When the Hero is Wrong the Story is Right

I’ve had characters who seemed to know exactly which way to turn or just the right thing to say at precisely the right moment. To some of you, this may seem like a blessing, but in fact it is a curse.

When the hero of your story knows all the angles, that’s when the story’s taken a turn for the worse.

It starts small. Maybe some insight that only you (the author) should really know. This minor indiscretion like this may not seem like a big deal. You probably don’t even notice it.

You keep going along on your merry way, writing the scene and unfolding the tale. It all becomes so easy. You’re practically whipping through the pages, and that’s when you notice that it has indeed become all to easy. Your hero is no longer in danger, not really. They’re no longer making mistakes or taking the wrong turn. They read each situation so perfectly they never misstep.

Stories that fall into this pattern become predictable. The next turn of the plot is already on the lips of the main characters and even worse the crime (if there is a crime) has already been solved. There’s no reason to proceed. You might as well close up shop and head home because the crisis/trouble/what-have-you is all over.

The story, ladies and gentlemen, has become boring.

The Hero Must Be Wrong

To be fair, as the writer you should have an inkling of what’s coming up in the story unless you’re one of those terribly lucky savants who just writes and writes what they see and never have a clue of what’s around the next bend. There is another word for this type of writer: liar.

Honestly, if you don’t realize what’s coming up you’re only fooling yourself. You most certainly know what’s coming and you must always be on guard to make sure that your characters never get wind of it.

The hero who is wrong has so much to learn. The hero who is wrong gets into trouble, becomes trouble, creates tension and crisis. The hero who is wrong is the tension at the very center of your story, and it is the unraveling of this tension which fixes the problem.

By the end, the hero turns out to be right but only after seeing exactly how wrong they have been. This is how they grow, and it is usually painful. Much more painful than we experience in our own lives, which is why we read in the first place.

So if you’re struggling with a story that’s become dull, take a look and see just when the hero was last wrong. Look for the place where the hero does something right or has a good hunch. Ask yourself if this is really the right time and what might have happened if in fact the hero had been wrong.

Do People Die When the Hero is Wrong?

God I hope so, and so should you.

There are few events (if any) that lead to the sort of crisis that befalls a hero when another character dies. This is especially true if that death was caused by some error or miscalculation on the part of the hero.

Certainly, this doesn’t mean that characters should be dropping like flies (unless you’re George RR Martin), but you shouldn’t be afraid to kill off someone and place the fault of that death squarely on the shoulders of your hero. It’s the ultimately wrong, which makes it the ultimate right in terms of the development of your story.

We Can’t Take Our Eyes Off of the Wrong-Headed Hero

And here we come to the real reason for being wrong: it’s irresistible.

What I’d like you to do now is go back and think about the stories you love and consider all the points in which the hero was “wrong”. How did you feel? Were you frustrated because you could see the error of their ways when they could not? Were you angry because something bad happened?

Good! This is exactly how you should feel. In fact, feeling is the whole point.

When we feel for the characters, we care about them. We worry about them. We can’t stop reading about them. Feeling is the whole point because it’s the reason we actually finish books (unless we’re reading them for spite or because they’ve been assigned).

Of course, I could be totally wrong about all this, but I don’t think so. 🙂

3 thoughts on “When the Hero is Wrong the Story is Right

  1. Great advice! Thanks for this. I’m sure this is critical for any fiction writer to keepin mind while their plot and main character(s) develop.

    I particularly like what you say about what makes things predictable; it’s why I can’t stand so many Hollywood blockbusters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *