In April, about 30 bloggers will each host a detective, and readers will learn about cops, agents, and PIs from all corners of the earth. My blog will feature Kristin Van Dijk, aka Baby Shark, a fascinating and kickass young woman. The series is written by the talented and charming Robert Fate who has lived a most interesting life. Read more →
This question comes up dozens of times while I’m writing a novel. Almost every character is given two names (and sometimes a nickname), but what you do you call them most consistently? First name or last? Does their gender and/or role in the story dictate which treatment they get?
A post on on Salon about detectives said most characters “…fail to capture our imaginations the way a gritty detective with a bad attitude and a drinking problem does.”
It went on to say: “But even cops get boring after several decades of prime real estate on the small screen. That’s why we need shows about time-traveling cops (Life on Mars), clairvoyant cops (The Mentalist, Medium), teenage detectives (Veronica Mars), obsessive-compulsive detectives (Monk), evil cops (The Shield), cops who work the system (The Wire) and many, many more.”
Does this premise apply to TV watchers only or has the need for quirky/morally-challenged/addicted cops taken over detective novels as well? Do cops have to have a “bad attitude and a drinking problem” or some other major character flaw to be interesting? What’s wrong with regular a good guy/gal who has a clear understanding of what’s right and wrong? A detective/FBI agent who is sober, thoughtful, and doing his/her best to balance work and family?
I say nothing is! In fact, my recurring Detective Jackson is such a character. He’s not perfect, but his flaws are minor. If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t mind if she got involved with him. That’s not a bad test for whether your cop character is a good person: Would you want your daughter to date him? Would you be upset if your son married her?
Of course, there are the much-loved, loner-type Jack characters (Jack Reacher, Jack Taylor, etc.) who are fun to read, but in reality would cause sane women to run in the other direction.
Most of us read a mix of crime stories, from cozies to slasher/serial killers. But who are your favorite cop characters? Are they datable? Or are you attracted to those with “a drinking problem and a bad attitude”?
Neil Placky’s excellent guest blog on The Kill Zone recently got me thinking about the nature of mystery series, police procedurals in particular. The series seem to fall into three camps: protagonists who are always linked to the criminal case being solved, cops who are sometimes linked to the case at hand, and detectives who rarely have an emotional connection to the case they’re working on. I’m not as widely read as I’d like to be, so my examples here are broad.
In the first category, the TV show Murder She Wrote comes to mind (as well as most cozies). In the third category, there’s John Sanford’s long-running series about Detective Lucas Davenport and Ridley Pearson’s series about Detective Lou Boldt. Neither detective hardly ever has a personal stake in their cases’ outcomes, yet they are favorites of mine—and millions of other readers.
My own series (and many others) falls into the middle. But even when Detective Jackson has a link to the case he’s solving, it’s not an intimate first-person connection.
I know many readers like emotional connections, but the question this raises for me is credibility. If your protagonist (whether a cop, an FBI agent, reporter, or private detective) is surrounded by people who can’t stay out of trouble, does he or she start to seem suspect? If every crime he/she solves is somehow personal, does your series start to lose credibility?
I’m thinking about this now because I’m plotting my fourth Jackson story and wondering how important the personal connection is to readers.
Writers: Do you connect your protagonist personally to his/her cases? Is it working for you?
Readers: How important is the personal connection? Can a series lose your respect if the protagonist has too many personal connections to criminal cases?