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I've started to write a lot more recently, especially in horror. And something that's been critiqued about my works is that they center around the whole "curiosity killed the cat" cliché. Guy finds something suspicious, and instead of calling the police or just forgetting about it, he searches this said thing more in-depth and ends up in misfortunate because of it - pretty standard.

So how can I avoid this? How can I create a more exhilarating and exciting plot without the character being just curious about something? Is there any clever way I can kind of "lead" them into the plot and keep the plot scary? Sorry if my question seems a little odd; I just don't really know how to ask it.

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Tropes are a tool for storytelling. They are not inherently good or bad. The important thing is how you use them.

To know if your storytelling is good, you need to ask yourself "Why? Why does the character do this?" If there's no logical reason why they do what they do, then you've run into a problem.

There's a reason why people constantly shout at horror protagonists for being stupid. No logical person heads toward signs of danger. Think about what you would do in most horror movie scenarios. Would you go into a haunted house? Sure, maybe that'd be fun. But what if you start experiencing actual paranormal phenomena like moving plates or a physical monster?

I, for one, would get out of there as soon as possible and call the police. It doesn't matter if they believe me or not. I can make something up. "Hello, officer? I was walking by that creepy house at the end of the street when I saw a guy in a scary mask holding a blood-stained ax. I think I'm next on his list. Please help."

The worst they can do is ignore you. But at least you raised the alarm.

So let's do the opposite. Let's come up with a legitimate reason why the character has not called the authorities and decided to go about this on their own.

The character doesn't trust the cops

For any number of reasons, your character might not trust figures of authority. They might even be right not to trust them. They could be a disgraced cop who thinks the police are thoroughly corrupt. They might be a conspiracy theorist who thinks the government is secretly run by reptoids.

They might be right to be paranoid, but my point is that the character may have a specific character flaw preventing them from telling the truth.

ex1-"I'm a struggling scientist. A genius. I can't let anyone else discover aliens are real until I win my Nobel prize." ex2-"I'm a disgraced ex-cop who's too proud to admit my own shortcomings. Solving the case myself is more important to me than the law." ex3-"I'm a jaded, paranoid supernatural detective. I've lost everything hunting this monster, and I can't let anyone else into harm's way."

The character's inability to trust other people, therefore, could lead them down a dark path.

They may learn to live with it, learn to overcome it, or their personal flaw could destroy them in the end.

-Or-

Outside Pressure Prevents Them from talking

In this case, the protagonist's paranoia is fully justified for any number of reasons.

If the police are in on the lie, then you can't exactly go to them for help, can you?

What if the information they've learned is that shapeshifting aliens have taken over the government? Who do you trust? Now that you know shapeshifters exist, anyone could be a potential threat, even people you think you know well.

Is there magic involved? The character might be cursed not to tell anyone.

Is there a monster involved? It might threaten to eat the protagonist or their family if our hero decides to tell anyone. They have to go it alone.

Is the character special in some way? A chosen one or sorts? Then they might literally be the only person able to save the day.

There are only two logical reasons why a character would refuse to tell anyone about their predicament. Internal reasons or external ones.

Either they think they do not need help for internal, prideful reasons, or they physically can't accept help because there are too many threats knocking at their door.

Sometimes the threat is simply something only the protagonist can solve.

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Here are four options I can think of.

1. Carefully manipulate the circumstances

Whatever the normal thing to do is, eliminate it. They can't go to the police, because they're on the lam. They can't call for help because their phone is dead. They can't go outside, because they have crippling agoraphobia.

Getting this right takes a little craft. If you just randomly insert malfunctioning cell phones at moments that are convenient, the story will feel contrived. A good trick is to connect it to whatever is happening in the story already. If there's already a supernatural presence, then there's no need for a cell phone to fail for mundane reasons. Maybe it fails suddenly like it never did before, glitching weirdly and showing... was that a human body?

Another benefit of this method is that it can heighten the character's fear: they really don't want to explore or investigate. They want to run away, or call for help. But this is the only option left to them.

2. Make the character unlikeable

This is a staple of slasher movies. If the character is an arrogant jerk, then it doesn't much matter that we don't agree with their choices. We want to see them get their comeuppance. Their actions still need to be at least believable, but they can simply be illustrations of the character's flaws.

You can use this as a quick illustration of the danger, before you start the story proper in a more careful way with a more likeable main character.

Or you can really drag things out. Have the character take risk after risk, and constantly get away with it. Until they finally go too far, and they get what's coming to them. With a little skill, you can then turn the tables. Have the jerk drop the act and have them act genuine, and have the punishment be subtly terrifying and horrible. The audience will empathize with the character and you can have your cake and eat it too.

3. Have the character try the sane options, and show how they fail

Let them go to the police. Show that the cops don't believe them. Or that they're controlled by the big bad. Have them call a friend for help, after which the friend dies. They won't be trying that again.

This very simply allows you to strip away all the available options until the one thing left is a direct confrontation. This also gives you a simple story structure to build on.

4. Tie it to the character's key obsession

If the character is driven by some trauma, or mystery in their past, you can use this to push them beyond any need for self-preservation. You can even let them take the sane, safe way out a few times.

This can be combined with option 3 to great effect. Their friends are supportive, but they don't really believe them. The police are unhelpful, maybe corrupt. Their therapist tries to get them to move past the trauma, but the dreams keep coming back.

Eventually, they are simply at the end of their tether. There is only one way to find closure. Go deeper. Seek out the evil and face it down or die trying.

Not surprisingly, this is often used in more psychological horror, where the whole journey is something of a metaphor for dealing with trauma.

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I believe you are encountering a common struggle in storytelling. I know I struggled with similar challenges.

While there are certainly many ways to tell stories, one way to structure your story is to have a character that wants something (motivation) and has a way to get it (goal) and for some reason or another they can't reach their goal -- this last bit is an obstacle or source conflict.

A story depending on a character's curiosity is using a character trait in lieu of character motivation. This isn't in itself bad, especially to start a story, except that when the character stops being curious, then there isn't anything driving the story forward.

Consider, for example, your curious character awakens an Eldritch terror. Now you have a character who is going mad and no longer curious. It feels like a story that doesn't go anywhere ...

But if that character has a motivation and goal it has legs. Let us say that he wants to live (that is a decent motivation.) So his goal might be to sing a lullaby and put the Eldritch Terror back to sleep. But (conflict) he can't sing. Can't carry a tune in a bucket -- drowning cats sounds sweeter. What can he do?

Voice lessons!!! (New goal with same motivation) but he can't afford them (conflict or obstacle)

The pattern of a motivation-goal-conflict is practically fractal and you can keep it up ad infinitum (Read my dissertation on the Fast and the Furious Franchise) until you have a story that you would like to write.

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