No one is irreplaceable

Another one of my pet peeves in fiction is the Mission To Capture/Rescue The ONE PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE Who Can Do The Science Stuff To Fix The ONE WIDGET IN THE UNIVERSE That Can Save The World. 

Seriously, it irks me.

You know the plot device I’m talking about.  The Big Top Secret Thingamabob has sprung a leak and Pure Liquid Unbelivium is pouring out all over the place, which will declutch the dynamic frammistan of the cosmos if it isn’t stopped in time.

It must be fixed, and there is only one scientist in the world who can fix it, who is either a) living on a private island dripping with rabid mercenaries (if the scientist is a bad guy) or b) locked in an impenetrable prison dripping with rabid mercenaries (if the scientist is a good guy.)

So the heroes must drop from helicopters in the dead of night and blow things up, shoot people, plug stuff with blinking lights into other stuff with blinking lights, and generally be all heroic and stuff.

Oh, and did I mention that TIME IS RUNNING OUT?

Think about it.  The Top Secret Thingamabob is the size of a junior high school.  Building it took a dozen engineers, a general contractor, a handful of subcontractors, a couple of hundred union grunts, and the woman who approved the invoices for the business office.

When the heroes are unrolling their stolen blueprints and figuring how to sneak into Ultimatraz to free Professor Supergenius, I would love for someone to say, “Hey, you know, I bet the lead shopfitter knows how to stop the unbelievium leak, and he works just down the street, selling chemicals for a dry cleaning supply house.  Maybe we can offer him about three percent of what this mission would cost and he’ll fix it for us.  Heck, if we mention that the whole freakin’ world is about to explode he might do it for free!”

Then everybody looks glum for a minute and starts putting away their crossbows and C4.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love capers.  Sneaking around, deactivating alarms, hanging upside-down over pressure plates and drilling open safes, that canned smoke stuff that makes the invisible lasers visible–I love that stuff.  Heck, the whole reason that I became a locksmith in the first place is that I couldn’t find any openings for an international jewel thief.

But it has to make sense.  I’m bad that way.  Nothing shoots down my enjoyment of a caper faster than when I figure out an easier way that the heroes could have achieved the same end.  I wrote a post a while back about deactivating rogue computer systems.

Anyone who is smart enough to know how to deactivate alarm systems and crawl safely through a mine field while being pursued by robotic dobermans is going to be smart enough to look at every other option first.  Too often, I think, writers are looking for a reason to include an action sequence, while the characters, to be realistic, would be looking at every possible way to avoid an action sequence.

Nobody wants to get shot at, even if you do look rather fetching in a tailored bulletproof vest.

So, fellow authors, I challenge you to stop and think, “Is there some way that my heroes could get done what they need to get done without risking life and limb in the process?” and when you think of something easier, have them do it that way. 

I did that in Cannibal Hearts.  In one particular sequence I had a daring showdown with an antagonist planned.  I had even written some clever banter in my head for the heroes to distract the bad guy with while they moved in position. Then I suddenly realized that the building where they were “trapped” had a back door, and I had to scrap the showdown.  Now, I could have written it they way I’d originally planned, and hoped that no one considered the back door, but I have too much respect for my readers.  If I thought of it, so would they.

Respect your readers, and respect your characters.  Don’t make them risk their lives unless it’s really necessary.

And in conclusion, have some Muse!

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
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14 Responses to No one is irreplaceable

  1. Sue says:

    Great vid – thanks 😀

  2. Misha, you nailed it again!

  3. Papi Z says:

    Well boo. Now I have to re-write my surefire guaranteed mega hit action/adventure book! I was hoping no one would wonder why the team didn’t just hit the “off” button… darn it! 😀

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Trust me, it’ll be a stronger book for it.

      • David Emeron says:

        It drives me positively buggy sir!–this type of thing. Still, by way of playing Devil’s Wossname, not all stories are so reliant on everything making sense. For example:

        http://bcove.me/ut88jh60

        Which turns a 10 hour epic into about 15 minutes errand… Plenty of time to buy salted pork and longbottom leaf afterward. : )

        And thank you so much for Catskinner II!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My dear Mrs. Emeron and I will be reading it starting this evening. We have not decided upon the matter regarding whether we will read it aloud, or just read at our own paces and see who wins! (She will, in that event.) I read at spoken speed when it is for pleasure–I mean that quite literally; I think it is a function of being a musician although I am not sure. I have even gathered some data to verify this; therefore I save no time at all by reading an enjoyable novel to myself as opposed to reading it aloud.

        Thanks again!

        I hope this series continues for years to come because it is one truly enjoyable universe to explore, not to mention the most unique I have encountered in quite a long while.

  4. KokkieH says:

    You just put your finger on another Dan Brownism that’s been bothering me. Is Robert Langdon really the ONLY expert on the Vatican, Renaissance architecture and art, cryptology and the founding of the United States in the world? (Okay, he probably is the only person who is an expert on all of these fields, but I’m sure each of these fields have their own experts.) With the last book I kept thinking, isn’t there someone else they can ask for help, for a change?

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I haven’t read any of Dan Brown’s novels, but he certainly isn’t the only one who uses that particular trope. A lot of thrillers open with the “You’re the only one who can do this!” speech, and I just don’t buy it.

      • KokkieH says:

        How do you feel about fantasy and SF where there is a “chosen one” who has to save the day? Could someone other than Frodo have taken the ring to Mordor? In fantasy especially it is often a person’s birth, usually involving an element of prophecy, that uniquely qualifies that person to wield whatever magic or weapon is needed to prevail. It does appear in SF also at times, e.g. Star Wars. Your thoughts?

      • MishaBurnett says:

        I would say that it depends on the metaphysics of the world. It can be done well, I think, and lend a sense of tragic inevitability to the story. In Tim Power’s “The Anubis Gates”, for example, the main character finds that he is reliving the life of a historical figure and can’t change history–he knows what is going to happen to him and he can’t stop it.

        Most of the time, however, I think that kind of “destiny” is laziness on the part of the writer. Instead of exploring logical alternatives, the writer just plays the destiny card to sweep plot holes under the rug.

        I actually wrote a post on this subject once: https://mishaburnett.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/when-what-you-know-aint-so/

  5. Sue says:

    In screen writing class we were told that it is perfectly fine to end not with the hero attaining his goal but in rejecting it for some reason or even if he attains the goal, not a happy ending.

    One of my WIP does have a destiny plot, but that is not the theme. The focus is on one of the characters manning up before he can take his rightful place.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Now that’s an interesting take on it–the awareness of destiny as a spur or even a burden for the character. A character who is driven to become worthy of the destiny that is laid upon him or her is going to be much different than a character who just automatically succeeds at everything.

      • Sue says:

        Wow thank you. It’s a spin off of another WIP also incomplete. I’m still playing with the synopsis.It’s a group of 4 teens, but the 5th, Robert, isn’t aware of his destiny, yet he’s a key player

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