The Definitive Detective

Given the Triple Threat Investigation gals reviewed various mystery genres, I thought it might be a good “The End” to the series if we simply reconsidered what makes for a good detective/sleuth.

When you set out to write your first mystery, you may wonder which components would help your protagonist resonate with readers.  You’ve decided on your genre . . . right?  And how you’ll approach it . . . yes?

The main elements of your mystery: the crime(s), the victim(s), the search for clues that reveal who the culprit is, the tension and friction as said search progresses and intensifies . . . and the ta-da! moment that unveils the perp and shares the details (such as the why).

Now, what about your detective?  How will you define her (I’m going with “she” for this post).  Will she be witty, eccentric, stand-up-comedian funny, logical, philosophical, giddily happy . . . glum, frosty, la-di-da highbrow, cool, arrogant?  You probably wouldn’t want to go with a negative main character for most genres, though she could have one or two less likable traits (as we all do in real life).  Think of it this way: readers enjoy the thrill of accompanying a detective during the clue-searching quest, so make sure they want to spend that time with your detective.

Consider your favorite sleuths.  Why do you like them?  What traits are appealing?  Why do you keep reading mysteries that feature him or her?  There’s obviously a draw.  List details (attributes, peculiarities/habits, features, and so forth), as well the pros and the cons.

Think about these components in terms of the detective you’re creating.  What would you like to see in yours?  Make sure you include a couple of failings, too, because no one is perfect.  What about speech/narration (is there an accent, does she use certain favorite expressions)?  Does she have a traumatic past, a painful memory, or harrowing experience(s)?  Was she born with a silver spoon in her mouth?

Don’t forget to build a visual image.  Is this detective tall, short, blubbery, slim, attractive?  Any scars?  Where (and from what)?  What about eye color, and lip and face shapes?  Is the body/physique toned or fleshy?  Is she a lover of salsa dancing?  A coin collector (numismatic)?  A chess player?

And what about the other characters?  How will yours react to them in various situations?  What will she feel/believe about them?  Does she have certain values and beliefs that may have her respond in a certain manner?

Chances are you won’t use all the details of your character sketch, but you may, particularly if you write a series.  (I build my sketches as I actually write the first draft, but that’s me and that may not work for you).

Your detective should seem real to readers, so give her everything you’ve got—make her come alive!  Make her dance across the pages!