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!