Darren Fletcher, once the rising star of Detroit's criminal justice system, has fallen far. All the way to an office in a smoky dive bar on the wrong side of the city. But a single phone call could be the key to climbing out of his downward spiral: a police brutality victim needs his help, and the family's willing to pay. Big-time.
Issabella Bright's daily panic attacks aren't entirely due to her decision to forgo a flashy firm and go out on her own, but that's a large part of it. She never thought she'd resort to ambulance chasing, until the story about a SWAT raid gone wrong proves too intriguing to ignore—it's the perfect chance to prove she made the right decision.
But Issabella's not the only one after the job.
Darren's connections are enough to get past the cops stonewalling them both at the hospital, but only a judge's order makes Issabella even consider teaming up with the disheveled attorney and his weird—and weirdly effective—methods. But as the case deepens and it becomes clear the Detroit PD is concealing a much bigger conspiracy, Darren and his methods may be all that keep her alive.
About Motor City Shakedown:
Jonathan Watkins lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor's Degree in Art and Children's Literature from Eastern Michigan University and his Juris Doctorate from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. A life-long fan of detective fiction, Jonathan is the author of the Bright and Fletcher mystery series. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, who is too good for him. They are blessed with two kind-hearted sons.
About Jonathan Watkins:
Creating a thoroughly flawed hero and how to make him still relatable for the readers?
How to make your hero screwed-up enough to be interesting and sympathetic without being so far gone that he alienates the reader? I’ve given that more than a little thought, actually. To answer the question, let’s put it in list form because everybody likes lists. I do at any rate, so list it shall be.
Your hero needs to be flawed. That’s my own rule, not some inviolable tenant carved in marble and handed down by the Gods of Storytelling, so take it as you will. But for my money, your main characters are going to be as dull as dirt if they don’t have flaws. Because humans have flaws and more than anything else we, as readers, want to see ourselves reflected in the hero of the story. Someone who conquers an inner demon that has been tormenting them and keeping them from happiness or success is more compelling than the hyper-competent and perfectly well-adjusted hero who shoots the terrorist at the end of the story before resuming their own serene and ideal existence. That’s a super-hero, and you’ll notice that the only way that kind of idealized character confronts conflict is by punching it in the face or shooting it with heat vision. Which, on a purely visceral surface level, can be entertaining, sure. But real tension and suspense and eventual cathartic release comes from conflicts a bit more relatable than kicking the bad guy into outer space.
Relatable is important. The flaw in your hero’s design can’t be something that most people utterly recoil from. Anything is possible, but I’d be mighty surprised if there ever turns out to be a market for stories about a crime solving hero who happens to be struggling with the overpowering urge to masturbate outside his neighbors’ windows. Likewise, I don’t imagine we’ll be seeing too many popular heroines who shatter the glass ceiling, earn the CEO job, and karate-kick the smarmy dude whose been sabotaging her—all while simultaneously embezzling the pension funds of her senior citizen clients. We recoil from sex offenders and people who prey on the defenseless.
In Motor City Shakedown, Darren has a few flaws. He drinks too much and is paralyzed with guilt. He’s reckless and impulsive. None of those are qualities that spring to mind when you’re pondering what your ideal defense lawyer would be like. The other hero of the story, Issabella, is prone to anxiety and is a bit too rigid in her thinking when it comes to handling the legal case that brings her and Darren together. Drinking too much and anxiety are both relatable flaws. Lots of us have done the first and suffered the second. On their own, they don’t alienate the majority of people looking to see themselves in the hero.
A caveat: yes, I know Dexter Morgan exists. We have, in point of fact, had a popular series of books and a TV show based on those books, wherein the main hero is a serial killer. You might be thinking, so what about rule #2, pithy internet list maker? Isn’t serial torture and murder a bit more alienating than public masturbation and embezzlement?
Sure. But Dexter didn’t kill innocent people. He tracked down and killed other serial killers and other people who, while not serial killers, we’re still repugnant enough that readers thought they deserved to be killed. He was a monster who had the unlikely self-control to limit himself to preying exclusively on other monsters—monsters that the readers themselves wanted him to kill. That’s the only reason his story ever saw the light of day.
So yeah, there’s a way around every rule. If you can find a trick to make your crime solving public masturbator a hero for the masses, that’s a heck of a feat and hats off to you.
Finally, your character’s intention is vital. Darren wants to be a lawyer who genuinely helps the poor and the weak. Issabella wants to be a highly competent and respected lawyer her clients can depend on. Dexter Morgan wants to be a ‘good’ serial murderer.
It seems obvious, but your hero has to want to do the right thing. Even if they keep tripping over their flaws or weaknesses, we readers have a large capacity to forgive them their failures, so long as they continue to want to fight the good fight. Because that means they are us. They struggle. They fail. They brush themselves off and try again. That describes the person we all want to be in our real lives. So when the hero, in the face of their flaws, manages to succeed in the end, we can all share in the feeling of success.
That’s how we want life to be, even if it often isn’t. Lots of people with a drinking problem never overcome it. Plenty of fine folks never conquer the anxieties that stand in the way of their goals. And, to the best of my knowledge, no serial killer has ever been within a country mile of being a principled hero who only kills the bad men. Fiction—specifically genre fiction, which is what I’ve been talking about here—is all about giving the reader someone just as imperfect as they are, who wants to be better just like they do, and who ultimately triumphs just like they hope they will.
Monday, September 28th - Supernatural Snark
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