"But I don't write a lot of dialogue," Snider said. "I had to write some dialogue once for a show we did called 'Fistful of Bullets.' The scene involved characters on the set of a B-movie Western, and some of the actors had to learn some lines for that movie, but I'd say most of what we do is 95 percent improv."
The trick to making the mystery -- and the maddening part of it -- is "creating a spider web of deceit." Each of the characters knows bits and pieces about the other characters. Some may know quite a bit. Others may know a lot less. A few know nothing at all.
"We're actually doing one of these next month where none of the characters know anything about the others, where it's all an elaborate set-up and they've been brought together by false pretenses."
Most of the time, however, the majority of the characters have a little dirt on each other, which helps provide the detective and the audience with the clues they need to work through the case.
Snider said, "For the actors, their mission is to avoid suspicion, avoid guilt and try to throw it out on everybody else, try to make everybody else look guilty."
But it takes a lot of time to make each character seem like a credible suspect.
"In fact, the actors don't find out they're the murderer or that they're getting murdered until half an hour before the show."
And because the actual culprit can change from performance to performance, each character has to be strong enough to bear the burden of guilt.
"And that takes a lot of time," he said. "You wouldn't believe how long it takes to do that. There's just a lot of interconnectedness and creating the knowledge of eight different people eight times, as well as all those personality conflicts..."
"It can wear you out."
After the characters are built and the dossiers completed, they put the new mystery through an actor's workshop to fine tune it and get it ready for performance.
Snider thinks it's all worth the trouble even though they might not do a particular story for months or even years. He can't stop coming up with new mysteries. Murder and Merriment manages to stay busy, but it only has 22 scenarios to work with, and there are still only so many ways each mystery can come out.
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.