A comment from a writer friend recently got me to thinking when he expressed his desire to write a mystery about a regular guy who lacks the more recent popular vices and hang-ups that seem to plague most modern detectives these days (drinking, smoking, promiscuity…you know what I mean). So mainly what got me thinking is if it’s that our main characters now are really so much more commonly afflicted with such things, or if instead, it’s our definition of what’s considered as such. A character who once upon a time had more than one scotch, or who smoked cigars and/or cigarettes now and again, was considered more or less a regular guy. But now, these same actions seem to indicate that our hero needs a major “intervention” and a swift kick from the Surgeon General. I suppose the question is, have our heroes really become more deviant, or is it rather that society’s judgments have become harsher?

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Comment by Stephanie Padilla, Editor-NewMysteryReader.com on February 27, 2009 at 2:11pm
I really like what most of you are saying; how a character needs to grow and change, regardless of how he/she started. I also agree that it's not necessarily the faults that a character starts with, but how he/she deals with adversity that makes he/she interesting; many defining decisions are made in that context, and so it's what the character decides to do in those moments that makes it all interesting ultimately. And I also have to laugh about the woman wanting to change their men, and men hoping the opposite, that's almost too much to touch.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 27, 2009 at 8:59am
(grinning immensely) Dana, how true! How true!
Comment by Dana King on February 27, 2009 at 8:52am
Ah yes, the eternal conundrum. Women marry a man expecting he'll change, and he doesn't. Men marry a woman expecting she won't change, and she does. ;)
Comment by I. J. Parker on February 27, 2009 at 6:06am
I'm told keeping a male protagonist single and footloose makes him much more attractive than if he's a married man. As for female readers: they all believe they can change their man. :)
Comment by Dana King on February 27, 2009 at 2:18am
I agree completely with IJ. Again. (She might want to start worrying.) This is among the reasons Robert B. Parker's Spenser series got old for me. Spenser never changes. Parker still refers to his time spent in the Korean War, which means Spenser and Hawk must be about 75 years old now, but they still kick ass and look at things the same way as they did twenty-five years ago. I'm only 53 (I know, hard to believe from looking at me), but I see a lot of things differently now than I did even five years ago. Poeple change; characters should, too.

This is another reason I like Robicheaux so much. He's aging, though gradually. MAking him a Vietnam veteran gives Burke some leeway here, as Vietnam went on for so long there's a fairly wide age range for its participants, so long as you don't place an action too precisely in time, which he has not. Robicheaux evolves, learns things, learns about himself, and remains a vital, breathing, character. Alafair Robicheaux has grown up into an American young woman, far different from the South American child Dave found in the airplane. Clete Purcel doesn't change much, which contrasts nicely with how Robicheaux has.

Too bad about his wives, though. Women might want to give Dave a wide berth.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 27, 2009 at 1:34am
Good point, friend.
Comment by I. J. Parker on February 27, 2009 at 1:24am
Well, you asked Dana, and he will surely answer, but let me inject that series become stale precisely because some authors keep giving us the same thing time after time. That isn't even realistic, because in life any number of things happen to change people, families, friendships, settings, jobs, and challenges. Characters are defined by the way they handle the tough stuff.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 27, 2009 at 1:11am
Dana, your last poing about the Robicheaux's addiction brings up an interesting point. If you write a series which has a defining character in it--and that defining character has his own set of foibles--how do you keep that charactter interesting after say, book four or five?
Comment by Dana King on February 26, 2009 at 9:13am
BR, that's what was getting at. Everyone has flaws, and a goody two-shoes would be boring. That's not what an average guy is like. Average guys have their faults, weaknesses, and prejudices, but they don't become the defining quality of their character. Hasty judgment, a temper, any "normal" character trair can be an Achilles heel, creating a situation the character still has to get out from under, using his own standards. I think the other can be a bit of a cheat, to say, "he gets black out drunk (or stoned) and and bad things happen." Bad things happen to people without addictively bad habits all the time. I think it can be far more interesting to see if these events will turn a sober man into a drunk than to see what they'll do to someone already well down that road.

Good writers will make it work either way. I love reading of Dave Robicheaux's struggles with h9is addiction, probably in large part because of his struggle not to let it define him, or his reactions. (And because no one writes better than James Lee Burke.) Reading a story about a drunk (for example) who's sliding in and out of sobriety as conditions around change can get old after a while.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 26, 2009 at 6:25am
The Steve Carella figure is well-taken, Dana. A classic family-man working a job which brings him down into the dirt and grim of the back alleys. Good one.

And I agree with I.J. A character with flaws is far more interesting. And since we are all flawed, even goody-two shoes, it shouldn't be hard to create one.

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