How I Wrote my First Mystery

How I Wrote my First Mystery

                           Mystery, USA

When I started thinking about writing a fiction story, I had no idea what to do first.  The only book I had written up to this point was a Navy Autobiography, and that didn’t require very much imagination.  But now I wanted to create something… something from my imagination that others would read and enjoy.  I wanted to have fun with it and make a credible contribution to the literary world.

                                           Now what should I do?

Now that I had decided what to do, I realized I had no idea how I was going to do it.  I knew I wanted to write some kind of mystery story, and I know I wanted it to be fun and realistic.  First, I needed to decide on a place where the story would be based out of, so I chose New England.  I have always loved New England, especially the coastal towns.  If I could sell my wife on it, we would be living there now!

When I started looking over existing places in New England, none of them were exactly what I wanted, so I decided to make up a fictitious town.  I needed a strange name, so I turned to the encyclopedia and looked for ugly fish caught in New England.  After finding just what I was looking for, the fishing town of Ocean Pout, Massachusetts was born!

One thing I like about New England is the rich history, especially around a fishing town.  Since my town was fictitious, I need to make up a history that was just as rich, so I read up on all the towns along Cape Cod and studied the surrounding history.  The best thing about creating your own town is there is no old man on a porch somewhere to dispute your facts!

                                                    Forming strong characters.

Once I had a town and a direction, it started getting easier.  I formed my main character after myself, or how I imagined I would be if I lived alone in a fishing town.  Lyle Sullivan was a good start, but I needed a few more characters, so I gave him a sister, Lindsey, and some nephews, who were based loosely around my three sons.

I found out years ago, if you can base any of your characters around existing people that you know, then half of your work is done for you.  I didn’t need create a personality for David, Alex and Robert Harris (Lyles’ nephews) because these three characters were based on my own children, whom I knew all about.   If my son David was a daredevil, then so was David Harris.

I wasn’t yet sure of my plot, but I knew I wanted the bad guy (or bad girl, in this case) to be very  mysterious.  I wanted someone sinister who would immediately capture the reader and make them wonder.  After a bit of thought, Ms. Charlotte came to life.  Ms. Charlotte was very mysterious, and only communicated via the internet.  The aura of mystery is what captured Lyle and drew him in to the story.

                      A Mystery is Afoot…

The United States is a beautiful place, with so many small towns and cultures.  I wanted my story to move around the country, so it wouldn’t get boring for the readers.  When I started looking at small towns, I  noticed that there were hundreds of zip codes that were unassigned.  The beauty of this was if I wanted a town like Auburn, Alabama, all I had to do was look for an unassigned zip code somewhere around Auburn and create my own fictitious town.

While I was figuring out all this zip code stuff, I thought of a name for my book.  I decided that I would call the book Mystery, USA.  Now, keep in mind, I have no idea what my book is really about yet, and no idea of what the plot is.  I have a main characters, places and a villain, but no story line.  So, I decided to put my book down for a day or so, until I thought of something.

The next morning, I was reading the newspaper and I saw a caption for a story that broke the day before; “Year old mystery solved in Decatur.”  Thank was it! What if Lyle Sullivan joined a nationwide mystery club and traveled throughout the country solving mysteries?  I was so excited about finding direction that
I started typing immediately and didn’t stop for three days.  Now the story was coming together!

                                                      How will it all come together?

mysteryI was over half-way finished with my book now, but still had no idea how it would end.  As you might already know, I was a Police Officer in the Persian Gulf for several years.  This helped out when I was writing the mysteries, but how was I going to tie up the loose ends?  I still had no idea what I was doing, so I just kept on writing mysteries for Lyle to solve until it finally came to me.  I had no idea how that book would end until I was almost finished typing it.

I was so excited about the ending!  Personally, I think it would make an excellent movie, but I am a bit biased.  The last thing I needed to do was design a cover that looked cool.  I really had no idea until I looked back over my book and remembered that Lyle had a cat named Lumbago (because he was a pain in the butt), and this cat had creepy eyes that seemed to glow in the dark.  Yep, Lumbago it is!

                 The point to this all of this is…

Here is the point – I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote this book.  All I did was write what I did know and kept writing until the rest came to me.  If I had waited until I had a plot and an ending,  I may never have written that book.  Please, stop putting it off.  Even if it is just an idea, write it down. Tomorrow, you will have another idea, and you will write it down too.

Lastly, it’s your book. If you decide you don’t like a part, write it over, or start again.  Thomas Edison once was quoted as saying “I did not fail a thousand times… I discovered a thousand ways not to make a light bulb.”  Stop worrying and start writing.  I promise you, you will not regret it.  I have lots of pointers on starting and publishing your book at the top of this page.  So, get on with it already… your grandchildren want to read your book!


22 thoughts on “How I Wrote my First Mystery

  1. I have considered writing books along with drawing in my spare time as I nice way to take some time to myself and enjoy it. I think the problem with me is basically starting the book and thinking what exactly to out into it, I’d either have no idea what to put in or so many ideas I wouldn’t know where to start. I enjoyed reading this post as you highlighted each area you need to consider when writing a mystery novel so if I decide to do one I will make sure to fall back on this post.

    Reading this post as got me inspired and motivated to write a book, so thanks for sharing this and the process you went through writing it!


    1. That’s good to hear, Josh… Before you know it, you will have a couple book on the shelf that you wrote!  I appreciate your visit, and feel free to stop in again.


  2. You have really did a great job. Writing book is not an easy task at all. Just like you said, you need to think about what will you write, find characters and many other things. When it comes to reading I must say that I like to read books that contain some mystery and secrets. Who knows maybe sometime I can write my own book.

    1. Hi Daniel.  I am sure you can write a book if you put your mind to it!  Until then, I am here if you need me.  Thanks for stopping in.


  3. Hi and thanks a lot for the insightful content here. I ha e thought about writing a book for years, but I got put off as I never really new the best way to get started. I thank if I had your site available years ago I might have done things differently. I think you have put together a great and easy to understand process to think about. I wish you more success and hope to visit your site again soon. Kenny 

  4. What a great article I stumbled upon!  I’ve always secretly liked the idea of being able to write a book – novels and about my own job.  You make it sound so easy that it’s really tempting to just knuckle down and get started on something! Do you ever write a general plan for the book? This was something that was drummed into our heads at school.  It seems to take the joy out of writing it though so was happy to see that you didn’t mention it here.

    I’ll be looking out for more tips from your site in future / thanks!


    1. Hello, Michelle… I never have any kind of plan when I start a book.  Right now I am writing a book that has an awesome ending, but I have no idea how the get my main characters to pull it off.  Tomorrow, I will start writing again, and little by little, and the two end will eventually come together.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

      Thanks for stopping by, and never stop writing!  Have a great evening…


  5. Fascinating that you began with the location and the characters before finding a plot. I have always tended to the revers. You are right though. The book is half written when the characters are formed from people you know.

    My current attempt is about a chicken who thinks he is human and I do not know any chickens, so I decided to model him on a person I know who is the biggest ducker and diver I have ever known. He is always looking for another way to make money. So, Edmund, the chicken who believes he is human, gets left behind……….

    Sorry, got carried away.

    You are so right, just do it. (I have no idea of the ending except that it is for kids so it has to be a happy ending.

    1. Wow, Happy, it sounds like a Golden book in the making!  I wish you the best in your writing, and thanks for your visit!


  6. I have two books I’m currently reading, three more on my nightstand, and a title on hold on my Barnes and Noble account.  And then I read your post.  Now, Mystery USA is being added to the list!  I got so involved in the post that I didn’t want it to end.  And, how did you know I’ve been wanting to write a book or two?  I’ll be bookmarking your site so I can really “pick your brain!”  Thanks for all the great information.

    1. Nancy, I am so flattered by your post!  I look forward to you next visit.  Thank you so much for dropping in, and have an awesome day!


  7. Hi wrote a review earlier about your site but I just wanted to add a couple of points. First I just wanted to know, you say you base some characters on actual people, is there a point you shouldn’t base it too closely in someone you know, in case you cause offence or they don’t like it? The other point is how can you recommend a good publisher ftprom your experience? Thanks so much for your help. Kenny 

    1. Hello Again, Kenny!  I have never based a character on another adult, because, like you say, it might be offensive.  My three boys loved the idea of being in a book that I wrote, so that wasn’t a problem. 

      I really can’t recommend a good publisher, because they are all soooo expensive!  If you want to publish your book for free, I recommend CreatSpace.  You can read about CreateSpace in the article “How to Publish your Book for Free.”  Thank you for visiting, and please drop by again!


  8. Hi, Clay. This is something I have always wanted to do but never had the confidence to do. I know I can write. I write a lot and since my teenage years I have written poetry. I liked your article so much, I bookmarked your site. I will come back and read some more. Maybe, I will start to write my own book. It could happen, I know it could! See ya!

    1. Paul, if I can write a book, anyone can!  I’ll bet you have a great imagination, and you would make an great fiction writer!  Thank you for your visit today, and have a great evening!


  9. I thought about doing something like this a few years ago. I just didn’t know how or where to begin. You make it sound so easy. Is it really that easy? I like Mysteries, but not so sure that would be the genre that I would go with.

    I also like to read Tom Clancy and was always in awe at the skill that he wrote his books. He was always writing or popping out books very rapidly. I always wondered how long it would take to write a book also. How long did it take you to write your first book? 

    I have also read a great deal of self help books and always felt somewhat of a passion to write a book of that nature. I want to help others find a way to deal with their problems…its just that I am not a psychologist or have a degree in any field to write a book like that. I am fairly decent at technical writing also. 

    How did you figure out what genre you wanted to write in? Maybe you can give me an idea so that I can figure it out for myself. Reading this gave me inspiration to want to write now. I feel like I need to check out your book. Do you plan to write any more?

    1. Bob, thank you so much for your flattering words!  Actually, I find writing very easy, and my first book was written in about two months.  It was a biography of my twenty-two years in the Navy.  I really like writing fiction, because the sky is the limit!  My mystery books were just so fun to write!  I wrote all three in about a year.  

      I am currently working on a book that takes place at the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.  I can’t seem to get away from the water!  I think self-help books are a great way to go.  I wish you the best in your writing, and thank you so much for dropping in! 


      1. 3 books, that’s awesome…I need those titles. I’m intrigued and if I can find the time will try to read them. Are they available on Kindle? That would make it easier for me. Seriously, let me know.

  10. This article actually got me glued to the very end. Your wrote like a true publisher.

    It was a great idea to explain in detail how you came about a book. You just took the first step, and the next unfolded, until the very end, when you were worried about how you were going to finish it, but as soon as you finished the body, then your ending chapter was revealed. Your story is an excellent example of how things need to be done in every aspect of life. 

    Just take the first step in faith, you do not need to see the whole staircase. This quote is taken from a famous individual, whose name I do not remember. LOL. Your writing style made me very anxious to know the content of your book. Let me go have a look.

    1. Nsoh, I am glad my article could be of help.  I look forward to one day reading your first book!  Thank you for stopping by, and have a great day!


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