I hate stupid people.
Now when I say that, I am not talking about uneducated people. In my opinion there are plenty of highly degreed idiots out there and smarts are not always correlated with being able to sit through long lectures and regurgitate that information on command (I can mock them- yes, I have been through the education mill- I have the student loans and useless degrees to show for it ;)).
What I hate are people who just won’t try to figure things out. You know the ones who walk into the abandoned house right after a serial killer on the loose has just been announced? The ones who even though they meet the man or woman of their dreams just can’t forgive them for something extremely trivial? Now in these cases it’s not the fault of the character or actor- sadly we have met the enemy and it is us.
Writers create stupid people.
We don’t mean to. Sometimes it’s just that we are focusing so much on getting all of the little plot pieces where they need to go, when they need to be there, we fail to realize our characters have crossed into “TSTL” range (Too Stupid To Live).
We worry too much about “making things happen” that we fail to pay attention to the character. Most often, when a character is acting TSTL the cause is an author pushing the character somewhere they weren't supposed to go.
So how can we as writers make sure we don’t create stupid characters? By always questioning our character's actions, goals, and motivations. They not only need to be progressing through the story- they need to be progressing in a logical way through the story. When your character turns into that haunted house right after the news announcement of a crazed head hunter on the loose- she better have a damn good reason. (And no, chasing a missing cat, dog, or gerbil doesn’t count. BEEN DONE TO DEATH – aka BDTD). And for goodness sakes if your character absolutely has to do something stupid- make sure they acknowledge it. They can admit it’s dumb, they can fret about doing it, but their reasons for doing it had better be solid and stronger than the argument for not doing it.
Make sure your characters are moving how they are supposed to- not the way YOU want them to. Question EVERYTHING!
Have you ever found one lurking in your book? In a book you've read?
Have I ever seen a character TSTL? There's a popular TV series on right now that in its first season had its characters literally run into place they knew contained cold blooded killers because...(read motivation here) we have to get them! Once inside a place they were unfamiliar with and which was pitch black our band of TSTLs turned on their flashlights and separated (read offered themselves up as individual targets) to increase their chances to find the bad guy(s). That last bit was their stated motivation. In my book it was just a way to heighten tension and eliminate a few to make the audience a) hate the villains more and b) have our heartstrings pulled. It backfired on me. I'm screaming are you CRAZY at the screen and hoping all these TSTL characters bit the big one and put me out of my misery.ReplyDelete
As a writer, I hope no one else looks at my characters' actions and has an are you CRAZY moment. I am guilty of having my characters break story rules in order to gain something they value, even if they know deep down it's probably a stupid move. But maybe that makes them appear TSTL to some people.
Good post, Marie.
LOL!!! I'm sure the characters heard you Sharon! But I know what you mean. I think if a character knows a choice is dumb but does it anyway for the right reason, then it still works. It's when the only reason is "the writer needed it to go that way" that problems occur :).Delete
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Great Post Marie. In addition to TSTL characters, I am annoyed by the writer who has their characters do something to advance the story even though it is out of character. Like the kick-ass female protagonist who suddenly becomes the weak victim so the love interest can sweep in to save the day and then goes back to being kick-ass. I read a book by a NY Times bestselling author (I am not naming names) that had the female protagonist take on a couple of assassins that had just downed a vampire because she couldn't stand bullies. She spent the rest of the book following the vampire around claiming to be weak and taking no real action on her own. Then in the final scene she ends up alone with the bad guy and kicks his butt and saves the day. I liked the character in the first and last scenes, but the character in the middle was a whiny wimp. Needless to say, I didn't read any of the other books in that series.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Cyndi! Although you're stronger than me- I probably would have thrown that book across the room! Ok, not if it was a Kindle...but ya know what I mean ;). I did read one SF book where the main character was billed like the toughest chick around, and everyone kept saying she was. Did we ever see it? Ummm no. Not as bad as what you described- but the same, "Blech" feeling left behind.Delete
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I was just reading one of Jenny Crusie's blogs about Arrow, where she called this phenomenon plot driven character. I thought that was a great term for it. And the great thing about being a writer is that we create these characters, so we can always go back and give them the motivation they need if we catch the problem.ReplyDelete
OOOOO! I like that, Shoshana! Although maybe it should be, "plot road kill character" ;).Delete
Yup we can always change them after the fact- but better to avoid them completely if we can ;).
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