L Is for List, List, O List: #atozchallenge

 

 

List, list, O list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love —

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, i

 

Yesterday I wrote about three conventions of the mystery/suspense novel screenplay that I see as less than realistic. Today I’m taking on two other conventions that give me pause. So–

List, list, O list, while I explain:

  1. A man meets a woman. He’s middle-aged, whatever that is these days. If he’s not over the hill, he’s making steady progress in that direction. He doesn’t have an uber-fat bank account, but he has an interesting job. He doesn’t teach third grade. The woman is young, a good twenty or thirty years younger than he. Her hair is long and silky, and legs are long and shapely, and the rest of her is shapely, too. And she’s smart and talented. The man is attracted to her. And guess what. She’s attracted to him, too! In fact, she falls in love with him, if not at first sight, at least at second. By third sight, they’re in bed together. Or sometimes it doesn’t take that long.
  2. See #1, except in this instance the man and the woman are closer in age. They may be young; they may be older. Otherwise the details are the same.

I thought about these literary relationships while watching a movie on Netflix. I won’t mention the title, but the leads are played by January Jones (long blonde hair and a pleasing visage, etc.) and a male actor whose name I still don’t know because I didn’t watch the credits.

They’re about the same age. They’re lawyers (a common profession); he’s just been hired as an assistant prosecutor. She introduces herself and says, “I’m your boss.” That evening, or maybe it’s the next, she invites him to her house. Etc.

Please note: I’m not talking about romances–Harlequin, Danielle Steele,* Judith Krantz,* the gothics–because in this genre, these are standard relationships. That’s what we read them for.

I don’t want writers of mystery and suspense to scuttle them altogether.

And I’m not saying May-December romances don’t occur in real life. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have the term May-December romance.

“Judi Dench” by Thore Siebrands is licensed under CC BY-2.0

But it would be nice to read now and then about an attraction between a middle-aged male and a middle-aged female character–a female character with hair styled for convenience, shoes chosen for comfort, ten or twelve extra pounds she isn’t trying to lose, and close enough to his age to remember the same TV commercials.

Is that too much to ask? Obviously not. The British manage it all the time. Consider As Time Goes By. Lionel and Jean meet after being apart for thirty-eight years. They look like they’ve been apart thirty-eight years, too. And the series doesn’t suffer.

It’s true that initially, before he sees Jean again, Lionel has designs on Jean’s daughter, but she’s not interested–more power to her–and he doesn’t suffer either.

And I am unanimous in that.

Thank you for listing.

***

 

 

Quotation verified at No Fear Shakespeare.

Image of couple by picnic_fotographie via Pixabay.com

 

 

K Is for Knowing–or Not: #atozchallenge

 

Three scenarios:

  1. A lone woman hears a sound in the middle of the night. She doesn’t know what it is, so she goes in search of the source: to the attic, the basement, the back yard, the barn, the woods, the creek. She might take a flashlight and/or a bat. She wears her pajamas and bedroom slippers.
  2. Chief Detective Smith, sitting at her desk in the incident room, after weeks of an investigation with too many clues and no idea how they fit together, suddenly jumps up, says to Detective Sergeant Jones, “Call the traffic division and find out the name of the Dalmatian that rides with Firetruck #12,” picks up her gun, and heads for the door. “Where are you going?” says Detective Sergeant Jones. Chief Detective Smith runs out to nobody knows where. [Alternate: The ransom note says, “Come alone to a dark corner of the park.” And the detective does.]
  3. A man or a woman, take your pick, kneels in the garden cutting roses/stands over the stove stirring soup/hears a knock and answers the door, take your pick, and looks up and says, “Oh, it’s you. What are you doing here?” And then doesn’t say anything else at all.

I see them all the time in mystery/suspense/thrillers on television, but I don’t believe them because

  1. If I hear a sound at night, I don’t go looking for it. I crawl under the covers or, depending on the nature of the noise, under the bed. Even when I know it’s just an armadillo banging on the water pipes under the house.
  2. Any detective who does what Chief Detective Sergeant Smith does–and she does it nearly every week, same time, same station–would end up getting either fired by her boss or coshed by the suspect she’s chasing, or by her partner, who’s had enough.
  3. The “You?” is old and tired.*

Why do writers use them?

Because the character needs to know. The lone woman needs to know what the sound is. The detective needs to know if she’s right about whodunit. The victim needs to know the murderer.

And the writer needs to conceal. A lone woman sneaking around in a dark attic builds suspense. A detective flying to a showdown builds suspense. A victim recognizing his murderer builds suspense.

And because they work. Viewers, and readers, are willing to temporarily suspend disbelief. I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story playing out on the screen–even when one side of my brain is saying to the other, “That is totally unrealistic.”

Now to my real concern: Will I ever stoop to using one of these conventions? Send a woman into the dark where a hobgoblin awaits? Send a detective off to meet a bad guy without telling anyone where she’s going? Let a little old lady in gardening gloves be axed by her best friend without giving her the chance to get out of the way?

I don’t know.

***

*Actually, come to think of it, #3 might be totally realistic.