I’ve been doing some reflecting on characters lately. In the crime fiction game, you’ve got plenty of bad guys, so that vicarious thrill of letting your inner sociopath off the leash, you get to scratch that itch pretty often. Then you have the purported good guys. In some cases, they aren’t always good, or even mostly good. In fact, in some of the noir shit, they’re damn near as bad as everybody else. But they are the protagonists, so you have to at least make them sympathetic in some way. You have to give your reader a reason to care what happens to them.
And that’s where I’m at right now. I’m working on a rewrite, and my agent’s reaction to one of the characters was that she was not sympathetic, and that, given her role, she probably needed to be. And trust me on this, when Stacia Decker finds a character unsympathetic, then you’ve got a problem. ‘Cause she’s a little more forgiving on that front than most.
Thing is, this character? I don’t want to nice her up too much. A while back, I chimed in on this online discussion about dudes writing chics, and I had an epiphany of sorts. Sexism, from the writer’s perspective, isn’t necessarily how females character’s are written, it’s often the role they are given to play. I don’t care if the chic in question is a strong, conflicted multidimensional uberfrau, if her role is always confined to love interest or mother or some other traditional female ghetto, if that’s all you can find to do with your female characters, then you’re probably not trying hard enough.
And I’m not saying I’ve gone and solved that. This character, I guess she’s still a “love interest” to use the term of art. But I wanted to bust her out of that box. And I got to thinking about some of the crime tropes – like Hawk in the Spenser novels and Pike in Robert Crais’s books – guys who aren’t bound by laws or most social constraints, even when it comes to killing people. I specifically recalled a scene from one of the earlier Spenser novels. There’s this nasty piece of human garbage that someone had contracted to whack Spenser, but Spenser gets the jump on him and knocks the guy out. Now the guy is out cold on the ground, and Hawk is telling Spenser that he can’t just leave him, that if he doesn’t take the guy out, then the guy is just going to keep coming after him. And Spenser says “I can’t just shot a guy who’s laying unconscious on the floor,” and Hawk steps past him and pulls out that massive .44 he carries around and says “I can,” and blows the guys head off. Now maybe I just haven’t read the right books, but I got to wondering why guys like that were always, well, guys.
So I’m working on it. Maybe a little more back story, let people know where the character is coming from. But, in the end, I still want her to be the one that says “I can,” even when the guys in the book get squeamish. Fine line, though. How far can you push that without losing the reader?