Tips on writing a murder mystery

It’s a “roll the dice at the beginning of the game to decide who the killer is” game. But they both murder the same person in a similar way in order to save on code :slight_smile:

Different motives though.



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Now that’s definitely something I would enjoy playing!

Are you going to warn the reader in advance that the killer is randomized? Or will it be obvious despite them murdering the same person in a similar way? Only because I like re-reading to see what clues I missed. If out of nowhere the killer turns out to be someone else I feel like it would fall into the same trap as mysteries where the reader never gets the chance to figure out the murderer before the characters do because a lack of information in an attempt to make the investigator seem smarter than they are. :thinking:


Thanks for that advice!

I’m gonna bring up one of my favorite games of all time, Danganronpa. This has plenty of murder-mystery action (maybe you’d like to see how some trials are handled) and it’s done by high-schoolers. I think what makes a cool murder mystery is setting up tropes for characters (sexy rich socialite, war veteran, scholar) and then fleshing them out to make them more (or less) likeable. Sure they’re tropes, but everything is a trope now, the whole point is to make the audience remember who they are and give them something interesting. Danganronpa (sorry, I love it too much!!) literally gives you tropes for characters and then fleshes them out. The point being, they don’t have to be honorable or morally correct, they just gotta be interesting and somewhat relatable. I agree though, having the MC basically be Sherlock gets tired quickly. Once again, bringing up Danganronpa, the MC’s you play as are high school boys. No talent, don’t specialize in anything that interesting, but what makes them useful in cases is how they TRY. They pick up basic things, wonder how it could correlate, then use other people’s POV to try and solve it.
tldr: look up Danganronpa, you might find some new ways to write interesting characters and solve crime!


Mysteries are probably my favorite genre of book. I’ve read everything from the greats (Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Stephen King), as well as the not-so-greats and up-and-comers. In high school, my senior year (final year), I had two free class periods every morning, so I would sit in the library and read.

A huge pitfall in mysteries is the author thinking the reader/audience is stupid. People who enjoy mysteries have done so for years, likely weaned on the likes of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

The two biggest issues I’ve noticed are overly building up the climax and throwing a nonsensical twist out of nowhere (EG: leading the reader to believe it was the butler whodunnit, but actually it was some person mentioned for two sentences in chapter 12).

In addition, slowly build up the main character’s backstory. What I’ve noticed a lot of in modern murder mysteries is this need to shove romance where it isn’t necessary and turn a novel about a mystery into a novel about unresolved sexual tension with McDreamy…with a side course of dead person. The mystery itself is undercooked, while there are chapters upon chapters of purple prose about this romance, and the main character’s tragic backstory with said romance option - or romantic rival. Usually about 5000 words at the beginning, followed by every other paragraph for the rest of the bloody thing.

The issue with mystery in IF would definitely fall into replayability. Popcorn, Soda, Murder and its buddies (showing my age, lol) did it okay, but it felt lackluster and rushed.

I think that, best case scenario, you create a random roll (1-10 or however many suspects) at the beginning of the game, then have that character act suspiciously throughout, based on that. The way Popcorn, Soda, Murder (and its buddies) handled the murder mystery aspect left everyone being shady and suspicious. While that is definitely a unique way to do it, it leaves the reader feeling as though it’s just a matter of chance to win. The characters act the same way, regardless of who the murderer actually is.

It would be more work for you, but I think it would be a more fulfilling game in the long run. Lots of “*if *elseif *else” trees, for you, but a lot of replayability for the reader - as well as a feeling of accomplishment and good detective work.

ohhohoho and as for tropes, I adore Murder on a Train as well as Last One Standing/And Then There Were None. Heavily leaning towards the latter. The suspense of each of your biggest suspects keeling over in increasingly horrifying ways is 10/10. I don’t scare easy, but goodness did Christie’s book with that trope get me.

And the Sherlock/Poirot trope is annoying for me, unless you truly play the MC up to be an insufferable arse. Like I want my MC to piss everyone off around them for being a know-it-all, not have people worshipping the ground she walks on.

I far prefer the Nancy Drew archetype - one who is plucky and courageous but definitely has failures and certainly overlooks things regularly (or at least she used to. Haven’t read a ND novel in over a decade), but still comes out on top, using her gut feeling and the tried-and-true phone a friend.


I really appreciate all the help, thought, and advice in this thread. I definitely can’t live up to all of it, but I can do some.

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Oh goodness, nobody could expect you to live up to every expectation. Just the fact that you care enough to ask tells me that whatever you put out is going to be fantastic and full of love. I can’t wait to read it! :heart::heart:

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In a lot of IF games, min/maxing stats is usually the way to win and typically no matter what stats you pick to focus on you can still succeed in any scenario. For example, focus on the Intimidation stat and you can bully everyone to get what you want. Focus on Charm and you can sweet talk your way to victory. Focus on Intelligence and you can flex your knowledge to win, and so on. I think it would be interesting in a murder mystery game, instead of being stat based, to rely on the reader to figure out what approach would be best in what situations in order to get the information or clues they need.


deep breath

The game is now officially a-playtestin’.

The thread is here (as is the house plan that I failed to put in the dashingdon version), and the game is here.


I’ve written a few murder mystery games over the last few years and have noticed that the logic of the basic plot is actually the most important thing. You definitely need a common thread that runs through the entire story. Every character, no matter how well-described, no matter how well-described it is, is of no use if the story as a whole doesn’t follow a common thread.

So I’m increasingly starting to describe the basic plot first (who killed who and why?) and only then diving into the depth of the characters and the game world as a whole. I have seen it far too often that many players were disappointed at the end of the game because the crime did not follow any logic or because the timing was not comprehensible. I found this guide (7 Things I Learned Writing My Own Murder Mystery)helpful in this regard. Maybe this will help you too.