Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Some Trite Things...

by Tom Schreck, author of Getting Dunn and The Vegas Knockout

Hey, thanks everyone for the warm welcome to the blog.

I write the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries where the protagonist is a social worker during the day and a pro boxer the rest of the time. His crime fighting occurs whenever he feels like someone is taking advantage of the vulnerable people on his ghetto caseload. My latest Duffy, The Vegas Knockout, went to number one on Amazon’s hardboiled mystery bestseller list.

I also have a standalone thriller out called Getting Dunn. It’s about a rash of suicides in the military that turn out to not be suicides after all but a slew of murders to cover up something else going on. TJ Dunn is a female MP who is battling her own PTSD and dealing with the suicides of her fiancĂ© and her father when she starts to look in to things. Getting Dunn broke in into the Amazon hard boiled top ten last summer.

I love to write crime fiction but I also love to read.

I thought a good way to start off my tenure here is to start a conversation about pet peeves in the genre. If you read a lot you know what I’m talking about. Here are some of the trite things that make me roll my eyes and shake my head whenever I encounter them in a novel.

1. The Incompetent Government Official—Don’t we just assume that anyone associated with the government is going to be incompetent, officious and corrupt? Wouldn’t it be more interesting in a novel if, say, an FBI agent was really good at what he or she did?

2. Religious People Are Always Evil—Sure, there are lots of hypocritical, evil fundamental religious people out there but aren’t there also a lot of really really good people who are into God-stuff too? Why not make a church-going character a hero or at least a positive force for a change?

3. Characters Getting Knocked Unconscious All the Time—I work in pro boxing and watch the people who can punch the best in the world and I get to watch them up close. In 15 years of doing that I’ve only seen someone get truly knocked unconscious for more than a second or two once. Yet in crime novels it happens all the time. On top of that, in fiction if you get knocked out all you need to do to get rid of all the symptoms is too squint and shake your head a few times.

Maybe with all the attention being paid to sport related concussions writers will pay more attention to the accuracy of their writing.

4. Instant, Automatic Sex—Doesn’t matter how much the participants have had to drink, how much they hate each other, the stress they’ve been under or their history with trauma, everyone if fiction can just drop their trousers and have at it like a couple of badgers in heat. Uh-huh, good luck trying that in real life.

5. Everyone Can Drive Like They’re in Nascar—I got a big 8-cylinder Crown Vic that will do 120 mph, I guess. I max out around 77mph on the highway, part because I don’t want a ticket and part because I don’t want to die. Yet, any character in fiction can grab the wheel and floor it taking turns on two wheels and spinning 360s all over the place without any issues.

Now there, I got this conversation started and I could go on and on but I’d rather hear from you. Tell me, what makes you nuts in crime fiction?


  1. Great post, Tom. I'm with you on the insta-sex in thrillers. It's not only not realistic, it often slows down the story for no reason.

    I'm also tired of evil-for-the-sake-of-evil characters. Much more interesting are antagonists who are somewhat regular people but are misguided, obsessive, and/or desperate.

  2. Mine is the “gathering of suspects to reveal the killer” that Hercule Poirot did with such frequency and panache. I wrote here about not liking it and then doing it. So sue me.

  3. Oddly, I keep wondering - in movies and TV - how people can be in such ferocious fights and keep getting up for more. They just got hit with a chair, for pete's sake. Slammed head first into a wall. Why are they not at least staggering around in a daze?

    And I'm definitely disappointed when the person TRAINED TO DO THEIR JOB is pictured as incompetent. I know the hero must solve the crime, but let's give the professionals around him a little credit.

  4. I agree about the law enforcement incompetence. It's frustrating to see in novels, but then you read about it in news article and realize it happens. I do let my characters occasionally make minor mistakes or overlook things for a period of time, because that feels real to me in a high pressure job with a lot of overwhelming information.

  5. As a writer, I do my best to create my characters as multi-dimensional human beings who operate within the realm of possibility, if not always probability.

    As a reader, I guess I suspend my need for total accuracy and allow for a little entertainment in my fiction. If a story is well-written and interesting, some of the things that are pet peeves to others wouldn't necessarily put me off. But give me a poorly written story with "trite things" and it will be a DNF.

  6. LJ, I agree, high stakes and pressure can lead to minor errors. I just hate to see that professional who must have kept their job through extreme luck, because they either can't follow basic procedure OR are so stuck to procedure they can't use their brains. One example is the FBI agents in the first Die Hard movie. So smug, you knew they'd die.

  7. Welcome to CFC, Tom! A big part of my job as a freelance editor specializing in crime fiction is pointing out logistic issues, of which there are lots, not only in the novels I edit, but also in bestselling thrillers and suspense-mysteries I read. And that's natural - writers are busy people and can't catch every little thing. But their editors should!

    The author of a bestselling thriller I recently read will go unnamed, but someone should have caught the logistics problems in this scene: a bad guy, formerly trusted by the family, shoots a kid's mother in her bed. Just as he's finished pulling the trigger, the kid calmly wanders in. No mention of the noise from the shot. The guy, who's still holding the gun, convinces the kid they're playing hide and seek from her mother (who's lying there bleeding, badly wounded and unconscious) and convinces the kid to get into his car with him so he can abduct her. Huh?! The kid is 7 or 8, as I recall. She didn't hear the gunshot? Her mother doesn't look odd? She doesn't think it's odd the guy has a gun? She thinks it's normal to go off in a car to play hide and seek? *smacks head*

  8. Hi, Tom. Interesting post. What drives me mad in crime fiction is villains who kill for the sake of it, with no proper motive. A great book is destroyed by such an unsatisfactory "plot". I also dislike authors who hammer the reader over the head with the technical stuff - especially where weapons are concerned. If I wanted to know that much about guns and ammo, I'd buy a gun magazine.


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