Tips on writing a murder mystery

I’m writing a murder mystery game right now (for National Novel Writing Month, in fact) which presents some unique challenges.

First, when the central question is, “Whodunnit?” replayability runs out much quicker (I’m going to have more than one possible murderer so the answer to that question is different on different play-throughs). This also means that it’s much harder to have truly different goals for different play-throughs.

So, two questions:

  1. What do you think would make a solid murder mystery (since it’s me writing it, there’s also magic but in some ways that’s beside the point)?

  2. What classic mystery scenes or tropes would you adore in a murder mystery game?

PS There’s a cool thread about recommending other Murder games already, at Murder mystery games


My main problem with If or video games about mystery. Is the main protagonist They are so under developed and so bad planned That or is a bad rip off of a over the top Sherlock or something Chandler.

There’s no development in WHY you’re investigating and what is your character personalities and defects.

In a mystery or murder novel Empathy with your character and introduced in pc mind and reasoning are key to feeling the story. If your pc is not believable nobody will invest in believe any red herrings you place in the plot. And won’t believe the challenges.

In videogames murders games are so focused in addition of paranoid conspiracy theories and sects that make characters nobody really relates with. I miss old Gabriel Knight and even Sam and max if even that’s a fun game. Relatable pc is what makes me at least invest in a game like that. If not I will feel bored after five seconds


One general advice I hold dear about Murder mysteries:

when planning, begin from the end. When you have the investigator explain to the assembled group how something happened and why it’s easier to ask the following from there:

  1. how did the investigator find the motive?
    1a. if there are several good motives, how could they clear those suspects?
  2. how did they find the how it was done?
    2a. if the how was not the one everyone initially thought it was (e.g. the victim was poisoned, not shot) how did they discover that? Especially if they are cut off from the outside world/scientific means needed somehow.
  3. what did the culprit do to hide their trail? what managed to throw the investigator off? What even tipped them off in the right direction?

When writing an IF murder mystery, I’d say this still applies, and the variety could come from the various possibilities these questions might bring up. (watch Clue - The Movie, for an example)


lol very hercule poirot :grin:


1.Since Magic is involved, howabout take inspiration from the “murder” of professor Dumbledore ? Like who or what could kill a Master Wizard ? :slight_smile:

Write about the defensive spells of the killed wizard and counter spell that can penetrate those defensive spell… and trying to guess which Wizard possess the power to do it in addition of motive :slight_smile:

  1. Classical mystery scene ?? Hmmmm… it would had to be those from sir Arthur’s Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes :slight_smile:

here’s the aforementioned Clue endings, for those interested:





I like feeling the POV character’s personality with the mystery. How people approach cases depends on how they see the world sort of thing. My favorite series has two alternating protags: one is optimistic, impatient and clever; the other is straightforward and cynical, and you can see it in how they gather clues.

Also if you’re changing up the whodunit, I’d just suggest being clever about it and change the mystery up a bit beyond “a red shoe was left in the foyer instead of a boot print”. (Not sure what you have in mind though so)

As for tropes, I can’t say, though I like stories that leave things non black and white and a little bitter at the end (though that really depends on your tone). My favorites leave me hating the broken and apathetic systems that create “bad guys” more than the bad guys themselves.


I’m fumbling my way through a murder mystery WIP myself, although it’s my first attempt so I’m not sure how valuable my advice will be.

I took the approach of having the MC framed for the murder that sets off the chain of events they become entangled in, which provides a pretty powerful motivation to solve the crime.

Additionally the motive for the murder is tangentially related to a larger conspiracy, which in turn was set into motion by the actions of some fairly damaged people.

Not sure if that actually answered your question…

Favorite trope? I enjoy it when the murder turns out to be a revenge killing for something that happened in the past, although it doesn’t appear that way at first glance. Bonus points if the killer frames a third party who is also complicit in that long-ago wrongdoing. Double bonus points if the murderer’s motives are genuinely sympathetic.


My WIP, The Enchanter’s Misery, is a grim murder mystery. I’ll be peeking in on this thread to pilfer all of your ideas. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


Always You don’t forced me into being a good pc and more importantly ALWAYS YOU DON’T KILL MY PET AGAIN You will do great @Samuel_H_Young . I am dying for a game where i am investigating just for pure profit or some shady reasons like being a tabloid journalist or a defendant lawyer. Sadly is all so lawfully good in murder mysteries.


You have cunningly discovered my evil plan to harvest other people’s brains for more gooder writing.


You already know I’ll provide lots of motivations and character types, half of them less than wholesome. :face_with_monocle:

tents fingers and chortles maniacially


And You know If you don’t I will shouting at you until you include something :wink: I am very good at shouting in betas :grinning: But seriously I can’t understand why in If and videogames the idea of a murder mysteries has to be solved by some sort of Mary Sue that Looks Like Luke Superman or something like that. When most of famous literature detectives or inquire protagonists are far more humanized and with real flaws.


I have complex thoughts on the matter. I feel that an IF game format, if it’s gonna be satisfying, is fundamentally at odds with the “pure” whodunnit plot structure. Pure whodunnit derives a great deal of its closure from tying up loose ends and revealing every secret. A mystery game, I think, would be most interesting when the main mystery can be solved in every (successful) playthrough, but the side mysteries can’t all be unlocked. So there is motivation to replay to get the missing puzzle pieces, especially if the secondary plots involve your favorite NPCs.

But what do I know? I’m just making it up as I go along.


I don’t necessarily agree with this conclusion, although I do agree that:

My approach would be to structure an IF murder mystery game into more of a mirror of the “Clue” board game, where the possible pieces making the mystery are well known to everyone but because mechanics successfully randomize these elements into something different each play through, hours of fun and multiple play sessions could be had quite easily.


I would probably go the Clue route like others have suggested. Either have one storyline where it branches off to different endings like in the movie, or have it randomized completely like the board game.

I absolutely adore the “there’s been a murder on the train!” trope. And I really enjoy the “super intelligent investigator” and “noir detective” type of characters.


If anyone’s been following IFComp, there have been a bunch of murder mystery games (written in twine) that have done quite well. Maybe some ideas could be gleaned from these games?

Erstwhile and Grimnoir were some of the best rated games of the most recent comp. I’ve only played Erstwhile, which I thought had some pretty interesting mechanics, but would be very difficult to replicate in choicescript. Basically you’re a ghost who’s trying to solve your own murder, and you can enter people’s memories to collect clues from the environment. The clues can then be combined to unlock new scenes. Unfortunately there’s only one ending and one path through the story.


It’s worth noting that The Daring Mermaid Expedition, while not actually a mystery, does have an investigative element to it, which includes a stats page “journal” holding clues/pieces of evidence. Not every piece of evidence is accessible on every playthrough. There’s even a fun bit where ending an interaction on a negative note can allow you to witness another encounter that you would otherwise miss.


When you say there’s going to be more than one possible culprits, do you mean that in a

  1. roll a dice at the start of the game to decide which reality this is

kind or way, or a

2)several people tried to do it, but the MC’s actions and some butterfly effects means that only X had the chance / finished first

kind of way?


I love those particular tropes too. (Unfortunately all the mystery games I’ve played lately have had the detective MC be dense as all get out) So I’m currently in the midst of writing my own murder mystery game as well (it even takes place on a “sky carriage”-- a la a steampunk version of an aerial tramway)

Hopefully this means a deluge of more IF mystery/detective games are incoming.