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Poor Communication Kills / Literature

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  • Fox Demon Cultivation Manual: Jiang Liang would have been spared a lot of misery if Feng Zhuojun's twin had told him Feng Zhuojun was dead. Instead Jiang Liang thinks Feng Zhuojun has abandoned him.
  • The Harry Potter books run on this trope, otherwise they'd all be 100 pages long. The most prominent offenders:
    • Harry himself almost always keeps important information from the adults, and when he does try to sound the alarm, he never provides any evidence.
    • Dumbledore is even worse, in every single book concealing information from Harry that often could save Harry the entire plot. Dumbledore claims in book 5 to realize why this is a terrible idea after it literally gets someone killed... and then is right back at it the next book, failing to tell Harry that Dumbledore knows about Draco's plot, anything that would reassure Harry about trusting Snape, or that Dumbledore is going to die soon regardless. However, this can be excused as Harry's mind is linked to Voldemort's, meaning Voldemort can potentially find out whatever Dumbledore is planning. And as far as Snape, Dumbledore promised Snape he'd never tell anyone.
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    • Sirius can't even communicate well enough to explain to a bunch of frightened children that he's not actually going to murder them, he somehow failed to say the words "I didn't kill those people, here, check my wand", and the entire disaster in Order of the Phoenix would have been avoided if he'd simply outright said to Harry "Hey, here's this two way mirror your dad used to own, you can use it to talk to me any time."
      • The first instance can be excused by the fact that he's not thinking clearly and that the kids might not believe him in any case, and it's possible he said the second one (or words to that effect) but nobody listened, since he didn't have a trial. But the last one makes no sense and almost comes off as him being "mysterious" on purpose, with devastating consequences.
  • Dracula, where the excessively gentlemanly heroes deliberately choose not to tell Mina Harker about their vampire hunt so as not to distress her, thus making her the perfect target. Ironically, once the damage is done and they must let her in on it, she copes rather better than her husband did.
    • And it's also the reason that Lucy and her mother died; if Van Helsing (who was the only guy who had any inkling of what was going on with Lucy at that point) had been upfront with the women, then there would be no plot.
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  • P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels: Almost everything bad that ever happened to Bertie Wooster. The rest of it seems to be blackmail.
  • Every....single...protagonist in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series appears to suffer from this. Seriously. While the bad guys are also killing each other off to determine who gets to be The Dragon, the Big Bad at least can give clear orders and expect to see them carried out. Usually.
    • Considering the whole Aiel vs. the Whitecloaks vs. the Rebel Tower vs. the White Tower vs. Elaida vs. the Asha'man vs.... well, everyone the Dark one could probably just sit back and wait for the good guys to kill each other off, although at least half of the disputes arise or are at least made worse by agents of the Dark one amongst them.
      • Just looking at specific protagonists: Rand doesn't tell anyone anything about anything. He doesn't want his idyllic hometown or his lovers targeted by his enemies, people think he's a dangerous lunatic, and he's trying to fight several Chessmasters at once. Mat hasn't told Rand what he's been doing for the last five books partly because he likes avoiding responsibility, but mostly because he would need a channeler's help to do it and he doesn't trust or want to be indebted to them. Perrin hasn't told Rand anything for the last four books because it's taken him that long to accomplish what everyone thought would be a simple assignment. Elayne and Egwene have been keeping their distance from Rand for six books because being seen in contact with him would subvert their own political power. Nynaeve and Min don't tell anyone anything because they're worried about Rand's fragile mental state and don't want to do anything he could possibly interpret as a betrayal. Any one of those might make sense, but all of them together... especially considering how many problems the reader knows the lack of communication has caused...
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    • The series also shows the corollary: when the protagonists finally get a clue and start working together and sharing information, plots get solved. Since Brandon Sanderson took over the series, the pattern of nobody talking to anyone else has broken, and this has allowed them to start preparing for Tarmon Gai'don. Even before then, Rand only survived the Battle of Shadar Logoth because Cadsuane forced him to take some backup along instead of running off and trying to cleanse saidin with only Nynaeve's assistance.
  • In The Republic Of Trees, Isobel tells Michael that she broke up with her previous boyfriend because he wanted something from her that she wouldn't give him... he wanted her to stop cheating on him As the result, Michael learns the truth at the worst possible moment and the already unstable situation spirals out of control to Lord of the Flies proportions.
  • In The Ruins, poor communication literally kills, as the Mayan-speaking locals are unable to effectively warn the main characters away from the titular ruins. Truth in Television, as it's very common for Mayans in the poor rural areas of Mexico to speak no or very little Spanish, much less English.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • There's a major one in the first book combined with an Idiot Ball when Catelyn takes Tyrion to the Eyrie. She has taken Tyrion captive as a preemptive first strike against the Lannisters because she and Ned were told that he was responsible for the attempt on their son's life and because they believe that war is inevitable. She believes that war with the Lannisters is inevitable because her sister told her that they were responsible for Jon Arryn's death. She spends days with her sister, and never asks her something like "What evidence do you have that Jon Arryn was murdered?" or "Why do you think the Lannisters murdered Jon Arryn", especially when she realizes that her sister is changing her story about which Lannister is responsible. The answer basically is because asking her sister about the (non-existent) Lannister involvement would make her realize that the Starks were being set up and the plot would fall apart, as Lysa has no evidence at all and isn't the most reliable (or sane) co-conspirator.
    • In the second book, Robb could have avoided a whole mess of trouble if he'd just confided in his underlings a bit more. He goes off to fight the Lannister's western army and leaves his uncle Edmure to hold Riverrun. When the Lannister eastern army starts harrying Riverrun's borders, Edmure rides off with his army and succeeds beating them back to a full retreat. Cue celebrations and parties... until Robb returns and, after publicly honoring his uncle's success, browbeats him in private for disobeying his orders. Turns out he had planned to lure the eastern army into attacking Riverrun so he could come in from the south and crush it between his army and the castle.
    "But I was never told of this!"
    "You were told to hold the castle. What part of that did you fail to comprehend?"
    • Likewise, Doran Martell keeps much of his plans hidden from his family and their allies. This ultimately leads to an ill-fated round of Xanatos Speed Chess that led to Princess Myrcella losing an ear after his daughter Arianne's failed attempt to crown her and his son Quentyn dying in a slow, agonizing death after failing to woo Daenerys and attempting to tame her dragons instead when she's gone. Ser Barristan Selmy noted that if Doran revealed the marriage pact earlier then Daenerys wouldn't experience any trouble in Slavers' Bay.
  • In GRRM's first novel Dying of the Light, this trope remains supreme. Although the main theme of the novel is that people often tend to hold onto once fulfilling things that no longer have a purpose, which impedes their personal growth, a second theme could be that maybe it's better to communicate with your friends and loved ones. Almost none of the unfortunate plot developments would have occurred had the characters actually had reasonable conversations with each other. At some point, this stretches suspension of disbelief like how Gwen never asks the protagonist (who is her ex-boyfriend and visiting her and her husband after seven years of no communication), "So, why *are* you here, exactly?" It's also unbelievable that after leaving a relationship because of unreasonable expectations upon her, she enters a second one with a guy from a different culture and never inquires about what this whole "Betheyn" thing means, nor does he offer that information to her despite being enlightened and having a good understanding of how foreign a concept it would be to her.
  • Herman Melville took this trope literally in his novella Billy Budd, in which Billy, a Christlike figure whose only flaw is a tendency to stutter when he gets upset, killed the master-at-arms, Claggart, after Claggart falsely accused him of conspiracy to mutiny. He got so upset when he couldn't stop stuttering long enough to defend himself that he punched Claggart in the temple and he died. All three main characters—Billy, Claggart, and Captain Vere—die. But, then again, without it all of Melville's lovely symbolism falls apart, and we can't have that.
  • David Weber has this on a grander scale then most with his Hell's Gate series when poor communication causes two civilizations, which hadn't even known the other existed until recently, to start what is promising to be a long and brutal war.
  • In Timothy Zahn's Conqueror's trilogy, when humans had First Contact with an alien race, they sent a peaceful first contact radio communication. Unfortunately, the aliens perceived it as one of their dreaded Elderdeath weapons. So, the aliens immediately opened fire, quickly shredding the human battle fleet in minutes and starting a nasty war, based on mutual misunderstandings.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • Deliberately tampered with communication restarts the Manticore-Haven war. The guy who did it wanted to make the Havenite president just angry enough that she was almost ready to go to war and he could step in and save the day. He underestimates by about one degree of anger, and millions die. Suffice it to say he's lucky he died in a genuine accident, because the president in question was preparing to have him charged with treason and executed.
    • An unintentional example from that series was the attempted McQueen coup: McQueen knew that she'd eventually be considered too much of a threat by the Committee for Public Safety and would be eliminated, and so starts planning her contingency plan for when the time came. Pierre and St-Just also recognized she'd be a threat and would probably have to be eliminated so start planning their contingency plan for when the time came. A partially overheard conversation results in McQueen believing they were moving against her immediately (instead of merely planning to at some point in the future), causing her to launch her own plan prematurely.
    • Occurs in the very first book: Honor pursues the Havenite Q-Ship running from the Medusa system when she realizes that their plan to grab the system would have the Q-ship "fleeing" to a waiting squadron of warships. She's right, but the premature start of the Medusan uprising the Havenites were promoting screwed up their plan so the captain was running to tell the warships not to come into the system. But he couldn't admit it because it would confirm Haven's covert actions, and the resulting combat destroys the Q-ship, nearly destroys Harrington's ship, and costs her a large chunk of her crew, even though it was blazingly obvious to him that the jig was up and the Manticorans obviously knew what was going on. His problem was that surrendering the ship would provide concrete proof (not only of the plan, but Havenite Q-Ships). And even were he to be honest about what he was and that he was going to call the operation off, Harrington would have no reason to believe him.
  • In The Forever War, a war that lasts centuries between humans and an alien race turns out to be based on a misunderstanding. Considering that the author is a Vietnam vet, one need merely read The Pentagon Papers to see where he gets his idea.
  • A large part of later books in the Ender's Game series. Turns out the formics were not hostile, but simply unaware that humans were intelligent, at least on an individual level. After the second war, they tried to apologize, but were destroyed before they learned to communicate with us. In addition, the whole debate over whether two alien species can communicate and coexist is dominant, especially as a situation gets closer and closer to "Communicate with them, or commit Xenocide." Placing our heroes in the exact same situation as the formics.
  • Also, the main plot of Speaker for the Dead occurs because no one stops to ask the Piggies "Say, why exactly did you kill those two people and ritually disembowel them?" Seemingly, neither of the people who got disemboweled thought to say anything along the lines of "Why are you doing this?...What's the third life?...Oh, I see. Uh, humans don't do that. It'll just kill us horribly. Please don't."
  • Being There is a variation; the whole plot is based on characters misinterpreting most everything Chance the Gardener says (with the twist that he cannot correct them because he isn't able to understand what's going on).
  • Due to the secret nature of Dreamland ops, the characters of Dale Brown's books often find themselves going up against ostensible allies both within and without America even when there's not supposed to be overt conflict.
  • Metro 2033 with the Dark Ones, they just want to find a way to help the humans out, but the telepathy caused people to go mad and thought they were out to kill them like other mutants. Needless to say Artyom realize this a bit too late as he plants the transmitter.
  • In Arrow's Fall, part of the Heralds of Valdemar series, the novel's primary romantic tension is caused by Dirk assuming himself to be part of a Love Triangle consisting of himself, Kris, and Talia, and trying to pull an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, when in fact both Kris and Talia are trying to get her hooked up with Dirk. Dirk's stubborn refusal to discuss the matter with either of them sends him into a breakdown, and causes the resolution to be put off until after Talia nearly dies and Kris does die.
  • In the Agatha Christie novel Sparkling Cyanide, Sandra Farraday knows that her husband Stephan is having an affair with Rosemary Barton, is afraid Stephan will leave her for Rosemary, and is prepared to kill Rosemary to prevent that from happening. Stephan, on the other hand, has grown tired of Rosemary and realized that Sandra is his real true love, but he's afraid that Sandra will leave him when she finds out about it, and is prepared to kill Rosemary to prevent the affair from becoming public. Technically, poor communication didn't actually kill in this case, since neither Stephan nor Sandra was the murderer, but it very easily could have.
    • Played heartbreakingly straight in A Murder is Announced. Remembering the scene of the crime, Miss Murgatroyd finally realizes something was wrong, but, not being very quick-minded, she only gets to work out that "She wasn't there!" instead of saying directly that Letitia Blacklock must be guilty. Her friend decides that the matter can be discussed later and goes away, leaving her alone in the house. Since the murderer has been eavesdropping, there is no "later" for poor Miss Murgatroyd.
  • The Key to Rondo could plausibly have instead been titled: Poor Communication Kills: The Novel.
  • In The Elenium series, an Eshandist leader had a speech problem and at one battle he yelled "Fall on your foes!" but mangled it and his followers heard "Fall on your swords!" He spent the next several years wondering why he lost.
  • In The Onion's Our Dumb Century, all the casualties of World War I turn out to be this. Archduke Fraz Ferdinand wasn't assassinated he just went on vacation; when he finally returns, sees what happened, and explains the misunderstanding, the war is called off and the survivors go home mildly embarrassed.
  • In a Star Wars novella, Imperial officer Kyle Katarn defects to the Rebel Alliance after he finds out that the Empire recently killed his father. He embarks on a black ops mission to recover part of the Death Star schematics, but is, naturally, monitored by the rebels to see if his turn was legitimate. When he's seen meeting with another Imperial, Mon Mothma gives the order to agent Jan Ors to kill him. What they don't know is that the officer was an old friend of Kyle's whom Kyle had persuaded to help him. Jan and Kyle end up in a Mexican Standoff, and if Jan hadn't found it impossible to kill the man that she was developing feelings for, the scenario would have ended in tragedy.
    • There have been some terrible cases of this trope occurring across the Star Wars Expanded Universe. One of the biggest ones was the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. It turns out that a number of people like Palpatine/Sidious, Vergere, Thrawn, and Darth Krayt knew about their existence and simply did not tell the galaxy at large - and giving vague hints to only a few people at the most. Sure, most of these people were villains and some of them were neutral, but a lot of grief (among other things) could have spared if people were simply told about it. The same things can be applied to Jacen and Abeloth, as well as Darth Bane's Sith Order and the Jedi Order.
  • In Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Pelagia spends decades waiting for Corelli, during which time she adopts an abandoned baby (named after him, no less). Turns out that Corelli did come back relatively early on, but saw her with the baby, assumed she must've had it with another man, and stormed off without talking to her. When Pelagia asks if he didn't consider the possibility that she was raped in his absence, he admits that it probably wouldn't have made a difference to him.
  • In The Shahnameh, a series of accidents and deception both well and ill-intentioned result in Rostem killing Sohrab, the outcome neither of them wanted.
  • The Idiot. No one seems capable of actually saying what they mean—even Prince Myshkin, the most innocently outspoken character, falls prey to this tendency—and the misunderstandings and suspicions that arise from this are major driving forces on the plot.
  • In Dirge for Prester John, John and his people have completely different ideas of what war is. He knows it means a lot of bloodshed (even if he naively also thinks of glory). His people think of the mating season of the cranes and pygmies.
  • The Culture Clash variety happens in The Left Hand of Darkness, in which a very large mess could have been avoided if Estraven had been more straightforward with Genly as to what his goals were. Justified, since in Gethenian culture advice is considered an insult, and Estraven was trying to avoid damaging Genly's honor; only later did he realize his mistake.
  • In the early The Dresden Files books Harry has a chronic problem with not giving his mundane allies enough information. He wises up about it quite a bit in later books, but not before quite a bit of damage is done:
    • In Storm Front Murphy actually starts to suspect that he's the killer because he keeps balking at telling her anything about the case (partially because the White Council suspects him as well and would see him researching the curse as evidence) and walks right into a giant scorpion in Harry's office created by the actual killer.
    • At the beginning of Fool Moon Harry does not see fit to tell a young and inexperienced magic user everything he can about a magic circle diagram that she's asking about, instead simply telling her that a set of runes in the diagram must be a mistake, because he can tell it binds creatures of both flesh and spirit and he doesn't want her messing with demons. Only later does he learn that she was trying to use the circle to confine a loup-garou, and not having enough information about it has gotten her killed and left the loup-garou free to rampage around Chicago racking up a substantial body count.
      • This one actually goes both ways in that she doesn't tell him why she needs the information leaving him to assume the worst (that she's mucking about with demon summoning). If she'd told him why she wanted the information he'd probably have been willing to help.
      • Harry also fails to give Murphy relevant information again, causing her to suspect him to be involved, again.
    • In Grave Peril, Harry tells Susan pretty much everything about going to the vampire's party except for one thing: he's only allowed one guest and anyone else would be considered fair game. Susan then copies his invitation without his knowledge in order to crash the party. Of course it's pretty fair to blame Susan at least as much as Harry. He was insistent that he was not going to bring her, and it shouldn't be hard to figure out that a regular human crashing a Vampire party isn't going to work out well.
    • Harry is more open in later books, but he still has trouble handing out critical information. It took him multiple books until he finally told Michael about Lasciel (though it turns out Michael already knew, and was just waiting for him to fess up). In Cold Days, Thomas gives him a What the Hell, Hero? for not telling him that Harry was going to become the Winter Knight, because as someone used to struggling against his darker nature he could have helped. Kirby might have survived in Turn Coat, if Harry had warned the Alphas about the naagloshii (prompting another What the Hell, Hero?). This list goes on.
    • It gets really bad in Peace Talks, as Ebenezer McCoy is aghast at the fact that Thomas knows about Maggie, Harry's daughter and believes Harry is being stupid to the point of suicide in letting a White Court vampire get so close to him and his family. The thing is, Ebenezer doesn't know that Thomas is also Harry's brother and thus his own grandson and Harry doesn't see fit to tell him until literally the worst possible moment, leading to all kinds of conflict.
    • The really tragic/ironic part of it all is that Harry refuses to give out information out of a misguided need to protect them. Despite his personal mantra of "knowledge is power," he thinks that what his friends don't know won't hurt them. He has to really get it rubbed in his face before he starts realizing how foolish he's being.
  • The Ice Palace is virtually built of this trope. The whole story begins with a tragic Cannot Spit It Out moment where one of the two main characters (two eleven year old girls) freaks the other one out, and the result is an incredibly huge guilt trip where one of them freezes to death inside a frozen waterfall, and the other goes through a long Despair Event Horizon for five months (i.e. the rest of the book).
  • One of the Inspector Montalbano books has a bad case of mishearing- Montalbano's lieutenant, Mimi, comes to his house late at night, looking very stressed, and tells him that he's got something that he needs to tell him: he's decided to get married. He phrases this as 'I've decided to take a wife', but Montalbano hears it as 'I've decided to take my life' and freaks out. It takes a while to sort out the situation, but they get there.
  • Jeremy from Strength & Justice: Side: Strength has a bad case of Cannot Spit It Out with his girlfriend over sharing information that there is a possible implication that the Law Enforcement, Inc. they work for might be involved in taking away people's magical powers by force. It finally culminates in his girlfriend thinking he's cheating on her, complete with confrontation.
  • Simona Ahrnstedt gives us a really painful example of Cannot Spit It Out in her debut novel, Överenskommelser. It's the story about young Beatrice, who's bullied and pressured by her abusive and tyrannical uncle into an engagement with a man. A man who's not only like forty years older than her, but he also treats women like they're dirt under his shoes. So what does she do? Of course, she tells nobody the truth about why she agreed to marry this man (he would get her beautiful but weak cousin instead, if she didn't sacrifice herself). To be fair, she really is in a crappy situation, but still, yikes... And unfortunately, her love interest Seth is no better. Since he thinks that she willingly rejected him to marry an old disgusting aristocrat, stupid pride keeps him from admitting that he loves her. Several misunderstandings between them (sigh...) leads to much misery for them both (including that Beatrice gets brutally raped and battered on her wedding night).
  • A lot of the tragedy in The Reynard Cycle could have been avoided if Persephone had only made it clearer to Reynard that, though she finds him charming, she would never seriously consider having a relationship with him.
  • In the Relativity story "Highway Robbery", the heroes are trying to catch a pair of car thieves, and send out two people as live bait to drive around aimlessly for several hours. There's a communicator in each car, so that if something happens, Mission Control will know about it. After doing this for several hours with no luck, they decide to go home and try again the next day. As she begins driving home, Melody's car is stolen (with her in it), but mission control has switched off their communicator and is unaware of it. In their defense, it was about 4 a.m. at this point and everyone was getting punchy.
  • Ava believes this is what happened when she reports on Countess Elinor in The Kingdom of Little Wounds. All she said was the woman had a lover, and then Elinor was arrested for high treason.
  • In the In Spiritu Et Veritate series by Zoe Reed, Kyla is forced under threat of death to break up with Camille over the phone during the climax of the first book. Fully three-quarters of the second book is spent with them still broken up, Kyla under the impression that Camille hasn't forgiven her and Camille under the impression that Kyla dumped her of her own volition. Camille is the more egregious case, since shortly after the phone call she finds Kyla tied up by the bad guy and doesn't connect the two.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's revealed that humanity was only the third most intelligent lifeform on Earth, behind mice and dolphins. Dolphins knew of the impending destruction of the planet Earth. They made many attempts to alert mankind to the impending doom, but they were mistaken as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for tidbits, so they eventually decided to leave Earth by their own means. The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards somersault through a hoop while whistling the Star Spangled Banner, when in fact the message was this: "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish."
  • Manifestation: At one point, Gabby Palladino is unable to explain the supernatural dangers that she's been seeing all around her, and as a result, she fails to warn a group of innocent people of an impending disaster.
  • In Jeramey Kraatz's /The Cloak Society novel Fall of Heroes, defied. Carla insists on talking with Lux and Lone Star and shutting out the kids. Amp enables them to eavesdrop, justifying it on the grounds that they should not have to.
  • In The Andromeda Strain, some crucial information fails to get the the Wildfire team in time because of a torn piece of paper jamming the alarm bell on a teletype machine (remember, this was SOTA technology in 1966).
    • Also, a crucial bit of information isn't discovered until it's almost too late, because of a character who was hiding the fact that they were epileptic, and was having a seizure when the vital info was first reported by the computer.
  • Dragonvarld: If, after seeing her lover Melisande running away with a man, Bellona had been willing to talk to her rather than sticking to her conclusion of infidelity and treason, the plot of the first book might have been rather different. They later reunite and talk it out, but by that stage, Melisande is on track to die in childbirth after being raped, while Bellona is on track to have to fight her own estranged troops.
  • In The Shattered Kingdoms, Jachad accuses Meiran/Lahlil of poor communication, saying that if she'd only trust him enough to reveal her objectives, their fight wouldn't have happened. She retorts that she'd waited in vain for a similar trust from him — she already knew his dark secret, but wanted him to tell it to her, and since he never did, why should she tell him anything? Regardless of whose fault it is, though, the secrets doesn't do either of them any favours.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • The Way of Kings:
      • Every soldier in Sadeas' army refuses to tell the bridgemen why they are not allowed shields, and are forced to run into enemy arrows completely unprotected. When Kaladin thinks of a way to use the bridge as a shield, he turns the battle into a rout for his side, since the other bridgemen try to copy the maneuver without any practice, meaning none of the bridges get set. Kaladin then realizes there is a good reason the bridgemen weren't told: They're bait, there to get killed by the Parshendi instead of real soldiers, since untrained slaves are far cheaper than proper soldiers. Sadeas realizes that if the bridgemen knew that, many would likely just kill themselves.
      • A more minor example, but at one point Dalinar recommends that the king retreat from the war—which, to a Proud Warrior Race, is a horrific show of cowardice. What Dalinar meant was that they should approach the war more intelligently, finding a way to win either through extermination or forcing the enemy to surrender. By the time he explains this better to the king, rumors of Dalinar's cowardice have already spread through the camp and caused a few more problems.
      • During his visions, Dalinar asks the mysterious voice if he should trust Sadeas. The voice says "Yes. Act with honor, and honor shall aid you." This lets Sadeas betray Dalinar at the climax, killing off thousands of Dalinar's soldiers. It turns out that the voice in the visions isn't interactive, it's a pre-recorded message. The voice could never hear him, and all its "cryptic" answers were just the result of Dalinar misinterpreting statements as answers to his questions.
      • Even ignoring that mistake, Dalinar's visions are not very clear. Part of this is because his mind wasn't ready to accept the visions in the beginning, so when he woke up from the first one (which clearly outlined what was coming and what he needed to do) it was just a muddled dream. Fortunately, they're on repeat. Unfortunately, since they're just pre-recorded messages, the one who made them in the first place doesn't know what context Dalinar needs. He's thrust into fierce battles against enemies he's never heard of, and sees the powers of the Kn ights Radiant without being given more than a single clue as to how to bring them back.
    • Words of Radiance:
      • When assassins come for Jasnah, she assumed they would kill her and then leave. Instead, they started killing everyone on the ship. If she had told anyone else, they probably could have repelled the enemy, or at least known to stay in their cabins where the assassins would hopefully leave them alone.
      • Kaladin refuses to tell anyone outside Bridge Four that he's becoming a Knight Radiant, despite the fact that Dalinar is attempting to re-found them and Kaladin knows he is trustworthy. This very nearly results in all of Dalinar's plans falling apart and Elhokar being killed (both by the Assassin in White and other killers), not to mention nearly causing Kaladin's own fall from grace.
      • When Shallan reaches the Shattered Plains, she also doesn't tell anyone she's becoming a Knight Radiant. This doesn't get anyone directly killed, but it would have prevented Amaram from being named head of the new Order, which would have made several other plotlines go more smoothly.
      • Dalinar isn't immune to this himself. After Kaladin helps Adolin in his duel and gets thrown in prison for calling out Amaram, Dalinar treats Kaladin like a soldier who did something stupid (which he did), but doesn't mention that he has his own plan to vindicate Kaladin. This results in Kaladin aiding some people out to assassinate Elhokar, and nearly throwing the entire kingdom into chaos.
      • The Parshendi are collectively guilty of this as well. The entire plot of the books is kicked off when they have Gavilar assassinated, which they take full credit for but refuse to explain why. It isn't full explained until ''Oathbringer, but it turns out Gavilar was trying to trigger a Desolation by brining back the Parshendi Gods and the Heralds. The Parshendi had him assassinated to prevent this from happening, hoping to avoid another Desolation, but refuse to even try to explain this to the Alethi until they are nearly extinct. As a result they end up unintentionally bringing back Odium and triggering a Desolation themselves in desperation.
  • Nearly the entire plot of Ariel (Block) is Poor Communication Kills, literally. Ariel's mother Roberta hates her, therefore believes that when Ariel asks if her brother is dead, she's really confessing she killed him. Ariel knew he was dead because of Roberta's expression as she left his room but "try telling a thing like that to Roberta". A series of incidents like this go into cascading failures ending with Roberta killing herself because she doesn't know Ariel has a cassette recorder.
  • Romeo & Juliet (Older than Steam): Shakespeare's main characters die because Friar Laurence is unable to get word of the plan to fake Juliet's death to Romeo. Instead, Romeo receives news that Juliet really is dead, buys poison and goes to her family's tomb, kills Paris after Paris thinks he's there to do something unspeakable to Juliet's body (since he's not aware of their love for each other) where he commits suicide. Juliet then wakes up and, on finding Romeo dead, kills herself.
  • Warrior Cats: This is the Achilles' Heel in Bramblestar and Squirrelflight's relationship, causing a great number of quarrels/falling outs that arguably could have been easily prevented if they had only talked things out.
    • In the second half of The New Prophecy series, Brambleclaw befriends his half-brother Hawkfrost, whom Squirrelflight openly distrusts due to his arrogance and overly ambitious nature. Brambleclaw doesn't fully explain why he wants to be friends with Hawkfrost and refuses to listen to Squirrelfight's warnings not to trust him, believing it be a sign of the discrimination that he and his half-brother endured as the evil Tigerstar's sons. Though she ultimately turns out to be right about Hawkfrost, Squirrelflight doesn't handle the situation much better; she expresses her suspicions of Hawkfrost rather tactlessly, doesn't provide any real evidence (up until Hawkfrost conspires with Mudclaw to take over WindClan there isn't any hard evidence that he is untrustworthy), or make any effort to understand Brambleclaw's desire to be friends with him, and jumps to the somewhat irrational conclusion that Brambleclaw not listening to her about Hawkfrost means that he doesn't trust or love her anymore. They eventually reconcile, and settle their disagreement by talking about it for perhaps the only time in the series.
    • Near the end of Power of Three, it turns out that even after they reconciled and Brambleclaw killed Hawkfrost to stop him from murdering Firestar, Squirrelflight chose not to trust him with the secret of Jayfeather, Lionblaze and Hollyleaf not being their biological children, which causes Brambleclaw to break up with her for at least two years before they finally get back together.
    • In Squirrelflight's Hope, Squirrelflight wants to have a second litter of kits and rather impulsively makes a major suggestion to the other Clans without speaking to Bramblestar about it first. Bramblestar doesn't agree with Squirrelflight's suggestion, as he thinks she's undermining him, and doesn't want kits as much as she does. Squirrelflight assumes this means Bramblestar doesn't respect or love her anymore. They spend the rest of book arguing most of the time, each believing the other is being unreasonable...until the end where they make up again, apologizing to each other but without really discussing the problems that plagued them. Bramblestar asks Squirrelflight to promise him that they'll always talk things out...instead Squirrelflight essentially insists that Bramblestar has to trust her unconditionally, which Bramblestar accepts without further argument, presumably because Squirrelflight was right and he was wrong.
  • Examined in the first written Horatio Hornblower novel, not as a consequence of bad judgment but because transoceanic communication in 1808 was incredibly dodgy. Before leaving England, Hornblower was given orders to sail to the west coast of Nicaragua without sighting land and support a tinpot dictator fighting the Spanish. Though the order not to sight land is incredibly unrealistic, Hornblower manages it, provides materiel to El Supremo, and hands a captured Spanish frigate to him because he's still acting under orders to assist the rebels. Then he's visited by a Spanish ship which provides the happy news that England and Spain are allies! So Hornblower has to go and get the frigate back, nearly losing his own ship in the process, because otherwise his career would be destroyed for following his orders exactly.
  • In Mary Stewart's The Wicked Day the entire final battle between Mordred and Arthur and their respective armies is the result of a series of misunderstandings.
  • In The Witchlands, at one point Iseult is pursued by a group of Cleaved and leads them onto a Nomatsi road, which they can't navigate and die on. Some time later, she has a dream conversation with Esme, who tells her that she actually Cleaved those men and sent them after Iseult to help her - they were carrying food and one of them had hunting gear to give Iseult.
  • In Foundation's Edge, it is mentioned that the Second Foundation has many urban legends about the importance of properly communicating in a report. The best known (and the one least likely to be true) says that the first report about the Mule was ignored because, due to some mistake, it was understood to be a report about a mule, leading to a very costly delay in response.
  • The Enemy. The misunderstanding between Jordan and Achilleus in the final book is caused by Jordan taking a dog which Achilleus gave to his friend, Paddy. Jordan's eyesight is failing and he needs the dog to act as his eyes, but he is reluctant to tell anyone and simply takes the animal without explanation, leaving Paddy heartbroken and Achilleus so angry with Jordan that he refuses to join the battle against the sickos. Jordan does eventually apologise to Achilleus for the way he behaved, but not before Paddy has been killed in a misguided attempt to fight the sickos himself.
  • A Certain Magical Index: No one bothers explaining the existence of magic to Mikoto, even when she's brought along on a mission to fight against a magical organization. This eventually leads to her using the Anti-Art Attachment without knowing about the consequences of an esper using magic.
  • In Romeo and/or Juliet, not only can the reader choose to have Romeo miss out on the information that Juliet's faked her death, they can also choose to engage in a multitude of ways of having poor communication killing them, like Juliet's nurse engaging in ambiguous syntax, confusing her into thinking that Romeo committed suicide and lashing out at either Verona or the entire world and trying to kill their population.
  • "Northwestward": Mr Wayne's mystery comes from his butler (as a servant) being well-mannered enough not to question why his master suddenly flew across the country for no explained reason, and Mr Wayne not asking for clarification when his butler failed to explain why he seemed to lie about his destination. Fortunately, Henry is present to clarify matters.
  • In Orconomics, the protagonists encounter a party of orcs, whose leader is abrasive, insulting, threatens them with weapons, takes them prisoner, separates them and marches them through the streets of their town, and then the tribe's chief offers to "honor" the prisoners with his axe. Before things get too bloody, though, the goblin among the protagonists intervenes and explains that this particular tribe of orcs are merchants, not warriors, and the perceived hostility was, in fact, an aggressive attempt to sell the protagonists the orcs' goods (namely, weapons). When the chief learns of the mix-up, he apologizes to the protagonists and berates his son (the orc party leader) for failing to make it more clear.
  • Discussed and averted in Tender by Belinda McKeon. The main character has grown steadily more obsessed with her gay best friend, culminating in her going to his boyfriend and saying she's sleeping with him (the best friend) in an attempt to break them up. Her now-ex-friend later asks her (during a well-deserved What the Hell, Hero?) if she seriously thought his boyfriend was just going to believe her without reservation and go haring off instead of talking to him about it.
  • In the fifth Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Uncle Gary is dating a woman who says she has "30 thousand dollars, maybe 40", whereas Uncle Gary says that he has 45. He means that he has 45 dollars, but she thinks he means that he has 45 thousand dollars. The woman doesn't know the truth until they get married and the time comes to pay the band. This results in a divorce.
  • The Traveler's Gate:
    • The villagers had no idea that they were expected to provide sacrifices or even that they were officially under the domain of the Damascan Kingdom. Cormac certainly didn't help by jumping to slaughter as soon as possible.
    • Enosh is little more than an apocalypse cult, brainwashed to believe that freeing the Incarnations is the right thing to do because of the "natural order." Alin is not from Enosh, but it takes him a long time to start asking the right questions about why they're doing what they're doing.
    • Simon has the problem of just not being good at talking. Several major fights could have been avoided if he was better at explaining himself or asking the right questions. He's still better than Alin, though, who explicitly has no idea what kind of story he's in and thinks that heroic speeches can solve everything.
  • Justified in The Riddles of Epsilon, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Epsilon has to leave puzzles and clues for Jess, the protagonist, because the forces of evil are watching her and her family. If he just tells her what's going on and how to stop them, they'll hear. Unfortunately, the riddle game causes just as much trouble; his last human ally, Sebastian, couldn't crack the riddles and never fully trusted Epsilon, which meant the Big Bad was able to kill Sebastian's mother after its attempt to mind-control her into finding its MacGuffin failed.
  • Mycroft & Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse is a Prequel set when Mycroft is an up-and-coming young civil servant and his brother is an erratic university student. They are both looking into some strange events that seem to involve Mycroft's friend Douglas's business somehow, and which turn out to be connected to a series of killings. Since Mycroft disapproves of Sherlock's morbid fascination with murder, he glosses over this aspect for fear of encouraging it. Since Sherlock is aware of Mycroft's disapproval, he does likewise for fear of being stopped from investigating. Unfortunately, each brother has only discovered part of what's going on, and cannot make further connections without the other's information.
  • Digitesque: Much of the series could have been avoided if Ada and Isavel just sat down and talked to each other. In fairness, it's not until about two-thirds of the way through the second book before they realize that they are both involved, but even then they avoid talking as much as they should because they assume they'll be enemies and would really prefer not to ruin their burgeoning friendship. It doesn't help that Ada is a Jerkass who is terrible at communicating on a good day and Isavel has an advisor who is telling her lies about the nature of the world and what Ada is trying to do.
  • A Lion in the Meadow: The lion, at one point, says that the boy and his mother should have left him alone as he only eats apples... but the thing is, he never told them that he ate only apples and that would be a strange thing to assume without being told.
  • In The Land of Love and Drowning, the Star-Crossed Lovers Anette and Jacob are repeatedly told by their families they can't be together, but nobody tells the truth about why—they're half-siblings—so they don't listen. Jacob's mother at least has a sensible motive for keeping it a secret, because her in-laws will cut Jacob off financially if they find out he's illegitimate. But Anette's sister is just too proud to admit her beloved father had an affair. It takes until almost the end of the book for the pair to learn, by which point it's too late. They're irrevocably in love and already have a child, so all the knowledge does is make all three feel awful.

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