Welcome to our regular Monday feature, where you'll find different kinds of writing prompts and exercises. Each week, we'll give you something to help exercise your mystery-writing muscles.
One thing we mystery writers wrestle with is how to write about crime in books for young people. We want the crime to be plausible and compelling, but we may need to adjust the dials when we consider the ages of our audience.
Here's a little dial-adjusting exercise. Consider this basic information about a crime:
A college student vanishes after a study session with friends at a campus library. He was last seen at 11 pm heading back to his dorm, and then he seemingly disappeared. His study group reported he seemed tired but in good spirits about an exam he would take in the morning. He left no note. He had no travel plans that anyone knew of. He had few friends on campus, but his roommate reported the guy would often get up in the middle of the night and slip out for hours, sometimes not returning until morning. Three weeks later, the body of the vanished student was finally discovered half-submerged in a nearby lake.
1. Imagine how you would write about this crime for an adult audience.
2. Now imagine how you would write about this crime for a YA audience.
How much detail would you use in describing the body? How close to the crime scene would you get? Would you change the age of the victim or lower it to high school age? If you didn't change the age, what could you do to help draw teens into reading about this situation?
Would you make different choices depending on whether you were writing for younger YA (12-14) or older? (15 up).
3. Imagine how -- or if -- you would write about this crime for a middle grade audience.
Is it possible to write a murder mystery for younger readers? How close to the crime scene would you get? Would it be possible to use any of the basic facts in this scenario for a middle grade mystery?
You can also try this exercise with crimes that don't involve murder (e.g., a lost object, vandalism, kidnapping, etc.) For more ideas, check out our past "Mysteries Among Us" posts. Decide which of them could become the basis of a YA mystery, which might be more suited for a middle grade mystery, and which might be used for either audience -- but think about what adjustments you might make to characters, detail, or the circumstances of the crime.