Sometimes characters do stupid things. These stupid things often complicate the life of the protagonist. That’s often all to the good. But here’s something to think about with story. It’s fine for characters to make mistakes, but the reader has to fully embrace that mistake as a completely reasonable option at the time.
Let me share some anecdotal evidence. One editor couldn’t bring himself to forgive one of my main characters for not doing something at an important moment in the story. He knew there would be no story if she’d done it, but it seemed such an obvious thing to do that he couldn’t stop wanting to smack her.
Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. After getting over the sting of this criticism, I knew he was right. I’ve felt the same annoyance with characters. In fact, I had a very difficult time with the final third of an otherwise engaging fantasy because the heroine put herself into harm’s way when she really had no reason to do so. But if she hadn’t stupidly climbed aboard this ship, the writer wouldn’t have had her cool ending. Maybe in the author’s head, the character’s motivation was strong enough, but it wasn’t there on the page, at least it wasn’t for me.
Right now I’m in the middle of recasting the scene that so disgusted that editor. The set-up is slightly different and so is my character’s behavior. I hope that I’ve done enough to make another editor feel that my character’s response to the situation is utterly believeable.