Five tips for writing mystery stories for kids

By R.A. Spratt.

The latest book from R.A. Spratt is The Peski Kids 5: The Final Mission, a mystery story for kids. We get her to spill five tips on how to write a great mystery story for children.

1. Plot backwards
I usually come up with the big reveal of the mystery plot ending first. Then work out the clues I need to get to that point. Working backwards makes it easier to twist and turn your plot in unexpected directions, misdirecting your readers. Once you know where a scene has to end you have a lot of freedom in how you actually get there.

2. Plot everything before you begin
If you know what is happening at the end of your book it makes it easier to insert all the clues subtly. This is referred to as ‘putting the gun on the mantlepiece’ or ‘painting the drainpipes red’. Basically it’s about how you insert information that will be crucial for the plot later on. The better you plan, the cleverer you can be about slipping those clues in there.

3. Insert awesome action
All stories need an escalation of energy as you pass from the second act to the third act. This is usually some sort of chase, or rushing to beat a ‘ticking clock’. The detective needs to solve the crime before the criminal strikes again! I’ve got a background as an animation writer so I’m used to thinking about stories visually. I like to go to town and come up with something that ‘looks’ really cool. A chase on horseback when a pretend princess steals the trophy, or leaping into a flooded storm water drain to escape a murderous retired principal.

4. The problem doesn’t have to be big
When writing kids’ crime fiction you can’t have any violent crimes, or drug use, or anyone with a gun, or describe anything dangerous that the readers could imitate. So that limits the type of crime you can work with. But remember – the scale of the crime in your perception is not what matters. It’s the way the characters view the crime. Kids can get all worked up about the silliest little thing. To them, not getting their homework in on time can feel like it’s life and death. They talk about their parents ‘killing’ them and their teachers ‘torturing’ them. So long as your characters are invested in the desperate seriousness of the crime it will work for the story, even if it is just a dog that ate their homework.

5. Cliffhangers sell books
It’s great to sell a book. But what is really great is when that leads to the reader buying the next one as well. Ending your book with a cliffhanger can make a big difference to the sales of the later books in your series.

R.A Spratt’s latest book, The Peski Kids 5: The Final Mission is a masterclass in writing mystery stories for kids and is available online and in store now. She is the author of The Peski Kids, Friday Barnes and The Adventures of Nanny Piggins. In her previous life she was a television writer. Unlike the Peski kids, R.A. Spratt never fights with her brother, but only because he moved to Tokyo to get away from her. R.A. lives in Bowral, NSW, where she has three chickens, five goldfish and a dog. She also has a husband and two daughters.

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