Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Plot Peeves

There are some things I just can't stand in a story.

Plot Fart

A compelling question is raised... and ignored

Ten year-old girl was nipped by a werewolf, but manages to fight off the lycanthropy somehow. Now seventeen, she is attacked by another werewolf, and bitten again. Will lycanthropy overwhelm her this time? Is she doomed, her life as a human ruined? What will happen?

Unfortunately, nothing. None of these possibilities even occurs to the characters, because they have divine knowledge somehow that she is immune to lycanthropy. Being immune is certainly possible, but their absolute certainty that this is how it works just doesn't make sense. It's like a story-wide brain fart.

Stupidity Plot Drive 

An obvious solution could solve the problem, but the characters, by sheer force of will, do not notice.

The young heroes, riding in a coach and four, are stopped by a tree fallen across the road. A second tree blocks their retreat. They try to pull the fallen tree out of the way, but they aren't strong enough. If only there was someone stronger to help them! Like four Clydesdale draft horses! Certainly it's possible the horse couldn't do it, either. But we don't know they couldn't, because no one even thought about the possibility. Although it's a good thing they didn't think to try this, because if they had escaped, they wouldn't have been attacked in the night and the plot advanced.

This is related to the Plot Fart, but worse. After a similar fashion, an obvious question doesn't occur to the characters. In the Plot Fart, the willful oversight is just confusing and annoying. In the Stupidity Plot Drive, it is necessary to  keep the story moving. Nothing is worse than a problem that is only a problem because the characters are too stupid to solve it.

Say What?

Characters briefly do the impossible, leaving the reader wondering if this is supposed to be significant, or what?

Often this happens to me with wildlife. The girl who runs "very fast" and escapes from a mountain lion. The hunters who decide they're going to kill all the wolves in the forest, so they walk into the woods and shoot them. Question: given a 40' head start, how long can an Olympic sprinter stay ahead of a mountain lion before getting caught and eaten? Answer: 0.9 seconds. Question: how far might a wolf pack be from its den when the hunters go looking for it? Answer: up to 30 miles.

I don't like to dispute accuracy with fiction. Just let it be a story. It's okay. But it is so darn jarring. For me it's analogous to having characters in New York jump in their car and drive to Paris for the afternoon. I stop reading and try to figure out if I'm supposed to make anything out of this apparently magical power or not.

In the case of the mountain lion, I actually was--the girl was half a were-lion. If the girl had been shocked or confused by her miraculous escape, I'd have been okay. But because she doesn't notice she's done something superhuman, I'm left wondering if she did, or if the author was just confused. "Very fast" doesn't cover what you'd need to do to outrun a mountain lion. It's the fastest sprinter in the world who can last 0.9 seconds.

In the case of the wolves, no, the hunters have no super-powers, these wolves just like to sit around and wait to be hunted.