What Happens When Your Heroes Have Feet of Clay?

The good news is I’ve written about 12 K on the final installment of the Sixth Sense series, Deal with the Devil. Not as far along as I’d hoped to be at this time. I’m still struggling to get back into the writing groove, as well as relearn my characters all over again.

One of the more interesting–and challenging–things I’ve run into during this process is a redefinition of who my heroes are.

When I began writing this series back in 2010 (that long ago? Yikes!), I made my protagonists FBI agents. Why? Because I like mysteries and suspense, and so it only made sense to center a series around characters in law enforcement. After all, that’s where the action is, right? Think of all the lovely storytelling you can create around such protagonists. They’re on the side of law and order, they have dangerous and challenging jobs, and as a writer, this is perfect for placing them in jeopardy and watching the adventure unfold.

But events of the past few years have me questioning the degree to which we venerate cops, agents, firefighters, military servicemen and the like. No, I’m not saying that all such personnel are bad any more than I’m saying all such personnel are good, but it does strike me that as far as our entertainment goes, if it’s not a superhero or doctor, then our protagonists are usually some members of the above group.

To a certain degree, we’ve been programed to believe these people are automatically heroes.

After the events of BLM, someone challenged me to stop watching any television program that featured a connection with law enforcement in some way, and I’m telling you, virtually every program I enjoy or have enjoyed in the past has some connection with the law. Lucifer? Check. Castle. Numb3rs. Psych. Women’s Murder Club. My Life is Murder, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, heck, even the original MacGyver was a secret agent. The challenge became trying to find something I watch that didn’t have a law enforcement connection.

Now, undoubtedly, the biggest reason for this is my love of mysteries combined with the great potential for storytelling with this kind of protagonist. But even old standbys such as Star Trek, Stargate, and Star Wars have military (albeit fictional) backgrounds.

Recent events have made me take a harder look at this wholesale veneration of law enforcement personnel as heroes–an extension of the Westerns in which the Sheriff was the town hero.

I have to say, it’s made me think twice about blithely putting out yet another story where the FBI agents are the good guys. Without questioning the organization as a whole.

Someone pointed out in the comments below that I’m not being very clear here: I’m not saying we should reject law enforcement characters as protagonists wholesale. I’m saying, however, that we’ve given them a free pass so to speak in the hero department. That maybe we should think about that when we tell our stories.

The easy answer is to say this is just fictional, and not worry if it is also problematic in the face of the events that took place at Capitol Hill this past week. To not look too closely at our billionaire playboy/cop/firefighter/cowboy/Navy Seal/Special Agent heroes because it’s just a romance trope, right?

The truth is, I’m going to continue reading, writing, and watching programs about such characters because I like the kinds of stories that go with them. I’m not a big fan of sit-coms. I avoid medical dramas whenever possible. I like mysteries, sci-fi, and paranormal backdrops to my romances. I like stories where the good guys win. I need stories where the good guys win.

I’m just not convinced I really know who the good guys are anymore. And it’s something I’m going to think about as I move forward as a storyteller.

8 thoughts on “What Happens When Your Heroes Have Feet of Clay?

  1. During my loooong career in health care, I met a lot of interesting people. Before my patients were to be examined, I would talk with them. Probably my favorite person i talked to was a retired FBI agent. This gentleman was soft spoken, intelligent, and had a youthful sparkle in his eye. At the time, I was really into the X-Files, and I asked him (jokingly) what he thought of “them”. “Oh yeah,” he said with a mischievous grin. “Those guys were spooky!” I’m still not sure if he was serious, but I’m inclined to believe him!.

    What I’m saying is, while members of a group may all exhibit similarities, there will always be those who stand out. Those who may willingly embody the core tenets of a group or organization, but fiercely, quietly, maintain their sense of self and individuality. So the FBI aspect of your stories, in my mind, enhances the story but does not overtake it. Keep on keeping on, Sarah…you know you’re That Good!!

    • Thank you for sharing that story. He sounds like a charming man. 🙂

      And I do hear what you’re saying. I believe that the majority of the men and women who’ve chosen such difficult and challenging careers do so because they believe in their sworn duties.

      I also believe that these professions frequently support a certain kind of mentality–the kind that caused leaders to lie about the security measures in place at Capitol Hill on Jan 6th, to grossly underprepare their ranks, and to withhold the support needed to put down an armed insurrection. Had it not been for one quick-thinking officer who led rioters *away* from the Chambers, allowing time for a lockdown to take effect, things probably would have been much, much worse. He was definitely a hero.

      But there was a bigger security presence at the March for Science, for heaven’s sake. And key people in the Pentagon, acting under Presidential orders, denied deploying the National Guard to protect members of Congress.

      So I’m not saying I’ll stop reading and writing about men in such professions–but I am going to be a more discerning reader. And my characters are going to question orders that go against their sworn oaths.

      It’s just food for thought as I go forward as a writer, that’s all. Your confidence in me is very encouraging though! 🙂
      Sarah Madison recently posted..What Happens When Your Heroes Have Feet of Clay?My Profile

  2. I live in Argentina, and I’d spent my teen years in a dictatorship, considering military, police, heck! anyone with a uniform! (and that includes churchmen) a dangerous enemy who could make me disappear without a trace and without regret, so I’ve lived with this dichotomy my whole life.

    I adore mysteries, and I think my logical to be able to like the protagonist was the idea that they were from a different country, and that in that country, maybe things were different.

    Nowadays, I know that even in those dark, dark times there were honourable men wearing their uniforms, men who risked their lives to help the victims, men who stand up against the atrocities, men who actually paid a very high price by refusing to follow orders.

    So, IMHO, it’s okay to make those men the heroes. And yes, show the problems that the institutions have is also okay. Because nothing and nobody is truly good or bad. Hell, your characters are proof of that, as they usually are in grey zones, and I love that.

    What mean to say is: it’s okay to dig deeper into your character’s background, it’s okay to challenge the concept of hero, and it’s okay to ‘want’ heroes. Because, in the end, we read to imagine a better world.

    • So, IMHO, it’s okay to make those men the heroes. And yes, show the problems that the institutions have is also okay. Because nothing and nobody is truly good or bad. Hell, your characters are proof of that, as they usually are in grey zones, and I love that.

      THIS. Exactly so, Claudia. This is the element I find I need to bring to the storytelling–not a black and white stance but the shades of grey. Thank you for stating this more clearly than I did when I wrote this post.

      And thank you for sharing a little of your personal background. That helps me a lot moving forward from this point!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..What Happens When Your Heroes Have Feet of Clay?My Profile

  3. Hello! I just read and finished your Sixth Sense series. I knew from the ending you didn’t mean for it to be the last book, so I have come searching . So excited to read in January of this year you were hard at the final installment. Just checking to see if book 4 is still in the plans. Love the series!

    • Missy, thank you so much for your kind words. I won’t lie, these past few (four? five?) years have been really tough on me. Too many losses and tragedies to count. (Honestly, if I put them all in a story to happen to one character, people would scream I wasn’t being realistic…) So perhaps it’s not accurate to say I am hard at work on the final installment. I’d hoped to finish a draft this year, and it’s not looking like that will happen. I’m no longer projecting a promised deadline, as it disappoints everyone (myself included!) when I fail to meet it. But I will say that I’ve been chatting with someone who has given me ideas for jumpstarting my mojo again, so I haven’t given up hope on finishing the series. It’s readers like you that make me determined to do so.

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