"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Geez, not another Mafia don disguised as a priest!

Recognize this guy?

His name is Todd Stashwick and he's an actor. I'm talking about him today because I love to watch crime shows of any kind, from the grim Criminal Minds to the quirky Monk. I see Todd a lot on some of these shows, and I know he's going to be a bad guy each time. In Law & Order: Criminal Intent, he was a zoo veterinarian AND a sociopath. On Psych, he was Gus' boss AND a jerk. His physicality fits the definition of "dangerous" – add his deep voice and it's hard to envision him as the wimpy accountant, or the pleasant neighbor.

He's not the only one. These days, there are a small number of actors I recognize across the screen, and as soon as I see them, I begin to suspect them of the murderer du jour. I don't know their names (I had to search IMDB for awhile to find Todd), but I know their faces. It's a pity, really, because I still enjoy the plots of the shows. The mysteries are good, but the familiar faces telegraph the solution, which kind of ruins it for me.

I think this applies to books as well. There are characters I know will rise above their stations (the hooker with the heart of gold), characters who are too good to be true, and characters I've just seen too much. The plot of the novel may be intriguing, but I often know whodunit before I should, because isn't it always the supportive friend who is the secret psycho, and not the bad witch?

I'm not trying to pick on any author; I think we all do it. To my shame, I created a large, overweight police officer in Freezer Burn. I didn't mean to make Officer Tony Monroe a stereotype but he popped into my head as an ex-football player, so what was I to do? Put him on a diet?

When you're reading, what character type are you tired of seeing?


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It's easy to write stock characters...I find myself doing the same thing. There was a great post on the Mysterious Matters blog on this same topic (editors talking about characters they don't like.) http://tinyurl.com/cxzmpx Some they mentioned: the pill-popping, cold society woman; the overly garrulous neighbor; and the wise-cracking detective.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

The flawless female character - she's the bombsell that can do everything from cooking a ten course meal for 20 people on 15 minutes notice to rounding up and tackling the villian. Somehow she never has a bad hair day or breaks a nail!

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Patricia Stoltey said...

I don't like the psycho character capable of unspeakable crimes. I've given up those books, and stop reading as soon as I realize what I've gotten myself into. Unfortunately, that's usually after the first victim bites the dust.


N A Sharpe said...

There are so many vanilla flavored cookie cutter stereo-types that exist in television, movies, literature... I like the quirky, unpredictable characters that bring something new to the story. I like my characers flawed and human.

NA Sharpe

Diana Black said...

This is a great post, and I also love the comments.

A least favorite character for me is one I would not care to know in real life. I'll get flack, I know, but examples are the two main characters in "A Confederacy of Dunces." Never got into them. I love quirky. So that wasn't the problem.

I just thought they indulged the author too much. Or the author indulged them too much. (And yes, I know about how the story was published, the author's untimely death and the awards...) I just could not get emotionally involved or connected...

Only meant to leave a nice little comment...

Hmmm...Perhaps I indulged MYSELF!


Teresa Burrell, Author, Attorney, Advocate said...

It's tough trying to make your character what you actually know them to be and still avoid the stereotype...sometimes it just fits him or her.

I agree with you, I hate when I figure out "whodunnit" or how it was done, in the first scene. Yet, I can't stop analyzing it in my head. Sometimes I'll be watching a show on television with my sister and I'll sigh. She'll say, "You know what happens, don't you?" And you're right then it's ruined and a lot of the time it's because of the actor. I never tell her though, unless she asks.

Good blog, Gayle.

Anonymous said...

I love Monk, too. Me, I tire of the alcoholic, over-worked workaholic sleuth or cop with issues and bad relationships with ex's. Somebody please have a normal, sane, married with children, good man for a hero for a change? Lousy habits and bad attitudes aren't the only good sub-plots in the world,

C. Margery Kempe said...

Well, conflict is always at the heart of an interesting character. If we have a happy and well-adjusted character, where's the drama? It helps to give her something that shakes her world -- revelations about a trusted family friend, or a temptation for a long-married person, for example.

I have to say, living in the south for four years cured me of stereotypical southern characters that too many Northerners indulge in. I'm so sick of people making regional stereotypes -- too many people who've never lived anywhere but where they grew up indulge in those stereotypes. Travel a little and see the world. I've lived in the north, the south, the east coast and the west, as well as in Europe. Develop individuals. Sure, your sheriff might be overweight -- how does he feel about it? Is he embarrassed or does he ignore it? What if he's trying a fad diet? His mind might be on grapefruit rather than the case and that would be interesting.

Anonymous said...

My least favorite is the stereotyper.

Karen Brees said...

The divorced cop with a drinking problem. This was the stock and trade of the pulps.

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