Monday, October 27, 2014

Scared Stupid

I remember a movie I attended in a theater many years ago. It was a romantic thriller. I munched from a container of popcorn as the tension ramped up and love scenes grew steamier.

Then the female lead, for whatever reason, crept down the stairs in the dark toward the front door.

No. Don’t. Not a good idea.

The front door was glass at the top, but fogged so the character, and the audience, could not see what was on the other side.
Was there a shadow? Maybe.

Did the shadow move? Not sure.

A fist slammed through that glass panel. The audience expected something to happen, but the impact of fist with glass was so sudden and so loud, there was a collective gasp. I jumped. My right hand flew toward my mouth, flinging popcorn at the moviegoers sitting behind me.

I’m not sure anyone noticed.

That’s why characters do stupid things in books and movies. Fear…or terror…leads to bad decisions, often making a situation worse instead of better. The reader or movie fan is happy with the increased tension, the surge of adrenaline, the anticipation of what will happen next.

It’s only the occasional book reviewer who will call a scene “over the top” or the offending character “stupid.”

The main character in my November 2014 release, Dead Wrong, is forced to make a whole series of decisions based on fear. Fear for her life. And fear for the safety of the young people she connects with along the way.

Lynnette Foster married a cop without giving herself enough time to discover he had a serious anger problem. She’s not the “stay-forever-no-matter-what” type, so she heads for the Miami airport to put a lot of miles between her and the cop’s fist. A few hours later, Lynnette walks away from the Denver airport with the wrong laptop case. The real owner, a thug carrying stolen goods to his criminal boss, is desperate to retrieve his case. A runaway kid begs Lynnette for help and a college student tries to rescue them. And Lynnette discovers her husband was murdered and she’s a person of interest in the case. With a killer on her trail and the troubled kid she’s taken under her wing telling a new lie every few hours, Lynnette is so scared she can’t think straight.

Scared stupid? No. But scared enough to do foolish things or pick the one really crazy option from a long list.

In real life, sometimes the craziest option is the bravest, like trying to pull a passenger from a burning car that might explode at any second. Or rushing to help a sick person and risk exposure to a serious disease. Or trying to stop a mugging, or a parent mistreating a child, or a kidnapping.

On the other hand, the crazy option might be that tendency to creep down the stairs in the dark and find out what caused the noise in kitchen. I’ve done it a couple of times, armed with nothing by my cell phone. Shoulders tight with tension. Stoked on adrenaline. Ready for anything.

As long as a fist doesn’t crash through a window as I walk by.

Patricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. Originally published in hardcover by Five Star and paperback by Harlequin Worldwide, both are now available as e-books for Kindle and Nook. Her November 2014 novel from Five Star/Cengage, Dead Wrong is a standalone suspense. The novel has been described as “…lightning paced…” and “…a fantastic combination of suspense and action…”

You can learn more about Patricia and her fiction at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

17 comments :

  1. Keep the readers reading or the viewers watching. That's the name of the game, isn't it? Adrenalin coursing through the veins (especially for those adrenalin junkies) almost assures us of an ongoing fan -- except for a few folks like me. Scary movies (or books) aren't my thing. Intrigue works. Tension -- even that which is life-threatening -- works. But fear scares me away. And checking for noises...I do that sometimes, pepper spray in hand rather than a cell phone, however.

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  2. There are those moments in most thrillers and horror stories where you yell, "What the heck? Have you lost your mind?" But there is a difference between organic, psychology driven bad decisions and just being stupid because the script falls for it. If I see one more idiot fall during a chase - Oy! I have been that stupid person who goes out to investigate a noise in the house, with my taser/mag light and a large hunting knife. Nevertheless - not much use against a gun or a ghost.

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  3. Thanks bunches to Dani and the Blood Red Pencil team for letting me come back for a visit. I really appreciate it.

    Good morning, Linda! As a reader or viewer, I love thrillers and mystery/suspense. The thing I can't handle is the really scary horrible stuff like vampires, werewolves, and zombies. As a writer, I've found myself experimenting with creepier topics and creepier characters lately. No zombies though.

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  4. Good luck with DEAD WRONG, Patricia ... and my advice is to replace the cell phone with a 32 oz Louisville Slugger.

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  5. I always check out noises but I do keep that big wooden bat under the bed. My husband never wakes up. You certainly piled on the obstacles, Patricia.

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  6. Diana, don't those falls usually happen when there's a ghoul or zombie in pursuit? I might fall, but it would be because I had a heart attack. :D

    Thanks, Christopher. Wise advice. You can't whack a bad guy very hard with a cell phone.

    Hi Susan. My husband never hears those noises either. I guess I need to go bat shopping.

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  7. Oh gad, my favorite stupid move is when the terrified (fill in the blank) runs upstairs instead of out a door. Like, du-uh!.

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    1. Or into the scary basement. Unless it is a walkout with windows and a door ... you're trapped! Gah!

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  8. Betsy, even those stories that have fancy houses with safe rooms manage to keep the tension level up by giving the bad guys enough intelligence to find a way in. I agree, dashing out the front door while screaming at the top of my lungs sounds like the better option.

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  9. Yes, people sometimes do stupid things in books and movies, and it makes me want to yell at them! However, when I see one of them freeze when they should be moving, I can understand. It's happened to me over silly things like knowing something's going to fall, yet somehow not being able to reach out and catch it, though I know I should.

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  10. Hi Morgan! Freezing when I should be springing into action happens to my brain as well as my body. I sometimes have that happen when my To Do List has grown out of control. :D

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  11. You know, I am not a big fan of the adrenaline rush - not in reading, not in movies, not in real life. So writing with a high level of tension is really hard for me. Ish. I should just write romance. The stress of sex doesn't make me feel sick, like fear can. Interesting insights!

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    1. That's funny! I, on the other hand, freeze at the thought of writing a sex scene. I'd much rather have my characters fret about dead bodies and evil thugs.

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  12. I have a character do something in one of my books so that a reader labeled her TSTL, too stupid to live. I really thought under the circumstances that she might do what she did. One of those don't-open-the-door things. She opens it, and lo and behold, the bad guy is behind the good guy she saw through the peephole. Maybe readers are used to a certain amount of that element because I only got one or two mentioning it out of 146 reviews. However, I'm sure more than that called her stupid.

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    1. Hi Polly -- After trying to imagine characters in various scary scenarios, I think anything goes. People will make bizarre decisions when frightened, stressed, hurried, or just plain exhausted.

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  13. Dead Wrong sounds like an absolutely-must-read!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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