Mystery Story Formulas

Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula– This article outlines the standard formula used by mystery writers through countless stories in the past century for Whodunnit’s and Cozy Mysteries.

The Two-Body Plot: A Useful Four-Act Murder Mystery Structure – Writer John P. Murphy outlines the story structure used by author P.D. James and others. A really good article, and worth reading for anyone planning to write a murder mystery.

Frank Gruber’s “Fool-proof” 11 Point Formula for Mystery Short Stories – Pulp mystery writer Frank Gruber used this “formula” to sell over 300 short stories starting in the 1930’s. It’s less a formula than a checklist, but definitely a good one!

How To Write A Murderously Good Mystery – Writer Karen Woodward has a take on the Hero’s Journey structure that applies it to Murder Mysteries that might work for some writers. You could probably turn this into a 11-12 chapter book pretty easily using her structure.

A Plot Begins to Take Shape – Author Margot Kinberg outlines the typical plot patterns used in Classic, Cozy, Noir and Police Procedural mysteries. (Note: The original seems to have been deleted, but you can find a mirror of it here.)

The Guilty Vicarage: Notes on the detective story, by an addict – Written in 1948, this article from Harpers magazine goes into incredible detail about the nature and structure of classic murder mysteries.

The Detective Conan Mystery Formula – This is an outline of the typical two-part plot formula that the very long running Manga/Anime series Detective Conan (aka Case Closed in English) uses for most of their mysteries.

The Technique of the Mystery Story – This book on writing mysteries was written by Carolyn Wells in 1913, and is now public domain and available on Project Gutenberg. Despite the age, Wells does a good job of exploring mysteries as they were in her time, and it’s an interesting look at the classic murder mystery formula.

The Three Mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle – A series of articles I wrote breaking down three mystery patterns that Doyle (and other mystery writers) tend to follow: the Whodunnit, Howdunnit, and Whydunnit. Includes formulas for each of the three types suitable for short stories or longer works.