Articles from August 2009



Motives Operandi

Even when they’re of the same type, not all crimes are alike. Some thefts are well-planned and for a purpose, while others are last-minute; some murders meant to shock, some to silence, some to not have happened in the first place; some kidnappings are for ransom, some to protect the victim from someone else, some [...]

Finding Their Own Clues

Most of the time, you hear about players in mysteries being paralyzed with indecision, not sure what sorts of clues to hunt, or missing the stuff they’re supposed to find. But some people have the other problem—not content with the clues they’re “supposed” to find, they start coming up with other aspects of things they [...]

No Crime Is Too Perfect

When most people start planning a mystery, they see the clues as all being where the culprit made mistakes in covering her tracks, visible signs of slipping up. As a result, they have trouble running culprits who know the tricks and how to work around them. What they don’t realize is that for a sharp [...]

How to Foil Investigation Magic

When people start talking about creating mysteries in settings with magic, the magic often comes in as a potential problem. How do you hide the murderer when a simple spell will expose the evil in his heart? What do you do when dead men can tell tales? Is there still a mystery if someone can [...]

The Unreliable Witness

Most writers are familiar with the concept of an unreliable narrator, a character who for whatever reason isn’t telling it like it is. But for mystery writers, the unreliable narrator is even more useful. Take him, mix him with your standard witness, and you get an unreliable witness, a way to get across information without [...]

The Generic Villain on Villain Saturation

As far as the Laws of Dramatics go, you have it in the bag. You’ve got your career protagonist into a destiny tangle so convoluted that taking a knife to it just gets the blade assimilated. Anyone they face, anything they fight, can all be traced back to you, and this makes you so important [...]

Impractical Applications (Laying the Trail)

Last week, I began the tale of my last attempt at running a mystery. Today, I’m going into process; clues, how I used them, and how they related to the plot. For context, the mystery at hand was simple: a small group of people had been sworn to a magically binding oath about which they [...]

Mystery: Red Herrings

Mysteries aren’t much fun if you just have an unbroken trail of a → b → c and so on to get to the answer. Sometimes you want something to draw the audience and the investigators away from the actual solution. Dramatic reasons, trying to prove how clever the culprit is, even just trying to [...]

Feeding People Conclusions

I’ve talked about clues in general, both their classifications and how to apply said classifications, but no amount of technical clue knowledge will do much good if you don’t know what you want them to imply. So if you want people to get to a certain answer, you’re going to want to know ways to [...]

Mystery: How to Scatter Clues

Now that we’ve classified our clues, we can move on to figuring out how to use them to bring a mystery to its proper conclusion.
I don’t usually start with the clues themselves; rather, I start with the mental paths I expect my players to take. This begins with the hook, and the kinds of conclusions [...]