This week: Nobody’s perfectEdited by: Arakun the Twisted Raccoon
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Quote for the week: Both the man of science and the man of action live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it.
~J. Robert Oppenheimer
Realistic characters are important in any genre, but especially in mysteries. Part of solving a mystery is figuring out the relationships of the characters involved. If the characters are not realistic, their relationships are not likely to be realistic either. This will frustrate and annoy readers as they try to solve the puzzle. No mystery reader wants a solution that is too easy to guess, but they don't want one that seems to have been pulled out of thin air, either.
The most perfect character for any story is...well, not perfect! Think of the person you love more than anyone in the world. I'll bet there is at least one thing about that person that drives you crazy! Well developed characters have flaws, just as real people do.
Resist the temptation to make your protagonists knights in shining armor who never make mistakes. The nicest person in the world might be a jerk in the right circumstances, and the smartest investigator occasionally misses an important clue. Two of my favorite mystery characters are Alexander Seawoll of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series and Bernard "Bunny" McGarry of Caimh McDonnell's Dublin Trilogy. Both of them are as flawed as characters can get and still remain likable. While neither one is a person I could imagine being friends with, I would definitely want them investigating if I were a crime victim. Both of these are supporting characters whose over the top personalities might be a little too much for a main character.
Just as the good guys should not be perfect, try not to make the villain perfectly evil. While, pure sociopaths unfortunately do exist, criminals are human beings, who are usually not 100% bad. Try to figure out what made your character commit his crimes. Common motives are love, money, revenge, fear or maybe a combination of two or more. As you plan your story, decide how much sympathy you want the readers to have for your guilty party. In some stories, the villain might be a more sympathetic character than the victim.
If your villain is a sociopath, give him the ability to blend in with "normal" people. Even Hannibal Lecter, a vicious cannibal, was a refined, cultured gentleman when he needed to be. The ability to blend in might actually help him commit his crimes. Real life serial killer Ted Bundy used his friendly demeanor, good looks, and ability to appear helpless to gain the trust of his victims.
The actions of all your characters need to fit the personalities you have developed for them. Even the actions of a serial killer, which seem to make no sense to others, will make sense in the killer's mind.
While anyone might be driven to commit a crime under the right circumstances, make sure the circumstances make sense for your character. For example, some people might steal out of greed, while others would only steal if they or their families were starving and they have exhausted all other resources.
Try not to force a character to do something that doesn't make sense for that person just for the sake of the plot. If an intelligent, logical person suddenly does something really stupid, make sure you give them a good reason. If you decide an impulsive or stupid action is necessary, you might have to give clues that the character's personality is not what it seems to be.
Something to try: Change the personality of a character in one of your stories, and watch how it changes the story.
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