Create a Murder Board When Writing a Mystery Novel

Sep 13, 2010Updated 3 months ago

Keep the Murderer Secret Until the End
A murder board is a term used to describe a preparation practice for presenters. In this practice, a presenter stands before a group of colleagues and mentors who listen to the presentation, then ask questions that cover every angle of the subject. This helps the presenter to be well prepared for anything that may come up.

A crime writer doesn’t have to present in front of a panel of fellow writers, but knowing every detail of a crime and its investigation will create a believable scenario and avoid writing snafus. This murder board is a visual aid covering all aspects of the murder mystery idea. A suspense story has many people with murder motives, many witnesses, and many suspects. It can be a chore to keep track of them all. Creating a murder board helps get all the clues in order when writing crime fiction.

There’s no need to let this mystery writing technique get expensive. A whiteboard, corkboard, science fair display board, a large piece of cardboard, or even a blank wall will suffice. It just needs to be big enough to handle the many clues in the mystery.

Place the Murder Victim in the Center of the Board

A photograph is wonderful, but without a picture, a simple card with the victim’s name will do in the beginning. Under the victim’s name, include the date of death, how he or she was murdered, and motives for his or her death.

Also helpful is to have the character traits listed. These include age, marital status, education, friends, hobbies, and other interests. Later, when other characters are created, a relationship chart, similar to a family tree, can be put under the victim.

Place Suspects Around the Victim

Each suspect should have his or her own card. The card should show motive, opportunity, and alibi, as well as basic character information. If the suspect will be used as a red herring, a note here will be a reminder of how to work it into the story.

Place Witnesses Around the Outside of the Murder Board

Witnesses may or may not be big players in the crime drama. Having them around the outside of the board puts them in a position to oversee the suspects as well as the victim. On the witness cards, write down what they saw or heard. Also important is the relationship to the victim or to a suspect. This relationship might reveal a motive, or even lead a reader to believing a witness is a suspect.

Collect Photos of All the Characters

All the characters should have a photo with their cards. The photos help an author to visualize them, and to attribute characteristics to them. Since the photos will only be used in a personal writing space, they can be printed off the Internet or cut out of magazines.

In addition to photos of the people close to the murder, a graphic aid that shows the site of the murder helps. Draw a floor plan or site map, or get one from a magazine. By seeing the crime scene, the author will be accurate with important details, such as where a weapon was found, or where specific evidence was located.

Mystery Writing Techniques

Writing a murder mystery can be more difficult than writing a contemporary fiction novel. In all novels, characterization is of prime importance, but in crime writing, plot is everything. The plot drives the characters and their motivations to hide clues, not the other way around.

The author needs to create a crime that’s believable, and that the reader will care about, and introduce it in the beginning of the book. Readers of suspense novels like a mental challenge, so a writer needs to know how to give clues without giving away the culprit. All of this can be accomplished with the help of a murder board.