“Because I say so.” How many times have we heard that phrase? Parents say it to children. Employers say it to their employees. Unfortunately, writers also say it to their characters. When a character does something that seems entirely unreasonable, or makes a sudden change to their behavior based on little more than impulse, or there is a drastic change in an adaptation between the original character and what we as the audience experience now, it’s because the writer says so. The plot or the writer demands it.
To me, there are few things lazier.
Letting the plot dictate the actions of your characters robs them of their agency. Without agency, your characters become even more difficult for the audience to engage with on a meaningful level. If your audience is disengaged, how are they supposed to care about the story you’re trying to tell? Just like a good Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons acts more like a guide for their players than a dictator, so too does a good writer gently guide their characters rather than imposing themselves upon events, undermining the characters’ wills and reducing their significance.
Even more egregious, to me, is the writer who seems to preserve the agency of a character but railroads them into something that goes against their development for some author-centric reason. If you ever find yourself saying “This character wouldn’t do that” or “Why did this scene happen in this way? It makes no sense for them to do this,” you’ve seen what I’m talking about in action. I’m avoiding specific cases in the name of avoiding spoilers, but that’s what the comments are for! Let’s talk about some of these things, especially ones that piss you off.
We need to be on the lookout for this sort of thing. There’s no excuse for lazy writing. Not even a deadline is an excuse for a story that makes no sense or does not engage us. If you are writing to inform, to inspire, or even just to entertain, it is worth taking the time to get the words right, set the scene just so, and let your characters speak for themselves, rather than cramming words into their mouths that don’t necessarily fit.
Your characters are more than pistons in your story’s engine. Remember that, and your story will be that much better for it.