Sunday, April 24, 2011

Characters and believable risks

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I'm at the point where I need to do a major edit on an action scene in my novel. Ugh. I love watching things blow-up in movies, and chases---ooh! Chases are the best, especially car chases. Sadly, I don't have explosions or car chases in my book, just a scary person. The thing about these sorts of sequences is that the main character has to put herself in jeopardy somehow, and it's hard to do that without falling into "the idiot in the attic" trap that James Frey mentions in How to Write a Damn Good Novel. For those of you who aren't familiar with that phrase yet, here is my quick and relatively inarticulate summary:

SchimmelstoelThe Idiot in the Attic
Think about a bad horror movie. Do you have one in your mind? Okay, wonderful! Now, think about that first scene when the heroine with big boobs hears something go bump upstairs. She tries to call her boyfriend on the phone, but the line's dead. She wraps her tiny shrug across her cleavage and starts walking up the stairs. As she ascends, you scream at the screen, "What are you doing? Don't go up there! Don't you hear the scary theme music? Haven't you seen one of these movies before? You're making a huge mistake!"

I totally appreciate the problem with creating a scene like this because it is annoying to read about someone or watch someone who's being a total idiot. I don't want to go out of my way to experience being an idiot vicariously. I do just fine on my own. The trouble is, if your main character does everything perfectly and never does anything stupid, it's hard to put her in jeopardy. Of course, if all goes well, the situation arises due to the character's flaw. Let's just hope the flaw isn't a love of attics.