There are few things as satisfying as fleshing out a fantastic idea. It’s a great creative writing exercise. Many writers use short writing prompts as inspiration for story starters.
What makes a good prompt? It’s relatively simple: a good prompt has a who and a what. You don’t necessarily need a where or when, but they can be included to form a more specific mystery plot.
But what if you can’t think of anything? Here are 65 mystery writing prompts to get you started. Any of these ideas can be turned into a short story or a mystery novel!
Mystery Story Ideas And Mystery Writing Prompts
Mystery Story Starters
Below are starters to help you in conceptualizing, imagining, and creating a new mystery story:
- The fast-paced city you currently reside in turns out to be moving irregularly one day. People wander around slowly, cashiers swipe items slowly, and cars seem to be slower than your walking pace. Everything slows down except you.
- A man visited his best friend’s house, only to find a scrapbook with pictures where his face has been intentionally erased.
- A woman has arrived home after work one night, only to noticed that there is not one other light in her apartment building that is on except for hers. Where did the other people go? And who is inside her apartment?
- A group of teenagers were looking for an adventure, they end up at an abandoned house; a series of screams followed their entrance.
- A man was browsing his emails one night, when a new email pops up saying: “Someone will knock on your door; no matter what it takes, secure the door.”
- A person is detained for a crime and believes that they are innocent but their DNA is on the murder weapon and the clothes of the dead body. As a detective, you have to find ways to prove their innocence.
- A woman’s grandfather passed away and left his last will. However, on the day before its reading, the attorney was nowhere to be found and has disappeared without a trace.
- An 80-year-old woman is convinced that you were her teacher in 1950 and added that you were her favorite. However, you were born in 1994.
- A man wakes up and everything feels like deja vu. Is it because of the wrong choice he made the night before?
Historical Story Ideas and writing prompts
The following prompts include mysteries in the ancient world.
- As the head archaeologist on the dig, you get the honor of opening up the sarcophagus. What a surprise it is to find a cell phone in a thousand-year-old tomb.
- An ancient artifact arrives at the museum you work at. Your mentor is tasked with dating and placing the piece. When you come in the next day, you find your mentor murdered and the artifact missing.
- A man who struck it rich in the gold rush suddenly disappears, leaving nothing but a cryptic note.
- A sharp-tongued guard and the mayor’s aid team up in WWII Germany and try to find the true killer of the mayor. Plot twist: it’s the guard.
- A defense attorney and the high school-aged son of the murder victim team up together to find the murderer, only to realize it’s actually a suicide.
- The main character is a mafia member in 1920’s New York who has to get away with murder.
- A story set in the 1900’s where the entire police force is complacent in the crime.
Classic Murder Mystery Plot Ideas
- A new boy arrives in your small town just in time for something to go terribly wrong at the yearly homecoming parade, resulting in at least one death. As chaos depends on your high school, one has to ask, “Who is responsible?”
- A dead body turns up at your apartment. The local police chief of your small town is convinced you are responsible, and he’s determined to find the evidence to arrest you.
- A woman is missing and presumed dead. As a private detective, you aren’t limited by the law the same way police officers are. You’re stumped, that is, until the next-door neighbor is killed, and you were the last person to see her alive. Well, besides the murderer.
- Even as an experienced detective, you’re still surprised when someone confesses to a murder they’re convinced they committed, mostly because you know they didn’t do it. Or did they?
- A relationship ends, and the following day the man is found dead.
- A recording of a confession of murder is dropped off at your station. As the head detective, you’re tasked with finding out who the victim is and who the killer is.
- A hardboiled PI and a stranded bridesmaid enter the underbelly of society after a mass grave is discovered.
- A baker who consistently stumbles into trouble is the main suspect in a murder investigation.
- A story starts with, “I was twenty-one when I first met my killer.”
- The detective is atoning for murdering a man in his youth.
- A murderous hitchhiker must be caught before he strikes again, but it’s the 70’s and everyone hitchhikes.
- A housekeeper that is a hoarder finds a decayed body in her home under a pile of things.
Mystical/Magical writing prompts
- Your best friend goes missing, and in the chaos that ensues, you find out she’s a practicing witch. Does this have anything to do with her disappearance?
- You follow the detective as he solves the murder, only to find out he’s narrating how his own death occurred.
- You find a secret door in an abandoned manor you’re exploring. Upon opening it, you step back in time. Who put the door there and why? Why is the house abandoned?
- Murder victims keep turning up surrounded by strange symbols. They look like ritual killings but end up being something entirely different.
- You buried your sister years ago, yet here she is at your doorstep. Which one was the imposter, and which one is your real sister?
- You’re haunted by your lover’s ghost (literally), and you have to find out who killed them.
- A haunted house is sold in the suburbs. The protagonist can hear the ghosts, and they’re begging her to solve their murders.
- A lost wallet appears in front of you on the sidewalk, and when you pick it up, you’re transported back in time and must solve the missing person’s case before you can return.
- A flight vanishes mid-air, lost in another dimension.
General writing prompts
- Someone is proposed to. The only problem is, where is their current spouse?
- Your best friend stops by to say hi. The only problem is they’ve been missing for the better part of five years. They have no recollection of any missing time at all.
- Secret Santa starts off with a bang when the first present is a mangled hand. Unfortunately, as the rest of the presents are unwrapped, the manager’s body emerges, piece by piece.
- The family is together for the first time in a decade, all to read grandpa’s will and see who gets what. No one was prepared for the winner to take all approach that grandpa took towards catching his murderer.
- A reporter investigating policy corruption disappears.
- A house fire and a burglary next door appear unconnected, but a mysterious note implies otherwise.
- An heiress is missing and doesn’t want to be found. Is finding her the right thing to do?
- A forensic scientist and a babysitter are drawn into a decades-old cold case. Is the killer even alive anymore?
- A serial killer that’s never been caught aids in the investigation of a different serial killer.
- A manipulative janitor finds a missing child in the basement of the school he works for. How did he get there?
- A hardboiled PI with a double identity must keep his secret safe, as he is thrust into the spotlight.
- A whodunit story about drug trafficking that starts with a live alligator being thrown through the farmhouse window.
- A story where every witness is lying about everything but one fact and when those facts are combined the truth can be found.
- A story where the key suspect is a hallucination.
- A story where the protagonist is the murder victim.
- A story idea where the detective solved the crime but is suffering amnesia.
- Evidence arrives at the detective’s door that may reopen a decade-long cold case.
- The husband is in denial that his wife is missing at all and keeps trying to give evidence that she’s still around.
- A story is set in a prison where the killer is already caught, but no one knows it.
- A priest’s dead body is found by his congregation.
- A story where the murder scene and mystery are told through a child who doesn’t understand everything.
- A story where two characters who are never in the same scene together turn out to be the same person.
- The FBI agent is completely incompetent yet somehow stumbles across the truth.
- A story where a minor character is actually the killer.
- A story where one of the characters has a secret that everyone knows exists but is never revealed.
- A story where the protagonist fails, and the killer gets away (for now).
- A story that simultaneously takes place in two different timelines.
- A story where the protagonist’s main objective is revenge, and he’ll take down anyone who gets in his way, regardless of who they are.
- They’re racing the clock to find someone buried alive.
- A story where a blue-collar crime spans four decades and two generations.
- A story that is non-linear and involves a spy searching for a murder weapon.
- A story where the protagonist is a sociopath, but the reader doesn’t know. They may or may not be the actual villain.
- A story where the key witness is a compulsive liar.
- Write a story that is a retelling of a Shakespearean tragedy.
- A journalist is wrongfully accused of murder and thrown in jail. From there, he must find a way to solve the crime and bring the actual murderer to justice.
- A story where the serial killer had been put to death a decade ago, but it is now back.
- A story where someone overhears something they aren’t supposed to and is kidnapped. The detective has to find them.
Using These Prompts as Plot Ideas
There is no right or wrong way to use these mystery writing prompts, whether you write them exactly as suggested or you alter them as you see fit.
The purpose isn’t to come up with a perfect piece that follows the prompt exactly, but rather to get your brain flowing so you can write more within the mystery genre.
Depending on the amount of time you have and the length of the piece you decide to write, you can easily work through a prompt a day. Choosing a prompt is as easy or as complicated as you make it. You can randomly choose one, or you can sort through them to find the perfect prompt.
Once you have the right prompt, the length of the story has to be determined. You can write a snippet, a short story, you can write a full-length novel or begin a small series of mystery novels. It’s entirely up to you.
It’s always helpful to have prompts lying around, whether the prompt is from your own mind that you scribbled down or if it was from someone else because prompts help you get the creativity started.