Mystery Writing

A Story Within a Story

One of my favorite, albeit challenging, things in planning and writing a Murder Scripts novel is that fact that each contains a story within a story. The protagonist, Grace Atwood, is a party planner. More specifically she plans and organizes murder mystery parties. Each novel will feature at least one of these parties, often tied in some way to an actual murder.

Figuring out how to roll the storyline from the scripted party into the story of a novel was frustrating at first. Each character essentially becomes two different people for a short period, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep those fictional and even-more-fictional characters straight for readers.

I’ve decided to handle that in a couple of ways:

  • I’m not forcing characters to stay in character while they’re attending the murder mystery parties. In other words, you’ll hear them make plenty of their own remarks off-script. My hope is that will fuse the two versions together a bit better for readers.
  • I’m largely winging it when writing the party scenes — at least the first time through. My problem in the beginning was that I tried to have the entire party scripted. That’s fine when I’m creating ancillary murder mystery party games to sell alongside the novel. Actually, it’s essential then. But in the novel, I’m letting the characters have a little more freedom. They’re telling me how the party game should play out instead of the other way around. And that makes it infinitely easier for me to mesh their personalities into their game characters.

Have you written novels where you have a similar story within a story, where your novel’s characters have to take on a second role? How did you handle it? What tips or tricks would you offer, even from a reader’s perspective?

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