Stupid is a Terrible Plot Device

If you hang out on my wall on Facebook it’s probably clear I’ve been struggling with this latest urban fantasy novel.  Some of that was due to getting picked as one of the top S.F. and fantasy novels of 2013 – Kirkus – Best fiction 2013 science fiction & fantasy.  Boy has this ever left me frozen.  Here’s the mind games I’m playing with myself.  Oh my god!  This is awesome!  But wait, the new book sucks!  This will be the one that proves I have no talent.  How can I make it not suck?  Maybe the end I’ve got is stupid.  Yeah, it’s stupid.  But I’m almost done.  I can’t change it now.  But it sucks.  You get the idea.

In an effort to clear my head I had set PUBLISH AND PERISH aside and worked on WILD CARDS, and the proposal for my new space opera series.  Yesterday I finally came back to the urban fantasy.  I grabbed some cards and a marker, and just started jotting down random notes.  I knew the problem — I needed to get my heroine into the hands of the bad guys, but how to do that?  I analyzed and rejected a number of possibilities because once I boiled them down to their essence I realized the relied on one thing and one thing alone — that my character would be stupid.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I have no problem with characters making mistakes because of their own essential natures or they misunderstand a situation.  If there’s one thing I hate more then characters acting stupid it’s perfect characters who never make a mistake while the bad guys are all morons.  Unfortunately every approach I considered had Linnet being an idiot.  There was the “I’m going to confront the man who has betrayed me!”  Thus putting her in his hands.  No.  There was the she gets the call that something has happened to  her brother/mother/friend so she trusts this information and goes, thus putting herself in the hands of the bad guys.  No.  There was the bad guys are so brilliant that they figure out where she is hiding and seize her in a big action sequence, but I had her being clever and being well hidden so that wouldn’t work.  I would also have had to deal with her companions and I wasn’t ready for a big blood bath and there would have to be a blood bath.  My bad guys aren’t going to be Bond Villains and leave a bunch of people alive who could effect a rescue.

As I sat analyzing the various characters in the book a solution presented itself, but one that grew organically out of the characters themselves.  Their hopes and dreams and aspirations.  It felt right and suddenly I could write again.  I had known the end.  Now I knew how to get there.

I think this is why I love my profession so much.  It’s about dreaming and problem solving.  Meeting people and discovering more and more about them as you write.  While it’s the same tools in your writing tool box you often use the tools in different ways and in different orders so it never feels rote or dull.  Every book is different which is why I have done this for so long without getting bored.  Every other career I tried left me ultimately unsatisfied, but not this one.

One Response to Stupid is a Terrible Plot Device

  • “If there’s one thing I hate more then characters acting stupid it’s perfect characters who never make a mistake while the bad guys are all morons.” Amen, sistah!

    Enjoyed the last 2 Linnet books immensely, and have enjoyed seeing glimpses into the next one. Thanks for being so accessible, Melinda.

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When miracles are admitted, every scientific explanation is out of the question. — Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

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