Your Mystery Sleuth Protagonist: Fleshing Out Humanity to Capture Reader Interest

Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief illustrating protagonist preference.

Small Personality Details Add to Your Protagonist

Your sleuth’s personal preferences emotionally connect with your reader. Those preferences have little or nothing to do with solving the crime, but everything to do with making your mystery protagonist human. Bosch listens to jazz. Montalbano devours pasta ‘ncasciata. Miss Marple knits.

The protagonist for my new work-in-progress, Gilded Homicide, loves good food and old movies. When her main squeeze asks her to go on a picnic on a twisty mountain road, she visualizes Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief when she decides what to wear on the outing.

How Your Sleuth’s Small Passions Work

Your sleuth’s personal preferences and small passions work to make them three-dimensional. Readers understand small passions. Everyone has them.

It doesn’t matter if your reader has the same taste in preferences as your protagonist. They may think jazz is dissonant, or shun meat pasta dishes because they have a vegetarian and low-carb diet, or find knitting not only boring but kindergarten make-work to fill an empty life.

The key is the human quotient you add to your protagonist that makes your reader connect and care.

Why Caring About Your Mystery Protagonist is Important

Your detective must solve a crime, usually a murder. That is the basis of the mystery genre. As you write your mystery, you create obstacles to solving the crime and conflict for your protagonist.

In order for your reader to be fully invested in your sleuth’s journey, they need to care about them as a person. That’s the whole idea of getting your reader to care about the story and keep turning the pages of your book.

If you think about your favorite detective character, you can probably tell me right away what their small passion is. That small passion is your connection to the character. It’s one reason you may read about the same character through an entire series.

The Balance Between Character and Plot

Mystery readers come for the plot and stay for the character.

Readers want a mystery. They want a detective to lead them through the puzzle of solving the crime. That’s the basis of the genre.

At the same time, in order to care about the story and keep reading, readers want a protagonist they care about. Someone to root for as they face the challenges and obstacles that keep them from unveiling the villain until the very end.

However well-constructed your plot, with secretive suspects, red herrings, jealous cohorts, and a scheming villain, your reader must care about your protagonist throughout the story.

How Much is Too Much Character Personality?

You need only one or two small passions to round out your character. Those details are in addition to your sleuth’s training, skills, experience, expertise, and critical thinking that make them a good detective.

The small passion details humanize without getting petty. If you add too many, your reader will want to get on with the story and feel frustrated.

Stay with one or two small passions to round out your detective’s character and create that humanizing emotional connection. Make sure those details are separate and distinct from the sleuthing skills. Being good a reading blood splatter patterns doesn’t count as an emotional connection. Surf fishing in the evening after work, does.

Keep those small passion details limited, but repeat them through the story. You’ll get your reader to like your character without being heavy-handed.

Include Personal Preferences for Reader Attachment

Personality trait details pave the way for readers to care. Once they care about your sleuth protagonist, they will also care about solving the crime.

Your reader sees the story through your detective’s eyes, whether you choose first-person or third-person point of view. They’ll care about the antagonistic suspect, the ex-wife’s nagging phone calls, the clue that wasn’t a clue. You’ve hooked your reader with humanity.

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