Are Your Mystery Novel Characters Compelling?

Along with a puzzling plot that you piece together clue by clue, a great mystery novel presents compelling characters.

One of my favorite mystery story characters is Inspector Jacques Clouseau. I laugh at his zany, slap stick ineptness and yet, he always successfully solves the mystery I can’t figure out until it’s revealed at the end.  

Here are things for you to consider in creating compelling characters for your mystery novel.  

The Characters In A Great Mystery Novel Are Relatable

You want readers to root for the main character in your mystery. To see themselves in him. So give him traits, problems and challenges like average people. Everyone roots for an underdog. Maybe your mystery novel character is the class nerd who is up against the most popular boy in school.

Perhaps it’s a weakness or fault. Despite his usually good natured personality, he has a quick temper that gets him into trouble. Or he is plagued by a weakness like fear of the dark, fear of water or heights. Or maybe none of this phases him, but he nearly faints at the thought of public speaking.

Complicate Characters In Your Great Mystery Novel With Paradoxes

Real people are complicated with multiple dimensions that will surprise you. Like the engineer who acts in Shakespeare drama. The construction worker who raises a garden. The assembly-line factory worker who masters crossword puzzles. 

Do the same with your characters. A good way is to simply think opposites. A huge football lineman that enjoys ballet. A seven foot basketball player who bakes cup cakes. A classic opera singer that plays poker. Even bad guys aren’t bad all the time. What if the villain in your mystery novel has a tender heart for puppies and donates generously to an animal shelter?

Create A Character Back Story

The back story in a mystery is represented by the events and experiences in a character’s past that influence their current behavior. They many not actually show up in your mystery novel, but they influence how the character behaves.

Maybe there’s something in that character’s family history. He’s afraid of the dark because as a child, he was locked in a dark basement. Or fears water because of nearly drowning.

In my Christian Detective Novel, Soul Pursuit, the back story of Jack Sterling, the main character is slowly revealed a little at a time. And it’s all part of his faith journey that progresses through the book and leads to a point where he’s confronted with a personal decision.  

The back story in your novel can become a mystery itself that you solve as you reveal it a little at a time. A certain, habit. An unusual quirk. And the reason or motivation behind it is revealed slowly through the course of the mystery novel.

As you craft intriguing mysteries and create compelling characters, your mystery novel will go from good to great.


Chip Tudor is a freelance copywriter, author, playwright and pastor. He publishes drama at, books on, and articles on his blog.