Guest Post: The Formulaic Mystery Template by Elaine Faber

The Formulaic Mystery Template by Elaine Faber
Author of Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary

1-Guest redWhether Thriller or Cozy mysteries, avid mystery buffs read multiple books each year. They acquire reading material through book sales, garage sales, the library, borrowed from a friend, and occasionally, they purchase a book from the author!

Let’s pretend for a minute, you’re a new writer desirous of launching a new mystery series. After careful analysis of a number of successful series,’ a tried and true template emerges.

The story heroine must be a beautiful, blonde, female sleuth. She must have a German Shepard in order to capture the animal lovers. The dog doesn’t have to solve crimes, but it helps. She needs an unusual job or hobby. Her sweetheart must be connected to the inept police department, otherwise, how could she access the official information about the crime scene generally withheld from the public?

Other mystery series’ have already snagged off the best jobs or hobbies. We have popular series’ about bookstore owners, catering services, dog groomers, travel agents, authors, pet sitters, private detectives, etc. We need a career that hasn’t been done to death, but one that gives our sleuth access to plenty of potential murder victims. It is a series, remember?

How about a lady who pumps out septic tanks? She’d be in plenty of back yards spotting nefarious ‘going’s-on’, or how about the Avon lady selling wrinkle cream door to door, or the Fuller Brush gal? Plenty of opportunities to look beyond the screen door and see someone bound and gagged… Maybe not.

Let’s stick with the lady plumber concept.

So let’s see…to follow the typical mystery template. The lady plumber and her quirky sidekick (did I forget to mention the quirky friend?) find a body in the pump house. Proceed to red herrings, unrequited love, and suspicious characters, but they all have alibis. Toss in some stopped up toilets, overflowing bathtubs, (a humorous scene or two), and move right on to the climax where our heroine agrees to meet the villain in a plumbing warehouse but neglects to tell anyone where she’s going. Killer strings her up to the rafters. Death is imminent. Her dog has tracked her scent and leads her detective boyfriend to the warehouse. He bursts down the shower door just in the nick of time. The killer is apprehended, every toilet lid lowered, and the heroine and detective drive off into the sunset in the sewer truck. Sounds like a best seller.

To be fair, there are many ways to change up the various topics; hobbies, quirky friend, red herrings, suspects, mysterious notes, murder, theft, kidnapping, contraband, secret messages, identity of villain (always the least noticed and most unexpected cast member, of course), etc. This is the formulaic template, with assorted variations, that most mystery stories and Hallmark movies follow.

Where are the brave authors willing to break the mold, or at least daring to write a mystery that doesn’t end with the heroine strung up in the barn (figuratively speaking)? Sadly, many mystery authors continue to follow the same template.

If you are an animal lover and mystery lover, you will love Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary, a cozy mystery set in dual hemispheres, as Black Cat narrates the intrigue back home, while Kimberlee seeks stolen gold coins in Austria, following a cryptic poem in a WWII soldier’s diary. Not your typical mystery writing template.

Amazon e-book


About The Book:

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary: A Tale of History, Mystery, Riddles, and Gold.

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s DiaryIn this dual tale of mystery, lost treasure, and riddles, while Black Cat narrates the exciting events in Fern Lake, Kimberlee discovers a cryptic clue in a diary about a hidden treasure and heads to Austria to solve the puzzle.

When Kimberlee and Dorian arrive in Austria, they attract the attention of a stalker determined to steal the diary in hopes the clues will lead him to the treasure first. On a collision course, it is inevitable that Kimberlee and the stalker meet in Hopfgarten.

Black Cat and Angel’s lives are endangered with the arrival of Kimberlee’s grandmother in Fern Lake, and the return of a man presumed dead for twenty-five years. With both arrivals, emotional and financial difficulties loom for Kimberlee’s family. Since their return to Fern Lake, Angel seems reluctant or unable to adjust to her new home. Does she regret leaving Texas and Grandmother? And, when the opportunity arises, will she decide to leave Black Cat and Fern Lake?

Purchase Links: Amazon 


About The Author:

Elaine Faber

Elaine Faber lives in Northern California with her husband and feline companions. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, California Cat Writers, and Northern California Publishers and Artists. She volunteers with the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop. She enjoys speaking at public venues, sharing highlights of her novels. Her short stories have appeared in national magazines and multiple anthologies.

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  1. Your analysis of the template is spot on. Sometimes I can speak the lines of the characters before I read or watch them. I hate that predictability.


  2. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your article seem to be running off the screen in Safari.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to
    let you know. The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem solved soon. Thanks


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