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the scream in the night awake bed

"Something white fluttered through the trees"
Illustrator Gabby Heller, 12, for “The Scream in the Night” by Shyla DeLand, 13
Published September/October 2015.

A note from Sarah Ainsworth

I want to talk about one of my favorite genres: mystery.

I’ve always found something irresistible in the way that mysteries are so often structured around a question. In the most basic stories, this question may be: who did it? But it can get much more complicated than that. In From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the question could be framed as: is the beautiful new sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art really a Leonardo da Vinci original? (Nina just reviewed the book for our July/August issue). Another example is The Westing Game, reviewed on the blog last year by Ananda, which can be boiled down to: what happened to Samuel Westing?

The best mystery stories require a considerable amount of planning. Ananda described reading The Westing Game as “watching two grandmasters play chess." The book's careful plot development is no coincidence. Like writing any story, a mystery could greatly benefit from some brainstorming before putting your pen to paper.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What will the central question be?
  • Who will be the main characters?
  • Who will be the suspects?
  • What will the answer to the question be? Or, in simpler terms, who did it?
  • What kind of clues will you leave readers throughout the story?

Once you have the plot all nailed down, you can get into the specifics of tone, setting, and any other details you’d like to include.

There have been lots of great mystery stories published in Stone Soup over the years. Check out “The Haunted Mansion” by Lyla Lawless, “Mystery at the Marsh” by Marie Chapman.

Have fun! If you write something, please feel free to submit it!

P.S. If you’re lacking inspiration for a story, sometimes it helps to think of a title first to guide you. When I was in sixth grade, I thought of the title “Murder Burger” and ended up writing a whole novel based on that. Unfortunately, I did not submit it to Stone Soup!

Highlights from the past week online

Don’t miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at Stonesoup.com.

Another dramatic season of basketball has come and gone. Plenty of us watch the games on the edge of our seats without truly understanding the process of exactly how and why our teams advance (or don't advance) to the playoffs. This week on the blog, 11-year-old Himank Chhaya breaks down how the NBA season works. 

Contest and partnership news

Contest: write a book!

How are your books coming along? You still have more than a month to polish up your work to enter into our contest for book-length writing in all forms and genres by kids aged 14 and under. (We have extended our usual age limit for this contest.) The deadline for entries is August 15, so you have five-and-a-half weeks left to work on perfecting your book, whether it is a novel, a collection of poetry or short stories, a memoir, or other prose. There will be three placed winners, and we will publish all three winning books in various forms. Visit our Submittable entry page for full details.

the scream in the night stare owl
I nodded and stared up at the owl, my mystery solved

From Stone Soup
September/October 2015

The Scream in the Night

By Shyla DeLand, 13
Illustrated by Gabby Heller, 12


It was a hot summer night when I first heard the scream. I sat up fast, the blankets tangled around my feet in a sweaty mass of itchy acrylic. My heart was pounding so hard that for a moment I wondered if it had only been a nightmare. But the sound lingered in my ears, steadily ringing, and I decided that it had been a real scream.

I turned to my window and leaned towards it, so close that the screen was brushing my nose. The moon was bright, glowing yellow in the sky, leaving traces of thin light on the trees. I squinted into the darkness, one hand fumbling for my glasses.

Something white uttered through the trees, dancing along just far enough away that I couldn’t tell what it was. My hand closed over my glasses and I slipped them on. The white thing disappeared; I caught a glimpse of it one last time before the green and black trees hid it away.

I lay down again but didn’t take my glasses off or try at all to go back to sleep. Instead, I closed my eyes and tried to recreate the image in my mind. I kept picturing that whiteness, fluttering like a flag in the wind. But it didn’t make any sense. No animals that I could think of were white and none fluttered. I shook my head, puzzled, and tried to turn my thoughts to another subject. . . ./more

Stone Soup’s advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.

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