Re: RARA-AVIS: Professionals and Amateurs

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 02 Feb 2000

I don't consider a professional character any more
"realistic" than an amateur. In some ways it's less so: how many private detectives, for instance, regularly have novel-length adventures full of conflict, mystery, action, damsels in distress and surprise endings?

Actually, I find the very word "realistic" unworkable in this context. I never considered Lew Archer a particularly "realistic" character (in the sense that I could actually find models for his character among living people) or the stories he finds himself emeshed in particularly "realistic". As many people have said, the Archer series is basically the same story over and over again. Thing is, it's a damn fine story, and every time I reread one of Macdonald's books I'm utterly persuaded of the truth of what he's showing me.

Yes, sure, sometimes you stumble across a writer like Elmore Leonard or Ross Thomas who seems to be showing you "the way things actually work". And I'm sure there's a lot of truth to what they say. But it's a testament to their skill as writers that you bought it in the first place.

To sum up: for me the important question is not "is a writer believable?" but rather "is he persuasive?" Can he convince you of the truth of what he's telling you? If bringing in the real world helps him do that, by all means go ahead. Lay on the cell phones, fax modems, and sattelite technology. If it gets in the way, though, make up some entertaining lie. It doesn't matter to me in the slightest. I believe in the truth of the hardboiled outlook, and that's far more important than these minor details.

--- wrote:
> Actually, I tend to like the amateurs. The pro's
> tend to be doing what
> they're doing by rote. Series characters (which PI's
> and police detectives
> tend to be) seldom get themselves killed, or even
> seem to be affected by what
> happens. A civilian who becomes interested for
> personal reasons (because
> someone they care about is killed or just their own
> obsessive curiosity about
> what's happening) tend to be more interesting and
> less cozy.

===== Doug Bassett
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