My guest blogger today is Robin Burcell. Robin, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worn many law enforcement hats—police officer, detective, and hostage negotiator. She's won the Anthony Award for her San Francisco Homicide Inspector Kate Gillespie novels, but her newest ventures, are about a forensic artist for the FBI. The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. Face of a Killer received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. View The Bone Chamber book video trailer here. She hopes you'll visit her website.
THE BONE CHAMBER is still hot on the shelves, but I've got two copies to give away to posters at this site. Check back on Friday to see the winners. I'll ask for snail mail addresses then. And now, here's Robin…
Danger Will Robinson! Dinner invitation with Jessica Fletcher is fatal!
For those of you not old enough to recall Lost in Space, or the robot who was there to warn young Will of the many dangers while traveling from planet to planet, you are no doubt old enough to at least have heard of the great TV series Murder She Wrote and what happened if one was unlucky enough to be invited anywhere that mystery writer Mrs. Jessica Fletcher was invited. This became known as the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome (JFS), which earned its place among other popular death-is-imminent terms like Red Shirters from Star Trek (anyone wearing a red shirt on an episode of Star Trek and not a main character was doomed to die in that episode).
There are worse fates in my opinion than the JFS. There is… (drum roll…) Too-Stupid-To-Live syndrome, better known as TSTL. Far too many characters in both books and TV suffer from TSTL. We see it all the time. In some cases, however, it is far worse than others. Especially in cases dealing with professionals who should know better. I’m talking about cops and FBI agents and spies even. Sending a girl alone down into the basement lit by one shaky bulb to investigate a noise when she knows the bad guy (whether a monster, serial killer or murdering ex-husband) is in the area is a prime example of TSTL. But when it’s a cop, it really ticks me off. I nearly threw a book across the room when a female officer went running after a bad guy without calling it in to dispatch, and without informing her partner who was a mere few feet away (albeit in a coffee shop at the time). And while I’d like to say that you’d rarely see something like this happen in a book written by a cop, I doubt that would be true. I’ve been guilty of it myself (in early drafts) for the sake of a good story. We often take liberties in fiction for this very reason, which is why I have taken this moment to stop you before you allow your own character to suffer from TSTL.
Let me offer an example of one of my own characters from an earlier series who suffered from TSTL. Kate Gillespie in EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES is a highly trained homicide detective. In a pivotal climactic scene, I have her and her partner enter a warehouse to search for the suspect. My friend read the first draft and said she felt Kate was being stupid entering that warehouse. (After all, Kate and partner get taken at gunpoint. This is the big moment.) She accused me of placing Kate in a TSTL moment. I argued that Kate had a partner. What more could anyone want? She said, “Would you enter that warehouse with only one back up if you knew a killer was in there?” And then she added the kicker, “Especially if you had the entire police force at your beck and call with one press of the radio key?” Well, no. Of course not. But this is fiction. She didn’t buy that. She was right. If I, as a real officer, wouldn’t enter that warehouse with only one other officer, then why on earth would I force poor Kate to do the same? I changed the scene so that there was a very, very valid reason for Kate and her partner to walk in there without additional back up. I turned a TSTL moment into a heroic-save-the-day-against-all-odds moment.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your story, and, for the sake of exciting, tense moments, allow your character to become involved in TSTL situations without meaning to.
In my current book, THE BONE CHAMBER, FBI forensic artist and special agent Sydney Fitzpatrick avoids TSTL when she hops a plane to Rome to investigate her friend’s death. Even though she isn’t assigned to this case, and technically shouldn’t be investigating—in fact is ordered off it—and there are some very dangerous people after her, she knows ahead of time that an agent is on that plane, so that gives her a built-in back up. And since she is conducting her investigation in an unofficial capacity, she doesn’t have the entire FBI Bureau at her beck and call. So it really makes her smart to make sure she has another agent to assist her on the case.
Ah, the lessons we learn from robots and space shows. How about you? Anyone care to relate your favorite TSTL moments from TV or the movies?