Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sometimes avoiding the stupids ain't easy.

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?


  1. This is great, Marie--my series heroine has had a few Too Stupid to Live moments. Thank goodness so far some astute critiquer has pulled her off the ledge I was having her leap from...or at least I hope they did. She usually admits when she's doing something ridiculous, which helps a little.

  2. Thanks Suzanne :). I will admit I've had one or two (cough) moments where some character has done something dumb. Perhaps not a true TSTL moment- but a "what the heck?!" moment for sure!

  3. Marie,
    Great post. As I read, I thought about the time I encountered a mountain lion on my deck, and didn't realize it was a mountain lion (I think my brain just shut off, and I thought it was a REALLY BIG tom-cat). It was very late at night, and dark, and I was alone. What did I do? I told it to go away, realized what it was (after it had stepped into the darkness), and FOLLOWED...stopping under a tree to think about what I was doing...
    Yep. Stupid. Only excuse? I couldn't believe there was a mountain lion in my yard and I was in shock.
    But when writing, if the internals and dialogue show the character's motivation (even if it's shock) then you can put them in just about any situation (IMHO anyway)

  4. Thanks for coming by Marne Ann :)- and GREAT story! Although that could work great to show how discombulated a character is :)