Monday, June 8, 2015

5 Qualities Characters in the Mystery Genre Should Possess That You Probably Haven't Considered

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It's CHARACTER WEEK here on my blog, and I'll be giving tips on writing characters in different genres. These won't be tips on how to write a well-rounded character, as is the norm for talking about characters. Rather, these are extra things that characters in specific genres should possess. 

Today, we'll focus on the Mystery Genre. I write crime fiction, but truly this could apply to any story that involves any kind of mystery, and the characters exploring it.

If you're trying to unfold a mystery for your readers, be it a full on murder or just a minor subplot, at least one of your characters should have at least one of these qualities:


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1) Really curious -- The kind of person that will investigate anything, rather than run away screaming the instant things get creepy. This can be a stupid person--the kind in slasher movies that thinks running into the bar where machetes are hanging from the ceiling is really going to save them--or a smart character who can handle him/herself in dangerous situations. Of course anything in between will work too, just so long as they're curious. Otherwise, why would they care enough to follow the mystery through?

2) Really NOT curious -- This can be used too, though it tends to be a little more tongue-in-cheek. The kind of character that is constantly trying to get away from the things happen around or to them can be a little wearying for the reader after a while, but when done right, it can keep the reader interested in what might happen to the character next. It's also a great way to introduce comedy into a potentially dark mystery. 

Other qualities for characters in mystery stories:

3) Observant -- They're pretty much observing clues FOR your reader, so they have to be able to pick up nuances in a believable way. They don't necessarily have to be smart enough to put the mystery together (just depends on the character and how you're telling the story) but they have to be able to absorb what's happening around them.


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4) Logical -- They don't have to be Mr. Spock, but unless you're doing a two-crackers-short-of-a-Ritz-sleeve sort of character (and those are the ones that typically die early anyway) you want your character to be at least marginally logical. If they're not, NOT killing them off mid-mystery will seem unrealistic.

5) Resilient -- Mysteries by nature tend to be shocking, so your character, especially if they're in a dire situation, needs to be able to absorb what's happening and move on. They can find an emotional outlet later, but make sure they have at least some resiliency to get them through the dark parts first. 

After creating the characters that will be walking through your mystery, make sure you add these qualities, or some variation of them in. It will make the characters more compelling and memorable to your readers. If at any point you're having a hard time getting your character to do what you want, in a believable manner, then there is a good chance they are lacking one or more of these qualities. 

Mysteries are compelling to human nature. We can't help but sink our teeth in. But only certain kinds of people can carry a mystery novel for your readers. Make sure your characters are some of them!

What's your favorite character in a mystery story?

6 comments :

  1. An unobservant sleuth wouldn't be very good at solving mysteries.

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  2. I'm writing a mystery right now where the main characters - while curious - are terribly unobservant. They are completely bumbling buffoons who stumble into the mystery and now have to find their way out.

    I have no idea if this is going to work or not.

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    1. Ooh sounds interesting! :D So if they're unobservant, how do you communicate the details to your readers. I think it would be okay to have them observe things, but only on the periphery, so they don't actually pick up on what it is, but your reader still knows it's there. You'll have to let me know how it works out for you. :D

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  3. I love a good mystery character that pretends they have no idea what's going on, but realistically are two steps ahead of everyone else.
    I have a mystery story in the works, involving a number of high school kids exploring an old abandoned house. The characters range from impetuous, ignorant, terrified, and the main character has a logical curiosity, in order to solve a number of disappearances. It's so true, without those characteristics, the story would be pretty boring. And in reality, most people would leave well enough alone and phone the police if they can.

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    1. Yup, I think that's what makes mystery such great escapist literature. We'd all love to have not only the guts to explore a creepy mystery, but also find great stuff and, you know, not die in the process. :D

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