How to Write a Great Detective Character for a TV Script

If you are a crime writer, you probably are a fan of several TV crime series such as Elementary, Chicago PD, Gotham, CSI (any of them), NCIS, Castle, Backstrom, Battle Creek, and The Mysteries of Laura to name a few (how much is a few?). (Okay, some of these shows are off the air.) If so, you may have noticed all the lead characters have similar characteristics. Using these characteristics, you can create your own protagonist detective for your script.

They are as follows:

  1. Your detective must be single and straight. He/she might be divorced, engaged or in a relationship with a SO (significant other). Currently, there’re few married or gay detectives on TV. Too Bad. Castle is one exception.

2.Your detective has, or has had, one or more significant personal issues. It might be drugs such as in the case of Sherlock in Elementary, alcohol and cigarette addictions as in Backstrom, sex as in Battle Creek, and exes as in The Mysteries of Laura.

  1. Trust and honesty can be handled in one of two ways. Your detective either lies to his/her boss or is totally honest. If your protagonist lies or doesn’t share things with the boss, he/she knows about clues and leads but keeps them secret. John Constantine in Constantine, Charlie Tucker, and in State of Affairs, are good examples. Protagonists who always share are represented by Avery Ryan in CSI-Cyber.
  2. For those detectives with SOs, there are four situations:
  • They lie to their boss and are honest with their SO. They are called Wusses.
  • They lie to their SOs and are honest with their bosses. They are called ass kissers.
  • They lie to both their bosses and SOs. They are called losers and cheaters among other names.
  • They are totally honest with both their bosses and their SOs. They are called boring and never in up in a TV series.
  1. All detectives have certain behaviors:
  • They chase leads and clues without backup. This may be because they want all the glory. It also might be they don’t want to feel stupid if the lead doesn’t pan out.
  • They race to save a victim even though calling ahead to the local law enforcement would save precious time and lives.
  • They walk into dark rooms with a tiny pen light so the perp can see them coming. I guess their departments can’t afford those eight D batteries flash lights that can double as a night stick. They refuse to turn on the damn lights.
  • They sit in park cars in plain sight directly across the street from the perp’s house. Usually there’s a light under the dash that lights up their faces. WTF?
  • They refuse to wear head protection during SWAT raids.
  • They are obsessed about the current case. They work 24 hours per day. At home they set up bulletin boards and post pictures and clues on them.
  1. Your protagonist is a team play (always) or a rogue – loose cannon (always). Team players are represented by shows like CSI, Bones, NCIS, Chicago PD, and Scorpion. Rogues are shown in shows like Elementary and Gotham.

If you follow these guidelines, you will have a successful script.

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Add yours →

  1. Detectives are okay but, to be an Agent for the NSA under the DORD is is the BoMB!


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