Trope-a-dope

Here’s a blog post I originally did for the lovely Linda’s Book bag website which I heartly recommend!

Dear TV Producers,

I hereby swear that, regardless of how bad the rest of it is, I will faithfully watch at least three series of any cop show that contains the following scene in its opening episode.

EXT: Evening. A rainy parking lot.

A woman in her 20s, attractive enough to maximise the audience’s horror when she dies, stands under an umbrella while a handsome in a world-weary way police detective, whose gruff exterior hides a heart of gold, questions her.

Detective: “Just take me through it one more time mam.”

Victim No 1: “Well, like I said, I was just coming back to my car and I was about to get in when I noticed him trying to hide in the back seat.”

Detective: “I see.”

Victim No 1: “I mean, why would anyone do that? It’s a small car, how on earth did he think I wouldn’t see him? Who has ever gotten into a car and not noticed a fully-grown human being in the back? I mean, who does that?”

Detective: “No one mam. Nobody has ever done that.”

I’ll be honest, I am an absolute nightmare to watch TV with. If a lazy device such as the attacker who can inexplicably make themself invisible in the back seat of a mid-sized car pops up, my long-suffering wife knows that the next twenty minutes is going to involve me pontificating on exactly how unlikely that is to have ever happened. Such a device isn’t the sole preserve of the over-worked hack either. Aaron Sorkin, a god amongst screenwriters and my personal all-time hero bar none, uses this device in A Few Good Men. Worse, Tom Cruise gets out of his car, buys a paper and in all of the 30 seconds it takes, a man sneaks into his back seat, ready to pop up and scare the bejesus out of Tom when he gets back. The newspaper seller is helpfully blind but Tom isn’t. In fairness to the otherwise utterly flawless Mr Sorkin, the backseat driver is a CIA specialist but as far as I’m aware, the CIA has yet to find a way to generate a Harry Potter style cloak of invisibility.

Obviously, whether it is a film script or a novel, every writer should avoid such devices or better yet – point them out. Nothing makes your work seem more authentic than pointing out how unrealistic other people’s is. I’ve noticed that is one particular trick that even the very best authors can’t resist. In Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first of Jeff Lindsay’s brilliant Dexter books, Dexter refers to how unrealistic the CSI shows on television are. In The Mercedes Man no less an author than Stephen King, then refers to how unrealistic Dexter is. No doubt somewhere right now, some author is trying to work up the courage to dare to point out something unrealistic in a Stephen King book. I wish them luck.

In the meantime, I will continue to get upset about inexplicable occurrences like the invisible attacker in the back seat. I even wrote a short story in an effort to get this particular monkey off my back. It is called How to Send a Message and if you’d like to read it, it is one of a triumvirate of short stories that can be read for free by those who sign up to receive my newsletter here.

Also, if you’ve got any similar bugbears that you notice in crime fiction, whether it be TV, Film or novels, do let me know by contacting me through my website. I’m thinking of forming a support group, either for improbable trope sufferers or their long-suffering spouses.

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