Running shoes - an essential tool of any crime writer?08 May 2012
Have you noticed how many good guys run in crime novels? The good guys run down endless swathes of virgin white sand, Atlantic waves crashing upon shores, perhaps the odd surfer riding a roller or crashing in the breakers. Alternatively they run along a craggy, windswept unforgiving landscape which might also be a dune bordered beach in a bleak northern part of England, or may be a fell, mountain range, forest just about anywhere on the globe. Whichever, the good guys - male and female - run. I have come to regard the run as a bit of a crime good-guy cliche now - a bit like the compulsory dog in a disaster movie. I look out for it but am also a bit disappointed by it. So, as a writer thinking about character and story development I thought about the purpose of ‘the run’ in crime fiction.
I mentioned my pondering to a friend who said “running is cool” so, does that mean running is used to enable the building of a likeable, positive character - someone (of a certain age?) who takes care of themselves, and lets face it _attractively _Amazonian or butch? Is running something ‘good’ people do? Bad guys run of course, but generally this tends to be ‘away’. I have yet to come across a crime novel bad guy who runs recreationally or to run through the crime again.
Is the run an analogy meant to convey that the good guy too wants to run away and/or escape from the awful, terrible, dreadful crime. Is it a clever tool which plays subliminally on the readers psyche in a way that makes us feel that there is something to run from and in doing so, gives a depth to the story? Have you noticed too how often the run is used to recap the story or the clues or to introduce new ways of thinking about the evidence so far ‘As he ran Jeff thought about the goldfish flopping about in the shallow water and suddenly with startling clarity realised - it wasn’t a goldfish at all, it was a koi carp!’. Apart from the clumsy ‘solving the crime whilst thinking about it on a run’ the next worst use of it I have seen is the ‘run as word count filler’ tool. The reader is forced to revisit the plot and the side line of expensive running shoes with no apparent addition to the story. Poor writerly technique that one. And anyway, what is it about running? Why not heroes who kayak or build walls for inspiration?
As a prolific reader I find myself wearily irritated when the protagonist gets out the running shoes and the internal dialogue starts before the laces are even fastened. Certainly none of my characters will be runners (I am pondering a character being a cyclist maybe). I think perhaps I need to be quite careful how I use such tools, be clear about whether they are there to develop plot or character, and to be mindful that some readers (I am one of them) find crime fiction hero runners rather tedious. I wonder if I might make my next bad guy a jogger - nope, doesn’t really work does it?