Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Females in Mysteries...the Cliches.

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Mysteries

Novels are full of cliches—it's the place where lazy writers go. In our genre women characters seldom get the full range of development. Sometimes it's the protag and sometimes it is other characters.Here's my take on the top 10 female cliches in the mystery genre.

1. Men can be hard guy PI's and be drunks or recovering drunks but, just like in society, women aren't allowed. Women can be PI's but they aren't allowed to drink too much and definitely not allowed to be addicted.

2. Attractive women are manipulative and not to be trusted.

3. They are also either sluts or totally out of reach sexually.

4. All are obsessed with shoes and fashion

5. They love to get together with friends—usually three others—and eat at a fern bar type restaurant.

6. They are fixated on their dads.

7. Their relationships are never happy and its either because the men they date are assholes or because the woman just can't give of herself fully.

8. Female PIs don't have children.

9. They can beat men up.

10. They have male authority figures in their lives who are totally unreasonable.

Once again, to me, cliches just mean lazy and unimaginative writing. Why not make every person a unique individual, like, you know, life?

Any to add or subtract?


  1. But we are obsessed with shoes (they either have to be gorgeous and cruel or cute and comfortable) and we do like to get together with our tribe at restaurants. There's no real need for ferns, though. It's not like we hide behind them. Or eat them.

  2. You nailed it, Tom. The one cliche I wanted to comment on was #8. Authors often leave children out of the picture for the convenience of writing a fast-paced story, and so their protagonists can take risks. Because if a woman has children and abandons them to babysitters for days at a time while she chases down the bad guys—readers will judge her for that. Male characters, including my own, get away with more of that.

    The TV show, Person of Interest, has a female cop character, who we know has a child, but we've never seen him. And she works crazy late hours with no mention of her son. I have to admit, it bugs me. So my kickass female characters simply don't have kids. We write fiction to live out our fantasies, right? :)

  3. One reason I loved the British series "Blue Murder" is that the woman cop who heads a homicide team has kids, including a baby, and has recently become a single mom. She is constantly juggling, having to leave them with dubious caregivers and sketchy meals. That feeling of never being where she should is so familiar from my early working days. It complicates the policewoman's work, and sometimes adds a bit of humor, but she does what she has to do.

  4. Tom, you always provide a fresh way of looking at things. And remind us to not take the easy way.

    I think if we really know our characters—make the effort to create someone three-dimensional and interesting—we'll move away from most of the cliches, but sometimes… a cliche is perfect.

    As I read your list, a lot of them could possibly be flipped for male protag cliches as well.


  5. Hey, Tom! Good on you. Although it's true: some women are obsessed with shoes.

    My favorite Brit Cop-show gripe? Ever see a detective or DCI or DI ask a PC to take care of a baby or kid? No, right? Ever see one ask a WPC to do it? WEEKLY. It drives me absolutely insane, as if merely having female genitalia means that, hey, SURE, we'll just use this police officer as a baby-sitter, or equally bad, sure, she knows how to take care of kids, because, after all, she's a GIRL. It's patent to me from British television that all of the Lynda LaPlante characters aside, women in British cop shops really don't have a chance in hell at equality.

    How do you think viewers would react if every week, the Superintendent or what-have-you automatically handed the squalling brat or snotty teenager or hysterical wife to the GAY cop, eh? It's really infuriating.

    Vis-a-vis women beating up men: physics will almost always out, but I do know some women who absolutely can beat up men larger than they are. And, when it's push comes to shove: guns are intended to be equalizers. It's one of the reasons women carry them. And only an idiot goes toe-to-toe with a psychopath any way, right?


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