Writing a murder mystery

Part 2 – the killer

A while ago I wrote about how to start writing a murder mystery, focusing upon the characters rather than the plot.  All of our mysteries start with assembling a draft set of characters that fit within the overall theme of the story, finally allowing us to begin considering who should be killed off.

In any story there needs to be a web of inter-relationships between characters, with the prime focus of these relationships being that of the victim or victims. Ideally most, it not all, of the suspects should have a relationship with the victim(s) which might prompt them to consider killing them, so I always draw up some sort of chart early on that helps define and refine this important aspect.

Web of intrigue

Web of intrigue

I usually keep the prime suspects below 10 or so, otherwise the story can get too convoluted, but if the party is larger there may be additional victims which may or may not have been killed by those suspected of earlier crimes.

Having established motives we then need to consider the crime itself and ways that guests can rule out suspects to be left with just one guilty party.  A successful murderer needs three things:

  • A means: a way of killing the victim
  • A motive: as established above, a reason they’d want the victim dead, and
  • An opportunity: to be at the right place at the right time.

Let’s assume that the victim is killed out of sight of the other guests after the main course.  Who left the room after this point?  They have an opportunity.   If someone didn’t leave, it wasn’t them, but did the guests notice who left and who didn’t?

Also, who at a motive BEFORE the victim was killed.  Perhaps we discover a secret will after the death of the victim and the benefactor is surprised by it… in that case, why would he or she kill the victim?

Perhaps the means of death is beyond some of the suspects.  Who had access to poison or could make a bomb, rewire a circuit or accurately fire a gun?  You should establish these points early in the plot as you set up the actual murder.  Motive always sets someone up as a potential murderer and means and opportunity always allows them to be eliminated.  Play fair, and the guests will all have an equal opportunity to work out whodunnit.



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