Anti-Survival Traits

Doomed. There’s just no getting around it. Some fictional characters just have it coming. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I don’t like them. In fact, some of the ones who shout, “Hey, guys, watch this…” are some of my favorites. Sure, there are characters who shuffle off their respective mortal coils in a rather forgettable manner. There are some special ones, however, whose inescapable demise claims the comfy chair in your memory and hogs the remote. It seems to me that there are a few common characteristics that the hysterically doomed share. I think of these as “Anti-Survival Traits” for the simple reason that the existence of one or more of these traits often ensures eventual and (sometimes) legendary destruction.

The first of these, of course, is Snarkiness. You know what I mean. It’s your mouth’s instinct to act in your own disinterest. Fictional characters afflicted with this trait can’t seem to help themselves. When everyone else knows that the best survival strategy is to shut up, this character will mouth off at the worst possible time.  It’s that uncontrollable urge to take an otherwise innocuous statement, infuse it with a snide tone, and drop it like a live mic. This is the guy in the back seat who waits until the officer is handing your license back to you to sneer, “Nice haircut…” In fact, the Snarky character’s best hope of survival is based on the hope that their target lacks the wit to get the joke.

Some characters also suffer from Coyote Syndrome. This is an unfortunately condition where the character is incapable of learning from past mistakes. While some may confuse this disability with Optimism, the differences are significant. For one thing, an Optimist will consider a dire situation, be fully aware of the shockingly low probability of a positive outcome and yet choose to remain hopeful. Fictional characters who suffer from Coyote Syndrome will consider the same situation and remain blissfully blind to the absolute certainty of disaster. It’s not that they think, “This time, maybe I won’t land on my head.” Instead, the inevitable and utterly predictable outcome never occurs to them. These characters exhibit genuine surprise each time they fall off of a cliff, miss the trampoline, or notice the growing shadow of an approaching boulder. Groups of people containing a CS character can usually be identified by their tendency to face palm. Where I come from, these characters are often accompanied by an onlooker who shakes their head and declares, “That boy just ain’t right.”

Enthusiasm is a positive and desirable characteristic. Ridiculous Enthusiasm, however, is the opposite. Characters with this unfortunate condition do not limit themselves to leaping before looking. They just leap. How deep is that hole? This character will let you know. They’re loud, pushy, oblivious to danger, and certain to become a cautionary tale. These characters spring into the face of Danger not because they are brave, but because they think, “What could possibly go wrong?” While the rest of the group has the sense to sneak quietly past the sleeping dragon, this clown will kick it in the nose. Oddly enough, this tactic does not always result in a sudden and dramatic departure from the land of the living. In some cases, the character escapes only because the hideously dangerous threat he faced simply could not believe he could be that stupid. These characters seek attention and are often the ones to shout, “Check this out, dude…” They are beautiful, in their own way. At least, their explosions are.

Curiosity is known to have offed a feline or two. Insane Curiosity takes self-destruction to whole new level. While other characters see the warning signs, frequently including words like, “Danger,” “Warning,” or “High Voltage,” Insanely Curious characters will disregard them. They are the button pushers. They will enter a mad scientist’s lair, stand on the big red X with a dozen lasers focused on them, and push the big red button. “What does this do?” are their most common last words. Unfortunately, the disastrous results frequently impact other people, leaving the Insanely Curious character free to see what the rest of the buttons will do. If/when there is a self-destruct button, this character will be the one to push it. While it may seem that this trait has more to do with the poor survival probabilities of their team, this character usually triggers their own demise in the end. While that may be of little comfort to the team members they’ve already disintegrated, it is a type of poetic justice.

Pride goes before a fall. This is a well-known truth. “Pompous Arrogance goes before a stain on the pavement,” may be a lesser known phrase. Characters displaying Pompous Arrogance take mere pride to extremes. Their displays of self-interest and conceit make even politicians and celebrities wince. They don’t simply feel that they are better and more important than everyone else, they know it. Even worse, they want to make sure that everyone else knows it. Nothing sets off a Pompously Arrogant character like encountering a Snarky character. Oddly, these two traits have a way of searching each other out, finding one another, and ending up seated at the same table at the reception. This character’s eventual unhappy end is often delayed, much to the dismay of everyone they meet. In many cases, characters with this trait will wait to go down in flames until the very last minute. Unlike the tragic deaths of other characters afflicted with various Anti-Survival Traits, the messy spot that marks the site of the Pompously Arrogant character’s departure is often widely celebrated.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list and I haven’t discussed the comically tragic potential when two or more of these traits coexist in the same person. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Mine is busy making snarky comments.