How to Write a Mystery Short Story

Writing a short mystery story can be a fun cerebral experience. It’s like creating a puzzle for readers to work out, but there’s also a lot of work to do as the writer.

You might already know how the story starts and ends, so the real challenge is working out how to fill in the pieces in between. However much you need help with, read this blog to find out how to write a mystery short story.

How to start a mystery short story

The start of any story needs to reel the reader in, but with a short mystery story it’s even more important. 

Firstly, a good beginning needs to establish what the mystery is. This is the setup for the rest of the story, and the hook to keep the reader interested enough to find out what happens at the end.

But to make the beginning successful, it needs to strike a right balance. It has to lay out enough details to establish the characters, the setting, and the questions that need to be asked, while also leaving out the answers that need to be discovered.

Magnifying glass on a plain blue background

How to write a crime mystery short story

Not all mystery stories need to be centred on a crime, but many can be. If you’re into crime fiction, you might know what elements ought to be included.

A crime mystery short story needs multiple suspects that all could plausibly be the culprit. There should always be more than one potential person responsible for the crime until the truth is revealed at the climax of the story. This keeps the reader guessing.

Utilising suspense

Whether crime is part of your story or not, suspense will always be vital to how a mystery short story works. Suspense is uncertainty that a reader feels as they wait for the story to progress and answer a key question: what happens next?

Suspense can be utilised in any work of fiction, but it’s fundamental to making mystery stories effective. It keeps the reader engaged and eager to keep reading.

How to use mystery across genres

Mystery, on its own, is a very broad genre of fiction. You can narrow it down into smaller subgenres, as already discussed with crime mystery stories, but it can also work across other genres.

For example, elements of mystery are almost essential for horror short stories, with a heightened level of tension, suspense, and even fear being common in both genres too. 

So, don’t think mystery short stories can’t play into other genres. They don’t even need to be set in our known world – you could even write mystery into a science fiction or fantasy short story.

Read lots of short mystery stories

There’s no better way to know how to write a short mystery story than by reading as many of them as you can. This way, you can learn the tropes, the different ways to structure the story, and how your own mystery can unravel. 

You’ll also experience these stories as a reader, so as a writer you’ll know what feelings you should be trying to get your own readers to have. There are lots of short mystery stories online that you can read as examples for your own work.

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Examples of short mystery stories:

  • ‘The Red-Headed League’ by Arthur Conan-Doyle
  • ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ by Edgar Allan Poe
  • ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by W. W. Jacobs
  • ‘The Frightening Frammis’ by Jim Thompson
  • ‘My Heart is Either Broken’ by Megan Abbott

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