The mystery of mysteries

I am trying to write a short story mystery. Mysteries have always been mysterious to me until I read one day that mysteries are really two time lines: there’s the time line of what really happened and the time line of the detective finding out what really happened.

  1. So, here’s my current process and it seems to be working–somewhat:
    Decide on the crime: murder, kidnapping, and theft are the mainstays of this category. Notice, that a missing person could be the result of murder or kidnapping, so it’s not a good category to choose.
  2. Decide on the victim. I try to do a nice character work up on the victim, just as I would on any character.
  3. Decide on the villain AND the suspects. I tried doing these separately and realized that the suspects need reasons to commit the crime, too, and they need to be as strong as the villain’s reasons. By doing these at the same time, it helped make the suspects more credible.
  4. Time line of the crime. While I decide on events, I also make a list of possible clues from each event.
  5. Decide on the detective and his connection to the crime.

    So, I may need to switch the order of 4 and 5, if the detective is around when the crime is committed. I like doing the detective after the time line, though, because I always need the detective to have character qualities that would allow him/her to understand the clues.

    For example, if it was a magic trick that was used to divert the attention in the crime, then my detective needs to know something about magic, or be able to find out something about magic.

  6. Time line for the detective discovering the clues and understanding their meaning. Where will each suspect fit in? Does the reader have enough clues to figure out the mystery.
  7. Decide on an exciting beginning. Where on the time line do I want to start? Before the crime? After the crime? How to characterize the detective in these opening scenes? I know–it’s detailed and way too logical for lots of folks. But it’s letting me write my first mysteries!

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