Story narrative

How to write a Mystery Short Story

Max. D Gray
By Max. D Gray. Updated: January 16, 2017
How to write a Mystery Short Story

Are you eager to get started in the world of writing? Is the mystery genre your favourite? Then you can start creating your mystery short story following a series of recommendations that will make your story original, entertaining and literary. The first thing to consider is that a story, unlike a mystery novel, is obviously shorter and, therefore, the development should be faster without losing logic or intensity. In this OneHowTo article, we tell you how to write a mystery short story,giving you the basic tips that will make you write a good story.

You may also be interested in: How to Write a Short Story Step by Step

Steps to follow:


Before you get to work with writing your mystery short story, it's important that you specify who your main character will be. One of the essential factors of a short story is the main character who, with their fears and talent to solve crimes, manages to empathize with the reader and develop a logical and believable plot.

Therefore, to create a mystery short story, it's paramount to think about your character and answer some questions about him/her to make them real. Some that you can begin to answer are:

  • Full name
  • Basic information about their family (parents and siblings): professions, personality characteristics...
  • Complete physical description of the character: height, weight, race, hair colour, eyes, dress sense, etc.
  • Define a hobby or strange habits
  • Who is their role model (if they admire someone in particular, if something inspired them, etc.)
  • Does your character regret something they've done?
  • Their attitude towards life: optimistic or pessimistic
  • Are they religious, political, an activist, etc.?
  • Marital status: single, married, divorced...
  • Do they have friends?
  • Do they have a vice such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.?
  • Hobbies

Once you already have a picture of your character, they become more real and become formed in your unconscious mind, so you can now continue with other essential aspects for your story. In this OneHowTo article, we give you basic tips so that you learn to write a short story.

How to write a Mystery Short Story - Step 1

The next step in writing a mystery story consists of thinking of the plot. This determines what the core will be around which the mystery moves and seeks, above all, to be something original and different from the clichés. It is true that there are great universal themes that relate mystery tales and, indeed, they are the ones that move readers the most. However, when you choose the mystery in question, it is important that you give a different and unique touch to your story. If not, your story will end up being one of the large amount of literature mystery that already exists.

The themes that can serve as an inspiration for writing your story are as follows:

  • Conflicts with some family inheritance
  • Shameful family secrets
  • Marital infidelities and lies
  • Blackmail and / or business on the black market (drugs, prostitution, counterfeit money, etc.)
  • Prophecies or curses are fulfilled

Once you have chosen the theme that catches your eye, give an original and different touch to the conflict. As an example, if you choose the theme of the black market, don't talk about drugs or prostitution because it is a very over used theme. Opt, for example, to talk about animal trafficking, fake lottery, and so on.

How to write a Mystery Short Story - Step 2

Opposed to the protagonist, you should now think about the "villain" - the person who commits the illegal action or crime which your story is about. In the same way that we have defined the main character, you should do the same with your villain, but by doing a deeper analysis of their personality so you can determine the reason for their crimes rationally and logically . It's essential that both the plot and its resolution are logical and consistent in a mystery short story. The reader should also understand the personality of the bad guy so that the story is good and all audiences end up liking it.

Nor should you forget that the element of surprise is essential in a mystery story, so avoid using typical clichés, such as the evil person is the servant or the husband and try using other characters that may leave the reader with their mouth open. One trick is to make the criminal a person close to the protagonist (their father, best friend, child, etc.). In this way, the reader will be used to the criminal and the surprise will be brutal.

How to write a Mystery Short Story - Step 3

Now that you have thought of the protagonist, the antagonist and the plot, start dealing with the pure themes of the story. For example, what is the narrative voice of your short story? Who will tell the story? You can choose between an omniscient narrator, that is, one who speaks in the third person and has no connection with it, or you can decide that it is written in first person by any of the characters in the story.

Instead of making the detective explain the story, you can make it a criminal who talks and gains the reader's empathy. You can also choose to have a a story in two voices where it switches between the detective and the criminal's perspective. Another option is to bring in the perspective of a witness who, from home, is aware of the whole investigation. The choice is important because, depending on it, the story will be written in one way or another.

How to write a Mystery Short Story - Step 4

It is also vital to determine what the conflict resolution, i.e. the outcome of your story, will be. Don't forget that the end should be surprising, unexpected and logical for it to be a good story. There are many authors that, not quite knowing how to end the plot, end up proposing some not very believable end that doesn't make sense regarding the plot's development. So think carefully how you want everything to be resolved so that the reader understands it, thinks it's believable and doesn't expect it.

So that the reader is satisfied with the story it's important that the resolution of the crime comes from a rational point of view. Therefore, anything that has something to do with the divine or superstitious does not fit this literary genre. Chance, intuition or a premonitory dream is not enough to conclude your mystery story as it will appear that you wanted to end the story quickly.

To achieve this surprising end that we are looking for, you could have released some false clues during the course of the story that have suggested to the reader that the "bad character" is someone else. This will give an unexpected result. However, it doesn't work saying "it was him/her" and that's it. In order for the story to be fully closed, you should explain in detail all the clues that have led you to discover the culprit and solve all the false leads.

How to write a Mystery Short Story - Step 5

If you want to read similar articles to How to write a Mystery Short Story, we recommend you visit our Hobbies & Science category.

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How to write a Mystery Short Story