I was listening to a WTF podcast while walking my dog the other day. Marc Maron was interviewing playwright, Stephen Karam. He wrote the Tony Awarded play, The Humans (currently playing on Broadway). He said briefly that his writing process for this play was a bit like writing a murder mystery. This didn’t get explored too much during the interview because they shifted to another idea. But if I had the chance to be in Maron’s garage I would have said, “Hold on! About this murder mystery idea…tell me more!”
As a host and a guest at a handful of these type parties, I can understand what he was trying to get at. It’s a must that all the characters have their own stories and these stories must be interweaved in some way with every other character. They all must have a reason for being in the room (on the stage) and plausibly suspect of being the one “who done it.”
Now to have one of these parties, you can easily buy a script from an online site, or you can be cheap like me and write your own. If you are a writer, I suggest you write your own. It is such a great opportunity to be able to bring your characters to life and see how it all works out. I’m sure many of you, like me, do not have actors or a theater at your disposal to use for this type of exploration; however, this is the next best thing. All you need is a little help from your (well fed and hydrated) friends. The last party I hosted, the newer guests even echoed this sentiment saying “I feel like this story can translate easily to a book.”
You, as the observant host and writer, can also steal ideas from how your guests play these characters. Maybe they open up new ideas to you on how they interact or you realize even more the significance of their role in the story. Whatever is the case, it will be well worth the time and energy you put into having this party. You will finish the night feeling unblocked and rejuvenated Plus, it’s a lot of fun for all involved. My guests and I have still have the best laughs when we reminisce about these past parties.
Here’s a simple guide I have created to help you create and execute your own murder mystery (I have also included recipes and an example of what an invite looks like at the end of this post).
Pick a date. This will help you decide the theme of the party.
Are you going to be inside or outside?
I had my first one in March. Living in New York that meant we would be inside. The second one I had was during August so we were outside (kind of). It happened to be the hottest day of the entire summer so we were outside more once the sun set and it cooled it down.
The one I hosted indoors was a
1980’s High School Reunion.
The one I hosted outdoors was a
Summer Camp Reunion.
I have been to a Spa Bachelorette Party and a Vegas Murder Mystery as well. Since you are going to be creating it, you can decide on any theme you want. Aside from the themes mentioned above, here are some questions to answer to help you discover the direction of your party:
Who will be coming? Will it be just couples or just friends? Or will will it be a mix?
If you just want to do a fun night with your girlfriends then think of reasons women come together for a party. Will you pretend to throw a shower, a bachelorette, a book club, a day at the spa, a divorce celebration, a tubber-ware party, or even just girl’s night out?
Remember you can throw whatever you like. It’s all pretend. So maybe you thought you would never have the opportunity to throw a shower but you have always wanted to, now is your chance. I guarantee it’s going to be more fun than throwing a real one. In fact when I do have to plan real parties now, I long for the murder mystery parties I have planned. I have never had more fun planning a party (and I’ve thrown some really great birthday parties for my son over the years). There is no leash needed for your creativity and imagination while you plan this type of party.
If you are having a co-ed party with couples or singles or both, do the same as mentioned with the single sex party. Think about reasons for you all to come together for a party. Reunions are always fun because you can really go wild with the backstories of your characters. Also do not let the difference in age of your guests deter you (again it’s all pretend) You will be amazed how your guests really suspend their beliefs and go all in (this helps with the assistance of a themed cocktail as well--recipe below). I have had a high school reunion and some of the obvious older guests, like my dad, played the roles as the past teacher. My guests still talk about his performance of carrying fruit in his pockets and asking all the women into a closest with him at one time or another (that’s another point— you have to be prepared for wacky things to happen).
Any party is possible.
I like to think about what kind of outfits would be easy for my guests to pull together without breaking the bank. A 1980’s outfit is easy to put together over a 1920’s flapper outfit. Also dressing for a spa party in robes is easier than dressing for a wedding in fancy attire like tuxedos unless you are having a down home back yard wedding.
These answers help me decide, as well, as what I am willing to do for decorations. The camp reunion I had in my yard was easy. The nature and the pool in my yard was our camp. I didn’t need much more than that. The Vegas party I went to had a big poker table in middle of the room. We believed, this was Vegas. So you can see there is not too much decorating that needs to be done once your rooms fill with people dressed in robes or like flappers. Your guests adorn the party.
In addition to easy costumes and decorations, I spend the money on food, drinks, and help. Oh my poor servers I have used for my parties are still probably trying to figure out what the heck kinda party they just witnessed.
The first party I ever had, I cooked. But it was all trays of things I made ahead of the party (like eggplant parmesan, ziti, stuffed breads, etc. ) that just needed to be heated up and then served buffet style. The server helped set up, serve, make drinks, and clean up. This leads you free, as host, to orchestrate the madness.
For the summer party, I just catered in all the food. The restaurant sent a server as well.
You can be creative with who you get to help. Maybe you can get a friend who owes you a favor or ask a helpful family member. My niece recently had a party and hired a neighbor’s boarding exchange student to help her out. Or, hey, add all that work to part of your party. Cast your guest as a bartender or server. I cast a guest as the card dealer and he hosted games of poker all night. So it’s possible. Just make sure your server doesn’t get murdered before the dishes are done.
Another option is to just get a food truck. This is becoming more common in my parts. The truck just rolls up and serves and leaves.
You have to think of your budget and what’s best.
The other helpful thing is when guests ask “What can I bring?” Tell them exactly what to bring. I headed off this question and put on the invitation to please bring a dessert that does not need to be cut since the knives will be used for “other things.” Not having to cut slices or scoop ice cream expedites the dessert line. So ask right on the invitations to bring whatever would be helpful. Whatever you do request them to bring suggest that they choose it in character. Ask them to bring something that is somehow representative of their character. For example, my husband played an Elvis impersonator at a party we went to, so I made a bacon, peanut butter, banana cake. We were all shook up because it was freakin’ good! Thank you, Thank you very much!
In addition to good food, a must for me is to have a specialized drink for the theme of the party. Some guests may need a little liquid courage before they begin playing the game, so welcoming them with a drink they cannot refuse is good way to start off the night. I make a nonalcoholic version of the drink for the designated drivers and for myself as well. As the party host, you must remain coherent so you can continue to guide the party and note any material that will be great for your writing. You must be in control of yourself so you can control the story line and the characters.
For the camp party, I made S’mores Martinis (link to recipe below). I made them ahead of time too. This was a party saver. If there is anything I can do ahead of time, I will do it. I am not a fan of doing things last minute. I am organized and a planner. You must be organized as well if you are to pull off a successful Mystery party. Just as you must be organized when writing the chapters of your book.
The next step is thinking about who would be good to invite. You may have a lot of people that you would normally invite to a normal party but this ‘ain’t’ a normal party. Think about the people in your life who seem adventurous and willing and open to new experiences. These are the people to invite. Also, make sure you invite people who do not flake on you. Your whole party may be thrown off if certain characters never come. You also want to keep the invitation list on the intimate side. Inviting too many people will make it harder for you to navigate and keep track of the mayhem. But if you have to invite certain people as not to hurt their feelings but you fear they may not engage the way you want, then you can write them very minimal roles and even orchestrate a way to get them killed early.
Once you get an idea who you want to invite, run it by them before you even send out your first invite to note how they respond. This will help you confirm if they are right to invite and also to help you assign their characters.
You will then send out two forms of invites. You can do this all online or by snail-mail. The first invitation sent is a save the date kind of invite. Give your guests a date to respond. Once they respond and you know who is in then you can write your mystery. The second invite (see example below) is sent after you have written the mystery. It acts as a reminder and contains all the information about your guest’s character such as who they are, why they will be at the party, what they should wear, what they should bring, what they need to know about the other characters at the party, etc. You want to send this out about two weeks before the party so they can “study.” This will also give them enough time to get their costumes and their acts together.
You want all the guests to come one hour earlier then the game starts so they can come and drink and eat and get to know one another. They will figure out who all the other characters are before the party even begins. You will also have some “bad students” panicking that they didn’t study. This is fine. Let them know you are there to help them throughout the night. They will see as soon as the party starts how you are there as their guide. You take characters aside and plant ideas in their heads or you pass out secretive notes that contain extra information of instructions for the characters. For example, I needed one character murdered because I also wanted her to play a detective. When nobody was looking I took her and the killer to another room and told her to scream five minutes after we (the “killer” and I left). She did. The party all heard her scream and came running to see her playing dead. I removed everyone from the scene and had a quick costume change for her and told her about her new part. She played this corrupt detective better than her original part. Plus, the role was not assigned as “corrupt.” That’s how she just decided to play it. This is just the type of thing that helps evolve the writing of your own story.
Your guests are free to play these characters however they want as long as they stay true to your basic guidelines and the information you have provided them with in the second invitation. The ultimate goal for them is to solve the murder(s) (depending on how many you want to have. A must is that you have a murder that already happened before they show up. Think Clue the Movie).
Since it is a game, motivate your guests by telling them that there are more ways to win than just solving the murder. Explain that at the end of the night there will be a winner for best: actor, actress, costume, con artist, and sleuth.
Choose the con-artist by providing Mononpoly money for your guests to use to buy secrets from one another. I provided my guests with envelopes of money (some stuffed with more money than others) at the start of the game. The character with the most money at the end of the night wins the con-artist prize.
The party comes to an end when I hand out the voting ballots that ask the guests to cast their choices for: who done it, best actor, and best costume. I also ask them to count and write how much money they have at the end of the night. The one who has the most money wins as best con-artist.
I give out little parting gifts to the winners. You will realize it is the least you can do for all the gifts they have given you to help spark your own writing.
Give it a try. You’re gonna die with laughter.
To break it down, this is how I organized my last party:
- Picked a date.
2. Decided loosely who I wanted on my guest list.
Since I have had and been to these parties before, I had an advantage of knowing the right guests to invite. I also ask a few new guests as well to mix up the fun.
2. Picked a theme.
Knowing it was going to be co-ed party and that we were going to be outside, I thought a Camp Reunion would be fun. I didn’t assign a decade. The camp theme was enough. There’s something about camp that makes it feel like time stands still. Also I knew the costumes and decorations would be simple.
3. Decided on food. I gave myself a break and just got heroes and a few hot trays catered in. I wanted to make a rec. hall vibe with camp type food like mac and cheese and chili but I couldn’t find a place that made it to my liking and I didn’t want to cook so I decided food quality trumped theme here. However, I made up for it with a specialty cocktail and dessert. S’mores Martini and S’mores bars (see recipes below)
4. Invited. I sent out e-vites themed with a camp vibe. The first round of e-vites are very simple. Make sure you include date and time (an hour earlier then the game begins) and how you will contact them with additional information for the party once you get their r.s.v.p.
5. Started shaping the party once I received the rsvp’s.
6. Emailed the guests their second invite with all the important information they needed to know (see example below). I also sent them suggestions on how their characters should dress, as well as what to bring to the party. For example, I had a character who was an entomologist (bug scientist). She brought cupcakes decorated with toy spiders. I also created a character at camp who ran a gambling ring in the bunks while in camp. He came and played cards with everyone all night.
7. Once the guests were all fed and feeling good, I started the party with a welcoming speech and gave a little background on who everyone was. This let the guests know the start of the game.
Recipes used for the Camp Reunion:
Cocktail: S’mores Martini
Dessert: S’mores Bars
Here is an example of the second invite I sent out to one of the guests at the party, feel free to use and tweak as a guide for your own party (note: each guests gets their own set of secrets).
THANK YOU FOR CONFIRMING YOuR ATTENDANCE AT cAMP kILL REUNION. I HOPE WE WILL ALL HAVE A KILLER GOOD TIME.
THIS MESSAGE INCLUDES: A LIST OF RULES FOR THE GAME, THE NEWS ARTICLE, A MESSAGE FROM THE HOST, THE GUEST LIST, AND YOUR CHARaCTER AND SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR CHARACTER, Plus your Secrets:
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING PAGES OF INFORMATION SO YOU KNOW WHAT TO PREPARE FOR:
- PLEASE BE PROMPT TO THE PARTY SO WE CAN ENJOY SOME SPIRITS AND PRE-GAME FUN BEFORE THE REAL GAME BEGINS
- PLEASE READ YOUR CHARACTER & THE DETAILS CONCERNING YOUR CHARACTER & KEEP IT A SECRET UNTIL THE NIGHT OF THE PARTY.
- PLEASE READ THE NEWS ARTICLE, AND THE LIST OF GUESTS BEFORE THE NIGHT OF PARTY
- A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE PARTY YOU WILL RECEIVE A CONFIDENTIAL EMAIL WITH INFORMATION REGARDING YOUR CHARACTER’S SECRETS.
- AT THE PARTY, THE HOST WILL LET YOU KNOW WHEN THE MURDER MYSTERY GAME HAS BEGUN AND WHEN IT HAS ENDED
- AT THE PARTY, YOU WILL BE GIVEN AN ENVELOPE OF PLAY MONEY THAT YOU CAN USE TO GAMBLE/BUY SECRETS/PERSUADE/BRIBE/ETC. WITH. THE PLAYER WITH THE MOST MONEY AT THE END OF THE NIGHT WILL WIN A PRICE
- AT THE PARTY, THE HOST WILL ALSO BE HANDING CERTAIN CHAracTERS ADDITIONAL CLUES AND/OR TASKS THAT THEY WILL HAVE TO COMPLETE DURING THE GAME
- aT THE END OF THE GAME, ALL PLAYERS WILL DECIDE “wHO DONE IT” & WHY
- AWARDS WILL ALSO BE GIVEN OUT FOR CERTAIN PLAYER CATEGORIES LIKE BEST ACTRESS, BEST COSTUME, ETC.
- MOST IMPORTANT RULE: HAVE FUN! HAVE FUN! IT IS SILLY GOOD FUN SO COME WITH AN OPEN MIND AS WELL AS A SLEUTHING ONE
Monday, August 6, 1985
Deaths at Killawonkillemal Leads to Camp’s Closing.
The mysterious deaths of two of Camp Killawonkilemal camp-goers, closes a much loved camp and will continue to mess with the psyche of the rest of the campers and counselors, too.
By: B. Bearcaught
On August 6th, Camp Killawonkillemal began demolishing tent cabins. It was here in one of the cabins that David Kidd was found fatally wounded. This just a day after Carrie Gal was trapped and killed in an accidental (?) fire in the Arts & Crafts cabin.
But on August 18th, 1985, the campground seemed idyllic. The camp was running ripe by promise of another great summer. The swimming pool was open. The sun warmed the beloved camp garden. The smell of s’mores roasting by the camp fire filled the evening and the scariest thing to happen, as of yet, was a good ol’ fashion fireside ghost story.
Suddenly, the picture worsened when Carrie, a spirited Counselor in Training, was killed by a fire that quickly lit the Craft’s cabin aflame. The camp barely had time to deal with this incident when David, a beloved counselor who spent many a summer working at Camp Kill, was mysteriously found dead in his cabin the next night.
Camp Killawonkillemal reacted immediately by sending all campers and counselors home. Many objected to this plan. For some of these kids, this was their only chance to experience the outdoors. They had looked forward to coming back to camp all school year. They believed these two unfortunate deaths were just flukes and if they weren’t, they wanted to stay and help their dearly loved camp.
Now, “it feels as if summer has been killed,” dramatically states, Lou Natic, the very popular counselor and now, famous actor, who was often the star of many of Camp Kill’s staged productions, when asked how he felt about the confirmed decision to shut down the camp for good.
Our Camp Reunion is about to take place on August 6th.
Ms. Read will be hosting the reunion. She is happy to be uniting the following counselors and campers of Camp Kill. As you will note by the following list of guests who have confirmed their attendance, we were all at the camp the final, tragic summer of its closing twenty-nine years ago. For one night, on August 6th, we come together to reminisce and enjoy the good old days of camp again.
Then: A camper that often went unnoticed.
Now: Host of the reunion. She is hoping the reunion will ignite the love her fellow campers and counselors had for Camp Kill.
Hillary & Joe:
Then: Hillary and Joe were voted the counselors most likely to succeed during time as counselors at the camp. Hillary worked her way up to be the head girl’s counselor quicker than any other counselor in camp history and led her girls to victory every summer during the Killawonkillemal End of Summer Games. Joe reigned as the head counselor of the boys for more years than any other counselor in Camp Kill history. Now: It shocked us all that these two ended up marrying due to their competitiveness every summer during the End of Summer Games. But romance was ignited when they came together to protest the closing of Camp Killawonakillemal. Their love for the camp, where they both spent their youth and then their young adult years as counselors, brought these two rivals together for the better. Hillary is currently running for Mayor of the town where the camp resides and, when elected, is to get the camp re-opened. Joe, lucky to have inherited his family’s fortune, is Hillary’s biggest supporter (emotionally and financially) as her campaign manager.
Steve: that's you
Then: He was that camper that was everyone’s friend and the counselors enjoyed to have on their teams. He started going to Camp Kill in grade school and spent many returned years until the camp closed when he was just a baby faced young man hitting puberty. Smart, quiet and reserved, you could always find him tending to the animals at camp.
Now: Living in Australia and working as a zoologist, the Aussie way has changed him. He prefers chasing women, drinking & eating in excess, and speaking with a bad Australian accent.
Then: You could always find this camper in the Arts & Crafts cabin. A friend for all, she was always there to listen to your problems and help you with your glue gun. She knew more about most of us then our own loved ones did. Now: A quirky psychologist whose favorite pastime is analyzing everyone she meets.
Then: Jimmy, aka Jimmy Skimmy, was the camper who was the one to be last to rise and shine since he spent his night robbing us of all our peanuts during his infamous card games in the Craft’s cabin after lights out. Now: Jimmy is an extremely successful accountant. Some wonder just how he really got all his expensive little toys as well as Fanny for a wife.
Then: Leigh was the brooding artist who had immeasurable talent and protested much of everything conventional. He was forced to attend camp every year by his parents and was often reprimanded by the counselors when he would grab the microphone early before the morning bugle and wake us all up to speak out for the ozone layer.
Now: Leigh has moved back into the community after many years living in an artistic commune although he has nothing good to say about our politics. He claims his reason for the move is purely artistic. Ironically, this dirty hippy supports himself by making and selling his soaps at farmer markets. He is currently dating Kikki (although he does not prefer labels).
Then: Kikki, or “Kickit” as we would call her, was a force to be reckoned with. She was fast, strong, and determined. You knew you were winning The End of Summer Games with this camper on your team. You just wanted to make sure you stayed on Kikki’s good side and not be on the end of her quick temper. Now: Kikki is a for hire bodyguard. While many find the occupation unusual or even scandalous they would not dare say anything about it. She was trained in the Far East and it is said that she can kill a man with one strike. Not one for politics herself, Leigh is a perfect companion.
Then: this Counselor in Training was always a bit eccentric. Sally could be found playing with her tarot pack or her Ouija board or reading our palms or learning the ropes always in Lou Natic’s cabin. Now: Sally is a Psychic to the stars and claims she can hear voices of the dearly departed. And as predicted, she and Lou have finally wed.
Then: The usual star of most of the main stage productions during his time at Camp Kill, he had a big fan club. Now: This Infamous actor is well known for his trigger temper and lofty demands.
Then: Jason claimed to come from the wrong side of the tracks and after spending some time at another “camp” he found his way to Camp Killawonkillemal. You could always rely on Jason for a good fire-side ghost story. Now: Jason is a pretty successful mystery writer. He does a lot of traveling to research his books.
Then: This camper was always bugging out. That is, a lover of nature, especially when it involved creepy crawlies, you could always find Betty with her tweezers and magnifying glass in the camp’s garden observing the insects in all their natural glory. Now: Betty is a forensic entomologist who prefers to be called maggotologist. Her knowledge of bugs can reveal when, where and sometimes, how a victim died.
Then: Lester, or Lester the Jester, was the practical joker of the camp. Usually the life-guard on duty, we would all tread very cautiously while in the pool with this joker protecting us. Now: Lester still spends his summer life-guarding for hire and teaching swim lessons in the off-season. Not the most lucrative living, he is lucky to be supported by his wife Dr. Jackie.
Then: Jackie was that camper who always seemed to be in the infirmary. But, for Jackie it wasn’t because she was ill, she was fascinated by all things medical. Now: Is a world-renowned physician, more popular than Dr. Oz (she claims).
Then: Stan was that counselor who preferred order and rules. Under his tutelage, his campers learned manners and discipline. When Stan wasn’t counseling, you could always find sitting by the pool with his head in a book. Now: Stan is a Professor of Linguistics (he thinks). Unlike the Stan of earlier years, he is a bit unorganized and absentminded although very intelligent. He has a habit of walking off in the middle of a conversation and losing his down-home southern drawl for an Irish brogue.
Then: Sarah, a well-loved counselor and all-star athlete, with her campers, came close many a summer to defeating Hillary’s campers; however, there always seemed to be one mishap or another preventing her victory. Now: A Yogi who claims to be at peace with the past and very present in the here and now. She spent some time teaching yoga in Leigh’s old commune. Now, she teaches at the Y.
Carol & Charles
Then: Charles was that all-star camper that seemed to do everything right. He was even that perfect boyfriend to Carol, who seemed just as perfect camper in her own right. Their love turned quickly from summer romance to a happy marriage. Now: Lead by their similar interests both Carol & Charles are now detectives.
You have changed from that shy, sweet boy that everyone remembered to a big mouth who likes to be the center of attention. Blame this new shift in attitude on the killings at camp. David was your beloved counselor who you thought of as big brother and you had a big secret crush on Carrie. David, however, did catch you with stolen keys to the get into the cages of the animals after hours as well as keys to Carrie’s cabin. This could have sent you home if he told. However, you got lucky with his unfortunate, but timely, death. Your secret remained safe. In any event, their deaths have scarred you. Since, you have tried to cover your emotions with booze, food, loose women and an obnoxious attitude. You really are not fond of people. Animals are your real friends & you let people know that whether they ask you or not.
At the party always have a drink in your hand and talk with a full mouth. Tell people they need to eat and drink more in a bad Australian accent. Constantly tell people how much more you like animals than people and why (be creatively insulting).
You especially do not like America anymore and would never cast your vote for a corrupt politician. You know for a fact Hillary and Joe only pretended to be rivals and cheated in the Summer Games. You would never vote for her.
You do, however, enjoy the company of Betty who loves bugs just as much as you love animals although you are very suspicious of Jason. Your animal sense makes you not trust him especially since his ghost stories filled your nightmares during camp.
You would like to get him back and know Lester is just the ally to help you do this. Work with Lester to see what practical joke you can pull on Jason.
Post a comment to let me how you "killed it."