So you can read my books

Friday, June 11, 2010


{ I had to start my post with a photo of a bad girl to counterbalance the good guy subject matter. Ah, not buying that? Didn't think so. It was worth a try.}

"Good guys are boring?," I said earlier tonight.

Nickie, my co-worker, nodded sagely. "Yep. Boooooring."

We'd been talking my disenchantment with Sookie in the TRUE BLOOD novels. Bill, her first lover, had suffered near death twice for her, but she is attracked to sociopath vampire, Eric.

"Vampire Bill is boring while Eric is just bad and sexy."

"Uh, he tore apart a guy who was just trying to escape being chained in a cellar. And then, he got upset when the man's blood ruined his hair's highlighting."

Nickie giggled, "That was so cute."

"What if the guy had been your kid brother? Still cute?"

"Oh that guy was a jerk. He had it coming."

"And the two little children Eric looked down as munchies toward the end of season two? Did they have it coming?"

"Oh, you're as boring as vampire Bill." And Nickie hurried off to try saving LEGEND OF THE SEEKER.

Our conversation got me thinking on how difficult it is to write a non-boring hero or heroine. But being good boring? Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once wrote : Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile, I caught hell for.

I don't know about you, but that's pretty much how it's been for me.

So Niki and actors who moan that good guys are boring don't really mean boring in the obvious sense.

As writers we have to look at heroes through the reader's eyes. And what do they want of their heroes?

To live vicariously through them.

And who wants to suffer through routine living second-hand? We get enough of that up close and personal. Our failure with heroes is that we make them routine.

What do the readers want from the hero of the novel they're reading?

To live dangerously and to have fun through them by :

Dialogue :

How often have you been stung in a situation, only to come up with the perfect comeback HOURS after the fact?

Think CON-AIR when

Cameron Poe says to agent Larkin : "Sorry boss, but there's only two men I trust. One of them's me. The other's not you."

Or with Robert B. Parker when Spenser says :

"...You have any suggestions, make them. I'm in charge but humble. No need to salute when you see me."
Fraser said, "Mind if we snicker every once in a while behind your back?"
"Hell, no," I said. "Everyone else does."
— Robert B. Parker (The Widening Gyre)

Or when Spenser walks into a TV station's boardroom to see three lawyers sitting on a couch beside one another.

"Which one of you speaks no evil?," I asked. (A Savage Place)

{Side-bar} :

University professor turned writer, Robert B. Parker, had thought-provoking things to say about writers, literature, and life :

“It was not just that Ross Macdonald taught us how to write; he did something much more, he taught us how to read, and how to think about life, and maybe, in some small, but mattering way, how to live.”

"Being a professor and working are not the same thing. The academic community is composed largely of nitwits. If I may generalize. People who don't know very much about what matters very much, who view life through literature rather than the other way around.”

“The advantage of writing a series is that it probably replicates, for lack of a better word, real life more than most fiction because most people have a history and know people and come and go and you have a chance to play with the characters and not just the protagonist.

It gives you the opportunity to develop--lapsing back into academe for a moment--a whole fictive world. Gee, I love saying that now, just keeping my hand in. Fictive world!.”

"I sit down every day and write five pages on my computer. At some point I found that not outlining worked better than outlining. The outline had become something of a limitation more than it was a support.

When I did the Raymond Chandler book, Poodle Springs, which was in the late eighties, I was trying to do it as Chandler did it, and since Chandler didn't outline then I thought I won't outline.

If you read Chandler closely you can see that he didn't outline. What the hell happened to that chauffeur? I would recommend to the beginning writer that they should outline because they probably don't have enough self-confidence yet.

But I've been writing now since 1971 and I know that I can think it up. I know it will come."

"It's tempting to say the Ph.D. didn't have an effect, but it's not so. I think whatever resonance I may be able to achieve is in part simply from the amount of reading and learning that I acquired along the way."

But I digress ...

What, besides saying snappy dialogue, do readers want to do through their heroes?

To do the extraordinary.

Even if it is in ordinary circumstances. Spit in the eye of the bully. Tweak the nose of a snobbish boss.

Take this scenario :

A tired stone mason sits at a bar run by one of his few friends. Another man sits down beside him. He never looks at our hero, but he pushes a thick manila envelope over to him.

He whispers, "Ten thousand now. Ten thousand after she's dead."

He gets up and slowly walks away. Our hero hurriedly opens the envelope. Sure enough there is the money. And a blown-up photo of a woman from her driver's license.

Our hero gets up to follow the man to see if he can get the license plate number of his car to give to the police. The man is already outside -- getting into a police car.

What does our hero do? What would you do? And so starts the Dean Koontz novel, THE GOOD GUY. (Hey, I couldn't resist.)

There is a hero inside all of us ... if we only know where to look. There is a magentism to your hero of your novel ... if you know where to look. And where is that?

In your heart, friend. In your heart.


And if you have the time, here are some interesting scenes of an ancient TV series derived from the Spenser detective series. I fell in love with Susan Silverman from that series -- an intelligent, brave, caring woman.


  1. Some good guys are fabulous. Been watching the Rocky movies again. He was a sweet, nice guy. Soooo not boring to watch him in the ring. (=

    I think a great number of people who are attracted to bad boys have issues. Self destructive, daddy issues. Haha! Sure they can be sexy...but when you have brains and a self esteem you avoid them in real life.
    In fiction a well sketched bad boy is great for drama and conflict.
    But in the real world a truly, good and courageous man does it for me everytime.

  2. I wrote my MC as a genuinely good guy, truly empathetic, and I do wonder whether that makes him a bit dull to readers.

    It did seem this way in high school also, that the good guys were ignored by girls for the most part.

  3. Ted : Jo is right. Most girls drawn to bad boys have Daddy issues from a parental situation gone wrong. Like I wrote Jo in her blog, girls mistakenly see a source of protection and provision from an essentially selfish male.

    Give your MC a good sense of humor and have him in deadly or primal situations and he will not be boring.

  4. I prefer "good" people, even if they're "boring." Mainly because I don't want to get in deep trouble anytime soon and I have an aversion to people who are a) selfish b) stuck-up and/or c) arrogant.

    I wonder what makes girls go after bad guys, anyways. Risk? The rush? The hope of gaining the unattainable affection-wise? These things only work in books, unfortunately for the people who try to use them in actual LIFE.

  5. Yeah, I agree with Roland on the whole selfish father misleading their daughters to go for selfish badboys. It's what the daughter is accustomed to and therefore drawn to.

    A different way of looking at this issue (wonderful post, btw) is that the one thing I've noticed will get me to love a hero/heroine is that they're either: heroic, extremely intelligent/insightful, or funny. Usually the heroism is a basis for the personality and the rest is a bonus. Maybe that's just me.

  6. I've always liked good guys who suffer for what they believe in. There's a long list of characters like that.

  7. Sure, what reader wants to follow the ordinary life of an ordinary person to whom nothing out of the ordinary happens?

    Thanks for the Parker quotes - most interesting, esp. the part about most academics being nitwits.

  8. I like my good guys to have normal human flaws and hence be imperfect. I've also created the heroine of my novel (Layla Daltry) to be a "borderline bad girl" because I wanted a complex woman who can do shady things but still be a good person at heart. It's like your picture of Angelina Jolie -- guys don't go for her because she looks virginally pure and ever so wholesome; yet she can still be the hero who wins against the bad guys.

  9. In real life I only want to know good people. But in fiction, it's the bad guys who spice up a story. Although I do enjoy reading books with good guy characters.

    And with bad guy characters in the forefront, I like how writers reveal their vulnerabilities and improvements.

  10. On good guys vs. bad guys. I have to be honest, Vampire Bill is boring for me, however I don't like Vampire Eric either. Can I get a hybrid? I like the male MC to have some kind of mystery, sense of humour and a little of the superhero ( I know, I know).

    I also think Angelina was badass pre Brad Pitt but is she still? Nice pic btw! ;)

    Interesting topic, made me think about my own WIP male MC.

  11. Kindess and goodness are the biggest turn-ons for me in men. This may be why I like noir. The good guy, flawed as he is in many ways, still has a heart and he generally saves the day or at least he tries damn hard to save it.

    More wonderful quotes from some of my favorite writers. Thanks again. Love your stuff!

  12. loved his spenser; then that western he did after

    av was cool as hawk; then equally good on deep space 9

    as for susan... like you, i loved her

  13. I think it's that whole flawed is beautiful thing. However, even that can be taken to far. Case in point; vampire Eric.

  14. I'm totally not buying your explanation for that picture.


  15. No no no...Good guys are not boring! I'm waaaay more into good guys than bad boys. They have depth, character, and integrity. And they can be just as interesting and exciting as the bad guys. Just sayin'.

  16. For me, interesting characters are the ones who are flawed, yet still are heroic. Notice I didn't say overcome their flaws, just are able to do the right thing in spite of them. Overcoming all odds tends to get a bit campy for me, but I suppose I'm a bit jaded.

  17. Good God almighty...after ogling the pic of Jolie, concentration became an issue:)

  18. The main MAIN hero of my novel isn't someone whom you would agree with at first, but as the story moves along, you find she is much more than her initial self, and you start to sympathize with her. She's simply flawed, and those are the characters I like to read about and invest my time in.