Tag Archives: Trapped

Lessons from a Reader: Don’t Be Dumb

One of the most frustrating things as a reader is when I watch a character make dumb mistakes for no reason. Now maybe they’re a dumb character so they’re going to make dumb mistakes. That works if you know they’re dumb, like Joey on Friends. But for most characters if they make a dumb mistake, it’s because the writer is being dumb.

Case in point: Trapped by Michael Northrop. Seven teens are trapped in their high school when the mother of all snowstorms blows through, dumping more than a dozen feet of snow. After an appropriate amount of time the students realize they’re trapped, alone and rescue isn’t coming. They need supplies: Light, heat, food. They raid the cafeteria, so food is covered. They find blankets in the nurses office. A radio in the office. Eventually they’re forced to create a fire barrel using material scavenged from metal shop.

But that’s it. No flashlights. No candles. No extra batteries. The students never bother to scour the rest of the school for supplies. They can’t even get all the food out of the cafeteria because it’s too dark and the cell phones they’ve been using as flashlights are all dying. There should be a flashlight in every teacher’s desk. Somebody surely has candles. The home economics room should be a goldmine. The janitor’s closet and boiler room, normally off-limits to students should be tempting and well-stocked. And when it gets really bad, they could start breaking into all the lockers. Surely they’d find more winter gear, batteries, flashlights, lighters, snacks, medicine.

But no. Rather than thoroughly scavenge for supplies, they huddle around the second story windows desperate for light.

But they’re not dumb students. That’s dumb writing.

(I feel a little bad calling a professional writer’s work dumb. Northrop told an otherwise solid and gripping story. I give him props for that. But this oversight crippled the reality of the situation. And it’s an easy fix. I’m just calling it like I see it as an annoyed reader, in hopes that I don’t make the same mistakes.)