You’ve seen it before: the sexy blond/hunky guy creeps up the stairs to investigate a noise. Meanwhile, the serial killer with the machete is lurking around somewhere, just waiting to something ghastly to a new victim.
Don’t go up there, you think or say aloud. This last usually happens if you’re watching with friends and/or family. If you don’t say it, someone else will. Maybe several someone elses will.
Bonehead moves. We see characters do them all the time, and, in the comfort of our favorite reading/viewing spot, we sit back and wonder why. It’s called being an armchair quarterback. Or a backseat driver. Either way, we’re separated from the situation. We know there’s more going on than this person can see, so why the hell are they acting like that?
I’m reading a book called Chasing Smoke by Bill Cameron. The protagonist is a somewhat crusty Portland, Oregon detective named Thomas “Skin” Kadash. He’s called Skin because of a birthmark on his neck, and he’s crusty because…well, he’s just that way. Been on the job too long.
When the novel opens, Skin is on leave because he’s taking treatments for bladder cancer. He’s a former smoker, still feeling the pull of the nicotine, and we’re left in doubt as to his long-term prognosis at this point. He’s through with his chemo, but now he has some kind of gnawing pain in his gut and his doctor isn’t sure what it is.
Anyway, his partner calls him in to a crime scene that looks like a suicide. Problem is, there’ve been several of these suicides lately and they all share one common denominator: Skin’s doctor.
Officially, the PPD isn’t investigating this. There’s a new lieutenant running Skin’s department, and he’s remaking them in his own image—and he doesn’t like Skin. Seems to think investigating these suicides is a waste of department time and money. And, since Skin is off the clock, he’s not supposed to be showing up anyway.
But Susan—his partner—drags him in regardless, then midday of the same day seems to turn a 180.
But Skin’s suspicions are up. He’s seen his doctor’s medical assistant—who he insulted earlier that morning—heading for the office of another person of interest in the investigation, and this has him wondering.
So what’s a good, irascible cop to do?
Make a bonehead move, that’s what.
And he does it knowingly.
On top of that, before he starts his bonehead move, he buys a pack of cigarettes. Hasn’t smoked one yet, but it could happen.
Are they bonehead moves when the author writes them? That’s what I’m wondering, because I’m not sure if my characters have made any bonehead moves. It’s such a common thing in fiction, though, so it makes me wonder if maybe I should start adding them to my arsenal.
For me, it’s a hard thing to contemplate. When characters start doing something that’s obviously stupid, I have a hard time keeping from skipping ahead. But how much of that is being an armchair quarterback?
It seems such a common occurrence that I have to wonder if I have my characters doing the same thing without realizing it. To me, when I write, it’s a plot device. As a reader, it makes me want to choke the living shit out of the character. Or at least give them a good slap upside the head. With, say, an anvil.
And yet, bonehead moves raise the stakes. In Skin’s case, the person he goes to question as part of his bonehead move has considerable money and influence. She threatens to call his supervisor to complain about the way he treated her (he’s not exactly Mr. Personality—see above irascible reference). This means Skin’s boss will find out that he’s working a closed case off the clock—something he’s already been forbidden to do.
So I can safely say I have mixed feelings about bonehead moves. On the one hand, as a reader, I lose patience with them quickly. I always manage to read through them, and good authors use them to good effect.
As an author, though, I have to wonder if I either need to use them more often, or need to recognize when I am using them.
What do you think? Are bonehead moves good or bad? Or does it depend? For that matter, are they even necessary? Should they just be determined by plot and/or storyline?
Let me know what you think.