Writers know what it is, and readers do, too: Too Dumb To Live. It's that moment in a book where a character does something so out of logical bounds that we're thrown out of the story while we scream (silently, one hopes) "No sane person would go into that basement/warehouse/alley/crypt, etc. In the book I'm reading, it is the hull of a ship that's aground in the Arctic Circle. The two men (Double TDTL) rappel into the hold in their street clothes, knowing that a) the ship is sliding off the shelf and will soon sink, b) there are unexploded charges aboard, c) the water temperature will kill them in minutes. Maybe understandable if they had to save the President or find the Holy Grail or retrieve Mom's oatmeal cookie recipe, but no - they're pretty much just looking around.

Writers know it has to happen sometimes, but readers really need at least one sentence that gives it credence. "Hank, you're always been a crazy bastard, but you're my friend, and I'm not letting you do this alone." Or "Hank knew it was crazy, but the need to find out what was in that hold was overpowering."

Come on, guys. Help a reader out.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on November 25, 2009 at 1:25am
Yup, that's one of the characteristics of bestsellers. There are others.
Comment by Dana King on November 25, 2009 at 12:00am
This can take me out of a story quicker than anything except incompetent writing.

I read a well-received thriller last year by an author I'd read before, and liked. Each decision by the protagonist couple was exactly what they should do to make the situation worse. Yes, it raised the stakes, as the "how to write a best seller" books advocate. Still, by the end, I was rooting against them because they were, in your words, too dumb to live.

What eventually happens with these kinds of books and characters is I refuse to suspend my disbelief to the level needed to enjoy the story, becaise NO ONE in their right mind would do that, or, even worse, continue to do that. I must have a far lower threshold than most readers, because those books appear to sell like crazy.

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