Wednesday, September 15, 2010

At Risk by Morgan Mandel

It's turning into autumn, which means it's getting a lot darker in the morning. I especially noticed the difference this morning as I was walking my dog, Rascal, at around 6:00 a.m.  A woman walked by on the street. I've seen her before exercising in the morning, as I've also seen joggers run by. Now that it's dark out, she's still getting her exercise that way, as are other women. Is that safe? Is she putting herself at risk? Our neighborhood is not known as being a high crime area, yet I wouldn't go out alone walking or jogging in the dark, either morning or night.

Since I have a lovable pit bull, who can be the sweetest thing alive to nice people, but make no mistake about it, is also an excellent guard dog, I'm not particularly afraid about taking her for walks in the dark. Still, I don't overdo it. I only walk down streets nearby and not that far when it's dark.   

These women whose urge to exercise is so great they put themselves at risk reminds me of books or movies where the hero or heroine does something stupid, and that's the driving force for what horrors evolve. The bottom line is, when putting a character into an at risk situation, be sure to give that person a very good reason or excuse for doing so.

What's your opinion on this? What books or movies have you read or written where characters are put at risk for good or bad reasons?

Morgan Mandel 


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

My sis fast walks 6 miles beginning at 4 a.m. every day in a residential area of Las Vegas. I don't think she should. But she says she sees the same people everyday and takes her cell phone with her.

She used to do this in a more rural area (yes they have those in Las Vegas too) and she fell and broke her leg. Some stranger picked her up and brought here home.

I think she thinks she's safe because she's 71.


Jean Henry Mead said...


I share your concern about your sister. I lived in Las Vegas for two years and heard about abductions and assaults on a regular basis. In fact, Lake Mead is a watery graveyard, particularly for gamblers who don't pay their debts.

Morgan, I place my senior sleuths at risk in every book I write but they manage to outsmart their antagonists. :)

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Morgan. We probably all place ourself at risk everyday, but I think we have to be as smart about it as we can. I wouldn't jog in my neighborhood at 4 a.m. and I live in one of the safest cities in the U.S. But I'll walk around town in the early evening/night because there's always a ton of people out, and there is some safety in numbers.

That said...I also remember going abroad after 9/11. My mom was, understandably, scared to death for me. But as I said then, and still believe, if a terrorist is going to take me out, it's not going to be in the produce section of Harris Teeter.

I think a lot of risk, too, depends on our age. As Marilyn said, her sister thinks she's safe because of her age. On the other end of the spectrum, young people think they're safe because they're invincible.

The heroine in my upcoming book does something really stupid at the beginning that sets the stage for the rest of the story. She's 17. At that age, she's going to make dumb mistakes that put her at great risk. I'm finding it a challenge to write that in a way that's it works for the character and is still understandable to readers, who may not remember what it's like to be 17.

Interesting topic.

Cara Lopez Lee said...

What a great question, Morgan!

When it comes to my characters, I prefer to remain the puppet master of their risks. That is: they don't put themselves at risk... I do. I typically ask myself, "OK, now, how can I make this worse?" So, her family is running from war... what if she nearly gets killed crossing a river? What if she escapes that danger only to encounter rebel gunfire? What if she witnesses an execution? What if she survives all this only to get raped in peace time? And so on.

However, when it comes to a character putting herself at risk, I'm with you: she must have a good reason. I want a strong, smart protagonist. So, if someone rapes her, I'd rather it wasn't because she walked down an alley at night, but rather, because she trusted someone who was close to her family. Or maybe she put herself in that situation to save someone else. Much more dramatic!

Personally, I take calculated risks: things involving outdoor gear and helmets, rather than dark streets. Though I'd be happy to walk at dusk with a cute doggie like your Rascal.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Morgan,

Each of us takes a risk every time we get in a car. We take a risk when we shave, when we meet strangers, when we travel on airplanes. It seems to me that our tolerance of risk varies by individual.

If you're cautious by nature or if something bad has happened in your past, your tend to seek low risk activities.

If you're adventurous and believe the best of people, your tendency is more likely to accept higher risk situations.

I'm more on the conservative side. You won't catch me bungy jumping, but I will walk outside at night in well lit areas of my neighborhood. That's a risk I'm willing to accept.

Maggie Toussaint

MUDDY WATERS coming Oct.22 from The Wild Rose Press

Sultry secrets and hidden treasure in a coastal paradise and

Debra St. John said...

I've heard that people who jog/walk by themselves (specially women) should vary their route so they're not always walking the same path everyday.

As for fiction, I'm a big vampire the heroines I like to read about are usually putting themselves into danger by hooking up with a vampire! But that's what makes these stories so awesome...they're willing to risk it all for love...

Nicole said...

I run at 5am with one of my two dogs (we take turns) and the only crazies I've bumped into is a tiny church totting female. The actual criminals are tucked up in bed ;p Late at night is more dangerous. The other bonus with the morning is people driving to work so just make sure you're visible - i wear a huge reflector vest and my dogs do too *grin*

and as for female heroines? My blog title says it all ;p

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Morgan,
I do think some women do take unnecessary risks, maybe they are too trusting, but in this day and age you do have to be very wary. Your four legged friend would certainly keep you safe from muggers. Better than hiring a security guard.

Rob Walker said...

Every woman should read The Gift of Fear so that God forbid, when and if you need to understand the language of the con artist and the body language of a threatening individual, you do not say, Oh its probably all in my head, and I sure wouldn't want to prejudge or embarrass myself. Great book by a guy who watches out for the stars, the likes of Cher and others who may or may not need to heed warning signs in fans and fan letters. Author is Debecker or DeBecker, I think Kevin but Gift of Fear goes a long way for anyone not just women but particularly helpful for the petite.

Not that there's anything wrong with petite.

Interesting subject indeed.

Sandra Gonzalez said...

While reading the comments, two images popped into my head both dealing w/the 'helpless.'

What would you do if you noticed a stranger or even a neighbor struggling to load a big object into their vehicle? Silence of the Lambs.

What about meeting a charismatic stranger in an arm cast, in public, during the day needing help? The Deliberate Stranger based on serial killer Ted Bundy.

Somebody mentioned seeing the same people on the street when they walk/jog, but would you notice the rapist neighbor watching behind the curtains or the psycho lawyer/cop/store owner driving to work every day leering at you as they passed by? Silence of the lamb hit on you crave what you see everyday.

I guess the point is no matter if your protagonist is careful or confident, as long as the set-up is clear to the reader, anything can happen. That could be the difference between a reader tossing the book aside rolling their eyes or staying up all night reading while cocking their head wondering what that noise outside is.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Morgan, I'm a sucker for at risk. It adds an element of danger, heroism and suspense to the writing and helps to draw me in. I grow concerned for the character which in turns makes me care for the character. Just my thoughts.