Characters Mistakes: Don’t Make Them Idiots

My family is now hooked on the Once Upon a Time television series. The past week we have been staying up till 2:00 am. We’re on season 2.
So much bad acting (a lot of good acting too.), a lot of bad costumes, and a lot of bad CGI (and flying trash bags. Oh, you mean the wraith? No, I mean the trash bag with eyes and hands). Yet, the stories and characters are compelling and….well there’s no backing out now.
My new obsession is not exactly what I am going to be writing about. But one of the episodes did inspire me.

It was the one about Hanzel and Gretel (at first I thought it was Jack and Jill. Like, why? That’s a random nursery rhyme!). Everyone knows the story. They go in, eat some candy, the witch tries to cook them, and they throw the witch in the oven.
In other words it’s a weird, horrifying story.

But my point is this: If your character is going to deliberately mess up, make sure they have a darned good reason, or it just comes off as if you are cheating in order to push the story forward. The audience will also think the character is annoying.

In this episode, the Evil Queen tells Hanzel and Gretel to go into the witch’s house and steal the leather pouch (or something like that. Could have been suede). The Queen stresses that they cannot eat anything in the house, no matter how tempted they are. Of course they say they understand. Yet sure enough, just as Gretel is going to grab the pouch off the witch, Hanzel eats a cupcake.

He had literally no reason to eat that cupcake, except that it looked tasty. He grabs it and greedily takes a huge bite into the blue frosting. The witch wakes up….

We all can take it from there.

Hanzel’s actions obviously drive the story forward. If he didn’t eat the cupcake, the witch would have never woken up, and the two of them would have left the house no problem. But it is still not a good way to push the story line on. Why?

It makes the audience dislike the character. It makes the audience annoyed at the unfortunate events that follow. (“If only you hadn’t been so stupid!”)

Characters make mistakes though, right? Well, yes. Yet make sure they are the right kind of mistakes, and that the character has a good reason to do it.

There are two reasons why Hanzel’s mistake was badly done.

The first reason is that he didn’t have a motive, except greed. It goes hand-in-hand with the story that the siblings are peasants. Yet, they are well-dressed, and nothing about them being starved or hungry is mentioned. Nothing about them wanting sweets is implied. The only thing really mentioned is that they lost their father in the woods. From that view, Hanzel just ate the cupcake because he was a greedy kid who couldn’t resist…or for some reason didn’t pay attention when the Queen was talking. Either way, it doesn’t make you like him very much.

The second reason is that he eats the cupcake with almost no thought at all. We know that he heard the Queen’s warning. Yet, when they first come up to the ginger-bread house, he grabs for a candy. Gretel stops him of course. Then, he hesitates around the cupcake for a little bit, but Gretel isn’t looking, so he dives in a for a big bite.
Kid, could you at least be subtle? At least show some concern? That would have been better. If he had timidly dipped his finger in the icing, showing a struggle between him wanting the candy and obeying the Queen’s warning, it would have showed that he was thinking and that he was at least trying to do the right thing.

Summed up: When a character is going to goof up, give him a good reason and make him think it through. This should be done for the sanity of the audience.

Thank you all,

Alp out.






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