Tuesday Tip: Make a Choice

Happy election day here in the United States, readers! I’m excited to be casting my vote today. It’s one of those things we can do to make ourselves feel engaged with the world around us. We aren’t just victims of our circumstances; for this one day, we can strike out and have our say in governance. If you’re not voting in a swing state, it may feel purely symbolic, but I say cast your vote anyway.

But election day has gotten me thinking about a very important aspect of creative writing, and it’s the sort of thing that makes the difference between a well-written piece that goes nowhere, and a story that truly grabs you. So today’s tip is:

Make a Choice…

Or more specifically, have your character make a choice. Stories are defined by the choices of our characters, yet a very common mistake writers make is to not include any choices at all. We present a series of events, often very prettily; we carefully draw our characters, with back stories and physical details and quirky habits; and then we simply let things happen to these characters, with no sense of agency or decision-making. This isn’t just a problem of beginning writers; even the best sometimes create whole novels that end up feeling like a character is being blown around in a storm, unable to assert herself, unable to make her own story.

What to do

We can all recognize this problem in our writing. It can come from the desire to make our characters likable; rather than having those characters make unpopular choices, it’s safer just to put them in the position of victims who have things done to them. But it’s time to resist that urge. Today, write a scene in which your character makes a difficult decision with real consequences. Let the chips fall where they may. This is the part of your story that makes it a story.

One comment

  1. mary brady says:

    I like the idea of having my character make definite choices; after all, with no action taken, there is pretty much no reason to care about what happens.

    But I focused more on something else you wrote, BLH–that we may be leaving out choices in order to make a character more likeable. Suddenly, I had a desperate urge to write about a VERY unlikeable character! A character who makes very unpleasant decisions…

    When I was little, my all-time favorite character was the Evil Witch in Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ I even bought the picture book as an adult because of the full page image of this black-garbed woman saying: ‘I never forgive & I never forget!!’

    This is pretty much my Lifetime Motto.

    Oh, I could write a huge series of fantasy novels about a Wicked Witch! Thank you so much for reminding me that there is room for ALL sorts of characters in writing, even ones who make unpopular decisions.

    L&K, MerryB (remember, holiday spelling)

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