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.