Affiliate Program

Writing the Short Mystery

Sunnye Tiedemann

Course ID: LC018

Current Openings: Yes

Writing the short mystery is considerably different from writing a mystery novel. In Writing Short Mystery Fiction you will learn just what the differences are and how to make them work for you. You'll confront the various subgenres of mystery to select the one you like best, then go on to structure a compelling plot and develop enchanting characters. You'll learn the importance of short, pithy descriptions and how to use setting to set mood and further the story. Learn about clues and red herrings and whether you need them. You may begin a new story or work with a story-in-progress.

The course consists of six one-week sessions. You will receive your lesson by email, along with your homework assignment. The instructor may suggest additional reading and in some cases send copies of articles to supplement your assignments. Throughout the course you will receive critiques and be encouraged to do additional creative exercises to broaden the basis of your knowledge of the subject.

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Course Type:

Reading and writing assignments.


Employ the techniques you learn in this workshop to improve your own new story or work-in-progress.

Learner Prerequisites


Start Date Ongoing, open enrollment.
Duration 6 weeks.
Limit N/A
Class Materials Instructor will provide.
Cost $225
Tutorial Option N/A

Course Outline

Lesson 1: Introduction and How Short Mystery Fiction Differes From the Novel

  • Discussion of the mystery genre and subgenres.
  • Defining short mystery fiction.
  • Discussion of some of its unique problems.
  • Assignment: Develop the "high concept" for three short mysteries, each in a different genre.

Lesson 2: Descriptions and Settings

  • The importance of setting in your story.
  • Discovering the right setting.
  • How to write compelling descriptions that set mood and move the story along.
  • Assignment: In 250 words or less, write a scene containing at least one of your characters that includes a description or impression of the setting.

Lesson 3: Characters

  • Most mysteries are character-driven: a discussion of the necessity of character motivation.
  • The three essential characters in mysteries - establishing personalities and backgrounds. Secondary characters - who they are and are they necessary in a short mystery?
  • Assignment: Describe your protagonist and give his/her motivation for solving the crime in 200 words or less. Describe the antagonist and his/her reason for committing the crime, again in 200 words or less. In a short paragraph, describe the relationship between the victim and the antagonist.

Lesson 4: Constructing a Plot

  • Write either from the beginning to the end or from the end to the beginning.
  • Grab the reader's interest and hold it to the very end. Solving the mystery and tying up all ends.
  • Assignment: In 400 words or less, write a scene central to the development of your story. Write the concluding scene - or sequel - to your story in 50 words or less.

Lesson 5: Clues, Red Herrings, Deus Ex Machina and Other Mystery Aberrations

  • The rules of using clues and red herrings. Playing fair yet leading the reader astray.
  • Assignment: Write a scene of 300 words or less in which you hide a clue or two or produce a red herring. In another 250 words describe the clue(s) and/or red herring and give their significance to the plot.

Lesson 6: Getting Your Story Out There

  • How to construct your manuscript, write a cover letter and mail to publisher.
  • Publishing etiquette.
  • Where to publish your short mystery.
  • Resources and organizations for mystery writers. Where to go from here.
  • Assignment: Submit your short mystery story.

Instructor Bio

Sunnye Tiedemann is a prizewinning writer/author/teacher with extensive online teaching experience. Her short mystery stories and articles on business, writing, the Arts, people, real estate, op ed, the environment, and women's issues have appeared in local, regional and national publications under several bylines.

Some print and online publications that have published her work include the following:

  • Writers Digest,
  • Writers Digest Forum,
  • Byline,
  • Romantic Times,
  • Writer Online,
  • Novel Advice,
  • Mysterious Press
  • and others.

Some are archived online and six of her articles were published in the popular anthology for writers, THE BEST OF NOVEL ADVICE.

Although her teaching certification is in elementary education, she has taught creative writing to adults and college students through classes and workshops in her local community, including a stint at a local accredited college as Adjunct Professor in English. She has been leading workshops on writing and teaching online courses since 1994.

Sunnye's latest writing adventure includes political blogging. She is currently working hard to help get The Fair Tax through Congress and has blogged extensively on the subject at and on her own blog at

She looks forward to working with new students and Writer Online and is totally committed to her students' success.