You’re Only Making Things Worse: Cascading Problems

War of Nytefall: Ravenous isn’t the first time I’ve had a character make bad choice after bad choice.  In fact, I enjoy having my heroes and villains think they are doing the right thing and it ends up being a disaster.  Luke Callindor was practically the king of wrong moves in Legends of Windemere.  This time, we have a few characters who make a big decision that blows up in their face.  There are two ways that this can be handled by them:

  • Taking a step back and thinking of a way to undo the damage.  This is the response that we all imagine we possess under pressure.  It is what we expect all of our characters to do as well if they ever make a wrong choice.  Step on the wrong?  Well, you just have to go backwards and we’re all good.  Yeah . . . Just that simple.
  • The character panics and tries to make a quick fix, but this results in making things worse.  They react again to repair one part of the damage, but it ends up making a mess in another area.  Repeat because your head is spinning.  You take a step back and try to think of a plan, but you don’t have the time and resources to make a clean fix.  Just do what you can and soak up whatever damage you can’t erase.  With any luck, you’ll walk about with all of your parts intact and able to rest for a minute.

Would you be surprised to know that the second option is the more realistic one?  We all admire those who can make a mistake and fix it quickly, but we probably know more people who create an avalanche of wrong turns.  They get out of it eventually, but there’s a period of arm flailing and panic.  A reason for this is that we get tunnel vision when an unexpected problem arises.  Our instinct is to handle the immediate threat and we don’t always remember to think ahead.  It’s like being focused on cleaning a floor and then finding yourself trapped in a corner until things dry.  You were so focused on the task at hand that you failed to notice the disaster looming.

In fiction, we tend to expect better from our characters.  Even those who want flaws in their heroes may get frustrated when they see mistakes being made.  That’s because a reader is sitting back and knows more about the situation than the character.  They are also able to keep a clear mind since they aren’t in the thick of it.  You ever yell at characters in a horror movie for going into the scary basement to check things out?  It’s because you know you’re watching a horror movie and aren’t in danger.  The characters aren’t stupid, but unaware of their situation or too scared to think clearly.  Besides, how many of us have had a power outage at night and gone into the basement or wherever to check the circuit breakers?  How do you know there isn’t a monster or serial killer waiting for you to do just that?  (I am so sorry if anybody is now scared to go into their basement.  I recommend running down there shrieking like a banshee and swinging a rolling pin around.  Be crazier than the things that want to eat you.)

Personally, I think it is very believable for a character to make so many mistakes and still come out victorious.  If anything, this gives us hope that we can get out of any hole that we find ourselves in.  Sure, we might have bumps, bruises, scars, and that knee won’t ever bend the right way again.  Yet, we still reach our goal and, hopefully, we learn from our mistakes.  That’s what we try to teach our children, but I’ve met many adults that forget this and are terrified of the slightest misstep.  That fear can be paralyzing and lead to the domino effect of mistakes, which is what we really should see characters do.  At some point, they will have to put a hand out and stop a domino from hitting its neighbor to begin moving forward again.  In many ways, that is life and shows us that we are always learning.

Getting back to War of Nytefall: Ravenousthis cascading avalanche of disaster happens a few times.  I was tempted to remove or minimize it, but the story really works as you watch the characters in question make one wrong move after another.  The one that thinks they’re in control and gets more desperate as events continue forward was my favorite to write.  They are constantly swearing that they are in control while stuff falls apart around them and they have to implement a new plan.  I had several points where I wanted to have them just stop the disaster and move on, but that never felt natural given the emotions and mindsets involved.  Again, that’s reality.  People get stuck in self-destructive spirals all the time.  Now, do the characters ever realize that they are the cause of their own headaches?  Well, you’ll have to read to find that out.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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6 Responses to You’re Only Making Things Worse: Cascading Problems

  1. L. Marie says:

    Wow. The cascading problems aspect sounds very realistic. It also makes for good conflict and tension.


  2. Neat topic. I feel something important coming my way, but it might take a day or two to arrive. It feels quite realistic, and relates to fiction well. No idea where my imagination will take me, but I’m along for the ride.


  3. I love it. Very relatable.


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