much so that we’ve kind of lost track of what a mystery is. I may be mistaken on the exact definition, but I tend to put it like this, after reading the story, you have to ask yourself if the story left clues along the way. If it did, it’s a mystery. If not, it’s not. I realize that that is curt, but I mean no offence to the thriller. I love them too, but in the case of this instance, I would like to write a mystery.

It’s always seemed like a pretty big bag to unpack. The main issue for me is, if I need to make it confusing to the reader, it’s going to be confusing for me too. Plus I can only assume that a poor mystery would be panned pretty bad. Now that I say that, it’s not 100% mystery that I’m going for… maybe a three way split of pulp fiction, gothic romance, and mystery… I’m starting to understand why I might be having a problem here… it’s not the genre, it’s me. So, let’s get back on track.

Below I’ve put together a little comparison of what several sites say is a good structure.

Some Possible Act Structures For a Mystery Story

zaraaltair.comthreepillarauthors.comThe Three Act Structure
​Act 1: Setup and Complicate
— The Inciting Incident
— The First Plot Point (the dramatic event that must be answered in the climax)
Act 1: The Hero Accepts the Mission to Catch the Villain and Solves the Case
— Starts at the point of action and ends with the hero accepting the case, committing to solve the mystery
Act I: The Set-Up
Exposition. The status quo or ‘ordinary world’ is established.
Inciting Incident. An event that sets the story in motion.
Plot Point One. The protagonist decides to tackle the challenge head-on. She ‘crosses the threshold,’ and the story is now truly moving.
Act 2: Conflict and Rising Action in Discovery
— Pinch Point (Along the way, things don’t go smoothly)
— Midpoint (A realization of the gravity of the struggle or some advantage is taken)
Act 2 –The Hero Is Tested and Changes. Dies and Is Reborn in the Pivotal Scene
— The hero detective is tested by the new rules of this new alternate world. The villain puts the hero through a series of trials, some of which are passed, others failed.
Act 3 – The Hero Is Tested Again and Succeeds
— The cat and mouse game continues but the hero is taking on the task with a renewal and the advantage of everything they learned from the pivotal scene. Act Three ends with the discovery of the villain.
Act II: The Confrontation
Rising Action. The story’s true stakes become clear; our hero grows familiar with her ‘new world’ and has her first encounters with some enemies and allies. (see Tests, Allies, Enemies)
Midpoint. An event that upends the protagonist’s mission. (Similar to the climax in Freytag’s pyramid)
Plot Point Two. In the wake of the disorienting midpoint, the protagonist is tested — and fails. Her ability to succeed is now in doubt.
Act 3: Crisis
— Pinch Point
— Plot Point (personal change or change to new approach)
Act 4 – How the Hero Traps the Villain
— the hero is returning to the normal world, resetting the rules set up by the villain by bringing him or her to justice.
Act 4: Climax and Wrap Up
Rising Conflict (A path to success presents itself)
— Revelation and Wrap Up (wrap up your mystery and bring your story to a quick conclusion)
Act 5 – Shows How the Events of the Story Have Impacted the Major Characters
— A brief section after the villain is caught showing what happens to the characters after these events. We see how the changes in the characters will carry on into their everyday.
Act III: The Resolution
Pre Climax. The night is darkest before dawn. The protagonist must pull herself together and choose between decisive action and failure.
Climax. She off against her antagonist one last time. Will she prevail?
Denouement. All loose ends are tied up. The reader discovers the consequences of the climax. A new status quo is established.

It’s possible all this means nothing to you, but I find it helpful to look at. One of the hardest things for me to do is grasp all the levels. A common term in business is “The Fifty Thousand Foot View”. Basically, be aware that everything, including story writing, looks different from the sky to the trenches and it can be very difficult to switch.

Next I’ve listed out some story elements that can help a mystery. Mysteries are kind of like ska music, if it doesn’t sound exactly like ska it ain’t ska and if it doesn’t read like a mystery, it ain’t a mystery. Maybe… I dunno, I just came up with that…

Common Elements of a Mystery Story

This list is a working tool cobbled together from the following posts : thestoryreadingapeblog.com, masterclass.com, penguin.com, screenrant.com,

An isolated location or An atmospheric setting

  • And Then There Were None – set on a small tidal island off the coast of Devon, inaccessible by boat unless the tide is low;
  • Murder on the Orient Express – set on the Orient Express train, which is stopped mid-route by heavy snowfall;
  • Murder on the Nile – set on a cruise boat on the river Nile.
  • Eerie country house

A crime

Revealed in the first chapter, a crime creates the central conflict

A sleuth


The author should introduce the characters in the
story with enough information that the reader can visualize each person.

A villain

A trail of clues


Red herrings

Narrative momentum: A mystery plot is in constant motion thanks to a cat-and-mouse narrative thread. The pacing will quicken the closer the plot moves towards the climax and the closer the main character gets to solving the crime.

Possible Mystery Motives

I’ve hacked these together from whatisthatbookabout.com, writing-world.com, triskelebooks.blogspot.com,

  • To hide a secret
  • Greed, pure and simple
  • Revenge
  • Obsession, Frustration & Hate
  • Love, Sex & Jealousy
  • Crime of Passion
  • Psychosis & Mental Disorders
  • To protect personal status
  • To protect a loved one
  • Empathy or Sympathy, protecting the victims best interest
  • Covering Up Another Crime
  • Mistaken Identity

Questions to ask about the story

  • Why now? Why kill instead of settling for a less lethal resolution?
  • Why did the killer not confess? In real life, most murders are crimes of passion and the killer is rarely in doubt.
  • If the killer bonds or stonewalls the investigator, why?
  • What motivates the killer to go on as if nothing happened
  • Why doesn’t the victim sense the growing danger?
  • Why does each witness step forward or not?

Common Tropes and Possible Twists for a Mystery Story

  • Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap reveals that the murderer was the man pretending to be the policeman/sleuth all along;
  • J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling exposes the culprit as the man who hired the detective in the first place;
  • Woody Allen’s movie The Curse of the Jade Scorpion sees an investigator discover that he himself has been committing robberies while unwittingly hypnotized.
  • A strong hook: A great mystery should invite the reader to try to solve the crime,
  • Starting with a corpse
  • A Mysterious Injury – explain away mysterious injuries as an unfortunate accident
  • The Absent Murderer – Keeping the eventual murderer absent from the main action of a plot is a useful trope in keeping the audience from guessing too early on.
  • Lights Off – While not necessarily needing to involve literally turning off the lights, this trope usually involves a reversal of fortune for the detective.
  • Everybody’s Guilty
  • The Unsympathetic Victim
  • The Faked Death
  • The Alibi
  • The Stately Home
  • The Big Reveal
  • The Red Herring

Need more tropes? Here’s a big list of them at tvtropes.org

New Charles Cartoon Book For Print

New Charles Cartoon Book For Print


New on the chopping block is a book of cartoons written by Mark Slade and drawn by Thomas M. Malafarina. Both Mark and Thomas are prolific horror and noir authors that are now bringing their horrific senses of humor to light.

About Charles

Charles covers a new and hilarious take on the life of a serial killer through the filter of the cartoon panel. From dating and friendships to work and family, Charles is sure to make you a fan, and to second guess every weirdo you know.

About Thomas M Malafarina

Thomas M Malafarina is an author of horror fiction from Berks County, Pennsylvania. To date, he has published seven horror novels, six collections of horror short stories and a book of often-strange single-panel cartoons called “Yes I Smelled It Too; Cartoons For The Slightly Off Center”. In addition, many of the more than one hundred short stories Thomas has written have appeared in dozens of short story anthologies and e-magazines. Thomas is also an artist, musician, singer, and songwriter. He lives in Western Berks County, Pennsylvania along with his wife JoAnne. Find out more at ThomasMMalafarina.com

About Mark Slade

Mark Slade has appeared in Switchblade magazine #7 and 9, Econoclash Review #4, Weirdbook #32, Mystery Tribune, and other publications. He is the author of A Witch for Hire, Mr. Zero for Close to the Bone publishers, and Blackout City Confidential for Horrified Press. Mark Slade also writes and produces the audio dramas The sundowners, Blood Noir for Para-X radio, and Daniel Dread for Chronosphere Fiction. He lives in Williamsburg, VA with his wife and daughter. See all his books at Amazon.com

Structuring Your Podcasts

Structuring Your Podcasts

Free-form podcasting has its place. There is something cool about just sitting down with a mic, some facts and some tunes and broadcasting out to the world.

There is also the concept of segmented podcasts. This is similar to a radio clock. The concept is to split your cast up into themes digestible or palatable segments.

What is the advantage of segmented podcasting?

Segmented podcasting is helpful when it comes to marketing and syndication. It’s allows you to make future marketing decisions as well as broadening you potential syndication reach. Think of it as micro or segmented branding where each segment is branded as a show or shareable piece of media.

How about an example?

Ok. Below are two examples of podcasts and radio shows that we produce at archaic media.

Example #1: Radio Wasteland

Radio wasteland was our first foray into the talk radio format. It’s a somewhat free form interview format focusing on guests and discussing topics such as aliens and paranormal.

For starters, the show is initially recorded as a terrestrial radio program. The show is one hour long and forced into four segments due to commercials. There is a commercial break every fifteen minutes.

Most podcasts are not done in love radio and are not automatically segmented.

We have broken the show into the following Segments:

  • Introduction and banter
  • Commercial
  • Guest
  • Commercial
  • Guest
  • Commercial
  • Guest and exit giving the guest the opportunity to share contact information

Ok, so this seems pretty obvious. Which, it is. But, we can already see that we have two marketable pieces of media here. One is the entire show as a whole, the either is the the guest segments as one. That gives us good marketing material. The long free form of the show and it having guests limits us on attempting to syndicate segments separately.

But there are more opportunities to dissect our long form interview format podcast into marketing segments.

Each question can be its own segment

Pre-planning your questions and guiding the conversation can be very advantageous here… and as a good host you should probably be training yourself to do this anyway. It makes your show sound more professional and helps your guests stay on point, which in turn helps them to sound more professional.

Radio Wasteland deals with paranormal topics. If you want to know more about Radio Wasteland Click Here.

So let’s say I ask a question like “What do Most People Think Ghosts Are?”. This question and it’s answer can be turned into it’s own media item. Either an audio snippet to upload somewhere or converted to a video somewhere… or better yet, both.

Another greet opportunity for a segment to be shared is when we first have a guest on. Introduce them and make the first question about them. Something like the following:

“Welcome to our Guest, John Doe. John, can you tell us a little about how you got started in Ghost Hunting?”

The question and it’s answer can be broken into it’s own segment to be uploaded and shared. I also like to use segments such as this on the bio page for the guest on the website. This can greatly help with your time on site and other search engine optimization factors for your own website.


Example #2: Archaic Radio Community Radio

Archaic Radio Community Radio is a radio program on KKRN community radio (community radio has no commercials, just underwriters at the beginning of the show) that covers music.

This program’s format has some advantages and disadvantages and, as is usual in this world, the advantages and disadvantages can be the same thing. So below I’ll just explain my thought process.

  • The show has no commercials. This gives us the option of creating our own segments and sub-segments.
  • The show deals with music. This is a problem because, while the world of radio long ago figured out dealing with copyrighted material, the world of podcasting has not.
  • The copyrighted material makes it difficult, if not impossible, to legally share segments of the show online.
  • One advantages is that the music and nature of the show does make it a prime choice for syndication to other community radio stations.
  • The show is on community radio so it cannot be monetized through commercials.
  • There’s always more, but that’s enough to think about right there and you’ve got to start somewhere.
  • We do have a channel in of music that we have copyright permission, but not a whole shows worth.

From our list above I would say that the show needs to focus on syndication and not online media sharing… that’s not to say that it wouldn’t go on.

Here is what we decided for Archaic Radio Community Radio Segments

  • First off we decided to call it “Archaic Radio Community Radio”. This will set it apart from other Archaic Radio endeavors that may include some advertising.
  • We have decided to treat the recording of the show as though we are making four half hour shows. These will be our segments. There may be more but below are some examples of segments:
    • In the Beginning… : This segment covers the history of a band or genre’s influences.
    • New Music: This will be new and upcoming music from the underground.
    • The Sweat Lodge: This will be garage rock and roll.
    • Radio (Insert Genre Here): Examples would be like “Radio Ska” or “Radio Blues”.
    • Etc…
  • Community radio is always trying to fill small chunks of time, so the “New Music” segment can be broken into smaller sub segments to be made available. Examples may be “Featured Artists”, “New on Tour”, etc. These can be made 3 to 5 min long and provided to community radio to randomly grab to fill small holes in their programming.
  • Radio Genre: Can be used and expanded on by creating sharable playlists on platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.


In conclusion you can see that with a little bit of forethought you can create easy sharing opportunities and and multiply your options for syndication. The options are endless, so make a plan and stick with it for a while. But, always be ready to grow and change. The final bit of advice that I would give you is to alternate the “auto pilot” switch. If you are constantly changing you won’t ever be moving forward. Make a plan and stick to it for a few shows. If you have new ideas, keep them in a separate file and revisit the plan once a month or so. This will allow your brain to hunker down and get some serious work done in between. A plan is nothing more than a plan unless you are building a foundation along the way.