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Storytelling and Writing Craft > What Not To Do Files: Want Suspense? - Stupid Characters need not apply

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message 1: by Graeme (last edited Jul 27, 2018 10:16PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments I don't know about anyone else, but one of my pet peeves when watching a film, TV show, or reading a book is when a character gets themselves into trouble through an act of blindingly obvious stupidity.

The problem for me is that I immediately lose all sympathy for them. (Draining all the suspense) I may even begin cheering for the other guy....

Is this a pet peeve for you?

Have you been tempted to write a character who gets into trouble by doing something stupid? If so, how did you handle this?

Have you explicitly avoided writing stupid characters to avoid this (loss of care factor) issue?


message 2: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin The same here. I try my best to show my MCs as at least being smart, if not highly intelligent. Even in films that are meant to be comedies, stupidity makes me cringe, not laugh. One particular peeve of mine is when, in a police movie/novel, they put in charge of the affair a particularly obtuse senior police officer who will of course miss all the evident clues and dismiss the opinions of his brighter subalterns, all to create extra 'drama'. I like it best when both the protagonist and the antagonist are intelligent and act in a smart way, making it a battle of witts.

Finally, don't forget the famous saying by Tony Bullet Tooth, in the movie 'SNATCH': Never underestimate the predictability of stupidity.


message 3: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments Great points Michel,

Your view on "I like it best when both the protagonist and the antagonist are intelligent and act in a smart way, making it a battle of wits....." - is exactly what I like to do as well.


message 4: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9457 comments I also hate getting the MC into a crisis through stupidity. It doesn't raise the tension for me - it merely makes me shake my head in despair. The obstinate senior police officer who seems to be as thick as a plank also irritates me - ion he is that stupid, how did he get there?

But another point that really annoys me is the MC who has behaved with abysmal stupidity and gets into a terrible situation THEN gets out of it with a sequence of luck that makes winning the lottery look outright probable. What I try to do in my stories is to plot it so that the successful characters follow some sort of plan that has a reasonable chance of working. Everybody needs some luck, for example sneaking into somewhere without a guard seeing them is to me acceptable, because it can be done. I also have a pet peeve (am I being too peevish??) of MC suffering serious injury and then carrying on as if there were no consequences. I have seen some where the MC takes a knife wound to the gut, then next day he is running around as if nothing had happened. Sorry, that is impossible.


message 5: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments Ian wrote: "he is that stupid, how did he get there?..."

I had a manager once whose sole skill was 'managing upward.'


message 6: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments Ian wrote: "the MC who has behaved with abysmal stupidity and gets into a terrible situation THEN gets out of it with a sequence of luck that makes winning the lottery look outright probable. ..."

Done well - it's quality farce - but miss the very small mark and it's abysmal.


message 7: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin I also get irritated at cases of 'miraculous recovery'. One kind of scene I see too often on TV is when the MC is lying in a hospital bed, covered with bandages and plugged to IVs, but is able to fight back against an assassin who entered the hospital to finish him. Excuse me, but bullet wounds hurt, a lot! Simply moving a shot arm would be very painful, yet we are to believe that someone could use that wounded arm to wrestle with an assailant? Give me a break! Yet, how often do we see that kind of scene in police/action drama?


message 8: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments Endlessly...


message 9: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9457 comments The knife wound to the gut is worse. In ancient times, most of the times, you died. Now with modern surgery you have a chance, but any major surgery leaves you in a hospital bed for a while, and in another bed for a lot longer, other than "hobbling around". Any blow, or sharp fall, would simply tear the wound open, or worse, start internal bleeding.


message 10: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments Clearly, heroes are made of 'sterner,' stuff.


message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9457 comments Or authors haven't undergone surgery.


message 12: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments That too.


message 13: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2144 comments Unless your hero is in a futuristic sci fi with a magical medbay...One swipe with the Regenerator and your hero is good as new :D


message 14: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments Or he's a genetically engineered supersoldier


message 15: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9457 comments Or he's an android. But let's get a little realistic here :-)


message 16: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7205 comments Yeah - like cybernetically enhanced.


message 17: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2144 comments This line of discussion is funny, cause last night, in the part of one book I'm currently reading, one of the secondary characters takes an arrow to the chest, and I honestly couldn't believe the author was going to kill him off...I was actually glad for all the coincidences that kept him alive...It didn't hit anything major. All we have to do is stop the bleeding. He'll be fine but he'll have to wear this sling to remind him not to overdo it.

The author himself is a little funny because there is no way his stuff should be interesting...he gets swept up in the mundane, the danger is usually resolved with minimal danger, etc., etc., yet I can't put his stuff down. I actually love everything about his work that I just shouldn't like. Discussions like these are important for those of us who write, but every now and then, you find one author who can excel by doing what he or she shouldn't.


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