How to write a murder mystery party : #1 The Basics

How to write a murder mystery partyHi! Holly & Hayden here.  Since this is a blog all about stories we thought it might be interesting to share our experiences writing our own murder mystery party.

This is by no means the gospel truth, it’s simply a guide to how we figured out our own murder mystery scenario & characters.

WHEN IS IT SET?

This seems a bit obvious but it’s best to start thinking about the world your murder mystery will take place in:

What’s the date? How close is that to any major historical events? Think about wars, scandals, inventions, attitudes to gender, race & sexuality. Which country are you in? Who is the King/Queen/President and what was their political standing at the time? This is all basic context for role play.

You don’t have to address all of these aspects of your setting within your plot but the more you colour in your world the easier you’ll find it to shape your stage and characters. Some of your guests might also want to know this information for their own immersion – knowledge is power – so the more you can give people the more they’ll feel a part of that world.

WHO IS THE VICTIM?

No.1 question – who’s gonna die? This is the character everything else hinges on and will set the overall tone of your party. They don’t have to be evil or particularly hated either but they do need to be well known enough to warrant the investigation.

Think carefully about the victim’s:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Marital Status (and whether or not they are faithful)
  • Sexuality (and attitudes to that at the time)
  • Religion (and if they are truly religious)
  • Job
  • Wealth
  • Politics

If you’re feeling adventurous you can incorporate some more controversial character views and traits surrounding gender, race & sexuality but only if you’re sure you and your guests are comfortable with it. You’ll find that some of these details about the victim might change as you create the cast of characters for the evening but as long as you have some base information you’re good to go.

WHO ARE THE CHARACTERS?

It helps to know who your guests are beforehand, that way you know who would do better with a quiet or more outrageous character but once the victim’s character is settled you’ll find other characters begin to take shape. It’s good to have a mix of genders and ages in your cast as well as relationships and family members. Not every character needs to know each other but it’s also good for people to have a connection of some form – think location, job, hobbies, social attitudes and romantic interest.

WHAT ARE THEIR MOTIVES?

Your characters’ potential motives will all stem from your victim as well as the setting. The need/desire to murder the victim could be personal or could be caused by pressures of the world at the time, perhaps the murderer was acting in self defence even.

NOT EVERYONE NEEDS A MOTIVE – it’s good to have characters that just colour in the world and the more potential murderers there are, the more difficult it is to figure it out.

Money is always an easy motive whether its for an inheritance, valuable items or perhaps a debt is owed either way. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find a character driven by cash.

Love is another easy motive, especially if you have couples attending your murder mystery party. Sordid affairs, wandering hands, unrequited or unwanted love.

Honour is a great motive as it allows you to really get under the skin of a character and develop their personality really extensively. We’ve had characters whose own honour has been questioned as well as those who’ve taken offence on behalf of another.

Hatred and Revenge are pretty simple – characters that have grown to deeply despise the victim, perhaps for a combination of the above or maybe they’re just a nasty person.

Ambition is another great motive whether it be political or personal. Again this can be linked to any of the above.

AN EXAMPLE

Here’s one if the characters from our most recent party to show (for info, Obediah was the name of our victim)

Henry R. Hume
Ex-Soldier, mining overseer
Age: 25
Single

Born to a prostitute in a brothel, Henry never met his father but heard plenty of stories. His mother promised the rich gentleman would come back and save them both from misery. His mother died when he was 12 leaving him to fend for himself. He worked at a local plantation as a carriage boy – years of racist slurs made him very accustomed to violence and cruelty. The overseer would bring him along to the flesh market and make him watch as slaves were whipped.

At the age of 18 Henry joined the army and fought in the Mexican/American War – his misconduct saw him dismissed at the end of the fighting. It was at the time of his dismissal that Henry’s father Obediah revealed himself and declared his intentions to legitimise Henry and leave his inheritance to him. Obediah sent Henry to school to study economy and business where Henry learned the value of black slaves to business.

Henry travelled to Twin Rocks to meet his father and prove his worth as a businessman who could carry on the family name. He arrived in the spring of 1851. Henry worked hard but insisted his father swap Mexican workers and hired employees for slaves – his schooling meant nothing to Obediah who flat out refused. The two quarrelled frequently about the matter but Obediah never relented.

Henry began to drink frequently at ‘MacFarlane’s’ – this is where he met Scarlett. The two struck up an unlikely friendship finding they both has grown up in tough circumstances. Henry fell for Scarlett, unsure if he could marry her and the affect it might have on his legitimacy as his father had still not made it so.

One evening Henry approached his father’s study determined to plead his cause and become Henry Bennett… but his father wasn’t there and at his desk he found a note detailing Obediah’s intent to never legitimise Henry. The letter instructed the town officials to dismiss any claim Henry might make – it lay next to a ready and waiting envelope. Furious that his father was going to abandon him again Henry left for ‘MacFarlane’s’ to drown his sorrows and tell Scarlett. But when he arrived he found his father had pulled Scarlett to a room upstairs. There was no way Obediah was taking this away from him too…

As you can see, we chose to include family relations in this MM party along with some of the more controversial views on race at the time.

TOP TIPS

  • Don’t overwrite the characters, give people the freedom to interpret their persona for the evening.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on people to remember major historical events, not everyone is a historian.
  • Stereotypes and tropes are your friend, they’re easy hooks to help set your scene.

    Next up, we’ll cover writing the characters of the Murderer and the Detective. Remember to subscribe to the blog to keep updated!

 

 

 

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