Your characters should save themselves


Still listening to ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ and it’s still very good, but another of my peevs has appeared. And again, it’s not a deal-breaker, and is hardly worth mentioning except I need stuff to blog about if I’m going to do this every day, so, you get to hear me whine about it.

I’m going to make up a situation that has nothing to do with the actual story to avoid spoilers. But this kind of stuff happens all the time in all kinds of books and TV and movies and it really grinds my gears.

Imagine our protagonist is hanging out at home, and doesn’t realize that a sniper has a shot aimed right at her head through the window. He’s about to pull the trigger, but at the last second, the door opens behind him on the rooftop he’s on and a maintenance person pops out to work on the air-con unit up there, and our sniper is forced to duck for cover. When he goes to take the shot again, our protagonist has moved out of range.

This won’t be a pivotal scene in most stories. Maybe it’s just a quick thing to establish that the character is in danger, or being hunted. But doing it that way is so annoying to me because it means that from then on, the entire existence of the character and the continuation of the story is only due to luck.

This is not satisfying. I want the hero to have agency, I want her to affect what’s going on. If her survival is due only to a luckily timed distraction, it is very very unsatisfying and frustrating to me.

And this happens SO OFTEN in entertainment. If your point is to have the character be a helpless victim of the world around her, just floating through life living by pure luck and the help of others, then okay, but I don’t think most people want to read about a character like that.

Again, most of these are small, inconsequential scenes. It’s like, the writer thinks ‘well, since I’m going to have an explosion anyway, it would be more exciting if that explosion knocked the badguy down right when he’s about to shoot the hero!” but, no, that’s annoying. When the character is saved by a random explosion instead of their own skill, strength or charm, then it is not only a missed opportunity for character development, but cheapens the story over all.

Please have your characters save themselves, I guarantee it will make your readers love them way more.


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