Bad decisions make good stories

Agent Rachelle Gardner had a good post recently on the importance of proactive protagonists. A good protagonist doesn’t just wander along, reacting to events, they make the events of the story happen. They take action, make decisions.

They can make mistakes, but what they cannot do is sit passively waiting for the story to happen to them.

This ties in with another well-known truth of writing – that in fact, mistakes are where the story happens. If everything goes smoothly, it’s not much of a story. But if every time the protagonist tries to solve their initial problem, they just dig themselves deeper into a hole, the story gets interesting.

Bad decisions make good stories.

It amazes me how I can know all this in theory, yet in practice, I not only make all these writing mistakes I’ve read about, but I don’t even see that I’ve made them.

I’m 90,000 words into Dragonheart, and not till my heroine hurls an accusation at her long-lost love do I look at what I’ve just typed and go hang on … She’s right! She did devote the whole first part of the story to doing X to try to be reunited with him. So how come as soon as she met up with some other characters who wanted to do the exact opposite of X she meekly fell in with their plans? How the hell does that work?

There’s a gaping hole in her motivation you could drive a truck through and I didn’t even realise. She was just floating along, letting other characters drive the action. And look what a cool conflict I missed! She wants X, her allies want the exact opposite – sparks should be flying. She should be up to her armpits in alligators, as everything she does makes the situation worse, not cheerfully letting these other characters run her life for her.

Sometimes I can’t see the wood for the trees. I get so tangled up in the intricacies of the subplots I forget about the big things.

I guess that’s why they invented revision.

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