Close up of young cheerful brunette woman looking through magnifying glass, isolated over yellow background


Someone asked me in a recent interview what genre I enjoy writing the most. My response: mystery.

Although I am dedicated to and write often about the awareness of mental health, domestic abuse, and other burning issues in our society, I also long to invite readers to solve mysteries by planting false evidence and backstories to guide them in the wrong direction and then shock them in the end.

Oh, but I’m giving away the good stuff, before we even begin, sorry.

Let’s first discuss my process. I don’t just jump right in and begin writing. Heaven forbid! I have to plan out the storyline with a vision board that I create in PowerPoint, complete with graphics. Each slide is a chapter where I outline what I think should happen, but that doesn’t always remain the same when I write the actual book. Those characters have a mind of their own!

criminal stalking a woman alone in a dark street alley


So back to the good stuff! What are the key elements of a compelling mystery?

  1. An intriguing beginning. One that assumes you’ve read the book and gotten almost to the end, but not all the way to the big reveal. For example: Ella could not believe what she was experiencing. This part of the formula was never even tested on humans. Donnell had only shared the results of the lab tests with mice. But there she was, with a top view of the entire downtown area. The people and cars in the streets resembled dots moving through a maze of buildings, trying to escape. Cool, right!? You’re now dying to know if she was floating, flying, or some other explanation! And what experiment were she and Donnell working on?
  2. Well-defined chapters. Chapters should move the reader to the next chapter with anticipation, ease, and an effortless flow. I love it when my readers tell me they read one of my books in one sitting and could not put it down. That’s exactly what I want. You want your books to be ‘a movie without an intermission’. One scene after the other, keeping them guessing and ready for the next clue!
  3. Subtle clues. Be sure to give clues here and there, with some being fact and some utter fiction to throw the reader off. If you make it too easy, there is no anticipation to move on to the next chapter. Also, your facts should be solid evidence that can be verified, logged, and traced, like DNA or fingerprints.
  4. Build backstories.  Did you ever think of creating backstories for innocent characters that make them look guilty. For example, ‘when Josh was a kid, he was once accused of hurting the neighbor’s cat’. Another trick to throw your readers off the scent.
  5. Did someone say ‘catfight’? Whether it’s the two detectives on the case, the prime suspect and lead detective, or the police and the crime scene unit, you must have some sort of conflict towards the middle of the story that hinders the investigation.
  6. Let the Killer win…for a second. At some point in the story, make it seem like the killer or criminal is getting away with their crime. Not to say they have to get caught in the end, but it has to be a challenge for the police, right?!
  7. Do your homework. Use the right language in the mystery, and I don’t mean in your vocabulary. If you are writing a murder mystery about a shooting, do your homework on weapons and the relevant language, such as striations, calibers, and casings. You want your mysteries to be as realistic as possible unless you are writing a paranormal mystery. Ha!
  8. The Shock Treatment. Give your readers a shock here and there. Make them gasp, jump, shudder, cringe, and more! In short, give them a story that is out of the ordinary and one they won’t soon forget.


Overall, the key is to make your mystery novels read like a movie, be compelling, and pull the reader in, so they can’t put it down. Do your homework, make it realistic, and don’t give away the solution too early in the story.

Until next time…

About the Author

Cheryl Bannerman is a prolific and versatile author with a portfolio of ten published works across various genres including mystery novels and a children’s book. In 2018, she received the prestigious 2018 Book Excellence Award for her poetry collection, Words Never Spoken. In 2020, Bannerman’s book, Black Child to Black Woman: An African-American Woman Coming-of-Age Story, garnered acclaim, winning the Best Books Award in African American fiction and the Reader’s Favorite International Book Award Contest in Urban Fiction in 2021.

Readers can connect with Bannerman, purchase signed copies of her books, and subscribe to her newsletter through her website, When she is not writing for her next book, Bannerman is running her 28-year-old virtual B2B Training and Development company based out of her Orlando, Florida, home.