On Smart Characters who do Stupid Things

You know them. You love them. They’re smart, witty, handsome/beautiful. They’re lives are interesting enough for you to devote countless hours reading about them. They are your main characters, and you trust them to bring you entertainment to the very last page.

But then, they do something so terrible, so vial, that you don’t know if you will ever turn the page, or even ever look at the book ever again. They do something HORRENDOUSLY STUPID!

Yes, I understand that the one horrendously stupid act may be the catalyst for the whole entire book and the story hinges on that one crazy mistake the main character made. Most books have this. Definitely most romance novels have this. It’s an elephant that I enjoy on a daily basis, but there is a line, so I beg you, don’t jump the shark.

What the author tells us and how the character acts can be completely opposite things. I’ve seen books where the author took so much time telling the reader how smart and beautiful and witty their heroine is, and then they make the terrible mistakes that are so out of character to her. Then the hero makes a mistake, and then the heroine again, and pretty soon its a stupid fest the likes of which I’ve never seen.

Before your character goes and does something out outrageous, I think the author should have the maturity to ask, would this person really do this?

I can forgive the one f aux pas that that gets the story in motion, to a point, but from that point on the hero/heroine is in a hole. They need to regain my trust and fast. I’ve read books where the supposedly smart main character would just do stupid things over and over and over again, and authors who even bring those stupid things into other books! Yikes! Nothing like a highly intelligent stupid person (yes they exist in real life too).

I’ve saved Maddie Fitzwalter from the fates of stupidity several times in my novel To Love a Beast” available at

In the first draft of the novel, Maddie attends one final ball in a last ditch effort to save her reputation. When all hope is lost, Maddie gets swept off her feet by a handsome duke. She has absolutely no inkling that this was the man responsible for kidnapping, seducing, and ultimately soiling of her reputation. She had no clue, no clue whatsoever. Forget that the night she was taken was the most passion filled night she’d ever experienced and that the man had completely stolen her heart. She just plum had no idea.

I didn’t want Maddie to come off the stupid heroine. I’ve read books like this, and they might be satisfying, but mostly they leave me screaming at the book.

With that in mind, I went in a completely different direction. When I did the rewrite, Maddie knows, gasp, that he’s the man, gasp gasp, that took her. She may be too afraid to say anything She may be too swept away to care, but at least she’s not stupid.

This destupifying of Maddie also led to several different plot twists that take place throughout the rest of the novel, and gave birth to another interesting character that will definitely be showing up in future books of mine.

Sooooo, don’t take the easy way out by making your characters do something uncharacteristically stupid. Think of ways to make them better for yourself and your reader. You may not realize how much a good re imagining will do for your characters and your readership.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * M.S. Fowle says:

    Great advice – thank you!
    I just keep thinking of those cheesy 70s horror movies, when everyone knows some guy is running around chopping up teenagers with a butcher knife but they just gotta check that strange noise in that dark, creepy room over there.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 3 months ago
  2. * Satis says:

    Wow…I am getting fodder for a great post everywhere at the moment…! Writing behaviors that are in and outside of character is a difficult thing to master, for as in real life, people we know well can do surprising things, stupid or otherwise. Part of the answer here, I feel, is to ensure that there is a sound rationale in your mind – whether you are explicit or not on paper – for any behavior out of, ahem, character, for the character you’ve so painstakingly built up.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 3 months ago
  3. I did something similar in the current draft of my WIP. Really trying to think why the hero/heroine would do something, rather than just forcing them into a situation (& making them sound as if they are the typical to-stupid-to-live.)

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 3 months ago

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: