06 November 2019
How to Kill Your Story
I have been reading a novel by an author I much admire and have run into a roadblock. About a third of the way through the main character began acting like an A.S.S.
I refer to a person with Amateur Sleuth Syndrome.
I will not name the author or title (I only review things I like) so forgive my vagueness in what follows. X is in jail, accused of murdering Y. Our main character, Hero, is trying to prove him innocent. Hero gets a call from a Mysterious Stranger, offering to provide the evidence he needs, but when he goes to meet good 'ol Mysterious he is locked in a building and almost killed by the same M.O. that took out Y.
Okay, so far, so good.
But why didn't Hero have a cell phone when he got locked in? This book was written well within the age of ubiquitous cells, so where the heck was it?
It gets worse. Having escaped with his life Hero now has a compelling bit of evidence that X is innocent - specifically an attempted second murder. Does he inform the cops?
Heaven forbid. Instead, amateur that he is, he is determined to get at the truth himself. His flimsy, off-the-cuff defense for this is that the cops have already made up their minds about X and wouldn't be interested.
So he is definitely acting the A.S.S. But I diagnose another illness complicating the case of this suffering piece of prose. Namely, E.A.T.S. Editor Asleep at The Switch. Because any editor worthy of his two hour lunch should have spotted these issues, which the writer could have solved in a few minutes.
Dang, said Hero. I left my cell phone on the breakfast table. Or forgot to charge it. Or there's no signal in this building. How inconvenient, seeing as how I am about to die and everything.
I don't dare go to the cops, Hero explained. They'll just think I faked the crime to try to get X out of jail.
Not a very good argument, that, but better than a whole heap of nothing.
As long as I'm complaining, let me tell you about two other plot-killers I have encountered. One was a short story featuring a woman suffering from U.G. By this I mean Unnecessary Guile. This private eye needed to know who owned a car so she contacted a cop friend and used all her Feminine Wiles to persuade him to look up the information for her.
And then there was a story in which a police officer was guilty of Cop Rejecting Accepted Procedure, or C.R.A.P. He chose to get information in a way he knew would make it unusable in court. Okay, there are lots of fictional fuzz who bust the rules left and right, but this guy was supposedly before (and after) a straight arrow. So what were we supposed to make of this weird aberration? Methinks somebody got lazy, and I don't think it was the character.
I hope you find these tips useful. Follow them and it will be less likely that your reader will engage in something T.A.B.U. (Tossing Away Book Unfinished).