Posted by: nancycurteman | August 23, 2010

How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters

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Killer IdeasIt’s easy to create sympathetic characters in a mystery novel because the genre lends itself to the kind of story people readers admire and like. A good mystery character will exhibit traits a reader wants for himself. The trick is to enable readers to relate to characters on a personal level. Here are some universal qualities that will evoke sympathy on the part of your readers:

Make the character treat vulnerable people or things with kindness—children, the mailroom kid, the janitor, a dog or cat.

Give your character both good and bad personality traits. Add some flaws. Humans don’t warm to perfect people. Try making the character aware of his/her problems and struggle to overcome them.

Give your character a sense of humor. You might have her joke about her flaws or make a witty comment appropriate to a scene. The more serious your character is, the more effective this strategy.

Give your character a skill s/he uses to escape physical harm. Maybe a tough big brother taught his ladylike sister how to throw a KO punch.

Give your character some vulnerability or weaknesses or wounds inflicted in the past that cause her inner turmoil. Have another character recognize the problem and try to exploit it or try to help her overcome it.

Make your character intelligent but not a genius. Have her miscalculate, make mistakes, plan poorly. Your reader will want her to fix these problems. Make her smart enough to correct her failings.

Make sure your character is smart enough not to put herself in danger unless she has a compelling reason like saving the life of a friend or colleague.

These suggestions will be effective in writing minor characters as well as main characters. And, don’t forget to give your villain a few sympathetic traits.

More writing tips:

What is Story Structure?

9 Ways to Create Tension in a Mystery Novel

4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.”
How Do Conflict and Crisis Differ in a Mystery Novel?
How Important is Conflict in a Mystery Story?
How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel
Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel
What is Literary Style?
What is Theme in Literature?
7 Murder Weapons That Will Challenge The Cleverest Sleuth
7 Characteristics of Today’s Modern Mystery Novels
Developing Characters is No Mystery
Author’s Voice: How to find it?


  1. More wonderful pointers. Please tell me yo are planning an e-book or something. 🙂


    • I am thinking more about the possibility. I need to learn more about the e-book process. I’m chairing a California Writers NorCal Publication Pathways committee. We are researching e-book publication.


  2. All those characteristics are present in the mystery main character of the series that I have cherished throughout the years. How brilliant. Thank you for sharing such valuable information.


    • What is the series you’ve enjoyed over the years?


      • Sue Grafton is my favorite mystery series, but I have also enjoyed Robert B. Parker (recently deceased). I have read others also that I liked. I would love to read one of your novels. Are they on Amazon?


    • I heard from one of the publishers reviewing my book, Murder Down Under. She said she will not be able to give me a decision until April!!


  3. My biggest pet peeve is when a character is the following – perfectly gorgeous/handsome, incredibly intelligent, and absolutely flawless in every way. They are just as interesting as a plastic Barbie doll.


    • It is really easy to slip into “plasticism.”


  4. I agree with Jo ~ plastic people have to go!

    Wonderful tips, nancy


  5. […] How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel The Romantic Heroine in a Mystery Novel How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters How to Write Character Arc in a Mystery […]


  6. Nancy, I really appreciate your tips and look forward to hearing more. Deffinately will check out your novels. Just made the leap myself, writing is a marriage committment – no infidelity allowed!


  7. Hi Maria, So glad you stopped by my blog. Good luck in your writing career.


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