Category Archives: Antagonist

Writing: Building Killer Antagonists for Mysteries

Antagonists oppose the main character. That’s their job. They have needs, desires, wants, and struggle as much as any protagonist does to achieve their goal. When writing a cozy mystery, the antagonist is also a murderer.

Any one that knows me knows one of my goals is to write a cozy mystery worthy of publishing, but I have a real hard time with the murderer. I love creating the puzzle within the framework of rules and expectations. There is a freedom to find yourself inching through all that must be done and coming out the other side satisfied. Even after substantial planning, it is a challenge to do it right.

I did some research which means I did a lot of repetitive reading and most agree that the psycho-303435_1280murderer is a self-serving, self-centered, overly-confident, highly-intelligent character without limits and a strong need to survive.

The typical antagonist, non-murderer type, needs the writer to see their goals and motivations from their point of view. From their angle they believe they are doing the right thing and are the hero of their story. I can get on board with this thinking easily.

But what murderer can make that claim?
Even with the violence off stage, so to speak, there is no way I can agree with their actions. They cover up their crime, alter evidence, and attack when threatened. So I made a list of acknowledged reasons to take a life:

Crimes of Passion, Revenge, Blackmail, Silencing Someone, Greed, Belief System, Serial Killings, Self-defense, and Love of Country.

Some are not murder under the law like self-defense, and love of country. Some aren’t done in a cozy like serial killings. These I can ignore.

The remaining motives can help craft my cozy. I know most motives are found in the strings that link the suspects, murderer and victim together. Which means unforgotten secrets, emotional scarring, or the victim’s wrong doing will drive the murderer to take action.

I’m still not comfortable with this, but let’s carry on.

Using my list, I’m going to brainstorm.

A Crime of Passion brings images of witnessing an action, and losing any rational thought afterward–complete insanity. This could’ve happened twenty years ago or twenty minutes ago.

Revenge is a little harder. Can’t forgive, so when the opportunity arises the murder pounces.

Blackmail can corner blackmailee to kill if they feel trapped and see no other choice.

Silencing Someone could happen if the secret holder, innocent or not, starts to talk. Since disclosure is imminent, the murderer is forced into action.

Greed is the worst. It could be anything: embezzlement and about to be found out, wanting to inherit it before it is all spent, or getting rid of the possible gold digger  before the prenup expires.

Belief System is killing because the system failed. For example, a person is acquitted by the courts and the killer takes the law into their own hands.

Okay, after all this I did find a motive, but my story is still off. I’m now wondering if my structure is off kilter. While I’m ripping it down to its bones, tell me do you have a favorite mystery? Care to tell me why you love it so? Any comment could tweak some inspiration. 🙂