One bit of advice given to a writer starting a series about a character is to have a good reason why that character constantly has adventures; the character should be a cop, Slayer, professional treasure-hunter, reporter, etc. It’s not believable that the character frequently just happens to stumble into adventures, monster attacks, mysterious murders, or whatever their specialty is.

But is it true that that’s not believable? I’ve read numerous stories and seen numerous movies and TV shows where the main character DOES just stumble into adventures all the time. And many of these stories are quite popular. Even when the character has a day job that gets them involved in adventures, they still stumble into adventures when they’re not working, while on vacation for example.

Is it TRULY important that a character have a reason to have adventures and not stumble into them by coincidence? Or is that the sort of thing only writers and internet critics notice or care about?

Thank you

Dave L

Hey Dave, great to hear from you again!

From a zoomed-out perspective, we can find numerous, popular stories that make just about every mistake in the book, and a few that haven’t even made it into the book yet. Those stories are popular despite making such mistakes, not because of them. They might be really good in other areas, tapped into the zeitgeist at a particular moment, or just have a huge marketing budget. If we conclude that mistakes don’t matter because popular stories make them, there’d be no reason to ever improve our writing at all. 

Looking closer at this specific mistake, I actually can’t say that I’ve seen many popular stories make it. Usually, when writers want a character who has a different medical drama every week, they make the character a healer, whether that means an MD, an EMT, or just someone who provides aid to their neighbors. Otherwise, it would be pretty silly for a character to encounter a new injury every time their weekly game night rolls around. When authors want a space-adventure story, they make the hero a space captain. For mystery solving, a detective. Often, those detectives don’t have a specific job title (Nancy Drew, Miss Marple), but they’re known in their community for solving mysteries, so it has the same effect. 

I’m sure there are stories that make this mistake; it just doesn’t strike me as especially prevalent. The most common version I see is when the writer mixes up their premise and main character. They want a story about commanding a ship on space adventures, but they focus on the cook rather than the captain, that sort of thing. Or, as you touched on, the characters encounter so many unplanned adventures that it strains believability. We had a comment thread recently about how Poirot can’t go to the grocery store without stumbling over a dead body and how the Enterprise seems to encounter a strange anomaly every time it starts its warp engines. 

Episodic stories can get away with that more easily because their premise treats each installment (whether it’s a TV episode or an entire novel) as a separate story, only marginally related to previous adventures. When Poirot finds a body, this is supposed to be a rare occurrence, not something that happens to him every day. Same with Star Trek, though the novel Redshirts is a great exploration of what would happen if we took Kirk and Picard’s adventures literally. 

Even in those scenarios though, it’s still very helpful if it’s the hero’s job to solve the problems in question. Poirot finds a body and investigates, where a non-detective would just be upset. If Star Trek were about a civilian freighter, every episode would have to explain why they don’t run away at the first sign of trouble. 

So yes, if you want your hero to have repeated adventures, it’s best to make them the kind of person who would credibly have those adventures. That might be an official job, a well established passion, or it might simply be the hero’s responsibility as the only one with super powers. This is actually a good idea in most stories, come to think of it. That way you avoid questions of why someone else isn’t handling the adventure. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!

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