Earlier this month I wrote about mistakes didn’t necessarily lead to murder in stories. The young woman dashing through the dark alley, alone, might make it to the other side without harm, right? Mistakes create many different and interesting pace changes, ramp the tension up or down, and otherwise move things along quite nicely.
However, mistakes might mean murder–and not the good kind. Sometimes a writer throws in a mistake that’s so unbelievable, so unreasonable, that I just can’t go along. As a reader, I can think of only two books that were so awful or hard to read that I quit without finishing. Perhaps I have a touch of OCD, but if I start reading, I have to finish reading (I will admit to taking some lengthy breaks during the process). But, finishing the book doesn’t mean enjoying the story in some cases.
What makes a mistake believable for me? It’s a package deal. My willingness as a reader to suspend my disbelief depends on the writer building a world where a character makes a mistake that is logical for the character, in a particular situation. Would a real person make the mistake? It doesn’t matter to me as a reader, as long as the mistakes is, well, in character for that character. The outcomes or influences of the mistake need to weave through the rest of the story, too. Does the protagonist become more insightful/fearful/adventurous after making the mistake? Is his/her resolve to pursue resolution strengthened/weakened? The mistake can be pretty crazy, as defined by reader me, if it’s well-designed as part of the story.
Are there any types of mistakes in stories that are absolute deal-breakers for you as reader? How about writing them–do you find them fun or challenging to write?
(Confession: it’s really hard for me to make my protag do something foolish, even if I know it’s right for the story–can’t she be perfect?!? No, no she can’t.)