Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Can't Decide

My younger kids pester me with a game they call, “Would You Rather . . .?” Would you rather be totally hairless or be covered in fur? Would you rather be boiled in oil or frozen in ice? Would you rather eat a truck full of ice cream or drink a pool full of cherry slushy? The game always deteriorates into the utterly ridiculous. Would you rather have a swollen lip the size of a football field or fifteen knees on the left leg?

My teenagers ask for on-the-spot decisions. As one walks out the door, “Mind if I go to Harry’s?” I agree, then realize I won’t have a baby-sitter later. “Can we eat out?” I don’t know. I haven’t checked the budget. “What if I wanted to get married at eighteen?” No, I don’t panic. This one isn’t currently dating. But she constantly asks hypothetical, paragraph-long questions. My fear is that she’s recording my answers and will hold me to them in future, non-hypothetical situations.

I’m directionally challenged, so it’s ironic that I worked through college by routing car trips for AAA. My problem isn’t reading maps. I just can’t decide if I want 410 East or 410 West when I’ve come from a different direction. Have I gone too far or not far enough? As a result, I spend a lot of time making U-turns or asking for directions.

Some people thrive on making decisions. Not me. I hate making them. Not having the money to replace mistakes, I’ve lived with my decisions for a long time—even small, unimportant ones, like choosing curtains that I wish were a different shade or the shoes that didn’t match an outfit the way I’d envisioned. So I hate making a quick decision. I was raised with the philosophy that you sleep on it, then decide in the morning.

In my novel, my heroine hates making decisions too. As she says, “I hate being responsible for the consequences.”

Our fictional characters need to make wrong decisions. Let them regret their choices. Ask them what they want, then make the opposite happen. (Yes, these “people” talk inside your head, so go ahead and interview them.) Give them terrible consequences as the result of their decisions. Bad decisions increase the conflict. This compelling conflict will keep our readers turning pages.

If only I could decide what my hero does in my latest chapter . . . Will he leave to provide medical care for orphaned children or stay to marry the woman he loves? Is the medical mission in Columbia or Kazakhstan? If he stays, what keeps the heroine from saying yes too soon?

(Sigh.) I can’t decide now. Maybe I’ll sleep on it, then make a decision in the morning.

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