Dumbing Down: When Your Character is Dumb to move the story forward

“Why would anyone do that?”

We’ve all seen America’s Funniest Home Videos and a variety of YouTube videos where people do amazingly stupid things.  These acts often involve sliding, skating or biking down hill or up a ramp and end with a spectacular crash. My general assumption is that these videos involve alcohol and a dare.

I would love to say that in my reading I never encounter mind-bogglingly stupid characters.  I’d love to say it but I’d be lying.  They usually aren’t biking or skating or slipping.  They are usually doing something to move the story forward.

What do I mean?  There’s the girl who lives in the community with ten murder victims yet walks home through the dark woods or the cemetery.   Or you have the guy whose girlfriend is mean beyond belief but he stays with her because they still need to be together in chapter 4.

I’m not saying that you can’t send your character through the cemetery in the woods or stick the guy with the shrew but it has to be the only possible choice available right then.  You’re a writer, be creative.  Maybe your character is chasing her new puppy and he leads her into the cemetery.  Or the guy is stuck with his hateful girlfriend so that his mother doens’t loose her job.

Your character may have to make specific choices for your story to work.  That’s okay.  Just make sure that these choices make sense both for the character and the situation.  Your reader might not like how things stand but she’ll read on hoping that things will soon get better.

Yes, you as the writer need to torment your characters.  I’m not saying that you can’t get your character into a fix but you have to do it in a way that doesn’t leave the reader shaking her head.  “Seriously, you can’t be that dumb and live.”

–SueBE