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How to Write a Short Story: Mystery

Here are some things I know about writing a short mystery story. Hope it is helpful. Thoughts?

Like any other short story, there are certain elements that play into creating a mystery.  

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Over the years I have studied on how to write different types of short stories, and while in high school I took a creative writing course.  In the class we learned about all different avenues of creative writing; mysteries, comic strips, poetry, and even children’s book.  I’ll eventually write about those topics as well, but for now I would like to go over mysteries.


First of all, no mystery is true without a detective.  Detectives are placed in the storyline to help figure out what character did whatever act the mystery is about.  The detective can be a man, woman, child, professional, or amateur.  All that matters is that they see what is hidden.

Next in a mystery, a good side-kick is needed.  It does not matter if they are human or animal, man or woman, adult or child, or even professional or an amateur.  The side-kick just needs to help the person who did the crime. 

Whodunit?  Figuring out who done the act is very important when brainstorming all the elements that go in your mystery.  This could be the maid, a butler, chef, or even everyone could be involved.  Really, it is up to the writer. 

Other Important Elements:

After you figure out the characters and what sort of mystery you are planning to write (read below for different types of mysteries), another important element in the mystery is Red Herrings.  The Red Herrings are false clues that distract readers from the real answer to the mystery.

The solution: Occam’s Razor:
This can be defined as eliminating the most complex solution to the mystery, and what is left should be the correct answer.  However, this is not always the case; just one way to look at deciding on solutions to your story.

Many other important elements that would be used for any other type of short story are important here as well.  Some of these factors would include: foreshadowing, scene/setting, summary, and descriptions of characters. 

Types of Mysteries:

  • Traditional / Murder / Other Crimes
    -And Then There Were None  by Agatha Christie
    - The Omnibus of Crime by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Legal Thrillers
    -The Associate, and The Appealboth by John Grisham
  • Medical Thrillers
    - Bad Loveby Jonathan Kellerman
     - Foreign Body by Robin Cook
  • Techno Thrillers
    -Sea of Fire by Tom Clancy
  • Art/ Architecture Mysteries
    -Angels and Demons andThe Da Vince Code by Dan Brown
  • Woman’s Mysteries
    -Bed and Breakfastby Mary Daheim
    -Foodie by Diane Mott Davidson
    -Death on Demand by Carolyn Hart

I know there is a lot more factors that play into writing a mystery, but these are just some of the basics.  I hope these are some helpful tips, and if anyone decides to use them in writing a short mystery, please let me know! 

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