Friday, December 12, 2014
Here we go again with another writing question posed to our four mystery authors: R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin, and Linda Wiken. This is the question: What are some cliches you should avoid in creating a series hero?
And these are their answers:
I like to avoid the cliche of the lone wolf cop or PI who breaks all the rules, drinks himself silly, eats junk food, wrecks his relationships, insists on working alone and never (!) seems to shower or change his clothes. He would probably leave his pet to die, but, of course, he doesn't have a pet. Yes, I know that's where the money is, but, hey, that's guy's a jackass.
Good thing I write cozies so i don't need to work him into the action.
I'll echo Mary Jane's pick. We've all read about him, or her, more than enough times and it doesn't really matter what the plot is, this hero is going to take center stage with his lifestyle. Of course, there's that deep, dark secret from the past that haunts the guy.
Another one, and this one hits home with writers of traditional mysteries, is the hero who plods along, appearing to bumble through an investigation or some private sleuthing, trying to appear like solving the crime is the last thing possible. You know these ones -- Columbo and Miss Marple come to mind. Of course, since we know and love these characters, we know and believe that justice will prevail. However, it's been done. And well. So move on. Or perhaps, do it with a twist.
The rebellious, hard drinking loner cop who can’t deal with authority or maintain a relationship with a woman for longer than 3 books, has a deep dark secret in his past and always gets his man or woman…Sound familiar?
I swear if there is one series with a cop protagonist like this there are a zillion of them. I’m reading one at the moment, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole. I am sure you can name others, some of which have reached bestseller status. But as much as this kind of a series character has become a cliché, you know what, if well crafted, I enjoy reading them, as do many others. So I don’t know whether as a writer you should avoid cliché characters, ratherI I think it is probably more important to recognize they are a cliché and use them appropriately, maybe add a twist or two so that all the cliché components don’t fall into place.
I think it’s important to avoid all cliches when creating a series hero. A series hero has to have certain qualities - usually intelligence, resourcefulness, and a passion to tackle problems. Apart from that, create a hero who has depth and humanity, with a real life and everyday problems along with their sleuthing, and avoid the urge to tack on “flaws” or “quirks” which are the lazy writer’s attempt to make the character unique without giving them any depth. Some cliches are obvious, such as the jaded, alcoholic cop, the “feisty”, kick-ass female, and the dithering little old lady with a mind like a stiletto.