Feb 17 2010

Bad Decisions Make Badass Stories

Whether you’re writing a thriller or a romance, an unbroken chain of victories for the hero is probably not very interesting. Come on.  Even Batman makes mistakes.  Unlike most good decisions, poor decisions and ineptly-executed plans create consequences that the character has to overcome, which lets you raise the stakes for the heroes and make the journey more difficult.

Here are some further suggestions about bad decisions.

1.  Please connect the poor decision to an aspect of the character, like a personality flaw or a fear or a defining attribute. For example, if a superhero is exceedingly self-confident, it makes sense that he’d rush into battle without figuring out whether he’s gonna get beat around the block.  In contrast, if a generally well-prepared protagonist acts uncharacteristically hasty without a good reason, you’ve inadvertently given him an idiot ball.  That’s a problem because it isn’t true to the characterization you’ve given him thus far.

2. If you need a character to make an uncharacteristically poor decision, please have a good reason in-story. For example, perhaps the character has been rushed by a ticking clock, like a massive bomb ticking down to zero.  Or perhaps a shy girl only makes an ill-advised move on the high school quarterback because he just sent her a text-message expressing his undying love… but the message was actually a set-up sent by a bitchy rival.

3.  When the characters make poor decisions, make sure there are consequences. Hold them accountable.  Please DO NOT just let the other characters easily forgive the mistakes or have the villains release them with a stern warning.  Bad decisions are interesting precisely because the characters have to overcome the consequences.  If there are no consequences, why bother writing the mistake in the first place?  It doesn’t matter.

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