If you want to write a mystery, I’ll state the obvious: you must have a detective. But detectives come in all shapes and sizes, so you have a lot of room to maneuver. As you write, you might find your story is better if you have a duo of detectives. When I began my first novel, my detective was 19-year-old Rae Riley. Since my mystery was aimed at teens, my amateur detective had to be one. But as I wrote, I realized Rae’s father, since he is the sheriff of their fictional Ohio county, had to join her in the investigation or else he’d look incompetent. So I stumbled into a mystery-solving team, and my stories are the better for it. Below are my tips on how to write a detective team.
Decide if you write from the POV of one member or both.
POV (point of view) is critical to how you plot your mystery. Rae is my main character, and I write in first person. The story has to happen to her, and she has to make the story happen. Her father, Mal, can provide her information, but readers only see him through her eyes.
If I was writing from both of their POVs, then I could have scenes with just Mal and have him discover things that Rae may not be aware of, but the reader would be. Who my POV character is and how many I have affects how I lay out the clues.
The team should have contrasts.
If you’re two detectives are too much alike, then you only need one of them. Holmes and Watson have appealed to readers for over a century because the characters contrast.
Rae is a quiet, thoughtful amateur photographer. She has a photographer’s eye for noticing details. She also has a drive to help people, which draws her into cases.
Mal is more outgoing, confident, and carries a lot of authority in his manner. He’s also very protective, especially of his children.
Because of the contrasts in personality …
The team should have conflict.
Nothing’s more boring than two characters who never disagree. One of the delights in the Nero Wolfe mystery series is how the eccentricities and quirks of the great detective Nero Wolfe aggravate his right-hand man Archie Goodwin.
Rae’s desire to help people in trouble brings her into conflict with Mal, who wants her to stay safe. This conflict brings some needed tension to a warm relationship that could get too cozy to stay interesting.
Creating a detective team is a lot of work but a lot of fun. What detective teams do you love to read?