Character Trait Entry: Mysterious

Definition: difficult to understand or figure out; secretive

Causes: having something to hide; an aversion to intimacy that makes it impossible to open up to others; trust issues; a deliberate desire to mystify and attract; a manipulative nature; misunderstood shyness or uncertainty; being privy to information that must be withheld from others

Characters in Literature & Pop Culture: Rick Blaine (Casablanca), The Cullens (Twilight), Jason Bourne, Aragorn (drool)

Positives: Mysterious characters are interesting. Whether they know something they won't reveal or they only have an air of mystery about them, they make us curious. People gravitate toward them. In a story, mysterious characters are cause for infinite speculation and What ifs. Anytime you can hint at something but keep readers guessing, they'll be more inclined to keep reading. Mysterious characters are also a great vehicle for misdirection and red herrings. 

Negatives: Mysterious characters are aloof. They're often difficult to get to know on more than a surface level. If they're intentionally hiding information, they may mislead or lie to keep their secret. Mysterious characters are usually interesting because of what they're hiding; once the secret is revealed, friends, acquaintances, and readers may lose interest, so its important as the author to make sure there's more to your mysterious character than just the mystery.

Common Portrayals: The bad boy at school; magicians and wizards; spies; aliens and paranormals; foreigners

Clichés to Avoid: tall, dark, and mysterious; the stranger with the mysterious past; the mysterious person that people are inexplicably drawn to, against their common sense.

Twists on the Traditional Mysterious Character:  
  • For some reason, most mysterious characters are men. Create a mysterious woman (with something other than sexual intrigue behind her mystery) and you'll have something fresh and underrepresented in literature.
  • Mysterious characters tend to appear out of seemingly nowhere with this huge question mark about their past. How about an Average Joe that comes back from a trip or school break with a new air of mystery about him?
  • The typical mysterious character is gloomy, brooding, and dark. What about the secretive person who is an optimist, or terminally cheerful? 
Conflicting Characteristics to Make your Mysterious Character Unique or More Interesting: anxious, clumsy, naïve, happy, nosy, sweet, foolish


I'm at Twisted Minds and Dark Places today sharing Lessons Learned From Stephen King. Whether you're a fan or not, we can all learn something from The King. Stop by, and let me know if you agree :).


Traci Kenworth said...

My favorite kind of character. They're always so magnetic. You can do loads with them. A female mystery character would be refreshing. Perhaps we'll all have to concentrate on writing

Boglárka said...

Great post, Becca! I always love the twists and conflicting characteristics you guys come up with. I have a mysterious character who is smiling all the time and seemingly his one goal is to irritate the hell out of the others. It's so much fun to write him!

Heather said...

A mysterious woman, hmmm, I'm inspired. Thank you, yet again! You ladies rock.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love mysterious characters - especially Aragorn... :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Great post, becca--I love characters who have a touch of mystery to them! :)


Elise Shedd said...

Mysterious characters can add so much color and depth to the story especially in helping to develop the plot more effectively. A writer can do alot of things in creating a mysterious person that can provide so many twists, turns, and climaxes to the story making it come to life on its own.

Angela Ackerman said...

I totally agree, Elise! A mysterious character is full of potential and can take the story in a multitude of directions. :)


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