(Characters) Doing the Wrong Thing: Why It Feels So Right

Writersdontcry Emoticows and the Sacred SwordThe interesting thing is almost never the “right” thing . . . at least in books! If your heroes are empathic, moral, insightful creatures who always make the right choices, then everything happens so predictably. So quickly. Leaving the reader so . . . unsatisfied.

For example. Say there’s this sacred sword that no one is supposed to touch. Your hero walks by and just can’t resist. Whether it’s because he dreams of becoming just like the hero that first wielded the sword, or because he thinks it will give him the edge he needs to defeat the villain, or even just because he’s like: “Cool sword, dude. Legends are hogwash.” Either way you cut it, your hero made a choice that was delightfully misguided, the mountain of the sacred sword starts collapsing, and you find yourself in a hero-driven story—with a heaping bonus of heroic growth potential.

Now say your hero respects the sacred sword and . . . leaves it there. Along with my interest. And the story. Sucks, right? I mean, sure, you can always throw a villain in there to bring it—trying to steal the sword, or actually stealing the sword, or even trying to destroy the sword--but then your hero is in a perpetual battle of stopping things from happening. A constant struggle to keep the villain from making things interesting. And that, frankly, is the kind of thing that makes me root for the villain. At least the villain has some direction, has some vision, has some damn growth potential! At least the villain is being interesting. The flawless hero? Boring. The epitome of the status quo. Not someone I can identify with, and not someone that’s going to be fun to read about.

Now, I’m not saying you have to make all your heroes bumbling idiots who pull things out when they shouldn’t. Or that your villain shouldn’t try to steal the sword. I’m saying that if your hero does respect the sword, and villain does steal it, then it is most interesting if the hero makes some mistakes—with dire, hilarious, or inventive consequences. Here’s a couple ways to help make that happen.

Push Your Hero’s Buttons

Buttons. Everyone has them. Nobody wants them. And few can control their reaction to a good button-mashing, even if they know what’s going down. It all adds up to an excellent way to add tension to your character interactions as well as emotional reasoning to your heroes. And once all your characters are outfitted with buttons, you can begin to pursue that holy grail of character-driven novels. See, you won’t have to guess how your hero would react to a given situation—you will know. Along with how all your other characters will react to the same situation, not to mention each other’s reactions, resulting in beautiful, compelling complications.

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