Writing a Historical Mystery Adventure

In preparation for A Case of Distrust, I plunged myself into the 1920s. I read histories — about police departments, about cities, about prohibition, and about gangsters. I studied modern art, I searched for magazines, I listened to music, and I took courses. And still, I made mistakes. I left one in the demo — did you see it? Look at the taxicab conversation below. “He looked quizzically at me through the rear-view”. The rear-view mirror? Sorry, Ben, those weren’t standard issue until the 30s — most people in 1924 would never have seen one.

Writing any historical fiction can be a minefield. Oh, I love reading it! I can learn about a time period while enjoying a story. And writing it can be fun — all the lore has been established, you just have to write the characters. But mistakes are easy to make if you aren’t careful. Did you know that AmTrak was only established in the ’70s?

Beyond just a historical story, I’m writing a mystery. And I’m wrapping it with an adventure video game. Those genres are already niche — I don’t want to require love of the Roaring ’20s to the enjoy the game. So how do I incorporate history while maintaining fun?

Put it in the game, but let players seek it out.

The taxi conversations are a perfect vehicle for this type of content. Nothing is integral to the plot, and yet, for those interested in the history (like me!), those details can be magical.

Go to a well-known location. Ask characters about a newspaper. There are many small, subtle avenues to add historical touches to the game, without turning this into a textbook.

I love that my players can learn a little bit about a time period while enjoying themselves.

I just need to be careful. Writing any historical fiction can be a minefield.

Background Image of Thomas “Fats” Waller taken by Alan Fisher