Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Monday, 2 June 2014

Decisions, Decisions by Gill Stewart




Christophe Dioux Wikimedia Commons

 The decisions character make are crucial to the story line.  I’ve heard creative writing tutors suggest (frequently) that getting a character to make the wrong decision is what drives the story forward.  And I agree, this can be the case.

But how many times does the character have to make a wrong decision before it is totally overdone?  I’ve started quite a few books recently and wanted to scream at them because the main character is just too stupid to be interesting.   It’s probably okay for a character to do something unwise 2 or 3 times – but endlessly?  Personally I give up, skip to near the end of the book and don’t read that author again (unless the end is stupendous, which it rarely is).

Complex girls and women with problems, yes, let’s write about those.  But ones who always choose the wrong guy, spend money they don’t have, and worry about the labels of their clothes and their figures more than their souls…  Well, personally I’ve had enough of them.  Decisions need to be made in keeping with the over-all character development, they need to be understandable and to add to the interest of the plot.  They should NOT be there as an obvious device to ‘keep things moving’ or to make sure there can be a sequel.  Above all they should not be endless repetitions of the same mistakes.

You can get great emotion, tension, interest into a book without having the characters being idiots!  A few new writers who do this successfully come to mind:  Imogen Howson (short-listed for the 2014 Young Adult Romantic Novel of the Year), Tammy Falkner’s books are great on emotion (with maybe too much sex, but obviously other people like that!). 

This is just my opinion, of course, but I think writers should try a little harder to avoid the easy route of a ‘wrong decision’ and find a more interesting (and believable) way to drive the story forward.  I wonder if you agree?

11 comments:

  1. Gill, you are so right! There's nothing more annoying than that moment when you think: "but why didn't you just call the police/tell the truth/leave well alone" or whatever else it might be.
    The art is in giving your characters a reason for making a mistake. Let's face it - we all do make mistakes but in real life we never do it just to help the plot along!

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  2. OMG - THANK YOU! It is so hard to take a story seriously when the heroine is a dummy. Even if that is how her character is described, there has to be some kind of growth before story's end, or what is the point? However, the growing trend is to make the lead female a CEO, a business owner, or some independent, sharp, savvy career woman. But, how are we supposed to believe she navigated her way through life to attain this success, and she can't even discuss her feelings with the man she loves without running from the room...repeatedly? The angst, confrontations, and epiphanies are all a part of the story, but unless executed with thought, the story ends up like so many (especially a dozen or so on my Kindle)...unbelievable and unfinished.

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    1. Yes, I also find it particular difficult to believe in a heroine who is supposedly succesful and then also an idiot. It doesn't work for me. Pleased to see I am not alone!

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  3. I do agree with this. Recently I gave up on a book for this very reason, thinking how could anyone with any common sense do/say so many daft things. I have to be able to respect the character, even when things go wrong for them because I know they will have the strength or resourcefulness to get themselves back on track so I have to read on to see the solution.

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    1. Thanks Gwen. That's exactly what we want, a heroine with strength and resourcefulness. There should be more of them!

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  4. Absolutely right, Gill - this annoyed me recently when a character was being unnecessarily obtuse just to prolong the denouement!

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    1. Thanks Rosemary. I think we might be on to something here. We just need to work out how to let The Powers That Publish that we'd like books with less idiotic heroines!

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  5. I think the thing with this is we are all - in real life - told that it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them and, hopefully, don't repeat them. But fiction isn't real life....these daffy heroines tend to make me grateful I'm not like them....a bit of escapism doesn't do any harm now and then, but as you so rightly say, if you're not enjoying reading it then don't read that author again.

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  6. You're right, Linda. Someone must like reading about them or they wouldn't keep getting published. Just not for me.

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