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A little while ago, I expressed some concern that my lovely policeman hero, Sam Plank, is just too nice.  Anyone who is too good is (a) boring, (b) predictable, and (c) unrealistic.  So I have been casting around for a character flaw with which to endow him.  And in the interests of full disclosure, and to do what this blog was created for – i.e. to give myself and others some insight into the thought processes involved in fiction writing – I will explain where I’m up to in my quest.

I spoke to some friends about this, explaining that I didn’t want anything too obvious and over-used (Sam as alcoholic, propping up his local bar, or opium fiend, spending his police pay in some Chinatown back room).  And someone suggested a fear of water.  Now, this could be interesting, I thought.  Sam lives in London, a city cut in half by a large river which – in 1825 – was much more an active part of Londonders’ lives than it is now.  And I revealed in “Fatal Forgery” that his father was a lighterman (a boatman unloading cargo ships), so maybe dad took little Sam out on his boat one day and the pair found a drowned body and Sam was traumatised…  I even did some research into what a drowning victim looks like – Google is a wonderful tool, but ugh!  I liked this idea very much, and so I mentioned it to my husband.  “But in ‘Fatal Forgery’, doesn’t he go all the way to Gibraltar on a boat, and talk about enjoying the voyage?” he said.  Damn and blast!  I had quite forgotten – isn’t that peculiar?  So Sam was obviously not scared of water.

Following the water theme, and having come across some contemporaneous news articles about “hydrophobia phobia” in 1830s London, I thought perhaps Sam could be terrified of dogs, having seen rabid hounds in the East End.  That was fun too – you can spend hours reading about these odd subjects.  But still it didn’t feel quite right.  And then I realised that I don’t want Sam to have a phobia – I want him to have a flaw, which is rather different.  Phobias can be addressed, and people tend to sympathise with them.  A flaw is part of your make-up, something that forms you.  Quite different.

So I turned back to “Fatal Forgery” – after all, any flaw I introduce now will have to be supported, perhaps suggested or hinted at, by whatever I have already written about Sam.  And it turns out that Sam is rather keen on his clothes.  He’s always making sure that his uniform is crisp and clean; he’s got an eye for a well-polished button and a neatly brushed hat.  And he used to be a barber and has a fine set of side-whiskers.  So I think Sam might be rather vain about his appearance.  All I need to do now is make sure that at some point in his next adventure his vanity gets in the way of him being a tip-top policeman, and I’ve got myself a bone fide character flaw.  Hurrah!

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