I am working on a story in which the characters must solve a mystery. It's a "team-building exercise" at school, in which they must work together. They are graded on how well they work together and whether they are able to solve the problem.

The exercise is a scavenger hunt where objects are hidden around the school. The teams must use their first clue to find an object which will serve as the second clue, etc. until they find the last clue and turn it in.

The problem is, I have no idea where to start. I can't think of good clues. How should I go about creating clues that will be fascinating and challenging?

  • Why do you torture yourself so? Why do you force yourself to write something about which, as you say, you have "no idea"? Just write something else. Write what flows naturally from your mind. Writing is easy and requires no effort at all.
    – user5645
    Feb 25, 2017 at 18:10
  • @what The mystery isn't the point of the story. It's there to drive my characters to snoop around and get into trouble while at school, for the purposes of the main plot. Feb 25, 2017 at 18:51
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    @what: "Writing is easy and requires no effort at all." - laughs hysterically. I'm sure it's effortless for you, but the rest of us occasionally run into problems.
    – Kevin
    Feb 25, 2017 at 19:02
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    @what Writing may be effortless. Plotting may not be. Two different skills. Remember that not everyone is a pantser. Mysteries are definitely "plan ahead" stories, not discovery stories. Feb 25, 2017 at 22:30
  • For me, plotting is just as effortless as writing. If you have to wring your mind to come up with plausible clues when plotting a mystery, then you are setting yourself up for writer's block. The moment will come, when your construction just won't come together, because you have begun to build something that does not work. For plotting, you need an integrated vision or intuition or whatever you like to call it, that guides you in your construction. If you have that vision, everything will flow naturally and effortlessly from it. If your ideas require effort, you lack that vision.
    – user5645
    Feb 26, 2017 at 11:20

1 Answer 1


Think of your objects first.

Sit down and brainstorm a bunch of things. Things which can be hidden reasonably well in a school. Things which might have thematic links to your characters, things which can advance the plot or character development, things which might be funny. You won't use all the things, but having a list will help.

Once you have your list, you should give your items meaning. Just jot down notes: the ballet slipper means X to Jane (and Y to Dave); the toolbox will be used later by Tanika to get to the notebook which is important to John; the violin belongs to Sebastian.

When you have a list of items and meaning, start creating links. It might help here if you print out your list and literally cut out each item/note so you can shift things around on the table. See if a pattern emerges, or a plot. You can even sketch out a rough map of your school so you can trace the movements of the characters and see if that jogs anything (like they need to find item 3 in order for item 6 to make sense when they backtrack to the band room).

After you have items, meaning, order, and a rough plot, then you should have enough content (and context) to start sketching out clues.

  • This really helped. I managed to think of some objects that would be really good at hiding meaning in plain sight, like receipts and broken watches. Feb 25, 2017 at 18:53
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    This is another great answer because it provides specific things you can do as a writer / planner to get to a certain place with your writing. I'm going to come back to this again later. Thanks.
    – raddevus
    Mar 1, 2017 at 19:05

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