Whenever I read a story with a hero or heroine who does something stupid, I instantly lose respect for them. It’s usually a sign of bad or lazy writing. The author couldn’t make such-and-such happen plausibly so they make the characters just go through with it.
Except, that breaks a big rule of good fiction: the characters have to actually be people; not just puppets on the author’s strings.
This happens all the time in horror movies, when the main characters split up for no reason. Or they go hide behind the chainsaws. (*snort* I love that commercial.)
But stupid horror movie characters are almost a cliche at this point. Thus, most people expect a certain amount of stupidity from a character in a horror movie, which has the added benefit of impressing viewers when they don’t act like idiots. But, let’s face it. If you’re like me, you don’t watch horror movies for intelligent characters. At least, not intelligent human characters.
The problem is, when characters in other genres are stupid, readers tend to be a lot less forgiving. I need not look any further than Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones for an example of this, at least in the first book.
Sure, Sansa has the excuse of having essentially been raised to believe in chivalry and honor and blah, blah, blah. Except, none of that actually matters in G. R. R. Martin’s universe of death and betrayal and watching the character you just started to like get brutally murdered. But I cannot tell you how many times I felt like smacking her for being a naive idiot. I mean, come on. Joffrey is not that hot.
At least she seems to be getting better, but I don’t know for sure. I just hope she grows a brain in later books, or she’s back on my Idiot List.
Yes, I have an Idiot List. Don’t you? (I joke.)
There are, unfortunately, a lot of other characters that they don’t have an excuse for their stupidity. *cough*Bella Swan*cough*
But, I’ll lay off Twilight for now. Instead, let’s look at Dumbledore, at least in the later Harry Potter books. Especially that part where he Just. Wouldn’t. Talk. To. Harry. Yes, I get it, he was trying to keep important information from getting to Voldemort via Harry and Voldy’s psychic link-thing. But would it kill him to take three minutes to say, “Sorry, Harry, things will make sense in time. It’s not your fault”?
Also, how did he know that Harry would find Snape’s memories? If Harry hadn’t found them, he wouldn’t have known that he was a horcrux. Dumbledore’s whole plan relied on Harry eventually learning the truth, which only happened thanks to a coincidence. Is this another case of “fate works in mysterious ways”? I hate that trope.
If not, it’s yet another case of being Too Stupid To Live, except it got cleared up through the magic of coincidences/plot devices. Sometimes they’re necessary, but sometimes they just make me scratch my head.
But, I digress.
Then there are those situations of poor communication resulting in some massive blowup. Now, misunderstandings can offer a lot of dram, if handled correctly. But there’s the other side of the equation that I once saw referred to as the “Silly Big Misunderstanding,” though I can’t remember who came up with that name. These are the kinds of “misunderstandings” that could be cleared up if the characters literally just talked things through for, say, two minutes. You know, like real people do? Example: Elsa and Anna from Frozen. Yes, even Disney gets in on this nonsense.
The whole reason Elsa hid her ice powers from Anna was because Anna was a silly kid who got hurt. But neither Elsa nor their parents (while they were still alive) thought to tell Anna, “look, we love you, and we did this for your own good. But we have something to tell you…” after Anna grew up? Elsa couldn’t just stop to talk to her sister and tell her why she didn’t want Anna marrying a complete stranger?
No, it’s all “please, I can’t live like this anymore!” “Then leave!”. Because it’s more dramatic. Or is that nonsense just for the kids in the audience? Because kids are supposedly dumb (not really) and might not get adult conversations even though the characters are supposed to be adults?
There’s a difference between genuine obliviousness and naïveté and just being an idiot dancing on the writer’s string. Writers, of all genres, should really read through their stories and at least try to make sure that the drama comes from genuinely dramatic situations and not from characters acting like morons.