What the Feck?! (WTF?!) is where we discuss bookish topics that had us thinking WTF?! while reading a book, talking to others in the book community or book news. Stop by on Mondays for new topics.
Where’s Your TSTL Line?
You’ve seen this abbreviation before, right? It’s typically assigned to a heroine or major female character in a story where there’s an element of danger or risk and she does something to be labeled Too Stupid To Live.
Now, when that label gets assigned is probably debatable, depending on a reader’s tolerance. Some may dole it out after one serious misstep, others after a continuing pattern of behavior.
In the romantic suspense genre, we often see male protagonists who are trained to deal with dicey situations (Navy SEALs, FBI agents, detectives, etc.) paired with female characters who don’t normally face circumstances where their lives are in jeopardy. There’s already a set up for imbalance, where the heroine has to inordinately rely on the hero to figure a way out of the jam.
This doesn’t bother me because an intelligent woman can always bring something to the party beyond physical skills and in the best stories I’ve read, they do. It’s not always about having shooting or tracking skills, as an example. I expect the heroine to use her brain, instincts and apply logic and reasoning to these issues.
So, where’s my line? I expect that in the beginning of these relationships, the heroine may need some time to trust that the man challenged with getting her to safety is competent to do so or be convinced she’s actually got reason to be concerned. One or two confrontations should be enough and I can get past an initial blunder.
For example, in Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann (no spoilers here), the heroine, who by her resume, should be super sharp and bright but does something incredibly stupid at the onset. I mean, it was something that could have gotten her killed fast. I braced for a story where she would just be repeatedly dense (should have trusted Brockmann) but instead, she wised up immediately and became an asset to the team. I removed the TSTL label, feeling she had completely redeemed herself, and ended up admiring and liking her through the end of the story.
Then there are those characters who take their reasoning and logic too far. Just because they’re bright, independent and feisty doesn’t replace experience and intel about a situation completely foreign to them. When the hero says a situation is dangerous and it’s something he’s skilled at assessing, it isn’t the time to replace his judgment with yours.
In Thrill Me to Death by Roxanne St. Claire, the heroine hires protection because she knows a threat exists but she repeatedly defies the direction given by her bodyguard and gets into trouble each time. I had to give her the label, though I liked her for other reasons. She didn’t throw me out the story.
And then there’s the heroine who never learns her lesson, choosing her own judgment time and again, with the same sad results despite the hero’s attempts to save her from herself. The TSTL label is permanently affixed and I’m disconnected from the story.
In The Cove by Catherine Coulter, I eventually lost count of how many times the heroine ends up being abducted. It was like watching a horror flick and you stare in amazement as the soon-to-be dead character walks toward the noise in the dark. No one can be this clueless. I made it to the end but only because the series was highly recommended.
When do you draw the line and declare the heroine TSTL?
Does it always mean you didn’t enjoy the story?
What are some examples of your TSTL stories?
I also love to talk about books. There’s nothing more exciting than to finish a great story and cover it A to Z with other people, exploring different perspectives and points of view. So, if you see something on my shelf you’d like to talk about, send me a message and we’ll talk!
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