Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. Mystery fans read their exploits for the thrills, puzzles, and escapism that only a well-written page-turner can provide. But when it comes down to it, we’re all the protagonists in our own mystery stories. Consider this:

1. You’re a loner. Sure, you have buddies, business contacts, and maybe some followers on Twitter, but living your life is really all up to you. You have to get to work each day, figure out your own dinner, and pay your bills. At the end of the day it’s sink or swim, pal.

2. You’ve got a problem. You’ve got something you gotta fix. And when you fix it, you get another problem. It’s why there are sequels. No matter what your line of work, somebody’s trouble is your business.

3. You need money. Some of us need more than others but lurking in the back of everyone’s head is a financial worry. You need to find a way to afford something, pay something off, or save for something. It’s why you hang out your shingle. And when you have plenty of dough you get a new problem—making sure it ain’t lost or swiped.

4. You’ve got a nemesis. It could be a co-worker, boss, or competitor. Maybe it’s an in-law, landlord, or a ruthless ex-somebody. Without naming names, there’s an antagonist in your life you need to contend with and they might want to see you out of business—sometimes in more ways than one.

5. You’ve got a vice. Giggle juice, a honey on the side, the blackjack table. You’ve got flaws, just like every other Dame and Jasper in town. Maybe they’re manageable, maybe not. Abraham Lincoln famously said he didn’t trust a person who had no vices. But whatever it is, it’s trouble if it’s hanging over you and threatens to bring down the whole racket.

6. Somebody vexes you. You’ve got someone in your life you don’t quite understand, and who doesn’t understand you. Your interactions might not have the crackling dialogue of a Bogart-Bacall flick, but the relationship challenges are the same. You both want something.

7. You don’t know what’s coming. It’s called suspense. You can make plans, work the angles, and try and guess what’s around the next corner. But facts are facts, and just like a dime novel protagonist you just don’t know how your story is going to end.