The Power of Sleuth Flaws

The Power of Sleuth Flaws

How to Add Empathy to Your Fiction Detective

Every fictional detective has skills. Which skills and how they are used are up to you, the author. These skills help your reader admire your detective especially whey he meets confrontations and obstacles. But, your detective’s flaws are the intersection where readers empathize.

Readers empathize with shortcomings. Your detective’s skills impress the reader, his flaws make readers care. Flaws give you opportunities to create obstacles in your story. And, small flaws are just as powerful as the big ones. Flaws don’t necessarily need to cause extreme angst. A scatterbrained sleuth in a cozy mystery can leave her keys, forget to add salt to the cake, or forget where she saw the important clue. Your readers understand these setbacks.

A set of smaller flaws adds dimension to your character in a way that one large one cannot. In addition, you have more ways to set more obstacles in your story.

Defects for Your Detective ​

Most mystery writers are familiar with the detective who struggles with an addiction to alcohol. You may choose to hop on the train or create distinct flaws for your character.

  • Vanity
  • Narcissism
  • Unable to enter a relationship
  • Womanizer
  • Quirky
  • Obnoxious
  • Grief
  • Depression
  • Isolated
  • Lonely
  • Moody
  • Addicted, 
  • Abrasive, 
  • Self-absorbed
  • Unable to relate to ex-spouse
  • A past professional failure
  • A failure that caused a death

When you give your protagonist reasons for doubt and guilt
the emotions affect decisions and actions. Your sleuth will want to hide these flaws. Each time one comes to light your protagonist has an emotional response. The defects and the protagonist’s responses create a believable human character. Embarrassment, guilt, and shame are powerful emotions that help your reader form an emotional connection with your sleuth.

Balance Positive and Negative Traits

Balance traits like intelligence, attractive looks, and positive qualities like generosity, kindness, and good humor with defects that create an engaging character.

Instead of one large flaw, give your protagonist breadth with a collection of flaws. Every time you create conflict for your sleuth, you invite reader empathy. As an author, you create more ways to frustrate your sleuth as he heads toward discovering the killer. Obstacles create tension. Tension keeps readers turning pages. 

Zara Altair

Photo by David Sinclair on Unsplash

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