Tips to Make Supporting Characters Suspicious
Supporting characters are rich tools for misdirecting your sleuth. Characters because of their secrets, lies, and coverups lead the sleuth down trails that are dead ends.
How to Make Innocent Suspects Look Guilty
When you observe people, you'll notice actions and dialogue that you can use in your mystery. Keep them in your notebook, because there are ways to make your innocent supporting characters look guilty.
Obvious Motive - the character inherits the estate, or business or wanted the victim as a partner or was being blackmailed by victim or had been jilted by the victim.
Vanishing Act - the character can’t be found when the sleuth comes to question him. He may be innocently off on vacation or a business trip or a romantic tryst. Because your investigator can't find him, he'll appear to be deliberately avoiding contact.
Stonewalling - the character can’t remember or refuses to tell where they were at the time of the murder.
Contradictory Behavior - A character who claims to be clueless about guns has an NRA membership card in his wallet, a character who claims to have been in love with the victim was having an affair with someone else.
Eavesdropper - the character is overheard telling the victim "drop dead” or threatening the victim.
Emnity - the character hates the victim. They may be business rivals involved in a nasty lawsuit or the victim stole their spouse away.
Overeager - the character goes to the investigator and provides tons of information that implicates someone else. But, only some of the information turns out to be true.
Bad Reputation - the character is known to be a liar, or a swindler, cheats on girlfriends, deals drugs, etc.
Guilt by Association - the character hangs out with unpleasant or unsavory characters or is married to someone who hated the victim.
Previously Suspected - the character was convicted of a similar crime though he always claims he was innocent.
Skeleton in the Closet - no one knows it but the character was once or still is a compulsive gambler, pedophile, alcoholic, drug addict, etc.
Crack in the Veneer - a kind, generous, flawlessly beautiful character, kicks a dog, slaps a child, or grinds an expensive piece of jewellery under his heel. Any action that seems completely out of character.
With these as starters you need to give the characters a secret and the lies they tell to cover up their secret. Building on secrets creates puzzles for your reader and sleuth to solve. Done well, the sleuth will solve the puzzle before the reader.
Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in the time of Ostrogoth Rule in Italy in The Argolicus Mysteries. She coaches writers on story, especially mysteries.
Find The Victim's Secrets in Your Mystery
The victim is a strategic character in your mystery. Spend just as much time developing this character as you do your protagonist and the villain.
Even though your victim is dead or soon dead, they are the character around whom the story revolves. The crime against the victim must be worthy of your story.
Know The Victim's Secrets
Create at least two and up to four secrets about the victim. Then reveal them through the story through physical clues and dialogue from other characters.
Some secrets may be red herrings that make another character look guilty and at least one will turn out to reveal the villain’s identity.
Questions and Answers About Writing
Q: I have a story idea.
Q: I've finished my manuscript, now what?
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Basic Mystery Tropes and How to Start Writing a Mystery
I had fun with the first Mystery Monday. With an Ask Me Anything base, I answered a few questions as well as covering the topic for the day - Basic Mystery Tropes.
Links to Today's Episode
Ten ways to hide clues in your mystery.
The One Important First Step to Write a Killer Mystery
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Mystery Monday: Ask Me Anything
Join me on Facebook Live on Mondays for Ask Me Anything chats about writing and reading mysteries.
Great place for mystery lovers to get together.
The Word and Syntax Writer Wake Up
Nothing is perfect, especially when it comes to writing. You can always tweak for better wording. The time to tweak most is before publishing. Yes, it seems self-evident but searching for the mot juste that isn’t quite yet or refining the language of a sentence are part of the writing process.
Effective writing takes thought and time, and an ear for the vocabulary and syntax muse.
When you wake up with a new version of a sentence you wrote in your last chapter—yes, one sentence out of the entire chapter—you don’t write a note to yourself in the notebook near your bed. You get up out of bed, bring up the manuscript on the computer, and change the sentence. You do this because you know you won’t get back to sleep until you make the change.
The One Word
In the days before the internet and quick but boring results in an online Thesaurus, writers made telephone calls in the middle of the night. Who else would be up then? But, even if someone was already in bed, they woke up to talk about writing with sometimes devastating results.
What’s another word for phoenix?
And the conversation continued. If you need a translation for my fellow writer’s answer: It’s been done with excellence.
Here’s the modern day online Thesaurus answer.
Yep, pretty boring. As writers, we still need to hash out word ideas.
Now we have social media, where because it’s there 24/7, doesn’t require an immediate answer. You can post a question and although the response may not be immediate because your fellow writer lives in Bulgaria, you get an answer.
Because writing is a process, you don’t get immediate gratification, but sometimes just asking the question to another writer, gets the internal wheels turning for an alternative word choice.
Your passion shows when you care about that one right word or strengthening a sentence.
Connect with Writers
Connecting with other writers enhances your passion for writing. Writing groups can help you spot the sentence or paragraph that lags, or a better way to sequence events in a story, and even suggest the right mot juste.
One of the rewards of connecting with other writers is shared passion.
Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in the time of Ostrogoth Rule in Italy in The Argolicus Mysteries. Argolicus uses his observation and reason, with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court. Join the reader's list.
Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middoe Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.