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Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to Write a Murder Mystery, Part II

Kate White's second point in her article entitled, "How to Write a Murder Mystery" was to create a character with good demons.

Yep, Demons. There not just for paranormal literature anymore.

Now, I'm not sure all of the great detectives have figurative demons. Some are not quite so troubled. They seem just quirky. Others garner interest because being a sleuth seems ill-fitted to his or her station in life.

Demons. Yes, a good portion of detectives seem to come from broken homes, either losing a parent at an early age, or coming from a completely dysfunctional environment. But then again, who doesn't? As Kate mentions, Nancy Drew grew up without her mother. Adrian Monk was deserted by his father when he was 8, and was responsible for his mentally ill mother and agoraphobic brother. William Monk was an amnesiac.

Does my protagonist have demons? Well, she never knew her father. Her mother is a flake. She is simultaneously facing menopause, empty nest syndrome and a crisis of faith, while living in a fishbowl. Close enough for me.

Quirks. Not all detectives had major demons. Columbo, for instance, is better known for his wrinkled trenchcoat, cigar, and talking about his wife (whom we never see). Qwilleran wrinkled his mustache and was waaaay too attached to his cats. My character is in a bit of a menopause fog. She had major problems putting meals together. She's always making bizarre substitutions. She puts off exercising, eats junk food, and has no idea why she is gaining weight.

Ill-fitted. Jessica Fletcher is perhaps the epitome of the unlikely sleuths. The fact that she is an average person, a teacher, and there was nothing in her life that qualified her as a detective made the choice even more interesting. My protagonist is right there. The last person in the world you would expect to solve the crime? Yep. And the irony works.

One thing that I've been considering, and it relates to this topic, is how the reader identifies with the detective. Some detectives are interesting because they are entertaining. We are amused with their antics and amazed at their prowess. We watch them in the story. Other detectives are people that we tend to identify with. We become them in the story. Perhaps the best detectives do both.

Case in point, Monk. The obsessive-compulsive detective has generated an equally obsessive fan base. It is perhaps not surprising to find among its fans people who are brilliant but battle some minor (or more serious) dysfunctions. These are the fans who identify with Monk. They feel his struggles, cheer his victories and share his grief. Others watch him. His struggles, while outside their bond of identification, amuse them.

So how does my protagonist stand up?

I think it might depend on which market I pursue for my novel. My preacher's wife detective might be identifiable to the Christian market. In the mainstream market she would perhaps be more entertaining--with the reader seeing her as quirky, and seeing the irony of a "church lady" solving murders. And here's where it gets funny.

My first person POV might play better with the Christian market. But I'm beginning to wonder if it could be too intimate a portrayal for the mainstream cozy reader who might not readily get into her head. I might re-write a chapter or two in third person, and see how it reads.

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