If you’re writing, you’re told to put some kind of conflict on every page. These conflicts don’t have to be life-threatening, or even fear-inducing for your characters. Sometimes they can be ordinary. The important thing to remember is that the character must make a choice.
A simple, real-life example. Saturday afternoon, the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America had a summer pot-luck social. At the same time, our homeowners’ association had a summer pot-luck social. Given they happened at the same time, trying to attend both wasn’t an option. Conflict
In choosing, your character should probably weigh the options, although there might be times when the tension level might be enhanced if he doesn’t have time, or follows a gut reaction without thinking it through.
In my case, I had the following considerations: Getting to meet neighbors (which, given the distance between homes here, isn’t like living in typical suburbia) or getting to mingle with writers, Both could have career options—letting people who live here know there’s a writer might spark interest in my books. Mingling with other writers means making more professional-level contacts. Other considerations. The homeowner’s meeting would be half a mile from my house, five minutes away. The writers’ group meeting was about 40 miles away. One way. The expense of gas and time—add two hours minimum for the round trip—had to be factored in.
The other night, on an episode of “The Closer” the police had been searching for a serial killer. The twist was that organs were missing from the victims, and the victims all were suspected of being rapists. The police find their killer in the middle of performing a heart transplant in his inner-city clinic. (We’ll overlook the dramatic license with the credibility of a doctor performing this procedure single-handed. Then again, he wasn’t worried about saving the life of his “donor”—his goal was to harvest the heart.
So, the cops show up and want to arrest him. Should be simple. However, the previous scene was in a hospital, where a young child who had been on the waiting list for a new heart for some time was being prepped for surgery. The cops spoke to her parents who said they’d just about given up hope, when they’d gotten a call that someone had specifically donated a heart for their daughter. Without it, she was certain to die.
This creates a choice the cops have to make. Do they stop the surgery, saving the life of the possible rapist on the table? If they arrest the doctor before he finishes his surgery, the child dies. If they wait, but follow the law, the heart becomes evidence and can’t possible be given to the child. Again, she dies.
Deb Dixon says you should give your characters choices, but they should be of the “sucks” and “suckier” variety. Or try giving them what they want—and see what happens when the consequences aren’t what they expect. Throwing in significant consequences will definitely make the reader want to keep reading, but even the little choices give depth to your characters and your story.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society