Writing Can Be Murder

I recently completed a second Murder Mystery Drama which was staged by the staff of Ayr’s Carnegie library as part of Murder Week.

Murder Mysteries are like any dramatic piece in that the characters have to drive the action forward but there are also other requirements which make them a unique. I would like to share with you the way I go about constructing a Murder Mystery.

Step One

The story- there needs to be a solid foundation to base the events around. There includes location, which can be broken down into a number of sub locations to create separate scenes, i.e. Country House, Hospital or Library. I feel a location that is public or at least available to a larger number of people makes the character list easier to justify. You need a reasonable list of characters to make a Murder Mystery interesting; otherwise it will be too obvious. I use 8-10 characters including 1 or 2 policemen, but kill of the victim in advance so as not to waste a character!

Step Two

Worked out the rough storyline you need to decide “who dunnit!” I find that I may change my mind about the murderer during this process. The trick is to make the audience suspect more than one character so that there remains an element of surprise to the end. In a cast of 8 I will give 4 characters some motive to wish harm on the victim. Remember the motive must be strong enough to be believable. Motives can include jealousy, revenge, or personal gain amongst others.

Step Three

Now the drama can be written in full making sure that there are a number of clues and a few red herrings written into the dialogue. Again for a cast of 8 I try to have 5 clues and 3 red herrings. Clues can be statements that are later contradicted by other characters, times that are obviously wrong, confused descriptions or obviously wrong information about other suspects. Red herrings can be incidents that are irrelevant, timing that are mistaken, undue emphasis on a particular detail.

Step Four

I saw this referred to in an episode of “Lewis” as the Agatha Christie moment. The revelation of the murderer usually comes at some form of group gathering in the last scenes. Dramatic tension can be built by eliminating other suspects prior to the murderer being revealed.

Hope this has been of interest, I will be doing a workshop on Murder Mysteries at AWC next season.
Debby Broughton-Hay

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