GUEST BLOGGER: The Best Kind of Trouble is Girl Trouble
So you’re trying to come up with a compelling story—one with drama, tension, and maybe even some danger. My suggestion for a go-to main character: a teenage girl.
Teenagers may not seem like an ideal main character, especially for a mystery. They’re under their parents’ thumbs so they can’t easily investigate crimes. They don’t usually have a wealth of resources at their disposal. They can’t be FBI agents or police officers or even dirty politicians.
But teenagers, especially teenage girls, can realistically bring some other wonderful qualities to the table, namely attitude, fearlessness, and insufficient life experience to be able to foresee potential consequences of their actions. As a result, you can have a sarcastic, fun character who believably can land herself into a world of trouble—trouble you’d never buy from an adult.
Take Cassie, the protagonist in my short story “Evil Little Girl.” She’s twelve (okay, not exactly a teen, but close enough), at sleep-away camp, and she’s being bullied. She desperately wants out, but her parents think she’s exaggerating and won’t take her home. So Cassie tells her mother a lie involving another camper—something she thinks is bad enough that her parents will bring her home. But because Cassie doesn’t have the life experience of an adult, she doesn’t anticipate how people will react to her lie and how the lie will snowball in horrendous ways.
Cassie’s story couldn’t happen to an adult, because an adult would have the ability to extract herself from that bad situation, and an adult would realize the consequences of certain actions. But with a teenage girl as the main character, the drama of unintended consequences can be mined for gold.
Teenagers can also have a bravado you don’t find in many adults. They often think they’re invincible, so they can believably do things most adults would find too dangerous. And when you create a character who’s fearless, you can create a character about whom people want to read. In my short story “Ulterior Motives,” Jessie, a high-school sophomore, involves herself in a political campaign and earns an enemy, someone who threatens her life. Does Jessie back off? Not a chance. Jessie’s daring (some might call it stupidity) allows for a story with tension and escalating drama. Granted, an adult character could be created who’s just as daring, but putting a teenage girl in danger leaves the reader a little more anxious, and a little more eager to the turn the pages, to see what happens.
Because children (even teenagers) by nature are ultimately vulnerable in a way adults could never be, they can be used to entice readers to your story (or book).
I’ll note that many readers don’t like to read about kid jep (stories in which children die or are put in jeopardy). But not every mystery story involving a teenager has to put readers fearing for the girl’s safety.
Mysteries can involve emotional angst (such as my story “Truth and Consequences”) or a determination to find a hidden truth (my story “Nightmare”). You can even write capers using teenage girls. It’s much easier to pull off a robbery, for instance, if your main character can fit through a doggy door.
So if you’re thinking of writing a mystery and are trying to think of a compelling character, look no farther than the girl next door—the teenage girl next door. I bet she’s filled with secrets.
Barb Goffman is an award-winning writer of crime short stories. In 2013, her first story collection, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, was published by Wildside Press. Her stories have also appeared in several anthologies. Barb runs a freelance crime-fiction editing service to support her short-story habit, and she co-edits the award-winning Chesapeake Crimes series. Learn more at www.barbgoffman.com.