The Main Character

We love crime fiction for a number of reasons–great plots, great writing, and that oh-so-clear (and swift) correlations between cause-and-effect. But what is it that keeps bringing us back to a specific writer and/or their series of books?

The main character.

Think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Or Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. Or Benjamin Black’s Quirke. PD James’ Adam Dalgliesh? Or…?

We love them because they are clever, flawed, and…imperfect.

You can blame Aristotle for this. Yep. He was the one who came up with the ‘tragic hero’ model that we have totally embraced with our hearts and souls. You know what I’m talking about–the hero who has that fatal flaw that, despite his best efforts, leads to his demise.

Yes, the Imperfect Protagonist.

More than the centuries of conditioning, we love our imperfect heroes because we see ourselves in them. Or, more likely, we see them as being like us.

Thing about it:

We have our Life Quest that is forever marred by a series of conflicts, distractions, and down-and-out battles. And we all have some super-power that gets us through them (mine is luck). And we all have that ONE MOMENT IN TIME where we have to choose to turn right or turn left. And, based upon our imperfection, or fatal flaw (chocolate anyone?), we go right when we should have gone left and that, my friends, is what leads to a lifetime of suffering.

Sound like anyone you know?

When I wrote the characters in the Detective Mike O’Shea Series, I gave each of the main ones three distinct weaknesses that would trip them up along their journeys. Why three? Because two didn’t seem to be enough, and four seemed a bit excessive to me.

Speaking of imperfect (and yet completed unrelated fact):

Did you know that the character of Sherlock Holmes holds two Guinness World Records? One is for the character of Sherlock Holmes being the most portrayed human literary figure on film and TV, and the second is for being the most portrayed detective every.

Of course, I am left wondering who the most non-human literary figure portrayed on film and TV is. If you know, drop me a line and let me know. Even if you don’t know, drop me a line. Or just make it up with a good backstory and we’ll see if it flies!

Until next week, I’m 10-7 for shift.

Desmond Ryan – Real Detective. Real Crime. Fiction

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