Amateur writers often make the mistake of creating characters that are both hyperintelligent and omniscient.
I don’t mean that most stories are peopled with demigods and metahumans, but that the characters of stories regularly have a greater ability to observe and learn from their surroundings and the events that they take part in.
In games played by nerds, this is called a Perception boost.
Look at our own lives. How much of the events of our daily lives can we be said to understand and correctly perceive? Even what we do notice is seen through the warped lens of subjectivity.
Quickly consider how confusing a day of your own past was. Let’s say a single day in your years of upper high school. You may have played a sport, attended a class, talked with a friend, and maybe smooched with your girlfriend if you had one (but you probably didn’t). Compare the thoughts you had back then with the your life now, and the path time has carved from where you were to where you are today.
Did the things you thought mattered actually matter?
Did you end up entering the career that you had thought you were destined for?
Are you still friends with your High School buddy? If you aren’t, do your new friends even have similar personalities to your old friends?
How about that girlfriend you probably didn’t have, did you marry her? Do you even know what she’s doing these days?
This is not an idle jab at the passage of time and the malleability of our own events, but an attempt to show how confusing reality can be. At any point in your own past, did you think you’d be where you are now? Probably not. Did you understand a single moment in its entirety and its place in the Grand Scheme of Things? I doubt it.
Compare this stuttering uncertainty to the confidence and competence of an ordinary character in an ordinary story:
These predictable characters have an uncanny ability to discern when a moment of their lives will become important in their life to come. They’re almost always undeniably right.
EXAMPLE: When the main character marries the girl they met on the subway, she always turns out to be the girl of his dreams.
The girl I met on the subway tried to steal my wallet. (I’m looking at YOU, Cynthia!)
In all events of their story, they are able to immediately process it correctly. They can correctly discern the virtues of a man, the meaning of events, and the time of day effortlessly at the drop of a hat.
This has been a long windy way to state something short and tacit: If you are a writer, for the sake of your readers, don’t be afraid to create characters who are wrong.
Give them bad opinions. Make them bigots. Create stories populated by fools.
Your stories will ring with truth and authenticity in a world of cardboard cutouts.
This is, after all, the human condition: to be constantly unsure and incorrect. To be wrong, to pick ourselves up with dignity, and continue on our merry way is the path of all men.
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” -GK Chesterton
Thanks for reading, folks. You’re a blessing to me, every one of you. -BW