From time to time, I play around with short stories – usually as a palette cleanser in between revisions or just before I’m about to start a new book. I’m here to tell you, writing mystery short stories is hard.
The short stories I like best are when the writer withholds the twist to the very end and then the delivers it without explicitly solving the mystery. It’s the reader who solves the story after reading the last sentence. I noticed this technique for the first time in the story The Remaining Unknowns by Tony Broadbent published in the MWA The Mystery Box anthology. Most recently, I saw that technique again used by Martin Edwards in his story, Consuming Passion, published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in July of 2016.
I don’t want to spoil the endings of these stories for you, but rest assured, these gentlemen are master writers. Within in seconds of reading the last sentence of each story, I “got it” and that little synapse arcing across my brain lit it up like the Fourth of July.
Writing an ending like that is so much harder than it looks; I’ve tried with mixed results. It’s hard to come up with a dramatic twist, save it to the end, give the reader enough clues for fair play and to let them connect the dots, all without sucking the tension out of the story. Am open to suggestions.
Meanwhile, Mysteristas, what kind of endings do you like best?