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Mystery Character Secrets and Lies

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Character Dimensionality

Mystery is all about puzzle. Deeper characters provide more puzzling challenges to your sleuth. Your sleuth is challenged
by the obstacles the other characters throw his way. One of the best ways to create a puzzle for your sleuth is to give each character a secret and a lie. Or more than one.

Secrets and the lies characters use to preserve the secret add a human dimension to characters. Whether it’s the villain or a suspect each character has things they don’t want others to know. 

Your sleuth is challenged by diving through the lies to get to the truth that lies underneath. Ultimately, he must separate the various truths to get to the one that reveals the killer. 

How to Create the Secret

As you create background details for each character in your character bible, add two sections. One for the secret and one for the lies the character tells to hide the secret. 

Along with the character’s context in the story, his ability to lie to hide a personal secret is a device you can use to confound your sleuth. 

The lie doesn’t have to be about the murder. It can be anything that particular character wants to hide from public knowledge. An affair, a gambling habit, a fear of public speaking are all fair game. 

You’ll need to know about your character’s personality and their role in the story to come up with a suitable lie that fits the character. Creating a strong character background is essential to create a believable lie that fits the character. 

I like to think of it as casting the best characters possible to make the story work.

The Two Lies Each Character Tells

Once you identify the character’s secret, you need to devise the lies he tells to cover up the secret. The lies are at two different levels. 

  1. Everyday lie. As long as the character has kept the secret, she’s used a standard cover up to keep the lie hidden. The trip to the corner shop to cover a stop off at the betting parlor. Evening walks to cover a clandestine tryst. This lie rolls off her tongue because she uses it consistently to hide her secret.
  2. Under pressure lie. When someone questions the everyday lie, your character has a deeper lie to preserve the secret. It may start to get convoluted or vague, but she’s determined not to give up the secret. Add more (false) details to the basic everyday lie. The cute little dog she met on the way to the corner store. How the bluebells were blooming in the forest on the walk. The under-pressure lie is usedto preserve the basic lie by elaborating with false details.

You can add another layer or two of lies, especially if the character is a main suspect. Your sleuth will keep pushing, and you want those defenses ready. 

Humanize Your Characters

Everyone has secrets they want to keep hidden. Adding secrets and lies to your characters gives them depth as characters in your mystery as well as
obstacles for your sleuth.

Zara Altair 

​​Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

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