Written by JJ Barnes
In your story, your character may need to learn a piece of information that is crucial to your story. You can have them learn it one of two ways. They can either learn it by working for it and finding it out because they’ve quested to accomplish their goal. Or they can learn it by a chance because they hear another character discussing it or the stumble on it by mistake because of somebody else’s error.
The Trouble With Characters Learning Information Through Flukes
When your character goes to find the information and accomplishes that goal, you have a good story. When they chance upon it, you have a fluke. And it happens quite regularly in stories that the Protagonist bumps into somebody who happens to have the information they need. Perhaps they happen to be in the same diner as criminals discussing their plans. Characters learning information by accident means they haven’t struggled. They haven’t overcome a challenge or developed as a person.
When the information that solves a problem for them that they’ve been struggling with throughout your entire story comes to them by landing on their plate by chance, it feels unearned. It’s never believable, and it’s always a bit of an eyeroll, and it’s completely avoidable.
When you’re writing your character attempting to overcome a problem, you’re essentially trying to figure out overcome that problem yourself. If you can’t figure out how to do it, writing them chancing upon it is just your way of getting out of that problem easily for yourself. You are choosing not to put the effort into figuring out what to do. And that comes across. It’s boring and lazy story telling.
Characters Learning Information Should Have To Work For It
You can write characters learning information in the exact same was as they would by accident but make it entertaining and story worthy. If they overhear it in a diner, you need to write them working it out. WHERE the person who has the information will be to talk about it. If your criminals are gathering in a diner to talk, your police officer would either tail one of them, or learn that they will be gathering in that spot, and be there with them intentionally to listen in.
By making that character active, and learning this information through their own initiative, you’re taking control of that story. You’re making it worth reading or watching.
Seeing characters struggle and push and overcome conflict in their path to accomplish their goals is entertaining. Watching them learn and improve in their competency as their character arc moves forward is entertaining. The struggle is the point of the story. The sense at the end of a story when things have just fallen into place rather than your character pushing them into place is of disappointment, not satisfaction.
Take Time, It’s Worth It
If when you’re writing your story you find you have written yourself into a situation where you cannot think how to get your characters learning information they need, so decide to have them chance upon it so you can move on with the rest of the story as you want to, take a break. Walk away from it and let yourself think. If you put the effort in to make it consequences of your characters actions not just happenstance, it’ll be worth it.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose