before, focusing your story on a rookie has benefits and liabilities.
On the one hand, we’ll identify more with the hero, since we, too, have just jumped up to our neck into this world—She needs to hear a lot of the same exposition that we need to hear, so sitting on her shoulder is a good place for us to be. She’ll also be more of an underdog, and less powerful, increasing our fear for her, and making it more of a triumph if she succeeds.
But, on the other hand, it’s easy for an audience to get exasperated with a rookie. We always want to root for the person who’s most qualified to solve the problem-- if she has a smarter boss, why aren’t we rooting for him? And how can we agonize over her decisions if she’s not the one with the final decision-making power? The more high-stakes things get, the more likely it is that she’ll have to simply hand-off the problem, which would be a huge anti-climax.
Each of these questions could be dealt with by making Clarice more of a “renegade”: “Put me in charge, boss! You’ll see that I’m as smart as you and you can trust me to make my own decisions!” Or: “You’re wrong, boss, and here’s my badge! I’m going solo and I’m going to solve this problem on my own!”
But this isn’t that type of movie, thankfully, and it doesn’t have to be. Instead, Ted Tally subtly tweaks the plot in many different ways to create the right circumstances-- The character doesn’t put herself in charge, the plot puts her in charge:
- Why send a rookie to talk to Lecter? He’ll only talk one-on-one, won’t talk to Crawford anymore, and has a weakness for pretty young women. Besides, it’s just a longshot—they don’t seriously suspect that he knows anything about Buffalo Bill.
- But what about once the FBI knows that Lecter knows something? It’s too late to sub out a full-fledged agent, because Lecter has unexpectedly formed a bond with Clarice. Now they have to trust the rookie with this huge responsibility.
- But what about after the big escalation, when Bill takes a Senator’s daughter, surely they won’t leave a rookie in charge now? Indeed, they take her off the case, and Lecter gives a name to the Senator, but only Clarice realizes that it’s a fake, so now she’s effectively leading the investigation.
- Finally, the big question for any thriller: why does she go into the finale alone with no back-up? Because she had no idea he might be there—she thought she just was going to interview a potential witness.
- Why are we sure her boss isn’t going to bring the cavalry? Because he and the main team are two states away following a false lead.