Monday, June 6, 2016

In Which Characters Make Mistakes Pt. 1

Morning, all!

Before we get into this post (spoiler, it's another post in my "rant" series) I'll be on vacation next week (well, staycation) and therefore won't be on the internet as much. Which means limited posts.

And after that I'll be teaching a class to some awesome teens, so it's possible the blogging may fall off a bit the week after as well. But I'm going to try to not let that happen.

Anyway, today I want to talk about a thing that pisses me off (and, honestly, I could write a whole essay on this topic and am a little sad I didn't while I was in my MFA. I feel so passionate about it that I'm actually going to make this more than one post. YOU'RE WELCOME. (which also means, hey! There will be at least 2 posts while I'm on staycation/teaching.)

Characters that make mistakes.

Why do they piss me off?

Wrong - they don't (ooooh, I'm a tricky one.) What pisses me off is the hatred that characters who make mistakes seems to get from some readers.

Let's break down why I think it's a problem when readers dislike books where characters make mistakes.

1. Mistakes make Conflict. Conflict makes drama
2. Characters that make mistakes are more fully-developed
3. The hate for mistake-making characters is usually only focused on female characters.

So, like I said, I'll be breaking this down into multiple posts so today we're just going to focus on #1.

1. Mistakes make Conflict. Conflict makes drama.

Conflict is what drives a story forward. And when characters make mistakes, that automatically creates conflict. If we have a character who does everything right, then we either have a story where nothing happens, or a character with no agency (that is, a character where only things happen to them, and they must react. Some reacting is good. But too much is just a character who gets dragged through their life.)

Let's look at Harry Potter #5 (which is tied with #3 for my favorite.)
So many characters make so many mistakes in this one. And it leads to really bad things happening. And yet, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is such a great book. (so good, guys. Soooo good. GAH! I love that movie, too. I think it may be my favorite of the movies.)

Why do these mistakes work? Two reasons.

1) they add conflict and drama.
2) There are consequences.

Let's break this ideas down with some actual examples from the book.

Big, effing mistakes made by characters in OotP:

Dumbledore doesn't tell Harry the truth about what's going on, so Harry feels in the dark, and takes things into his own hands, to play the hero because he feels abandoned.

And Harry hates Snape so much that he makes the mistake of not working on his occlumency like he should.

This leads Voldemort into tricking Harry into believing that Sirius Black has been kidnapped.

Ooh that's a lot of conflict. I mean, where would this story be if Dumbledore and Harry just didn't eff things up? It would be a vastly different story, and most likely Harry would make mistakes later in the series (because he wouldn't have these ones to grow off of) which would lead to completely different books 6 and 7.

And why else do these mistakes work?

Because there are consequences! Huge, big bad consequences!

Because of these character mistakes, Harry and gang are attacked by the death eaters, and Sirius Black is killed in the fight.

Ugh. It's so bad. But also really good, right?

That's a lot of consequence. It's also emotional, and dramatic and a great bit of story in the midst of a great bunch of novels.

Sirius's death will resonate with Harry through the rest of the books. Dumbledore will learn from his mistakes and handle things differently in the next book.

All of these things come about because Harry and Dumbledore and all the other characters of Harry Potter constantly make mistakes.

So if you find yourself angry that a character is making mistakes, maybe pause and think about them in regards to the conflict and drama of the story, and then check to see what kind of consequences those mistakes carry.

If you have a character who is making mistakes and there aren't any consequences, well then maybe you can be miffed. But if there's drama and consequences, be glad for those character mistakes! That's some good stuff, right there.

Part II of Character Mistakes will talk about why it's important that Characters make mistakes in regards to Characterization.

How about you? Do characters making mistakes put you in a rage lather?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No one's perfect, so they need to make mistakes in order to be real.
I don't mind mistakes. I do mind very obvious ones or really stupid ones. Those tend to occur in horror films, like when everyone decides to split up. I think that's a very stupid and lazy mistake.

Maria Zannini said...

The only times I've ever gotten angry when a character makes a mistake is when the character is too stupid to live. Then I'm actually angry at the author and not the character.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I completely agree, mistakes are important. And I agree with Alex about splitting up in horror films. Have the characters in horror films never seen a horror film?

JoLynne Lyon said...

I love Wyoming dramas, but it does get tiresome how often the law enforcement type goes off into a blizzard alone. Of course this is going to end badly.

Nicola said...

Mistakes are a necessary part of life but obvious errors are irritating! Great post, Sarah. Can't wait to hear more!

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