“Their heart was in the right place.”
“They meant well.”
“It’s the thought that counts.”
The road to Hell may really be paved with good intentions. Probably a lot of potholes too since it’s bound to be a bumpy ride. Still, it’s made from people making a situation worse while thinking they’re helping. Betting we can all think of a few times we’ve seen a person do this. If not then you may very well be that person. So, how does this relate to writing fiction?
First, what am I talking about? These are situations where a person tries to fix a problem from the goodness of their heart. It typically is done when they don’t have a full grasp of the situation. The person sees negativity and steps into the middle out of genuine concern, which is different than doing it to be seen as a savior. The latter isn’t a noble intention at all. The person truly wants to help. Of course, there might not even be a problem until they get involved, but that won’t be clear until they get involved. In the tend, the noble intentions of one person has turned either a small issue into a big one or created a problem where there wasn’t any.
This happens in fiction all the time because heroes naturally try to get involved in the problems they see. It’s why they’re called heroes, which doesn’t require a full understanding of the situation. Authors tend to have this work out unless they want to throw a twist into the plot, which is when noble intentions lead to issues. A common example is when a superhero causes damage and injuries by their actions. Sure, they were trying to stop the villain, but they broke a lot of windows. Of course, this has become more popular since ‘The Incredibles’ made it a plot point, so now it’s almost part of the overall genre. Yet, it’s proof that meaning well doesn’t guarantee 100% success.
Aside from punching problems into submission, character interactions are a large arena for noble intentions going wrong. One person is trying to help another talk to their crush, which leads to rejection and depression. A person suspects abuse and calls the cops on a friend’s spouse only to find that they’re into BDSM. That second one is comical, but put it in a drama to find that you now have a broken friendship and the couple may be more guarded with their private life. Again, we see that a character is injecting themselves into a situation with the urge to help and they make a mess.
There are two common ways this happens in drama/comedy stories:
- The one with noble intentions is the stronger personality and is urging a more timid character to act. They’re pushing them out of their shell for their own good, which touches on how society thinks shyness is bad. This is done with no or minimal support from the timid character, who is shown to be uncomfortable. If it fails then the noble intentions character may feel remorse, but the real damage is done to the person they were pushing.
- The one with noble intentions is outside of a situation and perceives a problem that doesn’t really existed. Just a silly misunderstanding that people can laugh off as long as that’s the genre. Maybe the cops were called or a surprise was ruined by the intrusive figure. You find consequences for the nosey character in these scenarios more often than others. Though, they typically get to bounce back in an epilogue unless they’re going to be shown as the true villain.
This is another aspect of noble intentions gone wrong that you’ll see. The person being helped tends to be the one who suffers more than the helper. Unless there is something illegal being done, the helper isn’t going to get arrested. They might lose a friendship or respect from others, but that’s easier to recover from. Just move to a new social group that doesn’t know what they did. Maybe even find one that agrees with the help, which is a move I’ve seen occur in real life. Meanwhile, the person who was to be helped is in a bad situation. They won’t trust others as much or take risks because they’ve been burned by someone they felt was a friend or wanted what was best for them. This is why I think the ‘noble intentions’ path should be taken with care and consideration.
I know I’m taking fiction, but also think about this in real life. Read the room and tone before trying to help. You may think you’re immediate action is what’s needed, but it could make things worse. Sometimes a person simply needs to be heard or to be asked what is wrong. Never be afraid to ask if someone is okay if you think they’re not. If they refuse your attention then don’t push them into a corner. Not everything is a life or death struggle, but you can turn a small bout of tension into an anxiety attack if you’re noble intentions are misplaced.
Isn’t dealing with other humans who possess complicated emotions fun?