Some very basic ideas to help you plot a mystery.


  1. Every character has at least one secret, although the reader may never learn about it if it doesn’t add to the plot as you go. Set these secrets up before you begin, or, if you’re a non-plotter, you should come up with these secrets as the character appears and before you’ve written much about him or her.
  2. Most every character is reluctant to talk to the detective for a good reason.
  3. Every character tells at least one lie when talking to the detective.hercule_poirot by Almeidah - A stylized composition of the famous character from the books of Agatha Christie, the detective Hercule Poirot
  4. The detective suspects everyone he talks to, finds out if person had motive, opportunity and means. In one out of two interviews or more, he finds a clue and/or red herring–may not know it’s a clue when he notices it. Scatter them around. Use senses–see, hear, smell, taste, touch.
  5. Most every character the detective talks to has a reasonable motive for murdering the victim.
  6. Most every character had the opportunity to murder the victim.
  7. Most every character had the means to murder the victim.
  8. Several characters implicate another character, either overtly or subvertly. They give possible motive, opportunity, and/or means for other characters.


  1. When the detective asks in interviews about opportunity and means, she upsets suspect.
  2. When the  detective finds an interviewee in a compromising position.
  3. When bad guy begins to stalk detective.
  4. When police become annoyed at detective for interfering.


  1. At least one unique location.
  2. One character at least with a unique/interesting occupation or hobby.
  3. One character who is quirky or funny or eccentric.

All the above is a start. But I believe if you use most or all of these ideas, your story will be richer and better for it.

19 thoughts on “HOW TO PLOT A MURDER

  1. Jan, an excellent post. I think you should put together a small ebook of some of your “how to” posts and then sell it on Amazon.

    Most recent spoof: “Chimps Demand Retirement Party”

    • Thanks, Gail. If I ever have a spare minute or two, I’d do what you suggest about a collection of these posts. Now I’m off to read your latest spoof!. Time for some fun!!

  2. These are great points, and (like Earl) I have copied them and put them into my “Writing” folder. Plotting is always a struggle for me. Thanks!

    • Nancy, I had one of those ah-ha moments when I read the Agatha Christi quote: “Everyone has something to hide.” After some more struggle writing mysteries, I decided to make sure all my suspects had secrets. Writing is never easy, but this has made it a bit easier, I think. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Great post, Jan! A few points I knew in my head, but hadn’t seen writing down before. Thanks for providing a very useful list.

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