|Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos on Flickr|
Let’s take a look at a few examples (some of these are a little spoilery, so proceed with caution):
- The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien)—Paranoid about people trying to take the ring from him, Frodo sends Sam away, follows Gollum into a rather eerie tunnel alone and nearly gets eaten by Shelob, the giant spider. And he sort of decides at the last possible second that he’s not going to destroy the ring after all, so Gollum has to bite his finger off to get it away from him.
- The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)—Over the course of seven novels Harry makes some judgments about Snape and accuses him of more than a couple horrendous crimes, and we all know how that turned out. Oh, and there’s also that nasty habit he has of running into situations unprepared that often leads to people dying.
- Divergent (Veronica Roth)—Tris refuses to forgive a certain depressed teenager and says some horrible (if not deserved) things to him and shortly thereafter he commits suicide.
These are just a few examples, but the list goes on.
There’s something to be learned from these characters’ less-than-stellar decision-making skills, namely, that characters make mistakes just like their real-life counterparts—except their mistakes often have more dire consequences.
But character errors are more than just a chance to make our readers want to slam their heads into walls: they provide opportunity for character growth, great tension-filled plot points and a chance for our readers to relate to them. We all make mistakes, and reading about a character who never makes mistakes not only misses a whole slew of plot possibilities, but also makes the character significantly more difficult to relate to.
In short, I encourage you to make sure your characters make plenty of errors along their journeys. Don’t be afraid to let them royally mess up or make the consequences of their actions dire.
Because just like reality, mistakes are essential for our growth, and unlike reality, they make the plot significantly more interesting.
What do you think? Are character mistakes important? Do your characters make enough mistakes?