How do you write murder mystery games?

It’s a question I’m often asked, but in truth, it isn’t easy to explain. Like any writing media, be it screenplays, novels or poems, it’s a skill you have to learn. Of course, there are formatting requirements, just as there are for any screenplay, but the main issues with murder mystery games, as apposed to stories are that they are supposed to be solveable. No last minute revelations like you get in books or screenplays which make you think “Aha!” – no, everything has to be there, plain as day, and yet, somehow entwined with red herrings and other plots so that it isn’t as easy as it first appears.

OK – so maybe I’m rambling. I talk like I think, so getting ideas on paper (or should I say screen) isn’t easy for me. (Ask the authors I’ve mentored. My “how to” files are longer than all my planning documents for my own games!)

Anyway – you want to know HOW I write the games. Well. First off I think of an idea, a theme. Then I decide what characters I want involved in the plot. Unlike books or films, these have to be characters that people will WANT to dress up as. So the more stereotypical the better. Only after I have the theme and the suspect identities and names will I flesh out an idea for the actual mystery. It goes something like this:

Not too easy to see – as it’s my working copy of my best seller “Smashed Hits” but there you go – get out a magnifying glass if you must!

Anyway – in the middle is the dead man. And around the edges are my characters. Underneath the character names I then come up with motives. And only motives, as all my characters need one. After that’s done I decide on how the dead body is found and how he dies ( NOTE : NOT who killed him). And thats as far as my planning goes! After that I just start writing and see what happens.

Each character’s information is broken down into 5 sections. Section 1 – introductory speech, Sections 2, 3, and 4 – answers they will be asked to provide to certain questions (or in otherwords motive, means and opportunity – only one of the characters will have ALL three) and then section 5 – a concluding speech. as I’ve said before filling in all this information takes me around 15 hours after that it’s writing up an inspector part, and some scripted dialogues to liven things up on the night.

“That sounds easy enough” I hear you all say – why on earth are you getting paid for it? – simple answer – EVERYTHING SOUNDS EASY – you just try making it all work! Of course, I’ve got my own way of doing things to make things less complicated, which I share with other aspiring authors – but it isn’t easy even then. Getting it exactly right is an art, and that is why you get writers and writers. Everyone can write, not everyone can write.

Of course, that’s just the small group games. Large group games are much, much more complex and there is no easy way to explain them at all.

They start off in the same way – (this is mobsters, mols and murder I’m working on right now) and then they evolve into something more like this:


Which looks a little more complicate but still doesn’t convey all I’m holding in my head at any one time, you see, in the large group multi-room games EVERYONE needs a MOTIVE, EVERYONE needs OPPORTUNITY and EVERYONE needs a MEANS. The detective work is working out who did what when and working out exactly WHO killed them from that information. E.g. were they dead before they were shot, strangled, poisoned, stabbed, or was it one of those that killed him?

These multi-room games are agonising to write, and there is NO simple fix for these apart from hard grafting slog. But BOY are they fun.

Which reminds me – did I already say I’m having to stand in and act for the upcoming fundraiser? 24th April – it’ll be me, up there, threatening the “new recruits” as Diane Otherday.

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