Choices are a part of our lives, so deeply ingrained that we usually don’t even realize that we’re making them constantly, every day, without hesitation. Most of these are simple choices, like when to pull the eggs out of the pan, or if the water in the kettle is warm enough for tea. We don’t give it much thought, we just let our instinct guide us.
And if you think about it, you probably don’t spend too much time wondering about what you’re having for dinner. Leftovers in the refrigerator or swing by a fast-food place to pick up something? If it’s the latter, then you look at the drive-thru menu for a couple of moments to decide which combo looks interesting, pay your money, then back home.
But there are other decisions to be made. I know that, when writing, I deal with hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions in each story I create. A lot of them are quick and mindless, like some of the ones I mentioned above. What color car is my protagonist driving? Or is going to drink his coffee black or add creamer? Others will make me pause for a few moments while I consider the possibilities. If my character goes down this path, what happens? Would it be better if they went this other way? Usually, I let the character decide and move on.
Then there are the tough decisions.
The toughest ones are when you know it’s going to change the entire course of your story. I had that happen to me on a yet-to-be-published short story I’ve been working on. I had a basic idea in mind and about three quarters of the way through the story I could see the ending develop. I was excited because I could see the path ahead leading to a solid conclusion.
But then I hesitated. Why? Because my stupid imagination piped up and asked, “what if you killed off this one character?” At first I dismissed the thought. Why try to change anything now when I’m so close to finishing the draft? That would be madness, right? Probably, but I couldn’t help myself.
So I took a few days off from the story so I could give this idea some additional thought. “What if?” is such a powerful question to ask oneself when writing. In fact, it’s a powerful question to ask in life, as well. After some consideration I decided to try that alternative story path. It was sort of a pain in the butt because I had to back up a bit in the narrative and rewrite some sections, but I did what needed to be done. And it was bloody.
And how did it turn out, you ask? Not bad. At least, it feels satisfying to me. It’s not what I was expecting, which in a way is a good thing, but I don’t know if it’s necessary better than what I was shooting for.
When it comes to writing – and art in general – tough decisions are just part of the process. Luckily, they don’t pop up in every story I write. But much like in life, we come to a crossroad and we have to consider the possibilities. In this case, I had to decide what worked best for the story. It wasn’t about what I wanted to do. Sort of like a parent with their child, I had to let my story loose and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t, but I believe we have to take chances as artists. We never know if something will work out unless we try it.