Worksheet #23 – Too Stupid To Live
Characters are imperfect creatures who, like real people, make mistakes and sometimes do really stupid things. TSTL is a ruler that measures if a character’s mistakes are valid and human and understandable, of if their actions are so foolish that it reveals the author’s inability to bring about a conclusion without resorting to desperate measures.
What does it mean when a character is Too Stupid To Live? It means the character acts without plausible motivation in order to serve the plot. A TSTL character will go into the dark basement even though the light switch doesn’t work and a violent escaped convict has been spotted in the area. What rational person would do this? No one, but the author needs the character in the basement for the climax.
In short, a TSTL character ignores the “fool me once, fool me twice” rule, only they’re fooling themselves.
A story needs danger, and characters do need to make bad choices. The measure of these bad choices is whether or not they are so stupid that it damages the character in service of the plot. If the cop who rushes ahead without backup does so because he’s a honcho hothead hotshot, well, he should get what’s coming to him and not be rewarded for his foolishness. But if he’s doing this because there is a person dangling from the edge of a cliff and there’s no time to wait, then he’s a hero.
Think about the risky choices your characters make and answer the following:
- Why is this decision risky or foolish?
- Why is it necessary to the plot?
- Why must this character, and no one else, perform this act or make this choice?
- Does the character know it’s a risk?
- What bad thing will happen if the character does not act?
- Is there any other way to get this character where you need him/her to be without getting him/her into a TSTL situation?
Please note: All worksheets posted are my original work and intellectual property. I ask that you share the links on social media, and you are welcome to share the worksheets with your critique groups and writing friends with credit given. That being said, these worksheets—despite being posted on the Internet—may not be copied, distributed, or published as anyone’s work but mine. In short: sharing is good, plagiarism is bad.
Disclaimer #2: You may post your completed worksheet if you’d like, but please remember that, by doing so, you are sharing your ideas with all of the Internet. You’ve been warned.