Writing is About the Choices We Make

When we choose to write, we are faced with a universe of choices where all things are possible. Many would-be writers never put a single word on the page because the number of choices to be made seem insurmountable. First, we have to choose what to write about. The topic can be anything: love, abuse, super novas. Next we have to choose how to present the topic. As fiction or nonfiction? As a blog? A poem? A short story? A novel? 

By making these decisions, we begin to limit our universe of choices. A blog has certain criteria to be met; it must be brief and interesting or we run the risk of losing our readers. A short story can contain complex ideas, but a novel has the scope for us to develop those ideas more fully.

Suppose we choose to present the topic as a novel. Now there are more choices to be made. How are we going to write it? First person or third? Sassy, sarcastic, serious? Who is going to be the main character? What does she most desire? Who or what is stopping her from fulfilling this desire? What does she look and act like? What are her internal traits, both her admirable ones and less admirable ones? Who are her allies? Who are her mentors? 

And those choices lead to other choices. What does the character need? (As opposed to what she wants.) Is she going to get what she wants or is she going to get what she needs? For example, maybe she wants to be a homebody, to marry the boy next door, but what she and the story need are for her to become a senator and possibly leave the boy behind.

And so the choices continue, each choice narrowing the story’s universe a bit more.

Some writers love the choosing, the creating, but I love when the weight of those choices become so great that the answer to all future choices can be found in past ones. The character might need to fight off an attacker, and when we try to choose between success and failure, we realize there can be only one outcome. Because of who she is and what she has done, she cannot succeed. To succeed might mean to kill, and she cannot kill anyone even to save her own life.

When the story gets to the point where it seems to make its own choices, it takes on a feeling of inexorability, as if there was always only one way to tell the story.

But, in the end as in the beginning, writing is about the choices we make.   

4 Responses to “Writing is About the Choices We Make”

  1. nomananisland Says:

    My favourite feeling is when I’m in the midst of making the story happen, thinking about characters and plot, and somehow the characters start making their own choices. They come to life and start impacting the plot and shifting the story. I have one villainous character that really pushes my own tolerance for sadism, and I wonder how I wrote him. The answer is chillingly that I think he wrote himself.

    Ever have that happen? Where the character finds a way to make themselves known and starts impacting the choices?

  2. Bertram Says:

    No. At times they seem to make their own choices, but only because of the choices I already made for them. I have to write every single word all by myself.

  3. nomananisland Says:

    I find hearing about other writers’ processes immensely interesting. Mary Doria Russel, a sci-fi writer, changed an entire plot and wrote a sequel to the Sparrow, called Children of God, because in her head one of her characters “told” her that the plot was starting to be out of character, that the choice would never be made by that character.

    Robert Heinlein used to do a tremendous amount of research and plotting and then struggle with the start of a book, but once he felt he “knew” his characters as people, he could finish an entire novel in a matter of weeks.

    But then there are scores of writers who meticulously plan every detail.

  4. Bertram Says:

    I am not a writer who plans meticulously, though I do need to know what the beginning and the end is. My characters at times seem to make their own choices, but I am aware it is some part of me that is doing it. After all, the characters only exist because I gave them being, and the only characteristics they have are the only ones I gave them.

    Like Heinlein, I struggle with the beginning of every book. It takes me months sometimes to figure out enough of the plot and characterization to even begin to write, but even when I do figure it out, the writing still takes a year or so. The back end does get written quickly, though, because the choices have narrowed so much that the plot and characters take on that sense inexorability I mentioned.

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