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 I. J. Parker on February 26, 2009 at 5:06am
Average human beings do not make interesting characters. Goody-two-shoes are particularly abhorrent. Aristotle has something to say about that (I paraphrase): "Let the main character be an admirable man with a flaw." The reason for this is that the reader can identify with such a person. Readers don't identify with outright villains or with saints.
That was point one. Point two has to do with creating round characters with human weaknesses that they struggle with.
I don't place any particular moral judgment on drinking or smoking. Promiscuity may be another matter, because people get hurt in the process.
In crime fiction we've had some remarkable protagonists who were alcoholics. Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor (who also uses drugs) for example. And Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, as fine a portrayal of a man's struggle with his demons as you'll find anywhere.
Give me more flawed characters!
Even my own Akitada struggles with the arrogance of his class and insensitivity toward the women in his life.
Comment by Dana King on February 26, 2009 at 12:03am
I think a "normal" hero can provide the author an opportunity to show how the activity around him can alter, or even destroy, the things that made the protagonist a hero in the first place. Repeated exposure to violence can make a peaceful man inured to it. Seeing the guilty go free too often can create a capacity for revenge, against which his nature has to work. I'm thinking of someone like Ed McBain's Steve Carella, a good, family, man, and how he deals with what he sees at work every day. I don't think he should be a saint--making him too good would be counterproductive--but I don't think his demons need to be the defining aspect of his personality.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 25, 2009 at 4:40pm
I think promiscuity is timeless, don't you? Actually it's a bit hard to write about 'Joe Normal.' Who's normal these days? Normal may be another name for just plain boring.
Comment by Bob on February 25, 2009 at 4:10pm
Actually after getting back from the casino, we can't afford the booze and cigarettes. So we become holier than thow and proclaim we have quit for health reasons.

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