Why is it in a suspense novel or movie, the protagonist always does something extremely stupid to put himself or herself in a life-threatening situation? Of course we all know the lead character will be rescued or something otherwise miraculous will occur at the last possible minute, because lead characters, after all, don’t die (or even become critically injured). Never mind that the other bit players all met their demise; nothing untoward will happen to the main character. This is supposed to enhance the suspense and drama, I suppose, but I can’t get over the fact that nobody in his right mind would ever do what these people do. So why do writers think these are realistic plots?
I’m talking, for example, about the person who seems to think blackmailing a killer is a good idea. It never seems to occur to this person that the murderer has already killed somebody and killing him, too, wouldn’t be that big a deal at this point. But in his mind, there’s no way the killer would think to come after him. The killer will happily and forever dole out massive quantities of money in order for the witness to keep his mouth shut. Yeah, and pigs fly. So why is this such a common thread in mystery and suspense plots?
Then there are the people who believe confronting the killer in order to make him turn himself in is the best way to go, because, after all, one doesn’t want to rat this person out to the police and possibly have him get upset with you. No, you schedule a meeting with the killer—often in a secluded setting— tell him everything you know, assure him you’ve told nobody else what you saw, and end with, “I know you will do the right thing, but if you don’t turn yourself in, I’ll have to.” Well. That should put the fear of Hades into him. By the way, how long do you wait before turning him in? Do you hire a body guard in the meantime? No, because there is no way the killer would ever harm you!
Okay, so these less than brilliant characters have effectively and naively managed to eliminate themselves from the rest of the story, as well as the gene pool. Now comes the protagonist, who up until the end has managed to display a modicum of common sense and stay alive. But for some reason, towards the end of the story, he (she) feels the need to check out something in a deserted location on her own, without telling anybody where she’s going, without taking a weapon, and usually in the middle of the night. Oh, and by now she has run her mouth enough that the killer knows she’s on to him, so he just has to waylay her. It is guaranteed she will walk into a trap. There will be no cell phone service or her emergency contact number will go to voicemail.
Once she’s trapped, the killer doesn’t just shoot her and be done with it, like he did his last five victims. No, now for some reason, he decides to spill his guts. He confesses, for a full twenty minutes, everything he did and why he did it under the interrogation of the trapped lead character, who, by the way, should really be trying to think of a way out, rather than concerning herself with the motivation of the killer. Then, when time has run out, the killer orders the lead character to go somewhere else so he can kill her there, as if where they are standing isn’t good enough. That’s when the rescuers, going off nothing more than a “bad feeling,” manage to track down and find the trapped protagonist who is out in the middle of nowhere, just before she is marched away to be executed. Or, if the writers want to really spice up the action, the lead character will suddenly notice something like a box of fireworks right next to her and using the cigarette lighter she just happens to have with her (even though she doesn’t smoke) manages to light up the box, effectively enabling her to escape. Then when she has made it safely away from the killer, the rescuers miraculously appear.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same plot over and over again? Surely people are not really that stupid, or that lucky. Perhaps I should change my genre of writing and delve into suspense. But I’m afraid my characters would not be very interesting. They would either do the smart thing, run to the police and let them handle things from the start, or end up like me—hiding under the covers with the blankets pulled over their heads. There is only so much one can do with this scene.