Mistakes Are the Plot
If we think about any factual story, much of the drama resulted from mistakes. In hindsight, we can easily spot incorrect decisions that should have been obvious. Before I write further, I think I should define the term “mistake” for this blog. A mistake is something that we have knowledge about and still make an incorrect decision.
A real-life example would be a person who rides a bicycle without wearing a helmet and gets injured. We see the apparent mistake using hindsight because the bike rider had enough knowledge to see what could happen. There is a distinction between this example and the injury resulting from an experienced rider crashing because they misjudged a turn. What if the experienced rider went too fast? This is not a mistake because hindsight does not reveal an obvious problem (the rider had fast riding experience and took precautions like wearing a helmet.)
If I were to write about this helmet incident, it would be an exciting story. The moments up the crash would be vetted, and readers would expect the impending injury because they know what it means to ride without a helmet. What if the collision did not take place? IE, the rider did not put on their helmet and had a pleasant ride? Not an exciting story. “Bob rode his bike and came home.”
Now, wait, other things can happen on a bike ride. Bob could meet another rider, find $100, fall off, or get chased by a mountain lion. All true, but such incidents are added drama because they could not be predicted. (To my blog readers. If you know a bike trail with $100 bills sprinkled around, please let me know.) However, there is another aspect. Bob does not learn a lesson from a pleasant ride.
What about foreshadowing? Is this not the same thing? This is a related term, but foreshowing implies impending doom. For example, riding on an icy road without a helmet would be an obvious example of foreshowing.
I like plots with mistakes. It is excellent character-building quality, and adding mistakes hooks the reader into the story. For example, after the bike crash, there is a “see, I told you so” connection in the back of the reader's mind. They can also visualize themselves making that same mistake. Then, as the rider recovers, the reader relates to the healing process and this new attitude of “maybe I should start wearing a helmet.”
Mistakes come in all sizes and end in all kinds of consequences. The reader has experienced their own mistakes, which helps them to connect to the character. Even a simple mistake like a character forgetting another character’s name is a good hook. Such events make the character seem real. On the other hand, a character who is perfect is not relatable or fun.
In life, we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. I think this applies to plots as well. The best plots have the best mistakes. Do my blogs have fantastic mistakes? Umm, I hope not.
You’re the best -Bill
October 06, 2021
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