annastan (annastan) wrote,

Giving Your Character Choices

Nancy Lamb has a great chapter on plot in The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children which I use with my writing classes. As I was re-reading the chapter last night, something new stood out to me. (I find that often happens when I reread craft books--something jumps out at me that's relevant to the story I'm currently working on.)

In the chapter, Lamb says:

Remember that choice creates conflict. Without choice, there is no conflict. In literature, as in life, the torment of deciding between two equally weighted alternatives creates one of the most powerful conflicts a character can confront.

This explains why love triangles can work so well, because the character needs to decide between two options that both seem like they might be the right one. When I think about the most memorable problems I've had in my life, they're mostly of the "I don't know what to do" variety, when I wasn't sure which choice was the correct one. That, of course, got me thinking about my characters' problems.

In a manuscript I'm currently revising, the character hasn't had much in the way of options. Something happens to his family and he has no choice but to try to fix it. High stakes, right? Well yes, but thinking about what Lamb said makes me wonder if I've made things too simple for my character. Saving his family will be filled with obstacles, but he's so single-minded about it that it's not terribly interesting. What if he did have a choice? For example, what if he thinks someone else can do it for him--and things only get worse as a result?

I'm not sure what direction I'll take the story in, but I'm going to try to give the character more choices. After all, every decision he makes might be the wrong one, which will only get him deeper into trouble, and which will make the stakes even higher.

What about you? Have you been giving your characters enough gut-wrenching choices?

Originally published at

Tags: craft, resources, wip

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