Thursday, October 23, 2014

That character's doing what? I ain't buying it.

Hi! It's Lisa again, and I'm having problems believing some things in books. Are you?

Sometimes as I'm reading I come across actions, sometimes often used actions, that I just can't buy. Isn't it actually impossible to clench your hands so hard that your fingernails make your palms bleed? That skin is too tough, isn't it? My hands are pretty darn soft (don't judge, I'm a writer), so it'd be easier for me to do it rather than someone else who does regular labor with his or her hands. But guess what happens when I try. My nerve endings won't let me continue; those little things run to my brain and tattle on me. My brain makes me stop. My fingernails also buckle. If I try really hard, I break the skin, but those darn vessels are just too hard to get to. Also, that wore me out; my finger muscles were screaming at me to let go. I guess I'm just weak...but I type all the time so those little muscles are used regularly. Hm, I don't know. Anyway, to my other point. Let's not forget the melodrama this makes me picture when it's in a story. I'd like to roll my eyes when I read it. Really? So this character is so pissed he's clenching his fists hard enough to make himself bleed? Not buying it, and I'm not totally into this story anymore.

In my opinion, there are only two ways I see this clenching/bleeding actually happening. 1) If a person is having a seizure because the nerve endings are a little bit busy and clenching, and they aren't worrying about telling the brain to unclench. After all, people have been known to bite their tongue until it bleeds, and sometimes all the way off, during a seizure. 2) The second reason has a little to do with the first one: there's brain damage or nerve damage or both. Maybe the pain sensors in your hands have been damaged so clenching until you bleed happens without you knowing. The nerve endings could be working but the brain isn't working so well - brain damage. There is brain damage or a brain disorder, and it can't/won't receive the message to relax the hands.
A character clenching until the skin is broken is a tad bit more believable, though I still have to lift an eyebrow and move on. It's just overdone. Are 99% of the world's population hand-clenchers in moments of stress? No. Then why are 99% of our characters? Do something else.

This goes for biting your lip until it bleeds too. One, like the clenching-hand-cutting-skin deal, it's a bit dramatic. Two, it's overused. However, I will concede that the skin of your lip is much softer, so it's much more believable that making it bleed could happen before your brain makes you stop. And it's much easier if you have dry lips, peeling lips or already-present sores. But it still makes me roll my eyes.

Now, that's my little two cents worth on stuff I just can't swallow. But I'd like to know yours! The reason I decided to write this post is because I came across this in a book again and then started thinking: I probably have some things like this in my books and don't even know it! I need help!

What do you read regularly in books that you just can't swallow?

Dan: Interesting topic, Lisa! As long as we're not talking about self-mutilation (which is a real thing) I'm with you. Having your character's palms bleed is a cheap way to show what he or she is feeling. In my experience, real people who are angry or scared often show less emotion than you'd expect. With anger, it's often subtle things, like using shorter phrases while speaking or not making eye contact.

As long as we're talking pet peeves: personally, I hate it when there's a misunderstanding that could be resolved by a simple open conversation, and that misunderstanding is the core of the book's conflict. Guess what? People talk about stuff that matters to them. Realistic problems tend to be far more complex.

Caitlin: I was totally with you on the hands bleeding (and impressed you went to the lengths to test it out! :) ). As for lip bleeding...um...I have that in one of my books. :( I'll be re-analyzing that soon! I'm with you Dan on the misunderstandings, although I used to enjoy Threes Company. Heh. My pet peeve? I guess it would be when the author deliberately tricks you to no effect via a character's thoughts. I recently read a book where the MC thought he saw Character B. He realized it wasn't him but still shuddered because it would have been like seeing a ghost. The previous fate of Character B is important to the story...so this obviously is a pretty strong hint that Character B is dead. Thing is, he wasn't. And the MC knew that. At the end of the book that ghost comment didn't make any sense at all! Grrr... If a character thinks something, it should make sense he/she'd think that in the context of the story.

Karlie: Great thought, Caitlin!! I'm completely with you there. I also hate it when the hero gets a injury that should have taken weeks to heal, but the next day he's up and going again. I don't care how tough you are, it's gonna take some time to recover from broken ribs/wrist/ankle.

Another personal pet peeve of mine is the "deus ex machina," or that moment when the answer drops out of the sky and hits the character on the head. You know, that warrior that never showed up anywhere else in the book suddenly defeating the bad guy and then disappearing again. Even though it's usually a little more disguised than that, I come across it a lot more than I'd like.

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