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30 Story Ideas for Your Mystery Novel or Screenplay

When you’re writing a mystery novel or a screenplay that revolves around it, you’ll have to keep in mind some key elements to make it effective. Mysteries are like assembling pieces of a puzzle together and the folks who enjoy watching or reading them will be constantly trying to figure things out along the way. If your story is predictable, people may not even finish it.

The idea is to keep the reader or audience guessing. Aside from writing a compelling story with dynamic characters, this will be one of your main goals along the way.

Before reading the list of mystery story ideas below for your writing prompts, keep in mind these mystery tips.

Research the best mystery stories

Don’t just read or watch mystery movies you like, but find the ones the majority of the general audience loves as well. You want some of the most proven stories to be your bar for success.

Pay attention to every detail and recognize the clues.

After you watch or read the mystery and it’s revealed the ending, make sure to start over and look for all the clues that led up to the ending. Stories that don’t have the proper foreshadowing and clues are cheating. Every piece of the puzzle has to lead from one to the next.

The idea is not to “get over” on the audience, but you want them to feel like kicking themselves for not being able to figure out what was in front of them the entire time.

Make sure your opening is mysterious. Capture the reader or audience's interest immediately.

Establish right away that your story is based on a mystery. Don’t allow the reader or audience to wonder what type of story this might be. For example, crime mysteries open with the crime that has been committed. A story about a jewel thief may begin with the heist itself.

Make all your main characters a suspect.

When everyone has a reason to be a suspect in the story it allows you to misdirect the reader or audience at any given point. The “bad guy” may actually turn out to be a patsy and the “good guy” may actually turn out to be a murderous serial killer.

Try not to give the audience or reader what they expect.

Check out these mystery writing prompts for novel or script ideas

  • A burnt out archeologist discovers a modern era pistol sealed inside an ancient relic.
  • Three men enter a busy elevator at a bank during business hours. Only one of them comes out.
  • A promiscuous woman makes a pass at a stranger and ends up at his condo late at night to make love. After snooping around a bit, she discovers dozens of her personal belongings under his bed.
  • The world’s fastest train crashes on live television, but no bodies are found after the collision.
  • A powerful Mexican cartel leader is imprisoned for a number of federal charges. On the day of the trial, all of the evidence goes missing and it is rediscovered at the lead investigator’s mistress’s home.
  • A group of friends call a dead childhood friend’s cell phone — and he answers.
  • After testifying against a serial killer, a woman comes home and finds bloody footprints and several dead bodies in her home.
  • One person in a small town dies each day from blunt trauma to the back of their head. The main suspect is an elderly woman in a nursing home.
  • A man comes home to find his wife and children are having dinner with who they consider the husband and father.
  • Small buildings with one floor labeled “13th Floor” are randomly appearing across the world. Everyone who enters never comes out.
  • A little girl stumbles across a dead body in the woods — it’s a child that looks exactly like her.
  • A group of teens leave a friend in the middle of the desert as a prank and run out of gas several miles later. With no cellphone reception the sun sets and strange noises are heard in the distance.
  • A mafia tax collector beats up all of his clients in a single day after each of them claim to have been robbed. When he gets home he finds all of the money owed on his kitchen table covered in blood.
  • The town’s most popular guy attends his family reunion and nobody recognizes him. 
  • A ten year old boy asks a writer to write the story of his life and his story begins over two hundred years ago.
  • A disgruntled detective quits after a serial killer beats his case. After a drunk night at the bar, he wakes up in another part of town and people are referencing him by the killer’s name.
  • A teenager commits a petty crime in order to pay a hitman to kill his cheating girlfriend. Things escalate when the hitman turns up dead with a note taped to his forehead that reads “Nice try. Now it’s my turn.”
  • A magician travels from town to town performing a trick where he is ultimately killed by his assistants each time.
  • A private investigator is offered $1 million dollars to recover a $5 item.
  • The world’s most popular nun is accused of being a street hooker by night who murders married men cheating on their wives.
  • Every news reporter who reports on the stock market suddenly goes bankrupt after the stock market hits an all time low on Friday 13th.
  • All the murder victims have one thing in common — they visited the same grocery store one hour prior.
  • A rival country launches a nuclear bomb that doesn’t kill anyone after it explodes.
  • A dead body is found skinned alive inside an Easter bunny suite within a church on Easter Sunday. The pastor has specs of blood on his hands for some reason when the cops show up.
  • A notorious con artist is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and it could cost him everything if he can’t prove his innocence.
  • A petty thief decides to turn in a wallet lost and found but learns there is a winning lottery ticket inside shortly after he leaves.
  • A man comes home to find his wife murdered and a video is playing on the television that shows him committing the crime. Sirens immediately begin blaring outside a few seconds later.
  • A fourth grader has been telling everyone for weeks he’s been seeing strange things near the woods at night. The problem is — he’s known for crying wolf, so it’s quite ironic when dead bodies begin turning up with all types of wild animal bites and scratches.
  • He was considered the dumbest guy on the football team, but after that rough hit he took in last night’s game he can now speak seven different languages and has the highest IQ in the country.
  • A radical politician takes things a step too far when he rams a protestor with his car. Since nobody was around to see what he did — of course he left the scene. The weird part is when the protestor shows up in his office the next day wearing a suit and is introduced as his new boss.
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Jay Carver

Jay Carver is a screenwriter, director and producer. Through his production company J-Style Films, he has done work for companies such as Turner Broadcasting. In the past, he has worked with Hollywood actor Omari Hardwick and won several film festivals including "Best Director".

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