I went to a workshop given by Jan Burke over the weekend and she touched on this. The Deadly Triangle: Protagonist, Antagonist and Victim, is right from one of her handouts, so I want to give Jan Burke full credit. By the way, if any of you don’t know who Jan Burke is, go directly to your nearest bookstore and buy one of her books!
When Jan talked about The Deadly Triangle, it really got me to thinking about how these are three characters that are the absolute driving force in our crime fiction books. I know it on an instinctual level, but now I’m really consciously thinking about it.
I’m reading a really creepy (but good!) book by John Sandford right now called BROKEN PREY. I’m about half way through the book, and he’s doing a really superb job of building the relation ship between the protagonist Lucas, the victims and the killer. With every page, it’s getting more personal. And the Villain is scary.
I mean SCARY.
If I didn’t need to write this blog, I’d be reading right now 🙂
So how do we do this? How do we weave this story so that the protagonist, the antagonist and the victims becomes so real and vibrant and personal? Jan made some really good points. And for those of us who write mystery, she really hit it on the head.
The protagonist must do the actual detecting. Sounds obvious, huh? But sometimes in mysteries, what we end up doing is sending our protagonist out to interview and collect information and…that’s it. They aren’t really investigating, they are just gathering information from other people. They aren’t involved and personally invested. Being personally invested is what drives the character forward and draws the reader in. With an amateur sleuth, this can be really tricky. We need to keep raising the stakes if they don’t find the killer. In the book I’m reading now BROKEN PREY, the protagonist is a cop, and the stakes are both professional and personal. The body count is rising, professionally that’s just bad. But the case has become personal for Lucas for two reasons; 1) The victims are real, they have lingering scents from a special perfume, unfulfilled dreams, and treasured mementos, all the little characteristics that make them individuals and say their lives mattered. 2) The killer is making it a game by taunting him, making him feel personally responsible for not stopping the murders. That raises the stakes. For an amateur sleuth, it can be harder, but making it personal with serious consequenses if they don’t find the killer is a good way to do it.
And speaking of the victim, make them real. We don’t have to show an on scene murder to do that. Jan pointed out that grief has a way of sneaking up on us. The example she used is when you see your lost loved one’s coffee mug that they drank their morning coffee out of each day. The little things…use them to make your victim real and show their life mattered.
Then there’s the antagonist or villain. In my opinion, this is one of the easiest characters to make one dimensional with stuff like, “He kills because he’s crazy.” That’s sloppy and one dimensional. Instead show us. Show us what his “crazy” looks like, thinks like, and reacts like. In BROKEN PREY, John Sandford is showing us slowly, revealing the villain in a psychological game that has me constantly thinking ahead, trying to figure out who the killer is. There’s misdirection in the book, but it’s fair misdirection with plenty of clues. I’m being vague to not give the plot away, and remember that I’m only half way through the book, but if you are interested in creepy villains, read BROKEN PRAY.
I had to write this blog pretty quick (busy weekend and I have to get back to BROKEN PREY!) I’d love to hear your suggestions on writing strong Deadly Triangle characters of the protagonist, antagonist and victim…