We Need Smarter Characters

One of the things that bothers me the most about modern fiction – especially when it comes to the horror and science fiction genres – is how little common sense and intelligence many characters seem to have in these stories.

Those of you who have known me for a few years might have heard me comment on this problem before, especially when The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead are currently airing. I’m an intermittent fan of both of those shows. While I love their premises, the characters in them sure do make a lot of questionable decisions about who to trust and how to behave when they’re in immediate danger. At times that makes them extremely difficult to watch.

No, I don’t expect perfection from fictional characters anymore than I would from living, breathing people. There is definitely something to be said for showing exactly what happens to people when they make the wrong decision. You can learn a lot about someone based on how they react to things going horribly wrong in their lives.

There does come a point, though, when it’s hard to emotionally connect to someone who keeps making nonsensical choices. If there is a herd of zombies wandering around in the woods outside of your home, you really shouldn’t be going for a nature walk alone. If that new person you just met makes your skin crawl,  don’t ignore that feeling and tell him where you live when he asks.

These are the kinds of things that pull me out of the plot. If the protagonists were children or had unusual backstories to explain their naiveté, I’d completely understand. When seemingly normal adult characters do it over and over again in a violent and unpredictable setting, I start losing sympathy for them.

I’ve learned valuable lessons from my mistakes. Why don’t these characters apply the things the experienced in previous seasons to what’s currently going on with them?

What originally attracted me to these genres were the questions they asked about life. A good horror story peels back all of the social niceties to expose the grey underbelly of what frightened people the most in a specific era. Who do they trust? Who or what keeps popping up as the villain? You can learn a lot about a society based on who and what it fears!

Well-written science fiction asks questions that many people don’t otherwise think about. What does it mean to be human? How do we know if we can trust our governments? What kind of life might exist on other planets? What would happen if….?

These questions only work, though, if the characters that could ask them are aware enough to actually bring them to the audience’s mind.

Have you noticed this problem in the books you read or the shows you watch? Who are some of the smartest characters you’ve found recently?

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