Children’s Writing Weblog

Tips for Writing a Children’s Book Mystery

Posted on: September 9, 2009

Mysteries have always been popular with middle grade readers. They are typically fast-paced stories that build self-confidence by permitting the reader to solve the crime. Simple mysteries for this age group follow a clear formula in which the author provides clues for the reader in a predictable fashion, using escapes, setbacks and coincidence. The Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books fall into this category.

As readers become adept at solving mysteries, they reach for books that require careful scrutiny to discern clues. Mystery of Drear House by Virginia Hamilton and Goody Hall by Natalie Babbitt and are good examples. The following are tips to keep in mind if you choose to write mysteries for children.

* Unlike other types of children’s books, the child protagonist in a mystery does not experience major character development during the story. His or her character must be strong at the beginning of the book, and have qualities the reader will identify with or admire. However, one of the protagonist’s character traits (a photographic memory, for example) can be used to solve the mystery, as long as the readers know about it.

* Another distinction between mysteries and other types of fiction is that in mysteries there is little or no underlying theme to the story (such as loneliness, peer pressure, etc.). The plot drives the story, and the conflict and tension is derived from what happens to the main characters from without, rather than what’s going on inside themselves.

* The child in the story need to be as smart, or smarter, than the grounups. Adults can help in certain situations in order to make the story believable, but the child must uncover the major clues and solve the case.

* The clues to the crime, as well as the crime itself, must be understandable to children in real life in order for the story to be realistic. This also helps the reader unravel the mystery. A child would not know, for example, how someone could alter the brakes on a car, but he or she could probably figure out how this was done to a bicycle.

* The reader needs access to all the clues available to the protagonist. It’s not fair for the author to withhold information.

* It helps if the author rehashes the entire crime and rounds up all the clues at the end of the story. A common method is using the progatonist to summarize the crime to another character just before solving the case. This will remind readers of the clues, and give them a better chance of coming up with the solution on their own.

Laura Backes is the publisher of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers. For more information about how to write children’s books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children’s Book Insider’s home on the web at http://write4kids.com and the CBI Clubhouse at http://cbiclubhouse.com

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