Escape room games are a new source of entertainment sweeping the nation and gaining in popularity. I didn’t know much about them, other than my hubby saying the idea for them is based off the Saw franchise. I’m not into horror so I put the idea of doing one on the back burner. I didn’t really think the rooms were all designed for cheap horror thrills, like a haunted house, but I didn’t know what to expect either. It wasn’t until seeing Geek and Sundry’s Escape Room web series that I got super excited. It was the catalyst for me to jump in head first and try one out.
Having now completed two different scenarios (technically escaping only one, and missing the other by a one-to-two minute margin), I fully recommend trying them out for all, and feel that every fiction author should do one to improve their writing, and not just for mystery writers, but for any genre. Here’s how:
- Finding Clues: Escape rooms are all about observation. It teaches gamers about what’s worth noticing. When it comes to sprinkling legitimate clues and red herrings, escape rooms are a great way to sort through possible clues in your writing. For instance, if you see a locked door, obviously you want to open it. In a recent room I did, the locked door was a red herring. If you focused too much of your time on opening it, you’d never complete the scenario. What sort of clues can you sprinkle in your writing that draw your characters’ and readers’ attention while also planting the real clues more subtly?
- Solving Puzzles: Escape rooms will chain together puzzles. Not in every case, but in enough to be mindful that not everything is one and done. Sometimes clues are doubly important. Solving them takes creative thinking, matching several observations together, deduction, and other skills to put it all together. These will help you as an author, figure out how to get your characters to arrive at the solution, and bring your readers along with you in a way that makes sense and doesn’t feel half-baked.
- Teamwork: Escape rooms are not a single person effort. It requires many people, communicating and noodling their way through the scenario. As fun as the Sherlock Holmes archetype is, your main character shouldn’t always be the one with the solution or the observation that leads to winning the day. Sometimes puzzles are unsolvable alone, someone else has part of your puzzle. How can you get your characters involved with other people to find the crucial missing pieces? Do they talk to an authority? A witness? A neighbor?
- Immersive: Escape rooms are an experience, as oppose to playing a puzzle game on your computer, which is not immersive. In an escape room there’s sounds, lights, props, sets, and more. Everything you do in one involves your senses. Everything is chosen specifically and with purpose. They draw you in. Your writing should do the same. When you build a scene, start with your theme and go from there. Add your touches to pull in your readers’ imagination. Play to their expectations when creating atmosphere and scenery. Then surprise them. Delight them! Make them want to dig deeper. Your choice in words and storytelling should be evocative.
Escape rooms are a wonderful tool in author’s toolkit, and plus it’s so much fun to do. Your readers will also thrill in solving puzzles, chaining together a series of clues, and completing a set of challenges. Good luck and may you have a great escape! 🙂
Thinking of other books, which feature fun immersive games/challenges, off the top of my head, I enjoyed the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter, the 74th and 75th Hunger Games from the trilogy with the same name, the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, Nancy Drew mysteries, the Testing in the trilogy with the same name, and the Selection in the trilogy with the same name.
In the Zaria Fierce Series there are two such sequences a few books apart. The first in book two involving the fey in Niffleheim. Zaria and her friends must win two of three challenges. The stakes are high and they can’t afford to be outmatched. Now the next trials they’ll face is in a future book, also with the fairies. If you recall from book two, I said fairies love games. You’ll see what I mean when the gang reaches Niffleheim again.
What are your favorite tests/challenges/puzzles/trials/tournaments in books?