It’s very nearly that time of the year again: autumn leaves are scattered about with reckless abandon; the carving knife is lying expectantly atop a half-faced pumpkin; and of course, the air has assumed that brisk, familiar chill. If you’ve solemnly promised to meet this All Hallows Eve with a bit more courage than years long past, perhaps the axe has already fallen and you’re ready to host your first murder mystery party (if you just need a few tips and tricks, we’ve got that covered too).
If you’re left with the obvious question (wherever should you begin?), we’ve put together a very practical guide (like the very gracious hosts we are) to effectively create quite the spine-chilling scenario for your murder mystery. Whether you’re a gumshoe or something of a super sleuth at these events, you’ll find something here that’ll draw those curdling cries of horror — and then relief, hopefully — from your unsuspecting guests.
1. At the writing desk (the very basics: theme and setting the mood).
The occasion stirs up untold possibilities for your event; you needn’t only plan a night a la Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. Murder mystery scenarios can (even on other nights and holidays) involve a specific genre: horror, science fiction or fantasy and even further, supernatural story elements or plot devices that involve vampires (very “in” right now), zombies or ghosts.
Haunted houses, country manors and everything in-between
Consider where the narrative takes place; and perhaps even sketch a blueprint of room layout and furniture arrangement. The budget may allow for the purchase of some ancillary items that could set the time period or convince your guests that they have been ferried somewhere farther away (a train carriage, or a Victorian mansion).
If purse-strings are a little tight, it may be as simple as assembling a playlist on Spotify or on your music-playing platform of choice with music from another era (think Frank Sinatra for a murder mystery set in the Hollywood Hills) or sound effects.
Quick Tip: Thrift stores and markets are ideal places for trinkets and other small period-pieces to create “persuasive decor.”
2. Where the plot thickens (consolidating your scenario and characters)
A murder mystery involves several characters that have gathered in a given place for a particular reason. You’ll be the one to write why this has happened. The situation can be as formulaic as the “reading of the will” plot or it can be something a little more imaginative (Tim Curry’s “Clue” is a fantastic film to watch for a little inspiration).
When inviting guests, remember that these theme parties work best when you limit the list to about six to eight participants. One of these will be the villain, and one or two of the guests might be the unfortunate victims of your evening’s proceedings. If you prefer all your guests to be alive and similarly involved, you may begin with the murder instead of introducing the plotline after your initial introduction.
Establish an elaborate backstory for each of your characters so your guests are comfortable getting into character. A strong narrative for each person will ensure that the atmosphere will take on its own life as the evening continues. Writers of boxed murder mystery games often opt for so-called larger-than-life characters to keep everyone interested.
3. Real detective work (planning your clues, evidence and red herrings).
The scenario must integrate clues that hint at the possibility of one character being involved in the murder; evidence that provide some tangible proof of a given timeline; and red herrings that are plausible enough to throw your party guests a little bit off the map. Feel free to persue the rest of our site for some ideas on how to embellish your story with credible forensic “evidence.”
And the masked villain is… (determing the weapon, motive and opportunity).
Each of your guests ought to have their own motive and an opportunity to commit the crime — these should be plausible, so that at first glance, anybody could be culpable. The point is to move steadily toward isolating one character who has the flimsiest alibi and a very strong motive for the murder (although perhaps the latter shouldn’t be quite so obvious at the outset).
Your Turn: Hosted your own murder mystery party and think you can add something to the mix? Think murder enquiries are so very 80s, and you’ve got new plans for Halloween this year? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.