Writing a Murder Mystery

How to Host a Teen Mystery: Barbecue with the VampireSo the Groundhog Day Murder Mystery went off Friday to great success. Our Phil Connors was, unfortunately, down with a bad case of the flu, so I ended up having to play the part of Ralph the Drunk while also offering key bits of information Phil had told Ralph over a round of drinks. Other than that, it was a really fun evening. Great food, fun times, lots of laughs.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about how I chose which murder mystery party game to use, and the answer (for those of you who missed it) is that I made my own. It’s easier than it sounds. Back when I was still in Utah, Brandon Sanderson wrote a great Harry Potter murder mystery that we did with friends, and that was a lot of fun. Here’s an old pic of Denisa and me in full homemade Slytherin regalia:

So we’d had a blast doing a homebrew murder mystery, and I’d been toying with writing one of my own, so I thought what better occasion than Groundhog Day? In the end, it’s pretty simple. Step one is to decide how many guests you want to have. I’d suggest at least 6, but no more than 8. Step two is to pick a theme. If you use a well-known movie or book, then your guests will already have an idea who their characters are before they arrive, and it makes it much easier to dress up.

Once you’ve got the guest numbers down and the theme, then it’s just a matter of plotting out a murder mystery. You make it so that each character has things to hide, and then you have at least one other character have noticed certain facts during the investigation that prompt them to inquire about the things that character would prefer stay hidden. Give everybody a motive, mess around with alibis and where everybody was when, and you’re on your way.

You print up booklets for each attendee. These booklets include a summary of the crime–so that everyone knows the mystery ahead of time–a character description, suggestion for how to dress and act, and a summary of how the night will be run. Throwing in some pictures of the character they’ve been assigned to play helps, too. After that introductory material, there are sealed sections for each round you want to play.

I divided the night into three rounds. Each round has two categories in each player’s booklet (“Things you’ll share freely” and “Things you’d rather not discuss.”) People can say whatever they want–but they can’t lie. You unseal each section at the beginning of its corresponding round. People read over their categories, and they start asking each other questions. You play each round until conversation starts to peter out, making sure that everyone’s shared all their “Things you’ll share freely” tidbits before you move onto the next round. At the end of each round, you let people make a stab at who the culprit is. The winner is the person who guesses the right culprit the most times.

Other than that, you can give out awards for best costume and best acting (to encourage people to actually put some effort into it). I ran it as a pot luck dinner. Denisa and I did the main course and a side dish, and our guests brought a salad, appetizer and dessert. Round One happened during appetizers, Round Two during dinner, and Round Three around dessert.

As long as you invite people who aren’t afraid to look stupid or foolish, you can’t go wrong. The main goal is to have a fun time and do something different than what you usually do. It took some preparation, but I’d do it again. I plan to, actually. Thinking about a Princess Bride Mystery . . .

5 thoughts on “Writing a Murder Mystery”

  1. I don’t know. The legality of it means I certainly can’t sell it–not without licensing it with whomever produced the movie.

    For family, on the other hand . . . I might be able to see that it gets into your hands. Got 6 friends you want to try it with? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I’m doing a princess bride murder mystery dinner this year…. Did you happen to write one with the princess bride theme???

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