I was watching something on TV the other night and, well, there was a scene that bugged me. I’ve seen the same instance happen in several shows over a period of many years. A cop or P.I. or whoever is sneaking up on someone. They accidentally kick something, knock something over, or step on a twig that cracks and gives away their presence. No one seems to notice that their footsteps were a dead giveaway. They’re not wearing rubber soled or athletic shoes, so every step they take makes a sound. That should have actually been what gave them away. You can’t sneak up on someone if your steps are clicking or clacking or echoing.
A sneeze or a cough would make a better giveaway. They might drop a flashlight or some other heavier object, but I like the sneeze or the cough better. Those are sounds that you can’t necessarily control, and they’re human sounds. When’s the last time you heard a rat in an old warehouse cough or sneeze?
Some things are just too predictable when it comes to giving yourself away. Sneaking isn’t all that easy, but it might be smarter to wear those athletic shoes. An allergic reaction to flowers might cause the sneeze, or dust floating in the air might cause the cough. Of course, there’s always the possibility that your character has a cold but believes the job must be done anyway.
Maybe the character isn’t following anyone. Maybe they’re hiding from a bad guy and they’ve secreted themselves behind a pile of boxes. A sneeze, cough or a nervous hiccup will still work. Of course, it might make it harder to run for their lives if they’re coughing.
You have to look at all possibilities, all sides of what could happen.
I’ve also found it unrealistic if a character reaches into her purse, searches for and pulls out a weapon, and defends herself all in one swift movement. On the other hand, what’s she supposed to do? “Oh, hold on a sec, sweetie. I need to search my purse before you shoot, strangle, or beat me. cough cough With any luck I’ll find a cough drop before you hurt me. Be patient. I’m looking. Oh, here’s my gun. Uh, I mean here’s a cough drop.”
Bang! Too late. She didn’t even get her hand out of her purse. Yes, I know many people are anti-gun, but we’re talking about fiction here. And, frankly, if someone meant to do me harm, I sure hope I’d have something to defend myself with.
I once read a book where the protagonist used a bowl of salad as a defense. Figure that one out. It made sense in the context in which it was used and I’ve never forgotten that simple bowl of salad. (Darkness at Foxglove Corners by Dorothy Bodoin)
How about when they whisper to their partner? I understand that in a TV show the viewer wants to hear what’s said, but unless the character gets really close to their partner’s ear, the bad guy might hear something, too. It works better in a book.
Here’s one I almost forgot. Isn’t it just a bit silly when you see a female protagonist chasing a bad guy and she’s wearing high heels? She’d break her ankle before catching the bad guy. Unless, of course, the perpetrator that she’s chasing is also wearing high heels. She could take off the heels and run barefoot, but then she might step on something like broken glass and the whole chase could be over.
I understand these are probably farfetched ideas in the minds of some, but when writing a book I think the authors often need to put themselves in the footsteps (or shoes) of the protagonist and think things through logically. What would work and what wouldn’t, and how do you keep from giving yourself away?
Of course, you can throw all of my comments out the window when you’re writing with humor or you need the characters to give themselves away. It’s just that there should be a purpose behind clicking shoes or a sneeze, or the type of shoes someone is wearing, or the weapon used to defend yourself.
Just some thoughts. Maybe I watch too much television.
Until next time, be prepared. Dress comfortably. Stay healthy. Think logically. Most of all, enjoy life.
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