Saturday, June 7, 2008

Too Stupid to Live?

Readers of romance use the term "too stupid to live" (TSTL) to describe
a character, usually the heroine, who does incredibly dumb things to
further the plot.

These characters are equivalent to the scantily clad bimbo in a horror
movie who leaves a perfectly good locked house to wander around outside
bellowing, "Is anyone there?"

You're not sure if the heroine is too stupid to live?  Here are
some examples.

A heroine may be too-stupid-to-live if she

  • Doesn't change her locks or improve security after a serial
    killer breaks in her home and leaves a threatening note.  Nor does
    she consider staying elsewhere.

  • Sends her guards home after the so-far inept police decide they
    have captured the serial killer.

  • The heroine gets hot for the hero and does something about it
    when the bad guys are near.

  • The trained assassin is sneaking up on her professional bodyguard
    so the heroine, with no fighting training, attacks him herself rather
    than yelling a warning.

  • The "Full Moon Killer" is savaging locals.  The creepy guy
    next door reeks of Nair, wears flea collars, and buys large boxes of
    Milk Bones although he doesn't own a dog, but the heroine isn't
    suspicious because "werewolves don't exist."

  • The heroine has an entire troop of bad guys after her, but she
    doesn't call in reinforcements, seek help from the police, or tell the
    hero she's in trouble.  

  • She has the only copy of some incriminating documents, and she
    doesn't make copies, or put them in a safety deposit box in her
    bank.  Instead, she leaves them in her apartment.

  • The heroine's blind date drinks really red Bloody Marys, has a
    bad overbite, and stares at her jugular vein instead of her large
    boobs, but she isn't suspicious because "vampires don't exist."

  • The bad guy asks her to meet him to exchange the documents for
    the hero, and she goes without back up or a weapon.

  • Bad guys are after the heroine so she picks high heels instead of
    running shoes because she'd rather die than be unfashionable.

  • The heroine starts a verbal battle with the hero while they are
    trying to sneak up on the bad guys.

Do you have a great example of a TSTL heroine?  Please tell us.

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JES said...

Love the TSTL notion, which is in operation far outside the romance genre and applies to male characters as much as women.

Last night The Missus and I watched "Untraceable," a thriller starring Diane Lane. Her character is by and large SETL (Smart Enough...): she's an FBI agent, a specialist in cyber-crime named Marsh.

Her antagonist is, of course, a super-genius at all things technological. Maybe 20 minutes from the end, when the FBI knows who he is, Marsh is in her SUV, alone, and she's leaving town to be with her mother and daughter (who have been moved to safety elsewhere following some earlier child-in-jeopardy plot points). It's a dark and stormy night, which perhaps might be a clue that we're about to see some serious TSTL action.

The villain takes "control" of her car via the OnStar system. What he does is force the car to turn off while she is conveniently crossing a bridge of plot consequence. He talks to her through the OnStar interface, and then seems to do the equivalent of hanging up. But her car is still dead, as is her cell phone and anything else electronic in the car.

She GETS OUT OF THE CAR and walks to an emergency phone, calling the PD for help. While she's talking to them, the car's headlights and wipers go on. She walks back to the car and after a cursory scan of the lightning-lit interior she GETS BACK IN. At which point I'll just use the phrase "villain-wielded Taser" and leave you to your imagination.

(Luckily for Marsh, the killer is even more TSTL than she herself: he takes her to a venue which she'll be sure to know -- and be able to use -- much better than he himself will.)

I give it two Duhs.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Thanks for the comment, Jes.

TSTL is just about average for most media writing, I'm afraid.

I expect better of fiction, though.