Mystery Evening Critique

The Roaring Twenties mystery fundraiser was a success. It had the biggest turnout to a local event that I’d seen, it made money, and people had fun. At least, they had fun to the extent that the evening met their expectations. The people with no expectations and those who were willing to get into the spirit of the game had the most fun. Those who expected to sit and watch a play were not quite as satisfied.

People’s comments to me revealed their expectations, and said more about them than it did about my writing. Some people said I did great, and I could see they meant it. Some people avoided me. Others damned me with faint praise: “It was good for a first attempt.” Or “You’ll do better next year.” Others said it was fun, but that they couldn’t hear most of the play.

A friend warned me about this — how nerve wracking it was for scriptwriters who had to sit back and see their dialogue not working the way it was supposed to. I’d glibly responded to him, “If it doesn’t work, I’ll get to blame the role-players for not doing their job of engaging the audience.”

And so it was.

Few people, even those to whom I had explained the concept, got the point — that it was a game, a role-playing game, with some scripted parts to keep things going. Everyone who came was supposed to play a role, and to that end, each had been given a cheat sheet with a bit about their character. For example: You bet on Sugar Beet since it was supposed to be a sure thing, and now you think Mr. Big sold you out. Or You strongly approve of the suffragette movement, and you think flirts like Poppy give women a bad name.

The people who played the various scripted characters were supposed to sit among those without lines and get them involved. Only a couple of women did this, and did it admirably, but I could see the strain it was for them since so few responded to their attempts. Some of the younger people who volunteered to play a part were great, but others huddled in a corner with their friends instead of getting the non-scripted folks to participate, and they kept sitting when they too-quietly spoke their lines rather than standing up when they were supposed to speak.

After the murder, non-scripted people were supposed to have been interrogated, but that part was dropped, maybe because of the problem with getting attendees into the spirit of the game.

I’d thought that during the event the characters would become less my creation and more theirs as they adlibbed, took things further than what I had suggested, and got other non-scripted guests to participate. None of that happened. And since I wasn’t one of those who were supposed to be chivvying others into participating, there was nothing I could do about it. Nor was there anything I could do about lost lines, swallowed punchlines, clues that no one could hear, participants with jitters and nerves, and people who wanted to do things their own way.

That the evening was a success was due to the efforts of those who did get into the spirit of the thing and who so wonderfully (and in the case of the bartender, so chillingly, and in the case of the jockey, so charmingly) delivered their lines.

From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the evening. It was interesting to see how far I had come in the eleven months since I’d moved here — how many people I knew or recognized, how many people knew or recognized me.

From an author standpoint, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable, mostly because of my own expectations. The game never took on a life of its own, as I had hoped. I’d seen it as sort of a flash mob thing, where scripted characters, seemingly from the audience, would jump in with their lines as if on the spur of the moment, which never happened because of the aforesaid huddling. And I woefully overestimated how many attendees would get into the speakeasy attitude and play along. (I should have known what would happen when only a smattering of people with non-scripted lines made any effort to dress the part.)

So what’s the solution? Insist on having greater control of the process? But then, this wasn’t really about me as an author, but about the community. Give explicit instructions to the scripted players, making sure they sit among the “audience,” and write additional lines so they aren’t expected to adlib? When people make a reservation, ask if they are willing to say a few lines, and then give them specific things to say? Wait to see who shows up in costume, and give those people lines? The characters who were the most enthusiastic and who really carried the evening were those who had been coopted almost at the last minute, so is the solution to coopt more people like these, people with big voices and bigger personalities? Or is the answer to give up on the idea of an interactive experience and give people the play they expected?

But then, that raises the question: Is this who we have become? A people who would rather simply sit and watch rather than get involved?

I don’t know the answer, and I don’t need to since my scriptwriting days are done.

Besides, the evening really was a success, and in the end, that’s all that counts.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Oops

Oops. I’d completely forgotten I was supposed to be writing a 1920s murder mystery for a dinner in February, and it needs to be done by the middle of January.

When I agreed to do write the mystery, I had plenty of time, but I frittered that time away on . . . well, on living. So now I’m trying to catch up.

I sort of have an idea of who will be the victim, who the killer is. I know where all this takes place: one night at a speakeasy. I know an Italian dinner will be served. I know there will be a representation of at least some of the iconic elements of that 100-year-old decade besides the speakeasy: jazz, gangsters, flappers. Other than that, I haven’t a clue how to go about concocting such a mystery. Obviously, the first part of the dinner is about laying the background for the characters and why someone wanted to do the dastardly deed. Then, even more obviously, there needs to be a dead body. And finally, at the end, there needs to be a way for everyone to figure out who did it.

I’m not sure how to lay the clues. Or what the clues should be. I could write this as a mystery story, and then extrapolate the guessing game from that, but considering how long it takes me to write fiction, it might not be done until next year, especially since they want it to be funny, and funny takes longer.

Still, that’s not a bad idea, writing the mystery as a story. Once I have the whole story, I could possibly work backward. More importantly, it would give me bits of dialogue to hand out to guests, because it’s hard to tell people what they need to be saying if I don’t know.

All done in less than a month? With Christmas coming? Yikes!

Maybe I can start tomorrow. But no, I am helping with a fundraiser at the museum. Maybe Monday? But Monday I am going to the big city (or what passes for a big city in these parts) with a friend who has a doctor appointment. Maybe Tuesday? But Tuesday, I am going to a meeting to help brainstorm ideas for AARPs Livable Communities program.

It’s beginning to look as if the mystery will have to write itself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

The Roaring Twenties Return with . . . Murder!

In just a few weeks, the twenties will come roaring back. (You knew that, right?) To celebrate, the local Art Guild is going to be doing a murder mystery dinner with a nineteen twenties theme. And guess who has been elected to write this mystery?

I knew you’d guess it was me, so there was no reason for the mysteriousness except that I need to start cultivating the habit of finding mystery in small things. Otherwise, how am I going to come up with an appropriate story?

The challenge of the murder scenario I wrote for the museum was to offer clues that prove someone didn’t do the dastardly deed. (It’s easier to offer clues that they did, such as blood on a cuff.) The challenge here is to . . .

Well, to be honest, I don’t know what the challenge will be since I haven’t yet started developing the story. I do know who will be the victim. I know where all this takes place: one night at a speakeasy. I know an Italian dinner will be served. I know there will be a representation of at least some of the iconic elements of that 100-year-old decade besides the speakeasy: jazz, gangsters, flappers. (Am I missing an element? Prohibition, of course, but a speakeasy would include the idea of prohibition since without Prohibition, there’d be no need for a speakeasy.)

The main things I need to figure out are: why would anyone kill the doomed one? How does the setting fit in? How will the story unfold? Why would the killer do it in such a public fashion? (Other than the needs of the story, of course.) How will it be done? A gun would be obvious, and would add the startle factor, especially if it came from outside the room, but poison would make for a more mysterious death — the victim could be acting normally, then slip to the ground midst loud gasps of shock.

There’s no need to worry about alibis since the suspects are all in the speakeasy when the murder happens, so that’s a beginning.

There will be four to six suspects. An appropriate 20s theme or thread that holds the story together. A hook for the murder. A surprise ending. But what any of those things are, I have yet to figure out. Luckily, I have a few weeks until the end of the year. And I just have to come up with the story. I don’t have to write a book (though there is a possibility that eventually a book will work its way out of me).

Necessary characters: A flapper, the boyfriend, a gangster (who could be the boyfriend), a waiter, and . . . .?

Besides the characters themselves, I need reasons why all these folks wanted the victim dead.

Feel free to add your two cents if you wish, or even your twenty cents.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep you informed about my progress whether you want me to or not.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.