Category Archives: Writing

Murder Mystery Hen Parties

Murder to Measure has been dealing death and deception for nearly 10 years now (watch this space for 10th anniversary specials), and in that time we’ve performed at hundreds of private parties, with enthusiastic guests baying for blood and retribution over perceived wrongs.  We’ve had bloodbaths at birthdays, assassinations at anniversaries, corporate carnage and slaughters at stags, but above all, it seems that hen parties are the most drawn to the murder mystery vibe.

I’ve lost count of the number of hen parties I’ve attended over the period, but am always amazed at how readily the assembled girls argue, fight and generally make a scene when confronted with a devilish plot dealt our by devious characters.  It seems that hens love to let their hair down and discover their inner murderess as much as we love to stoke the fires by bringing deception. death and general  disorder to a group of girls who want to bond over a night or weekend of fun and new experiences.

It’s rare for a hen party to consist of a group of people who all know each other at the outset, so finding an activity to break the ice and get everyone bonded can be difficult, but one of our murder mystery dinners can certainly help with this, as guests are encouraged to come out their shells and generally have fun with the story without worrying about how everyone else sees them – when you’re playing a role, you can be whoever you want to be.

Our success in the hen night market means that we have dozens of murder mystery plots for an all female group, but we’re always happy to work with the hen or bridesmaids to develop a story that will fit the occasion to a T.

Murder Mystery Character Names

I wrote previously about names in murder mysteries and this set me thinking about some of the names I’ve used throughout our various stories.  Our plots events are always designed around a murder or murders which can be solved by careful observation and listening, logical (if sometimes lateral) thinking, but in parallel with that we ensure that the story is fun, and that often also means funny.  Characters come before plot, and in a typical mystery, finding an appropriate name helps suggest their key character traits, which is useful both for the actor and those watching the story unfold.  Writers such as Charles Dickens were great at this – you can’t imagine an “Ebeneezer Scrooge” being a kindly young chap any more than “Uriah Heap” would be an elegant gentleman Alfred Jingle a terrible curmudgeon.

Taking the Dickens approach to naming characters is a good approach, and many names do immediately suggest a certain upbringing for a character; think of Hugo and Wayne for instance.  If we want to immediately send a message to the audience or the performer, a punning name can help, and it also often also ticks the box marked “fun”, particularly if the performer doesn’t realize the significance in their name until they’ve been playing them for 2  hours.

In nearly 10 years of penning our mysteries, many of these names remain in the memory banks as being particularly apposite.  Some of my favourites include:

  • Talented, but somewhat foul-mouthed chef, Gordon Blue. What’s most annoying about this is that my wife deserves credit for the name.
  • Pugnacious female lawyer, Sue DiAsov.
  • Feckless and in-bred upper class English twit, Juan Sandwich-Short (his father meant to call him Julian, but the pen used to register the name was running out of ink).
  • Beautiful and well proportioned actress, Gloria Stitzenhaas.  This is often one of those “Oh I get it now” names after a couple of glasses of Prosecco at a hen party.  For younger audiences, she often becomes Gloria Slooks.
  • Country lane chauffeur Onslow Rhodes.
  • Chatty hairdresser Wendy Ugoaway and beautician Tanya Hyde.

There are many more and I’ve spent many frustrating hours hunting through baby name sites to find something appropriate for a new character until the obvious hits me.  My favourite has yet to see an outing, but one day we will see the curmudgeonly Yorkshireman, Willy Eckerslike.


How to write a murder mystery party

Part 1 – Characters

It’s been a while since I wrote about generating ideas for a murder mystery, leaving the reader in suspense about how actually to write the story once the idea begins to crystallize.  With Murder Towers emerging from the traditional winter glut of parties and dinners, now seems like a good time to begin to put flesh on the bones of the story with a few more hints and tips on creating a mystery that is intriguing, challenging, entertaining and, importantly, solvable.  This post is the next step in explaining how I go about writing a murder mystery party.

I wrote previously about briefly about characters.  I always find that once the setting is determined, the characters are the next elements to develop, and provided you have created a cast of interesting suspects, elements that drive the plot such as motives and secrets begin to suggest themselves.  Things usually work out best if you have a good mixture of characters, from the seemingly innocent and benign through to the out-and-out cads, cheats and scoundrels.  Usually most should have skeletons in the closet and secrets to hide and one or more should be at the centre of lots of interactions so that most of the suspects have a motive to want them out of the way.  If you’re writing a novel or even a play, you often have more time to establish complexities in a character, but when writing a murder mystery game it’s often advisable to start with some fairly stereotypical traits and stock characters. Subtleties and unexpected behaviours can be written into the character as you flesh out the details of the plot, but initially big, bold and obvious enables the actor to immediately get to grips with the character and encourages early engagement with the audience.

An Example – Mummy’s the Word

nile-death_murderPerhaps the best way to describe this process is with an example.  I was recently asked to produce a story set in Egypt during the early part of the 20th century.  I had a list of those people who wanted to play roles, and their real-life characters also helped me to come up with a cast of suspects and character traits that could potentially lead to a web of intrigue and mystery.  The required setting begins also to suggest Death on the Nile, the unearthing of tombs and ancient curses.  Right from the start, therefore, I knew that I’d need an intrepid set of archaeologists and their support team, full of professional rivalries, potentially dangerous working environments and superstitions.

Starting with the archeologists, I created an expedition leader who was full of ambition and the desire to find fame and fortune in sun-parched lands.  A typical Edwardian gentleman explorer, his expedition was funded by the an aristocratic lady-of-means and supported by mummy expert in very much in the “eccentric scientist” mould.  Glancing through the list of actors, I was lucky enough to have a vet, who became the animal and environment-loving camel trainer, and an Egyptian, who became the curmudgeonly leader of the local workforce.   Add a former army colonel, always good for a bit of banter, and a caring but somewhat incompetent expedition doctor and the cast is almost complete, ready for some elements of conflict and mystery.

What’s in a name?

Murder mystery dinner party games are usually played with the tongue planted very firmly in the cheek and finding suitable names can help establish the character traits early and also help everyone remember who is who.  For that reason, puns can be good, and immediately suggest an occupation or character: consider the doctor, Dicky Ticker;  chauffeur, Onslow Rhodes, the beautiful Gloria Slooks or the caring nanny, Molly Coddle as examples.  If you’re using puns, however, you generally have to be consistent, otherwise guests will be looking at some names and thinking “I don’t get it” if there isn’t a joke in it.  This can be particularly challenging for families all of whom share a surname, so last names such as Down, which has many possible options (Neil Down, Luke Down, Ben Down) can be useful.  Sometimes I find that once I have a name for a character, this immediately suggests a set of characteristics and foibles, and launches the story off into new, unexpected directions.  Double-barrelled names can also be useful, particularly for the aristocracy.

Returning to our example, the expedition leader needed a posh sounding name, and the name Sir Digby Hand suggested someone who eschewed modern technology in his expeditions and preferred to be in touch with the soil.  His benefactor became Lady Cash-Down (see what I did with the double-barrel there?) and the labourer, Manu Duz (Man who does).  Our Egyptologist was christened Emma, known as “Em”, Balmer, and the rest of the cast followed suit.

Moving On

Once the characters are sketched out and named, we need to decide what dealings they have with everybody else in the story and begin to flesh out some possible secrets and motives for murder.  Note that I still haven’t moved on to “plot” yet – I’ll get to it, I promise, but in the meantime you’ll have wait for the next exciting installment in the mind of a murder mystery writer.




Generating Murder Mystery Ideas

The late, great Douglas Adams was often asked “Where do you get your ideas from?” to which he would reply “A small mail-order company in Cleveland.”  It may not be useful advice for those looking to start out as a writer, but it does illustrate the fact that it’s not usually possible to say where that creative spark of inspiration may come from.

When I’m writing a murder mystery, the starting point is usually an overall theme, usually a time, place or an occasion. If I’m writing for a large group there is usually a uniting set of interests within the party and this can get the juices rolling, so that for a group interested in, say, fashion, I may set the story in a fashion show.

Once the theme is set, characters will begin to come to mind.  The joy of writing a murder mystery is that generally the characters are rarely subtle: stereotypes are often preferred as it makes the story fun to perform and allows the audience to understand the motivations and concerns of the suspects quickly.  Going back to our fashion show example, we would therefore begin to sketch out a list of possible attendees – designers, models, journalists, stylists, organisers etc – and then flesh out their character, motivations and attitudes.

Note that I haven’t mentioned a word about “plot” yet – that’s a consideration far down the line, and one for another post and another day.