For a murder mystery, should I start with a body drop?

I’m currently working on a murder mystery. One of the issues I am currently debating about is the opening, in which I’m unsure whether to start with the murder itself or whether I should start with the main detective in a more character-focused way.

The downside to starting with the murder is that this is essentially a prologue. If I instead start with the detective, the downside is that this doesn’t fully set up the expectation for the murder mystery.


Hey Adam, Oren here, great to hear from you again!

To my mind, you’d be fine with either option. I know that might sound odd coming from me, a man on record as being against prologues in all their forms. However, the “body drop” opening, as you put it, is a fairly unique situation. Here, the crime being committed is essentially the start of the story, so showing it can have a dramatic purpose. As long as the opening isn’t very long, and the detective gets on the case quickly, it shouldn’t be a problem. 

There are ways for this to go wrong of course. If we spend 50 pages with Dave the Security Guard before he gets murdered, that’s too long. And if it takes another 50 pages for the protagonist to hear about Dave’s murder, then the murder becomes a disconnected prologue. Starting with a murder isn’t an excuse for the protagonist’s introduction to be slow and boring. 

Alternatively, starting with the detective isn’t difficult either. Simply having a detective in the story should be more than enough to set audience expectations for this being a mystery. You could start with some personal conflict the detective has, like how they’re struggling to make rent because the PI business just doesn’t pay like it used to. That’s a classic, and it’ll give your story some opening tension to hook readers. Or you could start at the crime scene, with the detective gathering clues. This won’t give you as much room to build character, so it’s best employed if your protag’s way of gathering clues is especially novel, like tracking spells or a werewolf’s nose. 

Either way, what’s important is you get the story started as quickly as possible. If your plot calls for the detective to only learn about a murder later in the story, then you probably shouldn’t start by showing that murder. Instead, you’ll need to find another way of building tension while your hero works their way toward finding the body.

Hope that helps, and good luck with your story!

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