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We return to your regularly scheduled rant.
One of my single favorite literary characters in one Sherlock Holmes. He is also one the most misunderstood, and certainly one of the most misrepresented. Part of the trick of writing smart and clever characters if that the writer must actually be smart and clever. There is a certain amount of it you can fake- your character can tell you what 42 times 326 is off the top of their head or what the capital of South Dakota is, and no one cares that you used a calculator or googled it.
There is another side to the coin, and that is what we could term ‘The Sherlock Effect’. That is to say, Holmes is the inspiration for every modern detective, but not just in his methods. You see, Holmes is aloof, sometimes abrasive, sometimes apparently unconcerned, and frequently asexual. And because a lot of people who write detective stories are not smart and/or clever, or at least not as much so as Doyle, they latch on to those characteristics. Holmes was jerk, they ostensibly reason, so in order for this character to be compelling, he much be a jerk.
i09 tackled the Smartest Man in the Room aspect of this a while ago, and did quite a good job of it, so I will try to avoid re-hashing that. But lately I’ve been seeing ads for Backstrom, who is just that- smarter than everyone else, and a complete jerk (which is essentially the tagline), and it’s exactly the same goddamn thing. Which, hey, I guess it sells, but would it kill some of these writers to come up with an orignal character, not one that is a poor facsimile that completely fails to capture the spirit, much less the nuance, of Holmes himself?
Or- god forbid– it was something other than a white male. Maybe an empathetic woman (you’re all watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, right?)? Or literally any person of color (Dule Hill in a lead role? He was amazing in Phsych)? Lord knows, set in the United States, one would have no shortage of depth of character with any combination of those characteristics. Social struggle? Social commentary? Half of it writes itself, oh and by the way, your character gets to come off as a good guy without being smugly superior, or, ya know, blatantly sexually harassing everyone in sight.
Or just keep writing crappy Sherlock clones. Whichever.