Hi, everyone! You know how I love working on story ideas and creative writing exercises, and I’ve been reading a lot of mystery novels lately — mostly cozy mysteries, not gritty crime novels, although I might enjoy those, too. That inspired me to write this list of prompts for mystery stories.
The basic mystery plot formula is pretty simple. Early on, a dead body turns up, a valuable item goes missing, or a puzzle begs to be solved. The reader knows that by the end of the book, questions will have been answered, which is a comforting element in even the most gruesome murder mysteries.
The originality and charm, of course, is mostly in the execution. Ten different writers could take the same writing prompt here and write ten vastly different stories, so there’s no reason to worry about whether it’s okay to get inspiration from here.
You can also use this list as an idea generator for free writing. Whether you stumble across a story idea you love in the process, or you just get your creative writing juices flowing again, it’s so worth it.
Although I had mystery novels in mind, some of these could become a subplot in a different fiction genre, from fantasy and romance (especially romantic suspense), to historical fiction and thrillers. (And you might also be interested in my list of 50 thriller plot ideas!)
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1. A woman asks a writer to write the story of her life. Then she goes missing.
2. Murder victims are found buried with some of their wordly goods, Viking style.
3. Three people close to the murder victim have confessed. Each of them swears they acted alone.
4. Notes and gifts from her “Secret Santa” at work take a strange turn.
5. It’s going to be a beautiful wedding at a beautiful destination, but two people in the wedding party have been murdered.
6. The creator of a high-tech prototype that will change an industry has gone missing.
7. Her parents believe her to be their biological child, but they all learn otherwise.
8. The dead woman’s wedding ring is found in a ditch forty miles away.
9. A museum conservator is restoring an old painting, and an X-ray reveals something shocking or mysterious painted or written in the layer beneath.
10. A sorority sister who bullied prospective pledges is found dead.
11. As a man researches his genealogy, he finds that ancestors from a few different generations and a few different countries made visits to the same remote place.
12. Someone replaced the woman’s contact lens solution with a damaging liquid.
13. He’s always been a faithful husband, but someone has planted false evidence of his having an affair.
14. A detective is hired for a high price to find a thief who stole something that doesn’t appear to have any real value.
15. Every unmarried lady at the ball wanted to dance with the duke, so it’s too bad he was found stabbed in the garden.
16. In the middle of a wilderness, someone finds an abandoned bunker with security cameras, powered by a generator.
17. The graves of historic figures are being robbed.
18. Clues to the mystery come to him in dreams, but nobody believes him.
19. Serial murders in cities in two different countries are very similar.
20. A man she didn’t know left her a valuable and unusual item in his will.
21. A writer researching his biography of a Golden Age movie star comes across something that makes him suspect that contrary to the official story, she was a murder victim.
22. The accidental death of this investigative reporter seems a little too convenient.
23. The murders all relate to common fears, such as public speaking, flying, and heights.
24. A woman wakes up with a headache and goes into work, only to learn that she’s been missing for a month.
25. Writers are being murdered at the mystery writers’ convention.
26. The painting must have been stolen from the museum in broad daylight, but the security cameras malfunctioned and no witnesses have come forward.
27. Three different guests at the Air BnB died later under mysterious circumstances.
28. A practicing witch or voodoo priestess is accused of murder.
29. The murders are re-enactments of famous murders in novels or movies.
30. He claims to be the rich man who was lost at sea two decades ago.
31. The inspector’s friend is murdered while he is talking on the phone to the inspector.
32. A dead body is found in an unclaimed piece of luggage at the airport.
33. He was murdered on his honeymoon on a cruise ship, and his new, much-younger bride was the only one on board who even knew him.
34. A woman who didn’t know she was adopted meets her twin sister, who gives her a dire warning.
35. One of the pies submitted to the state fair contest was poisoned.
36. The report of a celebrity’s death is false, but he dies soon after.
37. The murder victims all have the same tailor.
38. Who would kill the guest of honor at their 100th birthday party?
39. The victim was found drowned in a whiskey barrel at the distillery.
40. A wife arranges a romantic “scavenger hunt” for her husband, but someone else changes a few of the clues.
41. The thief who steals rare books always leaves a sonnet behind.
42. The wrong body is in the casket at the visitation. No one knows who it is, or where the other body is.
43. The murders were definitely committed by a human, but resemble the attacks of wild animals.
44. After the woman returned the lost wallet, someone began stalking her.
45. The book she’s reading seems to be telling the story of her own life, though she doesn’t think she’s ever met the author.
46. A man who faked his own death must be found in time.
47. Someone in a villain costume and mask attempts to kill an actor at a fan convention. The actor is saved by a fan dressed as a superhero.
48. An Egyptian mummy, or what appears to be one, is found in an unlikely place.
49. A man is found murdered following a heated argument with several people on social media.
50. A body is found in the organic vegetable garden at a hippie commune.
I hope you liked the list! If you did, please share it on Twitter or Facebook—I’d really appreciate it.
And if you want more inspiration, please check out my book 5,000 Writing Prompts! It has 100 more mystery writing prompts in addition to the ones on this list, plus hundreds of other master plots by genre, dialogue and character prompts, and much more.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and happy writing!