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My sixteen year-old never ceases to amaze me. He’s one of those kids who, when he puts his mind to something, he does it. When he was around five years old, I dubbed his can-do attitude, The Cartoon Learning Curve. Do you remember the Looney Tunes cartoons with the roadrunner and coyote? He’d take off, full tilt after that damned bird (who, for the record, I find infuriating) and end up running right off the edge of a cliff. And he’d just keep going until he looked down and realized that he wasn’t on solid ground anymore. This was inevitably followed up with an epic fall for thousands of feet, and a lovely mushroom cloud of dust. Poor Coyote. If he hadn’t looked down, he might have just kept on running until he reached the other side of the canyon, thereby saving himself a nasty fall.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the teen… When he was five years old, we took him to a local hot springs. The pool started off around three feet deep and was somewhere around 15 feet at the deep end. He’d wade around in the shallow water, watching as his sister swam off toward the deeper water. “Mom, do you think I could swim?” he asked. “I don’t know, kiddo,” I answered. What do you think?” He thought it over for a bit and said, “Well, I’ve never tried before.” He took a deep breath, dove under the water and swam off. No joke. He didn’t once entertain the idea that he couldn’t swim, therefore, it wasn’t an option. He swam all over the pool that night without a single lesson. The kid can swim like a fish.
See? Cartoon Learning Curve. He didn’t look down, so he didn’t realize there was no longer solid ground beneath his feet. Over the years, he’s taught himself to ride a bike, ice skate, break dance, and play piano. He also dabbles in parkour and I’ve cringed a few times as I’ve watched him run up walls or perch on top of our shed. No doubt. No fear.
Whereas the teen possesses a very dangerous sense of confidence that, honestly, makes me wonder how we’ve avoided the emergency room all of these years, doubt is an essential element in any story arc. Doubt is a very powerful thing. It causes us to hesitate, to look down, to falter for that one pivotal moment. Doubt is the story element that pushes our heroes and heroines toward a bad decision. It’s what shakes up the story line, throws a monkey wrench into well-thought out plans, and disrupts the course of a blooming romance. Without doubt, there’d be no obstacles to overcome, no trust to be gained, and no happy ending to be achieved.
This overconfidence, while dangerous, is a quality we look for in not just a hero and heroine, but in a protagonist or villain as well. The bad guy is always overconfident. He has no doubt that his nefarious plans will come to fruition, and so he runs right of the edge of that cliff with no thought to the laws of gravity. The villain’s utter conviction is what propels the story, keeps the conflict going at a steady pace, and engages the hero to become that monkey wrench that causes the villain to look down and find himself standing on thin air.
I often wonder what the world would be like if we all used the Cartoon Learning Curve. What if we went into every situation with the absolute belief that we’d be successful simply because there was no other option? I’d like to think that we’d all run on thin air, across the canyon, to the other side.
What do you think? Do you like overconfidence in a hero or heroine, or do you like for them to doubt? What about your villains? Do you enjoy watching them run off the edge of the cliff without ever doubting they’ll make it to the other side? Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Crave the Darkness (USA & Canada residents only!).
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