On Horses and Character Choices

Recently, my riding instructor got a new horse, by no choice of her own. Because the border didn’t pay her board (for several months running), the expense added up to the “worth” of the horse and thus ownership passed to my riding instructor.

This horse is a thoroughbred, off the track, and while not a perfect mount by any stretch of the imagination, he wasn’t a bad horse. To keep him fit and sane and see if she could sell him for profit (or at least not quite so negatively), I started riding him. He was sane, a little stupid sometimes, but nothing dangerous. I felt safe riding him. My riding instructor hated him. Felt he was useless (even though she had two other people ride him with positive results), and couldn’t WAIT to get rid of him. He left our barn Sunday, going back to the rescue where the previous owner got him. Which means my riding instructor was down the cost of all that board.

On the other hand, there is a horse who is high-strung, nervous, stupid, flighty, and I don’t feel particularly safe riding…and she’s kept him. She uses him for lessons. Sorta. See, the problem is that because he’s such a difficult horse to ride, he’d be too dangerous for a rider who’s not skilled enough. And the girl who was riding him got a different horse from someone else, so I’m the only one riding this crazed horse.

I really struggle to understand why my riding instructor would keep this insane horse and get rid of the quieter horse. The one is larger and potentially goes lame more, but other than that, he had all the benefits that the other horse did not. Was he perfect? No. But he didn’t make me fear for my life either. But something made my riding instructor hate this horse, and so this horse was marked bad in her mind.

What’s the point of this story? Well, one thing I struggle with in my writing is having characters make poor decisions. I strive very hard in my own life to make the most logical decision based on the most information I can gather. And so I fight against my own characters making poor decisions. (I also get frustrated when characters in other people’s stories make poor decisions that could be easily avoided.) Now, poor decisions (which are a part of human life, whether we know we’re making them at the time or not), are often impetus for the plot. Otherwise the drama has to come from an outside source (Nazis, jealous ex spreading rumors, bigoted neighbors).

But even then, there is supposed to be character growth, which generally means that the character has to have a fault.

And all of my characters are perfect! Perfect, I tell you!

So, uh, you see the problem. I love making characters, giving them backstories, pointing out their quirks and foibles, but I’m terrible at making a serviceable flaw. Which I realized while I was on my walk yesterday, pondering the Pan story I’m writing. I realized while he’s naive, he actually doesn’t have a fault. And so there really isn’t a story. Insert sigh here.

Thankfully my rock star is recovering from an addiction, so I THINK he has a pretty sizable fault, and I know what poor decision he’s going to make. Probably.

So, I need to make more characters with faults that I’m willing to admit. And maybe that means I need to look at myself and my own faults. I’d offer to open the floor to suggestions, but…let’s not 😀

4 thoughts on “On Horses and Character Choices

  1. Its possible/likely that the original owner's failure to pay poisoned the well, so to speak. That poor choice/outcome colored the stable owner's view of the horse. The horse probably never stood a chance of success. Once we have opinions/biases, its incredibly hard to separate them from reality. Such things are incredibly hard to overcome unless you are really, really self aware or really good at separating yourself from a situation. Its the same concept that will lead people to vote for a candidate with a certain label over another, even though the one they are rejecting may side with them more. There is a reason a thing called confirmation bias exists.

  2. And actually, given fallibility as a given, thinking that you aren't making any bad choices, or that you have complete knowledge of a circumstance, is probably a serviceable flaw all its own.Plenty of the problems in this world are the result of acting with good intentions and hearts, but in ways that are simply not good.I submit for your review that often, money we donate to help restore countries after disasters is often WORSE for the country than leaving it to its own devices. Almost no economists think this is a good way to spend money. Experts also think foreign aid is inefficient, as are any social programs that aren't straight money transfers.Yet people continue to them, with good hearts and thinking its the correct course of action. The amount of potential unintended consequences even from what we, self-aware and reasonably well informed, think is the correct course of action is staggering.How many people say things like “I could never just leave X alone/ignore X” when in reality, that would probably be the best course of action?Sounds like maybe you like your character too much to create a flaw? Maybe write a few throwaway stories with that character as lead where you kill him or have him just make really outrageously bad choices?

  3. Please note that I didn't say I didn't make bad decisions. In fact, I said, “I strive very hard in my own life to make the most logical decision based on the most information I can gather.” And later mention that poor decisions are a part of human life, whether we know we make them or not. I am obviously human and don't have an omniscient knowledge, so logically I realize I make poor decisions. My point was that GLARINGLY bad decisions confuse me, and I have difficulty having my characters do them (and reading them in other books). And yes, my favoritism toward my characters is what makes it difficult for me to see their/give them faults. That was sort of the realization I was coming to.But yes, writing some throwaway stories is a good idea. the rock star was supposed to be that (but is obviously not being thrown away). But I think I need to make someone really horrendously bad at making life decisions. Though I may die a little inside. 🙂

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