The other night I watched an episode of Waking the Dead, a popular and often shocking crime thriller series in the UK (and no, I don’t watch *just* to ogle the yummy Trevor Eve). One of the characters came home late at night, to her flat where she lived alone, having been through a traumatic experience where her younger sister was kidnapped. She crossed the living room to find the balcony window open. The curtain fluttered in the breeze. She looked startled, as if she didn’t remember opening it herself: looked warily around the room.
Then took off her jacket and settled on the couch.
Now come on! How many of us would do that? I can tell you, I’d have been back out of that flat faster than Speedy Gonzales, locking it behind me and racing down to the police station. Doesn’t she ever watch those programmes on the TV?
But no, she sat there until (as anticipated) the spooky villain appeared in the flat, terrifying her. Even then, she didn’t dial 999, but called her sister with a tearful warning. He approached: she backed up to the balcony.
Hey! Again! I’d have done everything I could to get back towards the front door, or maybe the kitchen where I could have grabbed a knife to defend myself.
No. She backed up, toppled over the balcony and died from the fall. No clue left as to who he was, no fibres under the fingernails, no blood spatters from even an abortive knife defence, no scribbled note of his name, no thumping on a neighbour’s wall to alert them she was in trouble.
Amazing that Trevor and his team caught the villain in the end at all!
Well, of course, we know that faced with this horror in real life, most of us – I know I would – would be a blubbering wreck, not a calm-thinking, ballsy heroine. So the show was far more true to life than fiction. But with my tongue just slightly in my cheek, how often do we read about the heroine – or hero, for that matter – suffering from the TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) syndrome?
You know how it is. They follow a suspected murdered down a dark lane / into a forest / up the stairs of an abandoned house. They pursue the fleeing villain, never calling for backup, without any weapon, never telling anyone where they are. They open the door that’s been locked for 10 years / they confront the person they think did it / they fall for the suspect who has a very dubious past or unusual obsession… etc etc.
My favourite? Their witness calls and says “I’ll tell you who did it when you get here”. We all *know* that witness will be murdered by the time our hero/heroine gets there. Why on earth don’t they *insist* the witness gives the info over the phone? Or text it? Even the initials? Please? *sigh*
I’ve been accused in the past of daft plot devices, of allowing my heroes to be distracted by Sexy Romance when they should be concentrating on Devious Mystery, of allowing them to Miss The Critical Clue that any reader with half a brain can spot! (though possibly with the benefit of hindsight *heh*). It’s a tricky job to balance romance and mystery and plausibility. Do you have any helpful tips – so I don’t fall for that again?
In conclusion, Authors, heed this warning: “A damsel in distress does not equate to a stupid woman, so a writer must be careful to draw the reader into the experience without insulting her intelligence”. (Suite101.com).
Or maybe just: “Clare, no Sexy Romance when the balcony window curtain is fluttering.”