As lovers of all things spooky, we at Spirit Halloween can’t get enough of a good murder mystery party. While you can easily order a pre-made party kit online or hire a professional service, building your very own unique murder mystery is half of the fun! Here are seven steps to hosting a DIY murder mystery that’s so fun it’s scary.

Step 1: Choosing Your Unique Theme

The first step to planning a successful murder mystery is choosing a theme. Your chosen theme will influence practically every aspect of your party, from the food and décor to the characters your friends play. As a company that can’t get enough of Halloween, we’re suckers for anything morbid and macabre—but you can choose any theme you’d like! Popular murder mystery party themes include the holidays, Sherlock Holmes, the 1920s, and Old Hollywood. Don’t be afraid to get creative; unique themes like time travel allow you to combine the best parts of any historical theme for a party that’s to die for.

Step 2: Creating Thrilling Characters

What’s a murder mystery without a unique cast of characters? Once you decide who is coming to your murder mystery party, you’ll want to assign each guest a character. While you can easily create each character yourself, those who enjoy Dungeons & Dragons or other role playing games can have each guest create and send their own character sheet for you to weave into the story. Character sheets should include each character’s basic information, along with their backstories, motives, and relationships to other characters.

Though the ideal murder mystery party only has about six to eight characters, you can still have loads of fun with as many guests as you’d like. If you’re planning on having a large number of people there, ask around to see who wants a major role in the narrative (e.g., suspect, murderer, witness) and who would rather have a more minor role to play.

Step 3: Writing an Engaging Story

Now that you have your characters, it’s time to write your story! First, decide how structured you want your story to be; murder mysteries can be entirely scripted, or treated as free play with some guiding cues! Then, choose the murderer and their victim(s). Once you have the major stuff down, the smaller details will fall into place. If you’re having trouble working out the details when planning the murder, ask yourself the five W’s and an H: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Each character should have a set of motives, red herrings, and connections to at least one or two other players.

Try to create a story with lots of twists and turns. Challenge each player! The murderer’s true identity should only become clear toward the very end of the story. Feeling stuck? Curl up with your favorite Agatha Christie book or browse some popular murder mystery films. 

Step 4: Sending Customized Invitations

Set the mood for your murder mystery before your guests even walk through the door by sending out customized invitations. You can hand-write them with stationery from home for a more personal feel, or you can go all-out with professionally made letters. If your murder mystery has a more contemporary theme or you’d like an environmentally-friendly alternative to physical invites, you can even send each guest a personalized email! No matter what kind of invitation you choose to send, make sure it coincides with the party’s theme.

5: Decorating Your Space

The story’s written, the characters are assigned, and the invitations have been sent…now it’s time to set the stage! Transform your living space into the scene of the impending crime with your choice of décor. Your decorations can be as elaborate as you’d like! All that matters is that you and your guests feel immersed in the story. Some decorations can even double up as props and pieces of evidence! For example, an old candelabra with dried blood on its side could be used as a piece of evidence in a Victorian-themed murder mystery.

6: Planting Clues and Evidence

While you’re decorating, be sure to plant clues and evidence throughout the room. These can include riddles for your guests to decipher, potential murder weapons, or objects linking different characters to the crime. You’ll also want to compile a file for each guest with a copy of their character sheet, motives, connections, and knowledge of other characters for them to use throughout the party. If your story is heavily scripted or reliant on certain cues, be sure to include those in each guest’s file. For example, each guest could have little envelopes of cues and clues that say “open after dinner” or “open after the first murder.” These files should be labelled and laid out for guests to take as they arrive.

7: Guiding Your Guests

By now, your guests have arrived and the time of reckoning has come. Once everyone is present, explain the rules and time frame of your murder mystery and give your guests a few minutes to get into character before you dive in. As the host, it’s your responsibility to make sure the story is progressing as planned. If you need to, give your guests a helping hand! A good way to get the party going is hosting introductions, so that everyone can familiarize themselves with each other’s characters.

You can also incorporate different activities and party games into your murder mystery. Games like hide-and-seek not only allow your guests to have more fun but can also keep the story going by leading them toward a hidden clue…or a body!

Most Importantly, Have Fun!

Even though there’s a lot of planning that goes into a DIY murder mystery, it’s important to still have fun along the way! Once you and your guests have the story going, you’ll all be in for a night full of excitement, mystery, and laughs. With these tips in mind, you’re sure to host a murder mystery party that your friends and family will never forget!