Ten Tips on Writing a Short Mystery

 #1: Keep your time frame short. A common convention is to make the sleuth become aware of multiple details concerning the case all at once to eliminate them needing to run around all over the place collecting evidence.  

#2: Keep your cast of characters small. Make your sleuth the star of the show. In addition to the sleuth, you must have a victim and a perpetrator. For a short story, two suspects, in addition to the real killer (or thief or arsonist, etc.), are more than enough. To keep your cast small, avoid having too many supporting characters. It is useful to make at least one of the witnesses to the crime also a suspect. 

#3: Abbreviate the try/fail cycle that the sleuth engages in to solve the crime. The shorter the story, the less time the sleuth will have to spend running down clues and suspects that turn out to be dead-ends.
#4: Consider featuring a crime of lesser magnitude. Murder can feature in short cozy mystery stories, but in humorous mysteries and cozies, featuring a theft or an attack that does not result in death and renders the victim to be more of a participant in the investigation can make the investigative process speed along.
#5: Focus on the puzzle of the crime. The Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie are a great example of the effective use of reducing the crime to a puzzle. In many of her stories, Miss Marple interviews no suspects and visits no crime scenes. In fact, Miss Marple does not leave her parlor. She is presented with all the information she needs to solve the crime, and then she solves it.
#6: Seamlessly integrate your world-building and character description into the plot of the story. In longer works, you can describe the setting or the characters simply for the pleasure of it. In a short story, if a detail about the setting or a character is included, it needs to be somehow relevant to the plot.

#7: Keep to one point of view, either third person or first person. Usually, a mystery short story is told from either the third person omniscient perspective or that of the sleuth (either in the third or first person). Keeping to one point of view simplifies the structure of the story and helps with brevity.

#8: Think in terms of scenes, and limit the number of them. Think of your short story as if it were a short film that you have to fit into fifteen minutes, half an hour, or sixty minutes of screen time. Depending on the target length of your story, you may only have time for a single scene. Read some short mysteries in your target length and note down how many scenes each of them has. It will likely be fewer than you think.     

#9: Respect the conventions of the mystery genre. Just as in longer mysteries, the baddy must be brought to justice through the cleverness and enterprise of the sleuth. The final scene must make it clear that the criminal will pay for his crime in proportion to their wrongdoing. Any other outcome will be unsatisfying to the reader. 

#10: The best short stories have a twist ending that surprises the reader in some way. Obviously, the aim of a mystery is to present the reader with everything they need to solve the crime but keep them guessing along with the sleuth until the very closing scene. A short story will be better if you can add some additional element of surprise to the solution to the crime other than simply who-dun-it.           

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