Mystery novels are fan favorites for a reason. Cliffhangers and puzzles – these stories are filled with mindboggling elements that leave readers craving more. Most importantly, they’re powered by memorable detective characters.
Fiction is a paradoxical genre to write.
It’s easy and complicated combined throughout its pages. With fictional stories, authors don’t have to exhaustively research a subject and strictly fact-check everything to ensure they aren’t publishing remotely incorrect data. They can create their world and conjure their data as long as everything is justified and believable. But this doesn’t mean fiction doesn’t need a tiring-enough process before authors can call it a success.
Depending on the author and the subgenre, fictional novels can require an exhaustive process. The world is every author’s oyster in fiction. Without restrictions in non-fiction, they can incorporate as much complexity and twists as they want.
Enter, Crime and Mystery Books
Among the vast fictional world, crime or mystery novels are at the top of people’s interest. Who wouldn’t love an intricate plot complex enough to make readers scratch their heads but not enough to abandon the book entirely? Detective stories are those hinged on crimes that characters must investigate and attempt to solve. They’re the perfect hotbed for plot twists and surprises.
Writing a detective mystery novel with a plot twist is nothing new. Readers fond of mysteries would undoubtedly look at and anticipate plot twists in books they have. Hence, what drives these books toward success isn’t how well red-herrings are planned but how charismatic and memorable the detective characters are. Most detective novels are written from these characters’ point of view. Readers will only be captivated by the story if they look at it from a captivating perspective.
Detecting Memorable Detective Characters
At the center of every great mystery are great detective characters.
Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Sam Spade. Everyone knows who they are, and everyone would be excited to talk about them or listen to whatever stories they’re in. Readers love a good protagonist. But it can be pretty tricky for mystery writers to craft compelling detective characters.
Detectives typically have a reputation for being strict. Their line of work requires them to be. So, how can authors create fictional detectives that are remarkable but believable? Those that aren’t too boring and monotone but still effectively carry with their spunk and authority?
In Donna Thompson’s book Plot Twist, which surely gives its title justice, the author introduces an entertaining yet charismatic pair of detectives. Although they may not be on par with the famed Sherlock and Dr. Watson, they come close in second to others. Thompson emphasizes hard work and determination for her detective characters without forgetting to add life behind their workaholic nature. Excellently blending seriousness and humor, Donna Thompson created a compelling team of detectives. So, what should the other authors do?
Choose a Method
Detective characters work with and often stick to a single method. This is the process they would have to stick with throughout the story. Will they be forceful and butt heads to get information? Or do they stick with their expertise and brilliance to crack the case?
A very known example of the former would be Sherlock Holmes. Known as a near-genius detective, Holmes may have used numerous methods, but he chiefly used his brain. Between his Mind Palace and method of deduction, the detective maximizes his mind to gather information and crack the case.
Cases all have solutions, and a plot twist can be waiting in the end. But compelling detective characters will have a process that readers can associate with them and remember them by.
Pick a Motivation
A memorable detective doesn’t do the job for no reason. They don’t investigate because it’s what pays them. Instead, they must have motivation. Why do they investigate? Behind a genius sleuth lies a child close to his detective father. Or someone that has once been stripped of his rights and is now ensuring everyone gets justice by their side.
This motivation doesn’t even have to be something profound or morally right. They can even treat whatever case assigned to them as a puzzle. And unless this has been solved, they can’t or won’t choose to sleep. It can be a personal interest to find solutions, or perhaps, they’re personally connected to the crime. Regardless of what the author chooses, detective characters must have their reasons.
Choose a Partner
Now detectives don’t necessarily need to have a partner. But the story would undoubtedly be more fun if they had someone tagging with them. And what is a better work dynamic than having someone the opposite of the protagonist?
Just like how Dr. Watson acts as a foil or a balance of Sherlock’s eccentric personality, if authors were to bring in a partner, they must contribute something to the character’s personality. This partner doesn’t have to be someone from the same precinct. They can be someone outside dragged into the case or someone who happened to help solve something from the scene.
Detective characters with interesting quirks or those who have someone to bring out the weird in them are the most interesting. This helps readers identify with them and make them more relatable.