Friday, January 18
Better Plotting: 7 Ways Your Characters Can Screw up Their Decisions
Lifehack had a great post about how not to mess up your decisions. The writer in me instantly saw what a great guide it was to crafting characters with bad decision-making skills, which of course make for more interesting plots. Nobody likes a smarty pants.
As people, we want to make the right choice, so it's only natural that those are the choices that first come to us as we write. But doing the right thing doesn't always cause wonderful conflict (though when it does it's writing gold). Characters shouldn't act like people who've had three weeks to consider their options just because the author took that long to write the scene. A decision made in the heat of the moment isn't the same as one made with weeks to consider.
So here are some handy ways your character can make the wrong choice next time they're faced with an all-important decision:
1. Be impulsive
One of my favorites, as my protagonist, Nya, is always jumping in before she thinks. This is a helpful flaw for characters who need to learn patience, or who don't always consider how their actions affect others. Snap judgments, quick decisions, charging full-speed ahead without thinking beyond the now. If you need to get your protagonist in over her head fast, consider this mistake.
2. Make decisions under pressure
When you think about it, you should always force your characters to do this, because a ticking clock is a reliable way to raise stakes and increase tensions in a story. But as Lifehack says, pressure can come in subtle forms, and that can carry over into your novel. Small pressures build to big explosions, so if you need your characters to blow their tops, try looking for small ways to eat at them leading up to that explosion.
(More on adding small problems to your plot)
3. Over-analyze everything
If characters are so busy trying to figure out the right thing to do, they might totally miss the opportunity to act at all. Lost chances a character can regret later make wonderful seeds to plant early on in a story, and can cause huge emotional trauma during that Dark Moment of the Soul at the end of act two. Over analyzing can also work to sneak it possible dangers and outcomes, helping to raise tensions and keep things unpredictable since so many bad things might occur.
4. Assume you know it all
Perfect for the protagonist who needs to learn a valuable lesson about working with others. Let him be convinced he's always right, doesn't need advice from anyone else, and he has no problem stating that fact to anyone who will listen. The fall here when reality strikes will be devastating, and all the more satisfying.
(More on making your characters make tough choices)
5. Never consider all the options
An informed protagonist is a boring protagonist. Choices made without the benefit of a solid foundation of knowledge can lead a myriad of delightful screw ups. Maybe there's no time for research, or there's something he just doesn't want to think about (denial, much?). Missing key information can send a character into a mess of their own making.
6. Never ask advice
Who needs a long-winded story from some old geezer about how he did it when he was younger? Times change, and what worked then surely won't work now. This is a flaw for the protagonist who doesn't respect tradition or the consul of others. The more people you piss off, the fewer there will be when you need them at the climax.
(More on crafting choices that matter)
7. Don't make alternative plans
Who needs Plan B? An overconfident protagonist might never see the need for backup plans, because everything is going to go just like she expects. So when things start falling to pieces, she's very likely incapable of wise action to correct her mistake. Which causes events to snowball, getting her into more and more delicious trouble.
(More on making the most of the worst than can happen)
Making smart choices is vital in the real world, but making conflict-creating bad choices is a must for the fictional world. While you don't want your characters to be stupid (unless it's by design), mistakes leads to growth, and a good character grows by the end of the tale. Try adding a few bad decision-making skills to your characters and enjoy the fun.
How often do your characters make bad decisions?