Karin Slaughter: Why Will Trent's Faults Make him a Better Detective.
-- We're happy to have a guest post from Karin Slaughter today. Check out her latest novel Criminal--
When I created the character of Will Trent, my primary goal was to make him different from the male lead of my Grant County series. Though I wanted Will to have the same sensitivities and moral compass, there are lots of things about Will that make him an atypical hero-primarily, the fact that he is dyslexic.
Many authors use reading fluency as shorthand for character development. If someone enjoys Proust or Austen, that’s your cue that this is the person you need to root for. It’s the obverse of the Hollywood trope of the bad guy always smoking a cigarette. For Will, I wanted his dyslexia to be something that he’s ashamed of. He can read, just not quickly. So, a report that might take a fluent person a few seconds to read might take as long as five minutes for Will. Having this secret shame about his disorder gives him something in common with the bad guys he tracks down. When Will sits across from someone in an interrogation room, he knows what it feels like to have something bad about you that you don’t want anyone else to know about.
I would also argue that Will’s dyslexia makes him an even better detective. If someone hands him a forensic report, he’s not going to scan it quickly and say, “Let’s go.” He’s going to pick out a few words, then ask the person who gave him the report, “What do you think?” As an author, that’s a useful tool to have. Will is also extremely observant. He’s always studying other people for hints or clues that he thinks he might be missing because he’s different from everyone else. This outsider status, in many ways, gives Will his biggest sense of self.
When I first wrote about Will in Triptych, I knew that eventually he’d end up with a woman who is a doctor—the first woman in his life who sees him as simply having a disorder rather than damaged in some way by an incurable affliction. So, here’s a guy who for thirty-something years has felt unworthy, and here is a woman who sees him as just a really great guy who’s good at his job and is nice to her dogs. It’s a very jarring dynamic for him, and in Criminal we see Will struggling with Sara’s perception. She learns a lot about him in Criminal, but there are still some things he’s holding back. Will can’t understand how someone who’s as good as Sara ended up in his life. And, like many people with secrets, he’s also scared that the darkness inside of him will eventually chase her away.