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.

And later:

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.

Fair enough, I suppose.  Except that the car had just committed multiple traffic violations, endangering the public.  If you wanted to get police attention wouldn't you lead with that?  Or at least mention it?

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).



    Annoyed Readers Share Egregious Stories Too Awful to Accept.

  2. Story killer, no doubt.

    I see so much of this in movies, I walk out. We watched one made-for-tv miniseries with lots of promise, about highly intelligent women solving a complex series of murders while the cops went after the wrong suspect. We liked it until the women put themselves in position to be the latest victims. These chracters were too bright to do something as stupid and careless as this but the did it anyway for no logical reason.


  3. A good list, Rob. The depressing truth is that the average reader (non-author) doesn't even notice these issues.

    I just reviewed a book by a Big Name Author, a frequent NYT Bestseller, that had an unbelievable plot with impossible and unlikely events, wooden characters, worse dialogue, and a deus ex machina ending that leads to a sequel. The prose sounded like a chimpanzee turned loose at a keyboard, too. The book will be published before the end of the year and I gave my review copy to one of the writer's fans two weeks ago. Two days ago, we met at the health club and he told me he's half-way through the book and loving every page.

    I see more an more of this stuff, and it would bother me less if it were only self-published work. But it isn't. :-(

  4. I can't think of a really snappy acronym--you have The Franchise[TM] on that. But in the last month, I've stopped reading because we had a hero who was T.S.T.L. (Too Stupid To Live.)

  5. O'Neil, the one that gets me in TV is how it is so magically easy for one character to find another in a big city, especially one who has been successfully out of sight for years. Then suddenly it's like they have GPS tracker on their back.

    I have a friend who stopped watching SHERLOCK because she thought Irene Adler was reduced to a girl-who-gets-rescued. Different people get annoyed over different things.

    Steve, are those who don't notice better off?

    Thanks for the comments, all.

  6. The other thing about the lack of cell phone: a Dead giveaway that the writer is over 65! It's like the 30 year old protagonist who is bopping along to the Beatles on the radio. I'm doing a blog on that one soon.

  7. Melodie: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/08/time-warp.html

    Last week I was in a store and a twenty-something woman was singing along with the instore music. I said "You can't possibly be old enough to know this song!" She replied: "I love Crosby Stills and Nash!" And yes, that's who it was.


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