Why Stupid Characters Make for Stupid Stories

This week’s video discusses the problem of making a character react without logic.

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Video Transcript:

A few weeks ago, I talked about how readers will put up with just about any flaw in a character except cowardice. But that wasn’t quite true. There’s another flaw that irritates the heck out of readers—and that is stupidity. Now it’s true we will forgive this flaw up to a point. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has to learn and grow, and not everyone is going to be Will Hunting. That’s okay. An average IQ makes a character relatable.

But there’s a difference between making the occasional stupid mistake and being downright stupid. You know the kind of character I’m talking about. These are the guys that know the powerful villain is stalking them through the house. But do they run, do they call 911, do they pick up that Glock and use it? No. And so when the bad guy actually catches up with them, readers just groan and mutter that they got what they deserved.

Usually, this kind of stupidity results from the needs of the plot. It’s not that the author wants the character to be stupid. It’s more that he needs the character to remain in the house, he needs to prevent anyone from showing up on the scene to help, and he needs to keep the bad guy alive—all in order to pull off the climactic battle just as he has imagined it.

This is all fine and good. We all have to jimmy our story events to get them to fit our vision of the plot. But we have to be wary of sacrificing logic even to the needs of an exciting climax. If readers are too busy headbanging your book and howling about how dumb your hero is, they’re probably not going to care—much less be impressed—by the time that climactic scene rolls around. We like to read about smart people who get the job done, not nincompoops who would be lucky to survive Black Friday in a rural Walmart. So keep it in mind as you’re plotting your way along.


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Originally published on Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors



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