Posted by: nancycurteman | August 26, 2010

How to Write Character Arc in a Mystery Novel?

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Killer IdeasIn a mystery novel the character arc is the progression of your character through the story. Here are basic steps in writing the character arc:

• As early as the first page begin to show who your character is—h/er values, hopes, fears, personal beliefs, approach to life. Often these life views will have nothing to do with the mystery’s crime.

• Place your character in some kind of situation that forces h/er to examine what makes h/er who s/he is. In a mystery, this will often relate to the discovery of a murder victim known to the character.

• This process of examination is not a sudden epiphany. It must be a gradual, step-by-step process. Each step must be precipitated by large or small story events that cause both internal and external conflict. The sleuthing process is a great vehicle for presenting these events. A romantic sub plot is another good vehicle.

• Have your character make a multitude of small choices that gradually lead to an important transformation in h/er core being.

• It’s important to remember that sometimes a character may react to events encountered in the story by not changing at all. S/he may hold to h/er personal fears, beliefs or values no matter what happens. In another story, your character may change for the worse after having been battered by events.

• No matter how your character reacts to what happens to h/er in your novel, be sure to make any impact gradual, make it build on previous events, and include life impacting internal or external jeopardy.

More mystery writing tips:

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?
What is Story Structure?
9 Ways to Create Tension in a Mystery Novel
Global Mysteries


  1. More good pointers. Waiting with bated breath for you book. :-] I know, that is getting old. I need to think of something else to say.


  2. Hi Nancy, I find these little tips really useful and look forward to reading them. Thanks a lot. Saffy. x


  3. Thank you, Nancy. Character arc is a concept I hadn’t considered. These really good concepts you are sharing with us should happen naturally in writing a novel, but recognizing and looking for such development in a MS is helpful.


  4. Another good set of pointers, Nancy! Well done.
    I find that if I have something for my character(s) to discover, often using a reverse-outline helps. Work out the major discoveries, and then going back in time, place the clues.
    That, by the way, is often how Stephen King does it. ))


  5. I often find character development more compelling than plot, location, etc.

    Great tips, NC!


  6. […] Other Writing Tips: Developing Characters is No Mystery 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 Novel […]


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