Sorry it’s late, friends – I had an unexpected visit from a couple of friends from out of state. Like, seriously, I heard a knock at the door, was not expecting anyone, and bam, two of my friends from out of state. It was a little distracting.
Which brings us to mail bombs. Because they asked my husband for our address to surprise me, and said they were sending me a gift. And my husband has the teensiest bit of OCD which is based entirely in obsessing that something bad is going to happen to me. So despite the fact he knows my friends love me, and he worked in the post office for a few weeks and knows sending a mail bomb is incredibly difficult nowadays, when he texted me about getting a package and I was too busy being delighted at unexpected guests to reply, he started to worry that they had sent me a mail bomb.
Anyway it got me thinking about mail bombs and villains sending them. The thing about a mail bomb is that it’s an unexpected surprise of an unpleasant sort. When the hero gets it, they probably have no reason to expect it’s a bomb and will likely just open it. And the thing about bombs is that if you’re holding it when it explodes, there’s really no chance of you making it out of that alive. You’re blown up. Game over.
Really, that should be the case with all bombs in general, supernatural powers aside.
The thing about bombs is that they’re a cheap shot, which of course* your villain would use. Especially a mail bomb surprise.
The thing about a cheap shot is that they’re quite hard to justify a hero’s escape, and the best way to keep your hero alive is to avoid putting him up against things like bombs altogether. However, if it was possible for your villain to do some simple mail bomb and he didn’t, you get the “why didn’t they just shoot Voldemort” kind of problem.
Why didn’t the villain just, y’know, blow up the hero, or otherwise take the cheap shot? Like I mentioned, it’s actually really hard to mail something like a bomb to someone nowadays so if you’re writing modern fiction, it’s not like a mail bomb is a super viable solution that you’d have to worry about. But watch for obvious solutions you’re ignoring because you can’t figure out how your hero survives them. That just makes your villain weak, which makes your hero weak.
If your villain can kill off your hero easily, he needs to do it. And if you can’t afford to kill your hero, you need to come up with a good reason why either your hero survives or an excellent reason why your villain doesn’t try to take the cheap shot. *It is possible that your villain could just have a higher moral standard than that, or be psychotic enough to prefer a proper game of cat and mouse.
You don’t ever want your readers or critics wondering, “Well why didn’t he just ____?” I mean, that’s the big thing with LOTR.
So look out for an easier way and make sure you have a viable reason as to why either hero or villain didn’t just take it. Especially villains with a cheap shot.
And maybe if it’s just far too easy for your villain to kill your hero…your hero needs to be killed and someone else must rise up or take over. Kill your darlings, Stephen King said – killing the main hero is a unique enough of an occurrence that it could be worth your while to try…and it could be that it’s just what your story needs.