Is it me, or are the characters stupid?

One problem I find exists in many books and movies, perhaps more in romance than in other genres, is that people do stupid things. And of course, people do indeed do stupid things. They say the wrong thing, or find reasons to avoid saying the right thing, they misinterpret deeds and words — face it: without miscommunication of some form, we’d all be at a loss.

Miscommunications can be serious, or they can be humorous, but what I’d really like is for them to be realistic, at least within the confines of the stories. Same with the actions of characters, and their thoughts and logic. While I’m all for allowing for foibles and eccentricities and outright  mistakes, I find I get really annoyed when the characters do something, well, stupid.

What’s brought this on? My good friend Tamara Clarke recently sent me a book, Chasing Perfect by Susan Mallery. It’s a sweet enough romance novel about a woman who moves to a small town after a lifetime of being dragged from town to town by her (now deceased) mother. Charity Jones is now looking for a small town to settle down, where she can put down her own roots. Okay, cool. Naturally, Charity falls for the local celebrity, Josh Golden, a former pro cyclist. Okay, cool.

So now we bring them together — or not. Charity decides, on the basis of looks only, that Josh is someone to stay away from. Men like him — handsome and glamorous — were nothing but trouble for her mother, and obviously the same for her (pffft). Never mind that sparks immediately fly between them (a rant for another blog); Charity insists on on denying the attraction, even in the face of her own lack of proof of anything untoward about Josh. In fact, her whole objection seems to be based on the stereotypes we all have about celebrities, and frankly, if she can’t get past her own National Enquirer issues, then I don’t have the time for her. She projects things on to Josh that he has not said, nor given any indication he really wants, and while I’ll accept some arguments in her support, she seems self-centered. Naturally she comes to her senses at the end.

The book was well-written enough that, despite my reservations, I investigated the two sequels in the library today, Almost Perfect and Finding Perfect. I couldn’t bring myself to read them. Perhaps another time, when I can be more patient. The second book sees a woman return to the town with her son, whose father is a man she was in love with before, and then she left. Hey, good move. The third book involves a woman who decides to become pregnant using the frozen embryos of her best friend, who died of cancer, unable to use the embryos themselves. She doesn’t actually seem to want kids, particularly, this is more of a way of having a reminder of her friend, or perhaps fulfilling an obligation. Come on, this is a kid — make a real decision. Perhaps in the book she’ll debate the pros and cons, what effect it will have on her life, etc., but I’m not sure. (And I’m sure it’s no spoiler to say that she finds a guy.)

I am tired of women who basically do the “if he has to ask, I’m not going to tell him” routine, and men who insist “she’s just like all the others because…”

And I’m not singling out Mallery. I just started reading Hawks Mountain by Elizabeth Sinclair on my Kindle. It features two “broken” people — Nick Hart, a medical guy (possibly a doctor, not sure yet) and Iraq veteran, and Becky Hawks, another woman from a small town who went the big city, got trampled on, and came back.

Nick has nightmares and flashbacks to his time in Iraq, and I suppose Becky will do much the same about her social work in Atlanta, and both have built the proverbial fortresses around their hearts (Thanks, Sting, for the 80s flashback). Has Nick had counseling for his (possible) PTSD? Maybe. But he’s so determined not to be part of the human race that he’s built himself a cabin on a mountain, and is then pissed off whenever human interaction is required. Come again? Not trying to be callous here (my brother is in the AF, a cousin in the Army, another in the Navy — I know these wars are unprecedently difficult for the soldiers), but if you’re than damn determined not to deal with people, why don’t you kill yourself? Or, better yet, move some place with freaking internet so you can order it all and not have to deal with delivery people. Which might be easier if you don’t live on a mountain.

He also assumes that “Becky” is one of them and a threat to his mental tranquility. Newsflash: if the only way you can deal with life is to remove yourself from most of its participants, that tranquility is probably not going to last.

Becky sits and wonders and wonders about Nick and who he is. Hey lady — go to the library, register for the internet, and look him up.

I am obviously frustrated by characters who have options and decide not to use them, for no particularly good reason.

I try to make my characters realistic, and to do realistic things, and I realize that romances need an element of fantasy. That’s fine. But can the characters just not be stupid?


3 responses to this post.

  1. You are right about miscommunication being a requirement in life… 😉 Or if not a requirement, then an undisputed fact of life. I also have a hard time with characters in stories – or in life – making those broad judgments of “he’s like every other guy I’ve been burned by before”, etc, etc. There’s nothing to be done for it but hope that the next book you read – perhaps by someone else! – won’t have the same tiresome plot points.
    (p.s. sorry you hated the book! I warned you that it wasn’t one of my favs either. 😉 )


    • There’s miscommunication, and then there’s the “idiot plot,” where no one acts in a rational manner. 🙂 Certainly that can work in humor, or perhaps even in “drama” if a reason is provided.

      I didn’t hate the book, honest. 🙂 And perhaps I wouldn’t hate the others, either, but their plots seemed to go farther out of the realm of my realism. I’ll get there — part of me hates to leave a series unfinished, and her stories are decently written and paced — but not right now.


  2. I have to be able to believe in a character – even when they are doing something fantastic or being a witch. I want real, and that includes erotic sequences. Men are particularly bad at writing ‘women’ with totally unrealistic attitudes to sex – definite turn-off.

    But for me, the most fatal thing a book can have is a heroine who is TSTL – Too Stupid To Live.


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