Unidealized Marty Stu

One thing you hear all the time as a new writer is don’t create main characters who are idealized versions of yourself. Finally, when this was said at Frolicon I asked about unidealized versions of yourself. This question apparently was novel because the presenter didn’t really have an answer.

I don’t either but I do know why I asked the question. I asked it because I write detective fiction. I write detective because I read detective. I read it because it is wish fulfillment.

It is wish fulfillment of a kind.

Most readers at this point probably think they know what kind of wish fulfillment. They are thinking about the fact that detective fiction is full of tough guys who win fights. They are thinking about how the detective always sleeps with the female victim or the female villain. Sometimes he does it with both.

While all of those things are true they are not why I find wish fulfillment in detective fiction. If that was true my favorite detective would probably be Travis McGee although if you look closely you’ll see the things that make detectives heroic are a mixed bag even for McGee. However, McGee is not my favorite detective.

My favorite is Matthew Scudder. Matt was a cop and a mildly corrupt one. He wasn’t taking drug money or covering for murders but he would take a few bucks to share information or be some muscle. He left the force after accidently killing a young girl. In the first five books he is a drunk and the rest of them he is a sober alcoholic. He left his wife, lives in a residence hotel in NYC, and his girlfriend is a higher end prostitute in the early novels.

So my wish fulfillment is imaging being a drunk corrupt ex-cop sleeping with a whore.

How can that be an idealized character.

How can that be wish fulfillment.

He is the latter because he is a great example of the key features of the detective in the good as well as the bad. It is in those good things that I find the wish fulfillment.

Scudder is a man of his word. He is a man of action. He is a man with a sense of justice. He is a man well aware of his failings. He is a man doing penance.

Yes, the price of those is loneliness and relative poverty at least in the early novels. However, as the series goes on he does penance. He provides justice but also learns mercy.

I would also point out those prices are just as common for other detectives. McGee gets the girl but generally loses her by the end of the book. In at least The Deep Blue Goodbye he loses her to a bullet. The closest Mike Hammer comes to true love ends with him killing the woman in self-defense and admitting it was easy. The wish fulfillment of girls and toughness leaves nearly all detectives and, for that matter, their relatives in spy fiction loners without attachment.

If all you see is the girls and the guns and the tough talk you’re not really reading the stories.

In the end detective is arguably the most masculine of genre fiction despite claims made about science fiction. The virtues and failings are ones we very much associate with men. Detective fiction is about men who, despite being alone, find ways to maintain their honor in a compromised world. It is about men who, despite being alone, find purpose, something most men without children lack.

It is in those things I find wish fulfillment. I want to maintain my honor and principles in the face of the everyday compromises the world wants. I want to find purpose in getting up everyday.

I want to be Matthew Scudder in the ways that matter.

Which leads to my question at the conference, is it okay to write about a main character who is an unidealized me. Is it okay to write a drunk and broke Herb with honor and principles and purpose.

Because that is who I tend to write.

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