Sorry it's been awhile since my last post, life got in the way a bit, but here I am again so...

In my previous post I spoke about something related to the point I want to make with this one. I last wrote about the normalisation of chatacters within crime fiction, how they are fleshed out with aspects of the everyday such as jobs, family life and so on and how in doing this, despite the extreme circumstances they might find themselves in, the character is made more relatable to the reader because in that respect they exist within the same reality. Having posted that discussion, talk moved on to the point I now want to make, from speaking of a characters lifestyle and how everyday life can be closely linked to crime, to their deeds. So please forgive me if I've stretched the chat too far.

Growing up, good vs evil was a very black and white concept with the good guys identified by their boy scout actions and the bad guys made obvious by their over dramatic antics. But reality isnt so clear cut, we're not all superheroes in colourful costumes and the villains aren't running around shouting about what they do/have done, if they did then they'd quickly be caught. None of us are as perfect as the good guys are portrayed to be, we all slip up somewhere no matter how hard we try because the sad reality is that it's just not in us to be perfect, as much as we would like to be. And wrongdoing isn't always so blatant, other than moral wrongs and obvious evil acts, both right and wrong can become a point of perspective, with our opinions centered around our upbringing and life experiences. And that's why as I got older I became less of a superman fan and more of a batman kind of guy, a flawed individual who makes questionable decisions, which is closer to our actual nature. Also in our nature is for us to be judgemental or to want to label something, in the day to day scope of things, such judgements are based on that initial first impression where we decide if we like or dislike a person. But life is not so simple with humanity not being so simple, there's more motivation to a deed than just want and of course there's always more beyond that first impression, a cheerful smile could belie a violent nature or an offish attitude may hide a scarred goodwill. With this genre we are given the gift to see beyond our initial impression of a character and in the hands of a great writer we find our conscience tested with the complications of the lines blurred between the potential good in a person with the bad that they are capable of and vice versa. This results in the toying of our nature of wanting to label things with our opinions ever shifting as we try to find our individual understanding of a character. For me, as I said in my last post, that is one of the true delights of this form of entertainment.

With the project I am currently working on I have taken advantage of the aforementioned creative devices, with the main character being a note passer between gangs. Now, he is mostly uninvolved with the violence that comes from the knowledge he profits from, however it can be argued that he is just as guilty as those throwing the punches for his trade having resulted in instigating such acts. This is used to confuse the lines of the life he leads, a young man with little options who wants better for himself who does what he does simply for survival. A boy who wants to be a good man in a bad world where to get by it's a choice of becoming a victim himself or selling out someone else.
But I'm not original in my creation of such a character, such anti-heroes have become a staple of crime fiction with their appeal found in their murky grey existence between the naive concept of black and white good vs evil, that want for us to explore the curiosity that comes from the complication of something being more than it appears. One of my current favourite characters of this variety is Ray Donovan, the title character of a tv show aired on showtime. Now there's no spoilers here as all this is revealed in the two minute trailer of the first season. Ray is a fixer, exploiting those he is set upon by various threatening means, a thug and a serial womaniser. But he loves his wife in his own way and wants nothing but the best for his family, to give his kids a better upbringing than he himself had. He's also fiercely loyal and protective of his brothers, despite them being fully grown adults. So with his family being the driving force behind his agenda, it serves in a deranged way to not make it acceptable but to partially rationalise his actions, with the argument being that many of the people he deals with deserve what comes their way. But how can a man keep separate two natures that are as much equally a part of himself? And it's at the crossover point that holds the most intrigue.
In literature form, the cast of Loren D Estleman's Whiskey river provide just as perfect examples. The novel is set during prohibition in Detroit, focussing on the prevalent lifestyles of those in the shadows. The story follows a tabloid writer who sets aside his morals in order to get the best scoop but finds himself close to that step gone too far, and through his interactions we are introduced to others just as morally ambiguous, such as a prostitute whose loose life contradicts her want for a genuine relationship and a likeable young man who becomes a powerful gangster. They are all mixed up in this seedy underworld having found themselves there be it by want or wrong decision where the author then constantly plays out the bad of each character to reval the good amongst it all, which for me is reenacting a very real scenario as I said early on, we all do wrong but the question to be asked is how deep do the wrongs go? And in answering that we find the dividing point of who we as individuals think are the better people.

We will never do right by everyone but we hope that in doing what is right by ourselves that we are doing good in the greater scheme of things and for me, that notion stretched as it is in this genre, makes for a fascinating concept. So I've shared my thoughts on the subject and some of my favourite examples of those treading the fine line of morality, so who, what and why are yours?


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To me, anything that makes the characters seem more real to the reader is good. Life is rarely black and white; neither is good fiction. Your example of the note passer between gangs is a good example. Based on that description, I don't know I'd even call him an antihero. Economic opportunities are severely limited in many places; he's doing what he has to do to keep things together. Not breaking the law himself, though I can see where he might have two competed perspectives: aiding and abetting to help them increase their criminality, or helping to keep the peace by ensuring safe and open communication. Also, I;m sure there are forces that pull him in either direction: to clean up his gray areas by either going straight all the way, or all the way bent.

Sounds to me like you have a fascinating character set up to explore those gray areas. Good luck.

I suppose my character isn't an antihero, he's a needs must guy who at heart is a good person. The story is set in the bronx during the 1960s, raised in poverty, there's not many prospects for him so that's why he does what he does. He deals mostly with street gangs so what they lack in sophistication they make up for in savagery, violence surrounds him so he has not just bore witness but has on occasion had to defend himself with the same means, but again it's all both an element of his environment and the period the piece is set. With everything you said in your message you pretty much got right so I'm hoping it's more that you have great intuition then it is that my character creation is a bit too simple lol. Thank you very much for the comments and the wish of luck, I need it!

Interesting topic. I can't help but think back to my policing studies and a paper by Carl B Klockars called, "The Dirty Harry Problem." 

Klockars an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Delaware posed the question, "When and to what extent does the morally good end warrant or justify an ethically, politically, or legally dangerous means for its achievement?"

How many of us have had our fictional detectives cross the line, break the rules, or make ethically questionable decisions to get the job done?  So many I'd suggest, that it's almost normal. Good vs evil is never black & white, neither in fiction or real life. 

Even some of the most mundane, everyday things we do can be misunderstood and I find it interesting that in this genre that misunderstanding can be stretched to the extreme. And with what you attached, it's interesting because how far is too far? And also in doing as wrong so as to do something good, does that make it right? I think our thoughts will always be at conflict with our conscience over that subject. Some people won't even consider such questions, which is to be respected of course, but to some people just even thinking along those lines can be seen to be questionable in itself. A chain reaction of more questions is set in motion from the asking of one question, which there is always going to be doubt and divide as to the answers.

Thanks for providing that link, Liam. I disagree with some of what he wrote, and I'm not sure about quite a bit of it, but it certainly is thought-provoking. And timely, for me, as the book I'm planning on writing next will force my detective to think about these issues, and the ambiguity of any such situation and its resolution.

I agree with you Dana, I don't agree with a lot of what he wrote either.  For myself, in my own policing career, what I took out of it was that at times you may be faced with some difficult decisions. In making your decision, you have to be able to live with the choices you make as well as the consequences of those choices. It sounds simple, but isn't always the case.

The hero who is totally admirable is old and pretty much passe. In crime fiction, even the remote and brilliant detective showing off his superhuman intelligence is dated. This includes Sherlock Holmes in spite of the fact that he has a few questionable habits. Recent crime fiction portrays flawed characters who strive to be better. Policemen who drink and ruin their marriages for example.  I do not deal with characters involved in a life of crime, but there, too, human traits make the story more realistic. I only draw the line at glorifying a life of crime by making the criminal clever and admirable

My own character is one of those men who fail occasionally, both in his public and private life, and suffer from guilt, but who persist against the odds to do the right thing. The heroic characteristics lie in this humble persistence.

I agree with everything you have said here. I'm so happy that you mentioned Sherlock Holmes, as great a character as he is I have always thought he was too close to perfect, granted he has the odd flaw but he was almost elevated to near superhuman which is what I struggle with but have never mentioned it, fearing it to be an act of sacrilege. The policeman example you gave is a perfect example of the type of character I was referring to. I'm not a fan of the glorification of violence or crime but as I've mentioned in the past I do have an interest in criminal characters, but not the type who revel in their wrongs but those who doubt what they do, suffering and paying for in different ways all they've done. It shows then that good or justice comes through, even if only to a small degree or indirectly but again that's close to how the real world works.

What made Holmes great as a character was the timing: Doyle basically made the general people aware of forensic science. I love the stories, though I have some of the same concerns expressed here. What we need to do when assessing him is to think of how this must have been received when Doyle was writing in The Strand, and no one had seen anything like it before.

Fascinating. That's something that somehow appears in everything I write - I like to mix up the bad guys and the good guys a little! The series I'm currently writing goes one step further as I took the bad guy from another series and I'm writing mostly from his point of view. I wanted to see if I could make the reader empathise with somebody who openly admits to having killed people and see things from his point of view. I think we're all a product of our childhood and our environment and we choose our own paths accordingly.

I have problems with making killers likable. There has been too much of this lately and immature or disturbed people are influenced by it.

I also think that any criminal is going to rationalize his behavior in terms of putting the blame on his background, childhood abuse, or the injustices perpetrated against him by society. It's human nature to defend oneself. Whether that makes certain actions defensible is another issue. 

My favorite crime novel is the police procedural which allows the author to weigh the claims of the criminal against those of society.


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