This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.
Life can be seen, to paraphrase Borges, as a garden of forking paths. Your story can be seen that way too: so much of the stories we write are about roads not taken, or looking back at alternate paths with regret or nostalgia or simple curiosity. Life is a series of choices: this way and that way and this one and that one. So why don’t our stories reflect this tangled web of choice?
Today we’re examining the role that choice plays in stories. Ultimately, for a story to feel like a story and not just an anecdote, a sketch, a vignette, a scene, or an observation, it must contain some element of choice. There must be a crux, a point after which the world will never be the same again for your character.
In your editing journal, try to summarize what choice your character must make in the story. It’s got to be something that the story hinges on. It must act as a fulcrum, or pivot point for the story. And certainly, the choice your character makes might be to do nothing; that, too, is a choice.
If you’re having trouble articulating what that choice is, that’s already a helpful thing to notice. It might be time to clarify a choice, or make a bigger choice as part of the story. If you can articulate it, then start looking back into the scenes leading up to that choice. It shouldn’t suddenly appear as a fork in the road at the climax; all along we should see a steady build toward that choice. Does your story do that?
If the choice is a little weak, brainstorm in your journal a few different ways to make your character forced into a choice. Instead of discovering his friend’s affair at the same time as everyone else, have him learn about it early and have to decide whether to spill the beans. Instead of assuming that your character will do the right thing in a situation — return the lost money, tell the authorities about the crime, refuse the bribe — make this a more difficult decision. Flirt with the disaster the wrong choice could bring.
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