Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Struggling Writer as a Series Character?

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I read, devouring novel after novel like it was chocolate cake. Since I’ve started reviewing books for Crimespree, my frequency has doubled, and I’m beginning to see that for every book that blows my hair back, there is another one that makes me wonder how it ever got published.

As both a mystery writer and reader, I look for patterns in the novels that come across my desk: the pacing, character development, plot twists, anything that could help me in my writing. And the most recent pattern I’m noticing is the occupation of the protagonists. It’s not the typical P.I. or crime reporter or even Japanese assassins and ex-military police. The main character is just an ordinary writer, trying desperately to finish their first novel.

Who sees something wrong with that?

What drives me to genre fiction is that the characters are living far more exciting lives than my own. They’re chasing down criminals, falling madly in love and saving the world from nuclear holocaust. But I have recently read over three novels where the hero has the same occupation as I do: a crime writer desperately trying to land the fairy-tale book deal.

What attracts these authors to write these characters? I don’t think the life of a writer is particularly exciting. In all honesty, the highlight of my day is when I reach my word count or find a new and exciting way to kill people. I’ve never found a body in my backyard, been accused of murder, had to prove my innocence while falling in love with the gorgeous lead investigator. I do enjoy the novels about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, but they are all stand alones. It is difficult, if not impossible, to base a series on a novelist who keeps stumbling upon bodies and getting involved with the crimes. To me I see this as amateurish, the writer obviously taking the easy road and basing a character off themselves.

Look at the great protagonists of genre fiction: Sam Spade, Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, the list goes on. All of them are relatable without having jobs that the average person is familiar with. The protagonist’s occupation is just as important as the character itself, and maybe it’s just me, but the struggling writer just doesn’t cut it.


Darwyn Jones said...

Glad to hear that you haven't found that body in your backyard... yet.

I remember Stephen King's books - it seems like most of his protags were writers. (Heck, with the Dark Half it was required.)

Dana Kaye said...

You have a point; right after I posted I was thinking about Misery. I think I had more of a problem with writers used as series characters. But yes, Stephen King has made it work.