As a society, we conform to many written and unwritten rules. For example, I began this sentence with a capitol letter, but I did not scatter random CAPatol leTTers. Strict laws don’t govern such “incorrect” sentences but we dislike them. I am sure my four blog readers have come across many poor sentence examples over the years. (None of which were in my blogs:)
Sometimes people intentionally write poor sentences for shock or creativity reasons. Others intentionally (boldly) go against traditions. They do this as a lifestyle choice, but know this path will cause others to look down upon them.
There is another side to people who “go against the grain.” Like my four upstanding blog readers, I do not litter and occasionally pick up trash around my neighborhood. Other people are more dedicated, carrying plastic bags to pick up litter. However, some people go too far by shamming those who do not adhere to their strict code. One could consider this annoying behavior a mental tick or a religion.
This is the area I wanted to explore, and I have the perfect example. Four years ago, I worked on a project with a coworker on loan from another department. This coworker was supposed to provide a “working” design as an expert on this “proven design.” My job was to adapt his design to our requirements. Things started off bad because his design had many flaws, but I persevered, and we eventually had something ready for review. Side note: I made some calls and learned his “people skills” and annoyed his existing coworkers with many four-letter words used to describe him. Yes, I added some new ones.
During this review, my coworker began Muntzing. This is an engineering practice when a low-reliability design is minimized to save costs. Here is a great description:
While Muntzing is sometimes helpful, it has no business in ultra-high reliability products. In addition, we should only use this practice after there is a working prototype and never at the design stage.
Side note: My four blog readers may not quite understand Muntzing. An equivalent driving behavior is called hypermiling which is essentially slow driving without braking. Thrifty people do this obsessive driving practice to save gas. While technically possible, hypermiling is unsafe, selfish, illegal, and annoying for other drivers.
This practice annoyed me like a buzzing fly. “You do not need that circuit. Take away that component. I have used this exact minimized circuit a million times.” After such statements, I would patiently destroy his “logic,” and we would move on. But like the buzzing fly, he would bring up the same arguments in the next meeting on circuits we had already reviewed. This manic perseverance drove me up the wall and got so bad that I began yelling during meetings. Side note: The person in charge was a bonehead and refused to intervene. But on the plus side, he played many solitaire games on his phone during these exchanges. Sometimes he would even laugh at my angry remarks.
After one heated meeting, I knew if I had another, it would come to blows. So, I convinced my boss to take me off the project. What a relief! But there is an unanswered question. How did Muntzing become so ingrained in my coworker’s mind? I know that he was well aware of people’s disapproval, yet he doggedly persevered down this destructive (to his career) path. My only guess is that he learned some bad habits at the beginning of his career and was never corrected.
Wait a minute. What does this have to do with writing? In my experience, a character with so much undefined drive will confuse readers. Characters must have obvious motives, so readers understand what is going on. For example, picking up litter is a good practice, but launching into a tirade with a person who walks by a gum wrapper is confusing.
A good story motivation example is the parent of a murdered child who refuses to stop tracking down their killer. This includes illogical decisions, big risks, exhausting their savings, and damaging relations with friends and family. Yet, we related to this “illogical drive” because we were once children and knew about parental commitment.
Yet, writers sometimes cannot explain the source behind a deep drive. This flaw occurs because we all encounter people like my Muntzing coworker. Keep in mind that my coworker was a real person, and this was his actual personality. He was not faking this destructive/confusing trait, and he did not have a hidden ulterior motive.
What if we dedicated a few paragraphs explain the source of his destructive tendencies? The problem is that words fall short of explaining super obsessed people. Readers only accept a small amount of crazy, and my super obsessed coworker was too extreme.
Does this mean, “Characters cannot be crazy because readers will not understand?” Hmm. I have given that question two days of thought, and that statement is indeed what I am claiming. What if I wrote, “My coworker cannot stop Muntzing, and I do not know why.” Surely readers would accept this sentence? Umm, no. It is the writer's job to lead the reader down a clear path. Readers will put down a book faster than lightning if they do not know what is going on.
Alright, let’s make something up, “At his last job, my coworker had a boss that forced him to remove essential components. Now, he cannot help himself because of the mental stress associated with that horrible memory.” Granted, this is a silly explication, but it covers the situation. I suppose some readers could accept this explanation, but not all. Their conclusion would be, “That is a stupid motivation. Bad writer!”
How about a mysterious character that is annoying for unknown reasons? Writers should not use annoying characters often. In real life, people hate or barely tolerate annoying people. When they want to be entertained, they only accept a small amount of this personality. Let’s not forget, The Phantom Menace with the annoying minor character Jar Jar. That single annoying character tarnished the entire movie.
In conclusion, authors must take great care to establish character motivation, and although strangely obsessive people exist, we should not make them into characters. Unfortunately, in real life, these people exist. The good news is that I am obsessive enough to kick out one blog a week with only four blog readers.

You’re the best -Bill
February 23, 2022
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