Although this blog is about horror stories, there is a lot of cross-over with murder mysteries. A good whodunnit can easily turn into a horror story if you add a supernatural element. Some non-supernatural murder stories can play out like horror as well. Silence Of The Lambs is a good example.
There are a number of good ways to start a murder story. You can start with the discovery of a body. You can begin with the detective’s perspective, or the victim’s. You could also start with the killer’s perspective. Another great way to start is by profiling the killer or the victim. Finally, you could begin by setting the scene, either the investigation or the aftermath of the crime.
Murder stories are one of the most well-established genres. There are a lot of opinions about how they should be written but there are definitely some tried and true methods. Here are some ways you can start a murder story that have stood the test of time.
Start With a Gruesome Discovery
Starting your murder story with a gruesome discovery is both attention-grabbing and ensures the reader knows from the start that something bad has happened. It also provides a sense of foreboding, as readers worry over what will happen next. For example;
“This morning, the police were called to a gruesome scene at 186 Maple Ave where they found the body of Mr Harold Katz, whose throat had been slit. The blaze of yellow police tape surrounded the house and firemen made certain that no one got too close to the body…”
This will pique the curiosity of your readers, and ensure that they continue reading. They will not know what you have yet to reveal, but they will be interested in the story nonetheless.
You can also create a sense of mystery by using the detective’s perspective. This allows the reader to learn what happens by reading the story through the eyes of the detective. For example;
“He stood there, with his hands in his pockets, staring at what was left of a house. The sight made cold shivers run down his spine…The yellow tape fluttered in a light breeze from one end of the road to another.”
This adds suspense and mystery to your story.
Or you can use the victim’s perspective, in which the reader learns what happened by learning about the victim. For example;
“They found him lying motionless on his kitchen floor. The knife was still embedded in his back.”
This adds mystery to your story. However, avoid making your characters victims by creating obvious victims – such as the twenty-something bank clerk who is murdered at a cash machine, or the American soldier who is stabbed to death on a remote island – as this kind of writing will bore readers. The reader will probably guess the victim well before they discover it, and this will make them stop reading.
You could also start your story from the point of view of the killer. This adds mystery to your story, as there will be more questions over who did it. For example;
“The knife sliced through his skin like butter and he groaned in pain, but he was used to it…This was his job and, in a way, he rather enjoyed it.”
Here, you are writing about the killer’s actions, as opposed to his or her feelings, which means that you can manipulate what your readers think. You can create false impressions by writing something deliberately misleading. Make sure that this is all part of your plan when you write, or else your readers could be left confused. A scary story is not just about the plot, but also about the suspense and mystery created by the writing style.
Profiling the Victim
You can also create suspense by profiling the victim. This means describing the victim’s life and personality in advance of their death. For example;
“Who was she? Was she a loving wife and mother, or a runaway teen? More importantly, who killed her?”
This gives your story an element of mystery, as readers try to figure out who the victim was – which adds to the suspense in your story. Here, your focus is not on the event at hand, but rather on the victim’s life, which provides interest in the story – there is something different about her.
Profiling the Killer
In a murder story, your killer is as important as your victim. Profiling them adds suspense to the story, as it makes readers wonder why they committed the crime. Here, you focus on your killer’s personality and history and try to figure out what led him or her to become a potential killer. For example;
“Tom was a kind man at heart. He would often take in stray animals, and would volunteer at the local homeless shelter…”
Here you are trying to understand who Tom is by revealing his kind nature. You are creating sympathy for Tom, and making it seem as though he is a good man – so why did he kill? Your readers will wonder why.
Setting the Scene
Another great way to start your story is to describe the setting. This will pique your readers’ interest, as it provides an element of mystery – where did the crime take place? For example;
“The old wooden barrel lay in the corner of the abandoned factory. It had once been used for making wine, but now all that it contained was human remains…”
In this paragraph, you have managed to grab the reader’s attention and interest. The sentence also lends atmosphere to your story, and a sense of foreboding – something bad has happened here.
Start With the Investigation
You could also start your story by describing the police investigation which follows the discovery of the crime. It will ensure that there is a sense of mystery and suspense. For example;
“Sergeant Goodman was furious as he saw that the body had been moved – he wanted to get it right first time.”
Here, you are reading the story through Sergeant Goodman’s eyes, which adds drama to your story. The reader will want to learn why this investigation is taking place, and who was involved.
Revealing the Motive
Revealing the motive is another smart way to start your story. This can be done in different ways, but the most common and effective is to reveal the motive through conversation – this will ensure that your readers want to know what is being said. For example, you could have a villain speaking with a victim or another character – for example;
“It’s all about power and money. We both have it.”
This shows the reader who has power over whom and why. It provides them with a greater understanding of the story and helps establish a certain tone. It also provides investigation opportunities, as you could ask the reader to listen out for clues in his or her dialogue.
Start With the Aftermath
Another way to start is by revealing the aftermath of a crime. For example;
“A trail of blood was left behind, leading up to the pool of blood on the pavement. The police had already cordoned off the area and were conducting their investigation.”
Here, you describe what is visible to the reader, but not yet what has happened before that. It’s like being told part of a story, leaving them wondering about the rest of it. This will create a sense of mystery and suspense in your story.
These are some solid openers for murder mysteries. Hopefully, one of these has sparked your imagination and inspires you to write your next story. Happy writing.