Tag Archive for Bad decisions make good stories

Bad Decisions Make Good Stories

Detail from self-published book, age 5-6, by yours truly, assisted by my brother Neal.

 

Bad decisions make good stories.

It’s something I know now, as a published author long in the tooth, but I understood it even when I was a kid, drawing my first books, telling the words to any sibling who’d transcribe them for me. I could draw, just didn’t yet have the ability to write the words.

The art is taken from a book I made as a young boy, miraculously stored safely away in the attic by my mother. You see, long before I got my current gig, I used to make books and sell them to my friends and neighbors.

Anyway, here’s another detail to that same page. We’ll call it, “Tarzan’s Bad Idea.”

If you can’t read my brother Neal’s handwriting: “I had better go down and fight the lion.”

When I show this story to kindergartners, I’ll sometimes mention that if I were Tarzan, I’d be like, “Okay, gee. I’m going to stay up in this tree until that lion goes away.”

We all agree that would make a crummy book!

“Bad Decisions Make Good Stories.”

I came across this wall photo on the web. I wasn’t too crazy about it, frankly, didn’t strike me as hysterical, but number 10 got my attention:

Bad decisions make good stories.

(Click on the image if you wish to make it larger. You know that, right?)

I think that five-word sentence serves as an excellent piece of advice to writers. Just as we don’t want to read about perfect people who always do the right thing, and think the correct thoughts, there is nothing duller than a character who never makes a mistake.

It’s the imperfections that make us human. The wrong turns that take us to unexpected places.

I recently received an email from a middle school teacher who complimented me on Bystander. However, she wondered about the scene late in the book when Eric snuck into Griffin’s house. She wasn’t comfortable with it, didn’t feel that Eric was modeling the appropriate behavior, sending the right message. My answer was simple. First, I reminded her, respectfully, that I wrote a story, not a thesis, and that I never intended for Eric to portray “all the correct responses” to bullying. And secondly, that I had no desire to write about a character who never experienced a lapse of judgment. More importantly, as a writer I understood and recognized Eric’s motivation — that part made sense to me, the urge for revenge, why he wanted to take back what was stolen from him — even if it wasn’t the “right” thing to do.

The lapse made him more human.

Again:

Bad decisions make good stories.

Just to be clear: I also dislike it when character do incredibly stupid things for seemingly no reason, or when they act in ways that are inconsistent with their character. The “bad decision” should (or must) fit in with the logic of the character as written.

Or so I tell myself.