I really like this rant. It's a fine balance between having a protagonist make too few mistakes or too many mistakes if you want your protagonist to stay alive. Too few makes them into a Mary Sue and too many can doom the protagonist to a nasty death. If protagonists are supposed to die for their stupidity, that's one thing, but an ending where the protagonist survives requires them to do something right.
All of the suggestions above are good and I think that combining them would be even more interesting. For example, Seranne witholds a piece of important information from Taria because Taria's a notorious gossip and Seranne doesn't want that piece of information spread aroundthe marketplace. Then Taria makes a huge mistake that endangers them both because Seranne didn't tell her what she needed to know. That could be a combination of #1 and #3, epsecially if Taria's tendency to gossip too much and Seranne's reticence had been established earlier in the narrative.
2 and 4 could also make an explosive combination since different people will different views on what to do in a completely new situation. I'm definitely planning to use them both in the novel I'm working on right now. The result should be interesting.
There's also a third kind of dumb mistake: when the protagonist is convinced they've done something wrong and then the author intervenes to show that no, they were actually right! My least favorite example is the protagonist committing a crime and then the author saying there was a law passed a few days before it happened that made this activity not a crime. I really hate that kind of blatant plot manipulation.
My least favorite example is the protagonist committing a crime and then the author saying there was a law passed a few days before it happened that made this activity not a crime.
Does that actually happen? That's too absurd for words.
-- Dan Hemmens
Yes. In David Feintuch's Prisoner's Hope. The protagonist sets off a nuclear weapon to save a planet, which is treason in his future society that hates all things nuclear, and goes home to await trial- only to receive word on the way that the Earth government has just passed a law saying that if a nuclear weapon is set off to save a planet, then it's not treason. Do not ask me why I read these books.
Damn. How did that even work? Wouldn't the protagonist getting away consequence-free suck a good deal of the sacrifice/nobility out of his choice? Why do writers do that to their stories?
I saw that less as a moral vindication than as a cheap deus ex machina.
Protagonist *did* think he was committing treason and sentencing himself to death in order to accomplish his goal, *did* at the time have every reason to believe that he was making a sacrifice... but Feintuch wanted to keep him alive for the next book.
That's utterly ludicrous. It's made even more ludicrous by being completely unnecessary. Any halfway-decent lawyer could make the argument that saving a planet wasn't treason, any halfway sympathetic jury could at least plausibly buy it.
The whole *concept* of precedent law is based on the idea that a court is there not only to try the facts of the case, but also to make a call on how and where the law should be applied.
-- Dan Hemmens
Plus, it seems like that would be a lot more interesting. I mean, dealing with the sway of public opinion and the legal battle and if the protagonists has any enemies, are they going to try to affect the trial. And was it really justified -- could there have been another way?
You could tell a whole part of the story about the consequences of the protagonist's actions, and how he deals with them. Sweeping it under the rug is boring.
That drives me nuts! That kind of dumb mistake has no place outside of farce and most authors who make that kind of mistake aren't trying to write farce. They just can't bear to see their special widdle protagonists get punished at the end.
I've read instances (thankfully only in fanfic) where one character neglects to mention something important to the "team", apparently to be mysterious and all-knowing, I guess, and then when something goes bad because of the lack of information, they punish the "team" for not knowing it. If that was meant to be part of the characterization it would be one thing, buuut...
The entirety of Belgariad jumps to mind... Though Polgara didn't usually punish the whole team, only Garion. It really made me hate her character when she never told him anything and then got angry at him for doing something stupid. And even though she seemed to honestly believe that keeping him stupid and ignorant was the way to go, I got the vibe that she also totally enjoyed her mysteriousness. It became even more apparent in her own book, Polgara The Sorceress.