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!