I watch Grimm, a TV series about Nick, a cop who hunts monsters that can pass as humans most of the time. Previously, a spell turned Nick’s fiancé into a hexenbiest, a pretty horrible witch-type with whom he’s had a lot of confrontations. In this episode, she shows him what she’s become. It was a tense, touching moment, but I wanted to stand up and cheer. Finally! A character doing something smart!
We’ve all had times when we’ve smacked our heads at a character putting themselves or a relationship into danger because they failed to use common sense. Here are six common sense moves I wish writers would use more.
1. Shoot the Head
How many times has the hero (or sacrificial character #5) shot and shot at the body of the oncoming villain or monster, even though the torso is clearly armored or the monster just jerks and keeps advancing? Limb shots are not easy, but the head is larger and more stationary. Plus, it houses the brain. People and monsters can still defend themselves with wounded arms, but take out the brain, and it’s Game Over. So be smart – if body shots fail, then double tap to the head shoot.
There are plenty of reasons in real life to aim for the body. But in the movies? Think of all the times a good guy manages to successfully hit something without aiming, shoot two-handed effectively, or do a “called shot” to an extremity or even a handheld weapon. Can hitting that big round target above the shoulders be such a challenge?
Head shot. Double tap. ‘Nuff said!
2. Spill the Beans!
There’s nothing better for plot complications than keeping a secret. But wouldn’t it be refreshing if characters didn’t keep a secret when a good explanation could solve the big crisis, or maybe just avoid some angst at home? But no, the hero keeps his secret to “protect” his loved one.
Has that ever really worked? More likely, they leave their loved ones to wonder about the awkward silences, the half-truths, and the sudden disappearance. So much for a trusting relationship. Even worse, this has never stopped a determined bad guy.
What you end up with is a potential physical and emotional ally kept in the dark, a relationship lacking trust, and a loved one who doesn’t even know she should protect herself. Ironically, when she finally finds out, things get easier.
There are so many other ways to stress a relationship than with the stupidly kept secret. If you have an intelligent, compassionate, morally upstanding main character, let him reflect that in his personal life, too.
3. Go Away from the Danger
You’ve had trouble or are expecting it. Maybe you are hiding from a monster. Maybe someone’s been stalking you. Maybe your boyfriend with the superhero identity he’s not shared with you is acting strangely worried and protective. Either way, you come home to find the door ajar. You know you locked it. So what do you do? Traipse on in, and if you see your living room has been tossed, be sure to head to the bedroom – but pick up the fireplace poker en route. You’ll feel better, and when the trained henchman comes out from behind and nabs you, you can at least say you tried.
Unless the character is an idiot or doesn’t have a choice, how about letting her emulate sensible people of real life? Even if someone thinks a burglar is long gone, common sense says, “Take no chances. Do not enter, call 911 and wait someplace you think is safe.” Aside from actually making the victim look intelligent, it makes a nice twist when the savvy henchman is waiting in the neighbor’s apartment or the monster is really down the alley.
4. Use the Tech!
You don’t need to be MacGyver to get creative with technology – or even to realize that if you can solve a problem with it once, you can do it again. It’s not even a matter of having an advanced degree. I’ve got a taser. It’s non-lethal; I should shoot the threatening, scary guy.
The corollary of this is the awesome tech that isn’t used again. When dealing with a 30-minute or even a two-and-a-half hour story, writers can paint themselves into a corner, and then either go for the deus ex machina or have the sudden intellectual leap that says, “Bet this thing from Scene Six can save the day.” Once the miracle cure or awesome tech can solve one problem, do us a favor: keep using it or give us a reason why it can’t become the solve-all of the future.
5. Keep Your Distance.
Seriously, how close do you need to be to cover someone with a gun? Guns are projectile weapons, meant for distance. Why, why, why would anyone get close enough to let the bad guy leap up and incapacitate her? Back up, draw and tell him to get on his knees, hands behind his head. If he runs, shoot. She can wing him – it’s the movies.
This doesn’t happen in movies because oftentimes, a tight shot (pardon the pun) works better for camera angles and tension. Of course, in real life, people still go for the close and intimidating. Most people will freeze when staring down a muzzle, while being some distance away may give them the courage to run or draw a weapon. However, there’s always that one time when the person would rather fight back than roll over.
6. One Amazing Fighter? Mob Him!
How many times does the one awesome fighter prevail against a group because the group decides to go after him one at a time? Maybe this makes sense in Kung Fu movies, where there’s some kind of honor at stake, but who doesn’t understand the power of superior numbers?
The corollary of this is the human superweapon, recently revived on The Flash. Human superweapons are still, well, human. Overwhelm them with numbers or a spray of concentrated firepower (at a distance. Remember Rule 5.) You can stop them before they become a weapon of mass destruction.
What idiocies do characters do in the movies that set your teeth on edge? Share them in the comments below. What would you have them do instead?