Develop a Fascinating Premise for Your Mystery Novel
By: Hallie Ephron 2/1/2017
I used to think that I couldn’t write a mystery novel because I’m not very good at making things up. Where would I find ideas?
Then I stumbled across a terrific idea at a yard sale.
It was at a Victorian house with gingerbread-trimmed gables and leaded glass windows. I was peppering the homeowner (a complete stranger) with questions about their recent renovations, and she asked me if I wanted to go inside the house and have a look around. Of course I did.
I was wandering through the house when I thought, Suppose a woman goes to a yard sale. What if somehow she manages to talk her way into the house? And what if she never comes out?
I ran home and started writing. The book, Never Tell a Lie, starts with a yard sale at a Victorian house and ended up being a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. It was also made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network.
Turns out intriguing ideas are all around you. Learn to tune in and pay attention when your brain perks up and says, Oh, that’s interesting.
Finding Ideas for Your Mystery Novel
Here are just a few places to find ideas:
- books (No, you can’t steal the main idea of a book—that’s plagiarism—but you can build on an image, a situation, or a line of dialogue.)
- conversations—your own or overheard
- news and magazine stories
- something that happened to someone you know
- your own experience
- your dreams
Whenever I trip over a story idea, I jot it down and stash it in a folder labeled COMPOST. By now, the folder is bulging with clippings and handwritten notes. Here are some ideas culled from the news:
- A Toyota salesman tries to investigate terrorists on the Internet and gets arrested for terrorism.
- Severed feet, still inside shoes, keep washing up on a beach.
- A man tries to stage his own disappearance by murdering a look-alike he finds on the Internet.
- A woman finds a bullet in the pork butt she’s cooking.
- A young man who writes his sexual fantasies in a personal journal is charged with creating child pornography.
On your own: Start your own compost file, and save ideas that intrigue you.
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