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Mystery Writing

You may be surprised to discover that many---if not all---of the books you have read recently are mysteries. From Dan Brown to Dennis Lehane, mysteries are hot items on today’s best-seller lists. This course is designed to teach you the techniques you need to know if you want to become a best-selling mystery author. The course begins by introducing you to the four types of stories and explains how they relate to mysteries. You will discover the tree-act story structure and show you how to propel the action forward to a climax, followed by a release of tension as your readers experience a great finish. You will discover the between story and plot and get a chance to experiment with viewpoints to see which one works best with your mystery. This course will allow you to write a complete scene and learn the internal structure that makes every scene feel right. You will discover special techniques that apply to mysteries, including: crime scene description, MacGuffins, and the use of red herrings to misdirect your readers and create suspense. Following each lesson, you will get to practice on your own story. 

This information-packed online course combines the best advice of many writing professionals, tempered with the instructor’s own experience as a mystery writer.  Follow the guidelines taught in this course, and you will be well on your way writing a successful mystery of your very own.

6 Weeks / 24 Course Hrs
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Starting March 13 | April 17

Mystery Writing


Details + Objectives

Course Code: mys

What You Will Learn
  • Discover the four different story types and explore how they combine to create some great mysteries
  • Learn the difference between plot and story
  • Explore the relationship between passion, theme, character, and premise
  • Learn to create your protagonist, antagonist, and other characters, and invent their flaws
  • Master the nine checkpoints around which you will construct your mystery
  • Apply Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3 checkpoints as you create your hook, design your crisis, and polish your plan, climax, and ending
  • Learn an easy way to expand your mystery’s structure into a story outline
  • Explore the way scene and sequel intertwine to create your mystery
  • Select an viewpoint that will work best and gain an understanding of its benefits and limitations
  • Learn to incorporate suspense, misdirection, and deductive reasoning as you finish structuring your mystery
How the course is taught
  • Instructor-led course
  • 6 weeks in duration
  • Courses begin each month
  • 2 lessons released each week
  • 24 course hours
How you will benefit
  • Gain the best advice of many writing professionals, tempered with the instructor’s own experience as a mystery writer
  • Be well on your way to writing a successful mystery of your very own


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Week 1

In this first lesson, you will begin finding the secret that guarantees success as a writer. It is the secret of knowing where you are going before you start. You will examine what makes a mystery great, and explore a number of real-world examples.  Then you will learn that plot is physical while story is emotional. You will learn that balancing the two is one of the keys to writing fiction that will satisfy your audience.

Week 2

This lesson will cover the dramatic elements at the heart of every story:  passion, theme, character, and premise. Your passion is what drives you to tell your story and the theme is the underlying message it carries. To convey your theme, you create characters that represent it. Put these elements together and you have your premise. Then you will discover why the best characters are flawed. You will explore the main character---the protagonist--- and the opposing force of the antagonist, and look at tricks and techniques for creating characters that are memorable.

Week 3

In this lesson, you will explore the structure underling almost every great story. You will examine each element of the story structure and test them against some well-known mysteries. Then you will begin to construct your story outline, act-by-act.  In Act 1, you will hook your readers.  You will learn to fill them in with some character history called back-story.  You will exit Act 1 with a bang by triggering a traumatic event in the life of your protagonist.

Week 4

In this lesson, you will work on Act 2 of your mystery. Your protagonist begins in crisis---an emotional state brought on by his or her flaw. Your protagonist will struggle throughout the act as the antagonist deals setback after setback. Fortunately, at the conclusion of Act 2, your protagonist finally figures out the source of all this emotional distress and overcomes it. Then it is time to devise a plan for Act 3. The result will be a final confrontation with the antagonist. You will look at the best way to defeat the antagonist and you will be ready to tie up all your story’s loose threads in the ending.

Week 5

In this lesson, you put it all together. You are going to move from the story idea, to story outline, to developing scenes.  Then you will unravel the internal story structure of every piece of fiction you have ever read.  This story structure is called scene and sequel.

Week 6

In this final lesson, you will look at the three most common viewpoints:  third person omniscient, third person limited, and the first person. You will explore the advantages and disadvantages of each by considering examples from real-world novels. Then you will examine some elements unique to mystery writing. You will wrap up with ideas about how to take all you have created and actually reach your goal of a finished novel or screenplay.

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Instructors & Support

Steve Alcorn

Steve Alcorn is the published author of a wide range of fiction and nonfiction works. During the past decade he has helped more than 30,000 students turn their story ideas into reality, and many of his students have published novels they developed in his classes. His novels include the mystery A Matter of Justice, the historical novel Everything in Its Path, and the picture storybook Molly Builds a Theme Park. He is the author of the non-fiction books How to Fix Your Novel, Theme Park Design, and Write Your Life Story. When he isn't writing and teaching, Steve is the CEO of Alcorn McBride Inc., a leading theme park design company.


Prerequisites / Requirements


There are no prerequisites to take this course.


Hardware Requirements: 

  • This course can be taken on either a PC or Mac device.

Software Requirements: 

  • PC: Windows XP or later.
  • Mac: OS X Snow Leopard 10.6 or later.
  • Browser: The latest version of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox are preferred. Microsoft Edge and Safari are also compatible.
  • Adobe Flash Player. Click here to download the Flash Player.
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here to download the Acrobat Reader.
  • Software must be installed and fully operational before the course begins.


  • Email capabilities and access to a personal email account.
Instructional Materials

The instructional materials required for this course are included in enrollment and will be available online.


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When can I get started?

A new session of each course opens each month, allowing you to enroll whenever your busy schedule permits.

How does it work?

Once a course session starts, two lessons will be released each week for the six-week duration of your course. You will have access to all previously released lessons until the course ends.

How long do I have to complete each lesson?

The interactive discussion area for each lesson automatically closes two weeks after each lesson is released, so you’re encouraged to complete each lesson within two weeks of its release.

What if I need an extension?

The final exam will be released on the same day as the last lesson. Once the final exam has been released, you will have two weeks plus 10 days (24 days total) to complete the final and finish any remaining lessons in your course. No further extensions can be provided beyond these 10 days.

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