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Mystery Elements


  • The protagonist is the main character of the story. Suspects are characters who may have cause the problem the mystery is trying to solve. Detectives or investigators try to solve the mystery.



  • The location where the mystery takes place.



  • The plot is the story of the mystery. Usually there is:
    • A problem or puzzle to solve
    • Something that is missing
    • A secret
    • An event that is not explained
  • Most mystery plots use suspense. This means that the reader does not know the solution while he or she is reading the mystery.
  • The inciting incident is the event or decision that starts the story's problem or mystery. This is what hooks the reader's interest.



Clues are hints that help the detective and reader solve the mystery. They can be things people say or do or objects that are found.



Distractions are things that lead an investigator off the path, including clues that do not add up to a solution but make the search longer.



  • Structure refers to the way the story is set up. Most mysteries have a structure like this:
    • Introduction: learn about the problem, meet characters
    • Body of story: someone is working to solve the mystery
    • Conclusion: mystery is solved

Adapted from Mystery Elements by Read Write Think


ALIBI: An excuse that an accused person uses to show that they were not at the scene of the crime.


BREAKTHROUGH: A discovery that helps solve the crime.


CLUE: A fact or object that gives information toward solving the crime.


CRIME: An action that breaks the law.


DEDUCTION: Drawing a conclusion.


DETECTIVE: An investigator looking for and gathering clues.


EVIDENCE: A thing or statement that helps to prove who committed the crime.


FORENSIC SCIENCE: The application of science to criminal justice, especially as relating to the collection, examination, and analysis of physical evidence.


HUNCH: A guess or gut feeling not based on facts.


MOTIVE: A reason that a person does something -- can include anger, hatred, love, revenge, or greed.


MYSTERY: Something that is unknown.


RED HERRING: A false clue that throws the investigator off track.


SLEUTH: An investigator.


SUSPECT: Person who has a motive to have committed a crime.


WITNESS: Person who has knowledge about a crime.

Adapted from Mystery Words by Read Write Think