You know how self sacrificing YA protagonists can be? I mean, those sixteen and seventeen year olds are giving up their lives in a second. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice thing, really. But I have to ask, how come it's so easy for them to give up their lives? I'm around the same age as those protagonists I read about, and maybe I'm a really coward ass (probably), but I don't see how I could risk my life so spontaneously like that. I mean, it's your life, bro!
So, I'm going to play this nice little game where I decide whether they were being stupid or brave when they risked their life according to their motives. Let's begin, shall we?
This one I understand. You know, sometimes I would get those weird nightmares where a sick guy is asking me whether I would give up my life to save my mother, and of course, the answer is always yes. You don't think twice when it comes to your family, you just do what you gotta do. That's why I get Katniss volunteering for her sister. Even if you can't see yourself doing the same thing, put in mind that Katniss has been taking responsibility of her entire family since her father died. She is more of a mother to Prim than a sister, and so it was natural of her to take that decision. In all fairness, it was also a stupid move, considering Katniss was the only provider of the family, and if she went bye-bye, so would her mother and sister. But what kind of person would watch their little sister walk to her death? She had a better chance of surviving the hunger games than her sister ever did.
So, too brave or too stupid? Brave!
In all honesty, I'm predisposed to give out a big ole Stupid badge when it comes to this motive. But this wouldn't be fair unless I give an example to justify my judgement. However, the one example that comes to mind is from a very recent book that I'm not sure everyone read, so instead, I'm going to make a hypothetical example. OK, so girl A meets boy B. Boy B is basically the cat's meow. He's hot, he's nice, and even the reader is swooning for him. Problem? There's some sort of villain/serial killer/alien/marshmallow set out to kill him, and the only way to save him is if girl A risks her life. It's all nice and sweet and romantic until you realize that a) Girl and boy have known each other for a couple of weeks b) you're not sure if they're even in love or merely infatuated with each other's eyes. If this is all there is to the story, then I'm bound to say Girl A is being Stupid!*
But sometimes there's more to it. Sometimes you actually understand the love between the two characters, and how one of them would risk their life to save the other. If the story can convince the reader of such thing, then basically this book reached the jackpot. Not only does it become extremely emotional for the reader, but the over all self-sacrifice thing actually makes sense. So in that case, the Girl/Boy is being Brave!
*It doesn't always have to be the girl that sacrifices herself. Actually in a lot of cases, it's the guy. Or both of them. Survival Tip: If you're a fictional character in a really dangerous situation, I suggest you make a guy fall for you. That way you will have a nice (probably abtastic) human shield. Wohoo!
There's no way I can some up all the motives of risking one's life. So instead, I'll just call them other motives. I'll leave the judgment to you on those ones.
If a character risk their life to save their city/village/world, are they being too stupid or too brave?
If a character risk their life to keep a dangerous secret (like, for example the average human will never be able to make fries like McDonald's) , are they being too stupid or too brave?
If a character risks their life to save someone they barely know, are they being too stupid or too brave?