Is Your Mystery Protagonist a Type or a Character?

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If you are writing to market, mysteries, are a high-selling category on the large digital book market on Amazon. You want your mystery protagonist to appeal to your genre readers. So, you want a type of detective to fit your mystery subgenre. 

Book sales analytics from K-lytics suggested that:

Mystery, Thriller & Suspense (MT&S) has grown to be the second highest selling bestseller list on Amazon Kindle. And our recent research suggests a further upward trend.

MT&S is a big and competitive genre. There are more than 500,000 English titles on Kindle, and the influx of new books seems unstoppable.

Within that large category, Mystery remains a very strong category after Suspense and Thriller. So, the market for your mystery is strong. 

But to keep your reader enthralled your protagonist needs to be more than just a detective type.

What Type of Detective is Your Hero or Heroine?

Within the category of mystery, you’ll find a number of sub-genres. A quick glance on Amazon gives you:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Mystery Anthologies
  • Black & African American Mystery, Thriller and Suspense
  • Cozy Mysteries
  • Hard-Boiled Mystery
  • Historical Mystery
  • International Mystery & Crime
  • Police Procedurals
  • Private Investigator Mysteries
  • Supernatural Mysteries
  • Traditional Detective Mysteries
  • Women Sleuths

You probably have a good idea of your detective’s type—amateur, hard-boiled, police, private investigator, etc. And if you’ve read in your genre, you have an idea of what readers in your sub-genre expect in your type of detective. 

But the challenge for you as an author is to go beyond the type to create a three-dimensional character. 

Make Your Character Jump Off the Page

Readers engage with characters who have a personality.

It doesn’t matter what color their hair is or how tall they are. Their personality—with strengths, weaknesses, quirks, likes and dislikes—brings them to life on the page.

A character who is all good or all bad won’t feel human to a reader. They are one-dimensional characters. They are flat, and the opposite of the three-dimensional characters you want to create. Your reader has no emotional connection, so they have no feeling one way or the other about your character’s success or failure. 

By contrast, a three-dimensional character feels like a real person to your reader. If your protagonist sleuth appears well-rounded, they’ll work to involve your reader in your story because they feel real.

Creating characters filled with humanity requires you, the writer, to know more than you may show on the page. You’ll know how each character reacts under pressure or when relaxed. You’ll know how they speak and act. As you write your scenes, you’ll know how your characters will act in any situation. You’ll pull out the bits and pieces of their character backgrounds so they speak and interact realistically.

You may not use all the information you record, but the more you know, the easier you’ll find writing about your character in a variety of situations. You need to know your character physically, emotionally, and socially.

Habits and Mannerisms

Unique details like habits and mannerisms help you reader connect with your character. Your reader has habits and mannerisms and understands how your character has them as a human being. Also, list speech patterns, favorite sayings, or repeated phrases that reveal how they respond to events.

Character Information

Understand how your character interacts with other characters, how their flaws hold them back, and how weaknesses create conflict. The time you spend creating details and background for your characters helps you understand how they work.. Details bring characters to life.

Character Interactions

How a character reacts to other characters reveals their personality. When they pat someone on the back or avoid them on the street, you give your reader clues about the relationship. You reveal your protagonist’s character through their interactions.

Conflict Responses

Your reader responds to how your character deals with conflict. Are they braver than your reader? More intellectual? Quick-witted? Your reader wants to see how your character gets out of every tight situation.

Character Backstory

Your character doesn’t arrive in your story as a blank slate. Lots of things happened to them before the story started. As an author, you need to fill in that blank slate so you know your character. How much you reveal and how it influences your character is up to you. Just remember, backstory, like any other element, must move the story forward.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths and weaknesses are the backbone of your character’s humanity. Contrasts add dimension to your character. You’ll take your character from flat to interesting by contrasting vulnerabilities with strengths. Show the reader their skills, then show their flaws.

The best way to show the facets of a character is to bring them up as the character meets various obstacles in the story.

Your Detective is the Star, Make Them Real

No matter what your sub-genre from cup-cake baking amateur to hard-boiled, cynical PI, take your detective protagonist from type to human to engage your readers.

To get your mystery right from start to finish enroll in Write A Killer Mystery. Start on the right path to finish your mystery. 

Photo by Haley Lawrence on Unsplash

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