Can you write a whodunit in six words?

A mystery in six words? Now that’s a really short story. Six-word short stories have joined the literary canon since the 1920s, a tradition begun by Ernest Hemingway. Writers who can boil down a mystery into a half-dozen words are encouraged to enter the sixth annual Six-Word Mystery Contest sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (RMMWA).

The contest opens September 1, 2022, and entries must be posted here at by midnight, Oct. 8, 2022, MDT. Six-word “whodunits” can be entered in one or all five of the following categories: Hard Boiled or Noir; Cozy Mystery; Thriller Mystery; Police Procedural Mystery; and/or a mystery with Romance or Lust. The Six-Word Mystery Contest is open to all adults 18 and over. No residency requirements.

RMMWA Chapter President Lori Lacefield said, “We’re excited to see what plot twisting, cringe-worthy, or laugh-out-loud six-word mysteries are revealed this year. Contest judges include professional writers, editors, and agents.” Lacefield added, “Writers from 20 states as well as Australia, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Singapore entered last year’s contest and we hope you do, too.”

Last year’s overall winning entry—”He gaslighted her. She candlesticked him.”—was penned by Jean Garrison of Florida. Another previous contestant, Kathleen O’Brien, said her entry landed her a literary agent.

This year’s esteemed judges include Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Editor Linda Landrigan; New York Times best-selling author Anne Hillerman; award-winning author, lawyer and activist Manuel Ramos;literary agent Terrie Wolf, owner of AKA Literary Management; and John Charles of The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The contest entry fee is $6 for one entry (just $1 per word); or $10 to enter six-word mysteries in all five categories. The grand prize winner will receive $100 in cold, hard cash. Winners in all other categories will receive $25 gift certificates, and all winners and finalists will be featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, on our RMMWA website, and in our popular monthly newsletter, Deadlines.

Participants will be invited to the chapter’s annual Mystery & Mistletoe Holiday Party in December which will be held live and on Zoom.

According to legend, the first six-word novel was born in the 1920s when Ernest Hemingway at New York’s Algonquin Hotel or Luchow’s restaurant (depending on whom you ask) won a $10 bet by writing a six-word story. His dark and dramatic submission was: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” Urban legend or no, memorable, heart-breaking, and sublime six-word stories have been penned ever since.

For contest rules and entry form, please watch this space starting on Sept. 1, 2022. 

If you’d like to get started early and wish to see examples of prior finalists, visit our 6 Word Mystery Contest Archive.