Friday, October 15, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Choice and Consequence


Who here likes RPGs? I know I do, but I know not to play very many of them because they literally take forever to get through and their rate of addiction is such that taking a break with a Kit Kat no longer holds up as a priority. What? No Kit Kats? I know I'll need serious counseling if I ever find myself turning those down.

The problem with early RPGs is their limited options. Today, RPGs (like Mass Effect) have taken a new turn, giving you almost endless options and choices to make with believable consequences that follow, whether good, bad, or meh. What does any of this have to do with writing? As an author, writing your first draft of any novel, you are literally writing your own "choose your own adventure" book, only by the time it's finished, your reader is literally stuck with the paths, choices, and consequences that you've given to your characters. Maybe that's why I like writing so much. It's a free RPG and I can do whatever I want. Take that, programmers!

My advice this week is to remember the importance of choices in your stories. You make choices every day. So should your characters, and your consequences should match. This makes for interesting and more believable characters and plot development. More importantly, remember to often give your characters options, weigh out the consequences and play them out in your mind or on paper to see where they will take your story. This way, you can effectively chart the future and plot out surprises for your readers. Nothing kills a story faster than predictability. And it's okay for your characters to make choices contrary to what you would do.

I don't just mean the big choices either. Understand the layout of the world you are writing about and think, "what would happen if Sally A: walked home, B: got a ride home, C: went to the mall with her friends, Z: polished her nails on a table just outside the school entrance, etc." Another example - if Gaholbrenidge (you guys already know how I feel about exhausting fantasy names. If not, that's next weeks advice) is faced with an army charging after him through a forest, will he A: stand and fight, B: run away, C: climb a tree, Z: play dead, etc? If Gaholbrenidge has a magic weapon that can level a forest, I'd pick A or C. I like climbing trees.

Choices define the character which should then relate to the reader. Consequences should then relate to the choice with no turning back (unless you're writing time-travel). The next time you read a book or watch a movie, look for decision making. Allow choices to be made in your stories that both move it along in an interesting way or makes the reader like or hate a character. Batman's choice to take the fall for Harvey's murderous rampage, "I killed those people," in The Dark Knight - completely unexpected and made us like him more than ever, even if the whole of Gotham city sees him now as a loose cannon that needs to be stopped.

I'm David, and I'm hit'en Pirate Island tonight!

P.S. I'm so shocked to see five new followers since Monday! I've give you all a shout-out soon.