Kevin Brooks: 5 Things You Need to Write a Great Mystery

Kevin Brooks knows a thing or two about writing an intense, suspenseful mystery novel. His newest, iBoy (which you can begin reading for a limited time on Figment here), is about teenage Tom Harvey—a poor kid from the South London projects whose life is changed when an iPhone melds with his brain, giving him supernatural powers. Tom becomes a sort of neighborhood superhero, protecting the wronged. What does it take to create a captivating story like iBoy? Read on to find out.

1) Story: You have to have a good story, a narrative that grabs the reader’s attention and keeps them guessing—what’s going to happen? How is it going to happen? Will everything turn out OK? How is this story going to be resolved? Unless you grab the reader and bring them into your world, they’re never going to experience what’s in your world.

2) Character: Your characters, especially your main characters, have to have something that allows the reader to relate and identify with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the reader has to like everything about them, but they’re the emotional link between the reader and the story, and without that link, the story won’t have any true meaning.

3) Setting/Description: The reader has to be able to sense where the story is taking place, to see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. So it’s important to give constant (but not too intrusive) reminders of the world in which the story is taking place.

4) Rhythm/Pace: The rhythm of a book is as essential as the rhythm of a piece of music. It creates feelings, tones, emotions . . . excitement, fear, passion, anger. You have to work with the rhythm, changing it to suit the pace and sense of the story and using it to develop tension, suspense, and anticipation.

5) The Indescribable Factor: There has to be something beyond the plot, beyond the characters, beyond everything else in the story . . . something that stays with the reader once the story is finished. I’m not sure what this “something” is, and I don’t consciously know how it’s achieved, but you have to aim to capture it, and just keep working until you do.

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