Unlocking the Secrets to Mystery Writing (and Breakout KC)

Have you ever heard of Breakout KC? It’s a new thing in our town, though it’s not a brand new concept. Our version of it opened up sometime in early 2015. The idea is you are locked in a room and have to find the clues to figure out a code that will unlock the door and you have 60 minutes to do it.

Last weekend, I took my boyfriend to do Breakout KC for his birthday. I took him because he’s a smarty pants and I thought he’d like the puzzle and challenge of trying to get out of a locked room. I wanted to go because the whole thing seemed like I would feel as if I were in a mystery story and trying to save myself from certain doom and because what writer wouldn’t want to feel like he or she is living a story found in a book?

Now, you’re not REALLY locked in the room because that’s likely illegal and obviously dangerous. There is an exit button if you have some sort of emergency…like someone needs to pee really badly or something. But the door is actually locked. There is also a microphone set up within the room so you can communicate with the people who run the game at all times. Though you only get a certain number of clues/outside help.

We teamed up with 6 strangers and tackled the clues of Room 13 to solve the mystery and find the code to get out. I chose this room for our adventure because it had the highest success rate at 30%. The other rooms are only at about 18% and I wanted us to have a chance of figuring it out. We didn’t actually get out, but we made some good progress. And we had fun. But dang it was HARD! The guy told us we were pretty close to solving the mystery and getting out, but I’m not sure that we really were. I think he was being nice.

Our Breakout KC photo after we failed to solve the mystery. There's always next time!
Our Breakout KC photo after we failed to solve the mystery. There’s always next time!

So, how does this whole experience relate to writing? Because, you know it has to or I wouldn’t be writing about it. Similar to the experience of my post from last week where I talk about the woman who lives a Victorian lifestyle in modern England, the experience of Breakout KC led me to really think about details that will enhance the story I want to tell and the overall texture of life.

Ok, so I didn’t exactly feel like I was in a mystery story or that I had actually been locked in a hotel room. I think there were too many people in our group for the experience to take on that sort of vibe. And, well, that’s not really the point of the game. But it was something I was hoping for because, well, why not? I think if they had a mystery that was for a smaller number of people, or even for just one person at a time, then you would really feel immersed in it and you’d be reliant on yourself. That, of course, didn’t ruin the experience for me. But it did change it. Instead, it became more about figuring out the mystery which was an adventure in of itself.

It was really neat being on a set, in a place that someone else imagined and controlled; being in a locked room, a space that was unfamiliar and foreign, to have free reign to tear the room apart in search of clues. Those feelings got my mind turning at the start. The discomfort of rifling through possessions that aren’t yours. The urgency of the one-hour time limit. All of it put my mind and body in a state that I want and need to examine further as I continue to write.

The mystery taught me to think about clues: how they work, how big or little they can or should be, what form those clues can take. Writing a mystery story is hard (and frankly once I finish The Green Lady, I think I’ll call it quits on that genre), especially because you know where the clues lead, so it’s difficult to imagine how other people will interpret them. Do you have enough clues? Are they too obvious? Or not obvious enough? Do you have enough red herrings? Too many? Too few? When do you have enough? So many questions and they’re all hard to answer.

The experience of Breakout KC taught me something else too. As we worked our way through the room, the methodical way the inventors created this game was really obvious. You could see how each step led to the next once you were looking at it in hindsight and for me, that was a really great writing lesson. It seemed to be telling me that I need to spend more time plotting and planning things out before I write. That may seem easy, but I get bored plotting and planning and instead I get antsy to get to the actual writing!

Lastly, I learned that I’m likely not equipped with all the skills necessary to get myself out of a locked room, so hopefully this is not a future plot point in my own life. Some things I’m quick with. Others though, not so much. But I guess that’s why you have a team to help you out. Then, everyone can contribute what they’re best at to the group. Also, I really want to help them write a new mystery storyline and clues. It sounds so fun!

What experiences in your life have helped or enhanced your writing?

Feature Image found on Google Images and this site: http://www.nctba.org/media/nyc-mayor-wants-to-lock-up-baby-formula-is-he-going-too-far