Friday, September 26, 2014

Murder Mystery Party: Update

by Jennifer Lamont Leo

For the last few months I've been writing my first audience-participation-style murder mystery. I thought you might be interested in getting an update on how it's going. (See previous posts here and here.)

To recap, the event is a fund-raising dinner in support of a local history museum. We (I and my brainstorming museum friends) have set the mystery our town in the 1920s, featuring real characters from local history (like a schoolteacher, an actress, and a pair of sisters who owned a shop for ladies), mixed with characters that are purely fictional but represent "types" of the era--i.e., a train conductor, a journalist, a Pinkerton agent, etc.

In addition to a 13-member core cast, every audience member will be assigned a historical persona to portray. Since not every guest will be equally enthusiastic about playing "let's pretend," I've made these characters peripheral to the main story. If a guest is assigned to play, say, Oscar the German butcher, he may choose to come all decked out in a bloodstained apron with a thick accent straight from Bavaria, or he may completely ignore it. The choice is his and won't affect the main mystery one way or another (in my opinion, it will be infinitely more fun to play along--but, of course, I'm biased).

Here's how I and my crack team of brainstormers put this thing together. After deciding on the setting (time and place), we chose the crime--in this case a murder, but it could have been a theft or kidnapping or other evil deed. Next we decided on the victim, the perpetrator(s), the motive(s), and the method of dispatch.

Once we had the main story thread sketched out, we started sifting in false clues and red herrings. Who else in the cast of characters might have had a motive for killing this particular victim? What evidence could be found to make others look suspicious, but ultimately be found innocent? Most important (since we want the audience to actually be able to solve the crime), are there enough clues that an astute observer could figure out the solution, but not so many that the solution is obvious from the beginning?

While my team and I are working on the story (they're helping brainstorm, I'm doing the actual writing), others have been busily finding a venue, planning the food and decorations, and working out the evening's logistics.

This should be very fun! I'll continue keep you posted on our progress. If you have questions about the process, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, if you happen to find yourself in North Idaho on November 13, there could be a murder weapon with your name on it!

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