Updated: Sep 11, 2019
A month ago I began working on a “mystery” writing project, but never said much about it other than people died. Well, now the cat is out of the bag: my partner and I are pregnant and in order to share the news with my family, we hosted a murder mystery party! For those of you who don’t know me, you’re probably thinking, “That’s morbid, and you’re crazy”.
For those of you who do know me, you’re probably thinking, “That’s morbid, you’re crazy, and this is why I love you”.
My partner was right there with you. I think he would’ve been happy with us sending everyone a text and calling that good. Me on the other hand, I wanted this to be special! And with the timing of the year, there were no upcoming holidays to rely on for family-gatherings so I had to improvise. About the only other time my family gets together during the year is for a murder mystery party.
At first, I looked for a pre-packaged pregnancy announcement murder mystery party but sadly couldn’t find any. I guess it’s not how most people like to tell their families (though, after this experience, I’d highly recommend it!).
I could’ve quit there and decided to announce in some other way, but by then, I was too excited by the prospect. My mom and brother were too and the three of us quickly started planning what this game would look like.
Step One: Theme
Writing our own murder mystery party is not something any of us had ever done before and we weren’t really sure where to start. After trying and failing at a few different starting points, we realized what we needed first was a theme.
Normally, my family hosts a murder mystery party in November, right after Halloween so costumes are on sale. This party falling in April though, we knew we would have to pick a theme that wouldn’t require a lot of specific costume-hunting. We also wanted something that would be familiar and easy so as to encourage everyone to attend. In years past, sometimes people would chicken-out last minute because they’d be too nervous about their characters.
The theme we finally landed on was White Trash, and I kid you not, at least two family members said almost verbatim, “Oh cool! That means I can just come as myself!”
Step Two: Characters & Clues
With our theme identified, the next step was picking characters. The trick with murder mystery party characters is that all their names are pun-ny and their characteristics are so over-the-top that they almost feel like cartoon characters.
If it wouldn’t have been for my mom and brother, I would’ve been stuck at this part forever.
My mom did most of the naming and designation of professions. I’m still not sure how she came up with them all, but some of my favorites were: Trey LePark (drug dealer), Mona Lott (hooker), Russ T. Nayle (carpenter), and Carlotta Tendant (used car sales-woman). It was my brother who chose the name of the dead guy in our story: Rick A. Mortis.
After character names and professions are identified, the next step was developing their biographies. Other than my character, whom we knew at the end of confessing to murdering Rick A. Mortis, was then going to disclose a secret identity as: myself and that all of this was actually a rouse to tell everyone that I am pregnant, we still had no idea what anyone else in the game would be doing.
We used a book as a reference to walk us through some general ideas. This was probably the most helpful section in the entire book because it highlighted additional hobbies and habits to make your characters really feel individualized and unique. It also had suggestions on motives, which helped us give our characters some variety. Up until one point, we realized half the characters’ motives were blackmail… It’s not very exciting if everyone is suspicious for the same reasons.
Determining clues and red herrings was the next step and we started with a list of about forty, then dwindled it down to, I believe, just twelve. The book was also pretty helpful during this part of the planning because it had recommendations of clues and which type of characters these clues would be valuable to (for example, a lawyer being able to read legal documents; or a police officer noticing gunshot residue).
Step Three: Writing the Game
Here is where things got complex. Once we had all of the components identified and defined, the most important step of this whole process was piecing everything together.
In most murder mystery parties, the game is split into 2-3 acts, some with a finale at the end where every character reads their alibi/statement. As part of all of these acts, each character has a set amount of information that they’re supposed to reveal, and some that they’re trying to conceal, as well as the clues/red herrings they’ve been given to share.
The trick is to have information revealed in a sequence so that everyone becomes more and more incriminated as the party progresses, leading up to the moment where everyone casts their accusations and the murder is then finally revealed.
Not only do you need to know who says what and when, but every character needs to have a booklet of the information that they’re supposed to know, and which acts it’s supposed to be released in.
I was working on this part all the way up until two hours prior to the party. It required a lot of writing, editing, and reshuffling, meanwhile my mom and boyfriend were running to the store to purchase our white trash themed food, additional items for the clues, and setting the place up.
But hey, once it was complete, we were golden!
Step Four: Hosting the Party
I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a murder mystery party. But also, as a writer, I was nervous! This was the most people I’d ever had reading my writing in one place, at one time, in front of me. And considering the last-minute scramble, I was just praying everything would go well and that I didn’t accidentally print on everyone’s booklets that grand finale.
The game began and me, being a perfectionist, I quickly noticed the flaws we made in making it, but ultimately, it ran pretty smoothly! Everyone was WAY more into the theme than anticipated, so there was a lot of exciting accents and improvisations happening. And aside from a few confusing lines or information that was accidentally revealed too early, the game was enjoyable and entertaining for all.
The only problem was that I had to sit through two hours of gameplay before getting to share my big news. Talk about nerve-racking!
Step Five: The Big Reveal
When the game finally came to the finale, I was so nervous, excited, and eager, that I was shaking and my cheeks had reddened. I could see my boyfriend, my mom, and my brother getting antsy too, all of whom knew what was coming next.
One-by-one, each player read the backside of their booklets, a little blurb about their motives for wanting to kill Rick, but ultimately how they’d decided not to. Until it was my turn.
In my blurb, I shared that I had murdered Rick because I was pregnant with his child and he wanted me to get an abortion. After things got physical, it became self-defense and I had no other choice but to ram a pair of nearby deer antlers into his belly.
But before anyone could fully digest the news, I switched gears and said, still in character, “Look at you all, staring at me like you know me. You don’t know anything about me! Did you know my real name isn’t Lois Price (my character’s name), it’s actually Jessaca Willis and this entire party has been an elaborate way to tell you that, just like Lois Price, I’M PREGNANT!”
This moment was PRICELESS and I’m so glad I asked my mom to videotape it because I've re-watched everyone’s reactions about a dozen times already. Jaws dropped, tears shed, smiles spread, people screamed.
That moment made the whole frustrating, painful journey of writing a murder mystery worthwhile!
If anyone is interested in doing a murder mystery party for their pregnancy reveal, please contact me on Facebook, and I would be more than happy to share our game with you!
author: The Awakened series