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?
Monday, January 18, 2010
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Great post, Robin! I'm afraid I've put my own heroine in some of those spots just for the sake of the story. Sometimes it's hard to have a dramatic scene if the protag does everything by the book -- I always try to come up with extenuating circumstances -- no cell phone coverage, loved one in desperate peril, yadda, yadda.
I can see that it would be even harder if the protag was a cop-- good for you for turning out such believable stories!
Thanks, Vicki! And you're right. If you come up with believable extenuating circumstances, you've covered your bases--which is what the reader wants.
Robin, I can't wait to get my hands on the Bone Chamber, Have wanted it since I saw your trailer. There's a lot of things our protagonists would do, that we would never do in fiction. I think it all goes to motivation and if you set it up right. I'll never forget one book I read the author wrote... she knew she shouldn't go down in that basement, she knew it! And then the protag went anyway. That's not the motivation I'm talking about.
I'd like to ask you a question of all the positions you've held in law enforcement, which is your favorite. Great blog Meritorious Mysteries; I've bookmarked it!
Great blog! Nothing pisses me off more when reading a book (or watching a show/movie) than when the characters engage in TSTL activity... especially since it is almost always avoidable and, in my opinion, simply the result of lazy writing.
Which makes it all the more enjoyable when writers give it a little more effort and get it 'right', so thank you for that! ;-)
I think the Dortmunder series has characters TSTL but it is done with great humor and I always want the gang to get away.
Also both Lost in Space (which I loved) and Lost have TSTL moments. Western bar scenes have them as well.
I'm sure I'll be able to think of several TSTL moments as soon as I click "send", but I can't at the moment. I look forward to reading THE BONE CHAMBER!
I am old enough to remember the robot. Sigh.
I've been guilty of TSTL moments in my books, but as I've done more research and better consider ramifications of every decision, I think my characters have improved. When I talk about the heroine in the basement, which is a great example, we'd call her "TSTL" if she goes down there unarmed because she hears a noise and knows that there is an escaped prisoner nearby. Now, if she has no reason to think anyone is in the house--it's just a quiet night with the girls--and she hears a noise, she might think her cat is down there and fetch him. That's not TSTL, even if she's attacked. Now if she knows a killer is on the loose, you have to have a compelling reason why 1) she can't just block the door and 2) what's at stake. If she can run from the house, run! But if her niece was sleeping . . . and now she can't find her . . . running would make her a coward.
Anyway, I'm procrastinating, can you tell? Ha. Love your new cover Robin.
I had my heroine in a historical head to town for help then stop and realize what she was doing.Just as she turned to ride back to the ranch to grab soemof the guys she finds someone shooting at her. Manges to escape with a graze to her arm. When she is seriously shot I had the hero proposing marriage. She jokes and teases on her decision. Then out of the hilss a sniper take sher down. Doesn't kill her but serious wound giving her a life threatening situation. I tried really hard to think about it but the one scene where she starts toward town really is silly when there are people there to go for her. But it is her ranch her foreman hanging out with the dead guy they found on her ranch-lol.
Hi, Robin. Fun post. The show that comes to mind for me is Bones. For a really smart chick in anthropology, Temperance Brennan has got to have the least common sense on the planet. I swear at times she has Asbergers Syndrome.
I doubt Kathy Reichs envisioned some of the responses that are portrayed by Tempe in nearly every episode. I wouldnt' call her TSTL in her own field, but she's such a baby in life matters. She's lucky Booth is always with her, especially around guns.
Thanks for the post and the opportunity to vent! :-)
Good point, Helen. There are some shows in which there are TSTL moments, but I enjoy them so much, I don't care!
One of the first TSTL moments I have recalled long afterward was the original Alien movie. Now I enjoyed the film and jumped an appropriate number of times, but when Sigourney Weaver went back in to the ship to go after her cat, I couldn't believe it. Hey, I love my pets but there is no way I'm facing an acid dripping toothy stalking monster for anyone. LOL.
I agree with this _sometimes_ so at times there are things or people in something that are WTSTL that I will give a pass to because the writing, camera, accompaning music or direction is so awesome but file it in a place where I'll note the lousy use of threat, danger, etc.
Some I file right up near the front so as to recognize the people, place, circumstance and not be fooled again by the same bits by some author or filmmaker.
I'll be writing up my thoughts and feelings later about the death of Robert Parker.
Right at this time, (a stretch that has no noticeable start or finish) my interests are of the MiddleEast in movies. I've fallen deeply for the movies of Shamim Sarif who wrote the books and made the films, wrote the screenplays, directed them, damn good stuff. And then Deepa Mehta who is a fearless Auteur or maybe stubborn might a better word than fearless, shrug.
So that's me right now with reading still going on. Sly
Donnell, believe it or not, my favorite position was patrol. Why? Mostly there was something new everyday. And when you finished your shift, you were done. In detectives, there were stacks of reports that required lots of follow up. And they were there when you went home at night, and still waiting there when you came back in the morning. And if you went on vacation, the stack grew exponentially!
Few things spoil a good book for me than a TSTL moment. There had better be a very good reason for the action, and I'm glad to find that you work to make it reasonable.
Thanks for clarifying what your favorite job was, Robin. Can't wait to read your book.
I wonder if it is harder to forgive a TSTL in books, as opposed to TV shows?
Perhaps because in TV, the action moves on whether we like it or not. Or maybe it's just too hard to throw that TV set across the room, whereas a book is quite easy to hurl...
Robin, this is a fantastic post! Hysterical. I was surprised that you said you loved being on patrol. I can see the advantage of running into something new every day, but isn't each encounter potentially dangerous, or even life-threatening? As you can see, I'm a hopeless wuss.
Thanks for the good laugh! Don't think I'd be chasing after my cat when faced with that alien, either!
As far as each encounter, yes, they are potentially dangerous. That's what officer safety training is all about. It's when cops become complacent, especially to the everyday ordinary stuff, that often we see bad things happen. Sometimes it is a simple mistake that can lead to tragedy. So fiction wise, yes, your cops can make mistakes, just as they do in real life. That doesn't make them stupid, but human. As long as it is justified in the book...
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