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September 2019
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Aerden [userpic]
Allowing Characters to Make Mistakes


Setting: The starship USS Odyssey.
Situation: after a briefing about an upcoming away mission, one of the officers assigned to the Away Team asks the Ship's Counselor (while both are still on the Bridge) for advice on a problem he is having with a fellow officer who has also been assigned to the away team. Officer #1 has diarrhea of the mouth--sharing way more details of the conflict than the Bridge officers need to know, and the Counselor hauls Officer #1 into the conference room (adjacent to the Bridge) to discuss Officer #1's problem in more privacy.

Once the situation is fully explained to the Counselor, the Counselor reads Officer #1 the riot act for being highly unprofessional. As Officer #1 and the Counselor calm down, they suddenly realize that the Captain and the second officer never exited the conference room after the mission briefing ; they are still there, hearing everything. Both the Counselor and Officer #1 have egg on their faces.

Granted, this isn't an entirely realistic situation--Both the Counselor and the young officer would have seen the Captain and second officer, and the Counselor would have immediately taken the young fellow to his office. But, because this happened in an email RP, in which there are no visuals except written text, this detail was overlooked, and it made a wonderful capper to the Counselor's frank discussion of views with the young officer.

I wrote the counselor's part of the above story, and this vignette has gotten me to thinking about when it is a good idea to allow characters to make mistakes. This particular incident works so well because I can use it to illustrate how profoundly abnormal my character's telepathy is--He literally did not notice that two other people were in the room because they were non-telepathic aliens. Thus he did not detect their mental signatures until his attention was drawn to them.

Under normal cirmstances--If I'd been writing the entire story and had remembered/been aware of all details--This disaster on the Counselor's part would never have happened. He would have seen the Captain and Second Officer in the conference room and would have immediately dragged the younger officer elsewhere. Because the detail was overlooked, we got to have a wonderful scene in which the counselor had his say and now has to eat humble pie for unintentionally doing the exact thing he was trying to prevent.

It bothers me a little that I would never have thought to have my character so completely miss something so evident, even though it works perfectly with the background I've developed for him. I've had my characters make mistakes before--my character Aerden made a doozy of one while training his healer apprentice in a Pern story I once wrote. But having my characters make mistakes which will advance the plot is not usually the thing I think of while writing. Instead, I am usually asking myself, "Is this the appropriate thing for him to do?" Character missteps on my part more usually arise frm my ignorance than from my planning. I think this is not a good thing.

Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: "Behind Closed Doors"

I have a hard time with the possibility of my "main" characters being imperfect -- as in making serious errors on the job that damage other people, being immoral or unethical, or not having a sort of omniscient quality to them. Problem: those are the things that frequently do move plots and certainly they make the characters more realistic. I like my characters, though; I want them to be good. Partly they are extensions in a weird way of myself. I have one character, a police detective, about whom when I return to my detective fiction writing I probably need to be honest. For example, he's divorced, which is good, because it would have created character issues for him to never have married and be in his 40s, and I want him to have love interests. Problem: why is he divorced? Now, you don't have to be a bad person to get divorced, so of course, he's not. In fact, I have it figured out that his wife was a terrible person, who threw a tantrum and just walked off when they discovered he couldn't have children, blah, blah, blah . . . . Stop. Their marriage didn't work for a reason.

Now, I can come up with a good story, and maybe the one I have is enough. Actally, there's more to it than that -- it turned out he developed intellectual interests and she didn't have them so they grew apart. She didn't want to go to the symphony, and he was bored with her friends' gossip. And maybe what I really need to deal with is that when that happened, he shut her out. He started working extra shifts. He wasn't very nice to her. He didn't find ways to bring her into his world. Maybe he even had an affair (although I don't know if I could ever bring myself to that). Either way, maybe he thought about it and is guilty about it. Maybe he feels he messed up his marriage and is ashamed. Maybe he doesn't feel very likeable, sort of selfish and hypocritical. Maybe he's now a little nervous about women. Which would explain why one particular love interest always seems to stop and start, and even though he clearly wants it, he can't quite make it happen. Again, it would move the plot, but there's this part of me that has a really hard time admitting he's not perfect.

I like the idea of you developing your detective's side of the marriage more. Blaming all of the problems on his wife is too easy and a cop-out (no pun intended!). I like the idea that they developed different interests and grew apart.

I have a hard time allowing my characters to act stupidly--yet often, people do act stupidly. It's human nature. I often have my characters make their mistakes in the past, rather than in the current time of the story.

The worst thing I ever had a character of mine do was kill a person who was threatening his family. I hated, hated, hated doing that, and so did my character, but it was either kill this character or allow his family to be, for all intents and purposes, enslaved to evil. My character could have solved the problem by knocking his victim unconscious and teleporting himself and his family away to safety--except it didn't occur to him--or to me--until three months later that there was a non-violent solution. That scared me, though it also meant that I was very much in my character's ehad and thinking like him, which I thought was a good thing.

However, this character would not 'speak' to me for a week afterward.


That's always been a weakness of yours...you seem to be unwilling to engage in a little character torture, even when it's called for. Torture them, abuse them, let them do stupid things. Character abuse can be fun.

Take Lord Kirebal...he made the biggest mistake of his life when he appointed Dalton Steward, even if it hasn't come back to bite him on the butt, yet. :)

Wait a minute. I thought Kirebal's Steward was...I forget who. The invaluable guy.

Or am I mixing him up with a guy who used to work for Althea?

Yeah, definite problems with torturing my own characters. I like them too much.


Oh yeah, so invaluable, if you can't even remember him. :)

Kirebal's last Steward was a man who made a heavy-handed attempt to undermine Lord K by cutting out some of his supporters, only to be caught at it and executed by Himself. Dalton took over as Steward by appointment, and has been there "ever since."

Hey, he wasn't invaluable to me. (g)

I think I am beginning to remember Dalton now.

I miss all those characters, Darian and Patricia, too.


Well, when all was said and done, there wasn't really a lot of Dalton to remember in the first place. I think he showed up in all of one story. So, you're forgiven. :)

Heck, I miss the whole crowd. The GEnie chats on Sunday nights, the Dragoncon get-togethers, dropping a cannon in a Pernfic and listening to Regina rant about it...