Every day around the world there are people having a drink, smoking a cigarette, popping a headache tablet, or taking something to boost their energy or calm them down. These are the crutches our modern society uses to cope with the world we live in. Whether we like it or not.
This is also the world that the characters in contemporary mystery novels inhabit. These characters are all involved in some way or another with one or more murders. Murder is the ultimate horror. Knowing, seeing or finding someone murdered is a horrific, life-changing experience.
How do let your characters cope with this? Do you let them cope in a way that is realistic? Do you let them use any or all of these crutches?
Hard-boiled private eyes with endless cigarettes, jaded detectives with drinking problems – these have become tropes, something we try to avoid. But have we erred too far on the side of caution? Are we now creating characters that are simply politically correct puppets? Puppets that go about their business cocooned in cotton, unable to express any real emotion, incapable of doing anything that remotely resembles a vice?
I’m not talking about using shock tactics to provoke an aggrieved response in the reader or making light of what can be serious addictions. I am also not suggesting filling your novel with drink-swilling, alcoholic, drug-addicted, abusive, potty-mouthed, chain-smoking characters. Unless the story calls for it.
I do believe, however, that the skillful use of politically incorrect vices can be a very effective way to craft a character that is flawed, believable, accessible and unforgettable.
The unforgettable Sherlock Holmes had a slight problem with cocaine. It never got in the way of the story.
What is your viewpoint on this?