We’re all familiar with mysteries, right? In the many flavors of the mystery genre (and there are SOOO many), each sub-genre has typical protagonists.
How many sub-genres? Sheesh. I could do a whole series of posts on just the various mystery sub-genres. Just for fun, I did a quick (Ha!) search. Here’s a short list of links:
- Learn the types of mystery fiction
- This one’s fun: Mystery Subgenre Definitions
- From Cozy to Caper: a Guide to Mystery Subgenres
- Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller Subgenres—What’s the Difference?
I’ll wait for a minute while you check them out.
Point being, for each sub-genre there are the traditional, or should I say expected protagonists. Cozies often have some craft or food involved, or clever pets, bookshops, or sewing circles. Police procedurals have a jaded cop, retired cop, or cop who was terminated for a mistake and is now a PI or consultant. Noir has the hard-boiled, hard drinking, hard smoking PI that Humphrey Bogart would play on screen. (Seriously. Have you ever read Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler and not imagined Bogey as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe?)
Amateur sleuths and cozies go hand-in-hand. Entrepreneurs seem popular, and not just any small business owner, but a woman with a bakery, or a woman with a bookstore, or a woman with a fabric store, or a woman with a dog-sitting/cat-sitting/hamster-sitting business. A circle of women who knit/crochet/read books/play bridge. A priest who sees an unusual number of deaths in an English hamlet. Male PIs (with apologies to Kinsey Millhone and V. I. Warshawski). Male cops. There are more female cops these days, but still.
Traditional characters in traditional roles. Sure, you can create sort of non-traditional characters in these roles. A protagonist with a significant handicap: Lincoln Rhyme (quadriplegic), Pen Wilkenson (paraplegic). The detective/PI/cop of color/LGBQT/underrepresented ethnicity.
There’s something comforting about picking up a book with a cat and a ball of yarn on the front and reading about the knitting circle’s latest mystery, but what’s the fun in that? I’m thinking non-traditional occupations, like female aircraft mechanic or female auto mechanic.
This week we had our monthly Sisters in Crime chapter meeting, during which we spotlight an author, published or not, who reads a bit from their work. This month our author read part of her story. Her POV character is a woman who inherited an auto repair shop. Her best employee is a female auto mechanic. Reminded me of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson.
So. Cool. I talked to the author a bit about non-traditional protagonists. Her question: why don’t we see more of them?
*raises hand* I know! I know!
Because publishers aren’t sure readers will relate to them.
Seriously. That’s what they said when my agent was shopping my manuscript. Great story, not sure about the female aircraft mechanic. Now, if she was a flight attendant …
So, the moral of the story? Do it. Create a character who is not like the others in their chosen occupation. This works best, of course, if the author knows the character’s non-traditional occupation well, which is the case no matter what you write. Not only does it give readers insight into an occupation they may not be familiar with, it assures them that “breaking the mold” is okay, and works.
I’ll be in San Diego next month for the 2020 Left Coast Crime convention: Murder’s a Beach. So excited! If you are going to be there, let me know. Maybe we can say ‘Hi’ in person! If you are looking for an awesome writers’ conference, check out the UW Writers’ Institute. You won’t be disappointed (unless you’re looking for me, because I won’t be there this year).
Until then, keep writing! Just think, we’re almost halfway through February already 😮