Last month we met the walking cliche Lord Harry Stockressy and discovered how important his characteristics can be in engaging our super sleuth audiences. The same can also be said when we deliberately mislead our guests in the the physical appearance of our characters, keeping our detectives on their toes and building up the anticipation of secrets to be revealed…
Looks can be deceiving
“How dare you accuse me, I am the Vicar’s wife!”
When writing our murder mysteries, I firstly think of them visually and ask myself: What ages are my actors? Are they tall short, grey haired or baby faced? What mix of male/female would I like? Presenting a diverse group of characters is vital; for example which of these images is more visually pleasing to you?
Yes it’s a bit of a silly comparison but a cast of 6 people all the same age and dressed in a similar way is, frankly, boring!
One vital fact to bear in mind is that our audiences are far from stupid and are very much aware of the tricks we use to try and baffle them. We know that they know what we know! To make the most of this our characters can look silly, cliched, striking or ordinary, but one of our favourite techniques is for the suspect’s real character to be very much at odds with how they look (all to be revealed during the drastic denoument, of course!). A prime example of this is Grace Quirrel, a girl with a silly name and appearance to match, epitomising the straight laced, dull and dowdy person she purports to be…
Age: In her 30’s
Dress Sense: Plain, dowdy and seemingly inconsequential
Relationship status: Married to Doug Collar, the local vicar and pillar of society
Ideal Day Out: Tending to the poor and sick in the community. Or a day at the races…
Skeleton in the closet: She has to fund her habits somehow, what better than the oldest profession in the book?
Appearance: Grace Quirrel makes an initially unprepossessing start in ‘Midsummer Murder’
Grace is married to the (much older) vicar, Doug Collar and both of them appear to live a blameless and Godly existence, but when Grace discovers her father’s body with a knife plunged deep into his chest all manner of skeletons begin to tumble out of the closet. Grace’s dull character is enhanced by her clothes – shapeless and old fashioned, designed to detract from any hint of sexuality or wrong doing. As we said earlier, we know our audiences are not silly and this awareness is what we are playing up to; rather than try to fool them, we are merely having some fun with them as they are all too aware that this character (and others like her) cannot possibly keep up the pretense. We play a hilarious and tense game of cat and mouse which makes it all the more fun and challenging for them to try and chip away and discover the ‘real’ Grace.
Grace is a mess of contradictions; she appears Godly but has broken almost all of the ten commandments over the past few years. She looks dowdy but is not as faithful to Doug as she makes out (and has enjoyed many a clandestine evening with Phil Mapockets, the local property developer..) Years of experience have taught us that our budding detectives love nothing more than being shocked and surprised, even though they often know it is coming (our audiences are not silly, see above!). Any revelation of a sexual nature coming from a frump, or of a raging drink problem from the local librarian is always greeted with shrieks of mock surprise and delight, even if these (often massive red herrings) bear no relation to the actual murder. This is our way of confirming the proven fact that from childhood onward we simply learn and perform better when we are having fun.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
So what happens when their secrets are out? If our characters are still alive at the end of the event (which is in itself highly unlikely) then what comes next in the lives of these duplicitous suspects? I like to continue the shock effect and pair everyone up in as unusual way as possible. Slick handsome Lotharios end up with mousey, shy librarians and bluff, blustering oldies can often end up with a much younger model. So just remember whenever you attempt to work out whodunnit at a murder mystery, sometimes appearances can be deceiving in more ways than one…