Sometimes when you’re trapped in a writing rut, you need something outside of your routine to pull you out of it. Something new. Different. You need something to remind you of the excitement and joy of the creation process.
Something like a murder mystery.
Back in March, I was chatting with a friend from church about a couple of murder mystery parties I’d been part of (one already past and one coming up soon). My friend was hooked. “I’ve always wanted to do a murder mystery party,” she told me. By the end of the conversation, I’d agreed to write a mystery game for her, so she could throw a birthday dinner for her husband. I spent the next month scribbling ideas in my spare time.
In the process of planning a murder, I all but abandoned my current work-in-progress. But I felt truly excited about writing for the first time in months. While switching projects isn’t always the best idea (especially if you’re facing a deadline), at times the change of pace can be the perfect remedy for stagnate fingers.
Murder mysteries have very little to do with writing a children’s fantasy book (aka my neglected project), and yet the new format sparked my imagination and gave me the momentum I needed to get back to putting words down on paper.
So if you’re struggling with motivation like I was, here are three ways writing a mystery game might help you break out of a writing rut.
3 Reasons to Write a Mystery Game (Murder or Otherwise)
1. Exploring new formats keeps writing fun
I’m a huge believer in trying new activities and branching out of your comfort zone when your write. (Just see my previous post on activities for writer’s block).
Now, it’s true that devoting your focus to one format or style helps you develop mastery in that area. You learn the ins and outs of your genre until they become almost instinctive, allowing you to focus less on the style and more on the story. Yet, by dabbling in something new, you keep the door of discovery open. Oftentimes, writing, especially writing for kids, requires a spirit of playfulness. Of curiosity and adventure. We need to play with new ideas and methods to remind ourselves of the fun of creating.
Writing a mystery game is a great way to tap into that ludic spirit. Mystery games thrive on unexpected twists, dashes of humor, and an emphasis on teamwork. As you create one–whether your goal is to solve a murder, catch a thief, or find a lost treasure–you’re writing an activity designed to challenge people and let them cut loose. You can create a series of riddles and puzzles, or simply give rounds of clues and secrets for players to discuss. By the end of the game, your friends and family will be positing theories you never would have thought of yourself. The whole process is super satisfying and often very entertaining.
2. Creating characters for the game helps you practice building character backgrounds
Most mystery parties will assign each guest with a character that they play for the evening. Creating these characters is challenging, because you usually try to give every person present a motive. Each person has to have enough detail about their background to show that they have a reason to be there. They all need to have connections to two or three other players, and you have to weave their stories together with red herrings and hidden clues to help your guests figure out the truth (but not too quickly).
These characters end up becoming great practice for writing fleshed out characters in your stories. While your game players probably won’t have scripts of dialogue, they will have essential personality traits and backgrounds. They’ll have histories and relationships that make every person in the room a key player, whether they are a prime suspect or not. The importance of every participant helps us consider how even nonessential characters influence the course of events. In the same way, even the secondary and background characters in our books help move the plot forward and give our readers valuable information.
3. Finishing will give you a sense of satisfaction
At the end of the evening, your guests will reach the conclusion of the game. They’ll come together and discuss one last time, voting on who they think the culprit was. Or perhaps they’ll pose a collective guess, and if they’re wrong, they’ll keep playing until they do solve the mystery. I ended our mystery by reading everyone’s guesses from little voting papers they filled out, and then I read a final conclusion revealing the truth of the crime.
Everyone is usually pretty satisfied with learning the answer, even if their individual guess happens to be wrong. It’s always fun seeing who figured the mystery out and discovering the solution to the puzzle.
However, as the writer of the game, it’s even more satisfying to see your words playing out in front of you. To see something you wrote, even if it was silly or short, bringing people together and making them laugh. While the game might not have anything to do with what you normally write, seeing your mystery come to life gives a rush of motivation similar to publishing a blog post or meeting a big deadline. The satisfaction of completion often makes the next task seem more manageable and even desirable. You enjoyed seeing one project finished, and now you want people to enjoy your next story.
When you’re in a writing rut, the best way out is to keep moving forward. Whether you try your hand at writing a mystery game, or you try another activity, just putting words to the page will keep your brain in the habit of creating. And that habit will carry you through the days when writing feels more like a chore than a gift.
What are some of your favorite writing rut solutions?
Karley Conklin is a librarian by day, a writer by night, and a bookworm 24/7. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.