Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Flawed Detective

I read a lot of mystery fiction. I suspect you do too. I’m looking ahead to a couple of weeks of enforced idleness, so I’ve been loading up my Android reading machine. Lately I’ve run into a string of improbable sleuths.  They’re tall, leggy blonds who run five miles every morning and speak French. If male, they have six-pack abs, are rich, former Navy SEALS, and master chess champions. And I’m not talking romances or cozies.

Please, if you’re writing character sketches for your protagonist right now, give your detective some flaws, but nothing too crippling. Maybe he leaves the seat up. He’s addicted to fried Snicker’s bars. (That’s pretty awful.)  He’s afraid of clowns. He cheats on his income tax, or lies straight-faced to his mother.

These flaws make him human, unlike James Bond in the spy story genre. Does James Bond have flaws?

When I first began writing mysteries, I talked to a detective in the Santa Monica Police Department. He said, "Please don't make your detective alcoholic, depressed, and divorced. We're not all like that.” You want your detective to be somebody you'd like to have a beer with, or a coffee, and somebody human your reader can identify with. Your reader has flaws too. But overwhelmingly, despite his flaws, your sleuth must be likeable. You want to urge your sleuth on, root for her. You want her to win.

The tall, leggy blond?  I just hope she slips on her stiletto pumps and falls on her pert, little upturned nose. 


Morgan Mandel said...

Funny, but I had the same thing in mind today when I wrote my blog. That's because I'd just finished a book with a main character who had serious flaws. Despite those flaws, I became engrossed in the book, and bonded with the character. It takes skill to get a reader to like a much-flawed character.
I like your example about not putting the toilet seat down, by the way. lol

Mar Preston said...

I know this guy. This is my fourth time out in a book with him.