How do you get readers to connect with your Sleuth?

canstockphoto1131704A memorable murder is essential for a memorable murder mystery. However, readers don’t turn the pages because they care about an unfortunate corpse. They want to help the cool kids solve the mystery.

That means your murder mystery has to start with an interesting sleuth.

Being smart, attractive, and witty with the puns doesn’t cut it. In a murder mystery (and really any modern novel) an interesting protagonist has a character trait that readers identify with. They feel a connection to the character, and can empathize with what makes that character tick. When you think about it, characters that have a strong desire to achieve something – whether that’s overcoming an internal struggle or finding love, freedom, forgiveness, acceptance – have the strongest impact on readers.

There’s an inherent tension in wanting the Protagonist to achieve his desire, but also knowing that he may fail. It makes great character drama.

So how do you write this?

Well, first establish the Protagonist’s desire. This is different from solving the murder mystery. This is an individual and deeply personal need of your main character. It could be to reconcile with a family member, to seek forgiveness for a past accident, to return home, to overcome an addiction, etc. What would be unique to your main character’s life or personality?

Second, define what obstacles are keeping your main character from achieving this desire. If it’s to reconcile with a family member, what’s keeping them apart? What’s preventing him from receiving or accepting forgiveness? Why can’t he go home? Is there an enabler in his life that’s preventing him from overcoming the addiction?

Finally, establish the stakes. What terrible consequences will result if he doesn’t achieve his desire? Will he never find love? Lose his family? Never see his son again?

This internal drive serves to make the Protagonist relatable to readers. This desire should affect the main plot as well, providing a stumbling block or two while solving the murder. And, if you can come full circle, tie both plots together in the end so that the Protagonist achieving his desire allows him to ultimately identify and catch the murderer.

What is your Mystery Subgenre?

canstockphoto10560802The mystery genre has a deep subgenre which defines the degree of adult language, the amount of gore, the type of sleuth and even the level of investigation, among other things. Understanding your subgenre will help you market the story to the write audience and sell it to the right publisher.

Mystery-Suspense Subgenres

Amateur Sleuth:  the murder is solved by an ordinary person, as opposed to a professional detective or police office.

Classic Whodunit: a murder is solved by a private eye, generally written in first person from the detective’s point of view.

Comic: a murder investigation is played for laughs, often featuring a bumbling detective who is grossly unskilled, but manages to solve the crime despite himself. Inspector Gadget and Inspector Clouseau come to mind.

Cozy: a mystery in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the murder takes place in a small, socially intimate community where an outside, often eccentric detective investigates.

Dark Thriller: a mystery that ventures slightly into the horror genre, with intensified suspense and violence.

Forensic: a murder solved by a crime lab team who analyse, identify, and interpret the physical evidence. They reconstruct events to prove a crime was committed, and to connect a suspect to that crime.

Historical: a mystery that takes place in a distinct, recognizable era of history, with a great deal of emphasis on describing the details of the setting.

Legal: a mystery that takes place largely in the court room or within the justice system, and often features a defense attorney believing his client is innocent and trying to prove it.

Locked Room: a murder that appears to have been committed under impossible circumstances — such as a room with a locked door and windows and no visible sign of entry.

Police Procedural: a murder investigated from the perspective of police detective, with a great deal of emphasis on detailed, real-life police procedures.

Hard Boiled: A murder investigated by a tough-guy, private investigator for hire, who generally operates outside the long arm of the law and plays by his own rules. These are generally told from the first person Private Eye’s Point of View.

Noir: Generally a dark, disturbing narrative told from the point of view of the victim, a suspect or the murderer.

Psychological Suspense: mysteries focused the Why-dunit, not only delving into what motivated the murderer to commit the crime, but often why the sleuth is driven to investigate, and even why the suspects are driven to lie, cheat and mislead the poor sleuth

Romantic Suspense: a murder mystery which devotes an equal amount of the plot to the basic romance formula (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back).

Amateur Sleuths – How your next door neighbor solves crimes

canstockphoto1499758There are three kinds of sleuths in a murder mystery:

  1. Law Enforcement – the city cop, sheriff, deputy, district attorney, Federal agent or military law enforcer
  2. Private Investigator – the hired PI, the retired or ex-cop
  3. Amateur Sleuth – lawyer,  reporter, any private citizen who gets accidentally involved or has a vested interest and chooses to become involved in the criminal investigation

Personally, the Amateur Sleuth is my favorite to read and, as an author, I love coming up with all kinds of ways to plunge my Protagonist into the throws of a good murder investigation. Here are a few ideas that I’ve collected over the years.

Giving your Amateur Sleuth reason to solve the murder

  • Comes to aid of another
  • Curiosity
  • Defense Attorney seeks the truth
  • Hired as a bounty hunter
  • Hired to find a suspect
  • Mistaken identity
  • To bring a crime to police’s attention
  • To claim a reward
  • To get an exclusive story
  • To settle an old score
  • To write a book
  • Prevent own demise
  • Protect another from harm
  • Prove another’s innocence
  • Prove a crime was committed
  • Prove own innocence when suspected of the murder