Confession time: I don’t like to make decisions. Never have. Probably never will.
If I were writing myself as a character in a story, I’d try to figure out why I have such a hard time with decisions. What event from my past made me this way? As far as I can remember, there wasn’t one specific event or even a series of events that made me reluctant to make decisions. I think it probably stems back to the fact that I’m a people pleaser. I don’t want to make a decision that might make someone else unhappy. Again, if I were writing myself as a character, I’d dig deeper into that, but fortunately, I’m not, so I can simply say, “That’s just the way I am.”
The problem is that, as an author, I have to make decisions every day, not only for my business (When should I release this book? How much should I charge? How much time should I spend writing each day?) but also for my characters (Where should they go next? What should they do? How will they get their happily ever after?). Because as much as I might wish for them to, they simply refuse to write their own stories.
The funny thing is, when I’m making decisions for my characters, I often have to act in ways I wouldn’t when making decisions in real life. Here are some things I think about:
What would my character do in this situation? We’ve already established that I’m not writing myself as a character, so I can’t think about how I would react. I have to think about how my character would react. Often, that’s the exact opposite of what I would do in a given situation. For example, in Not Until This Moment, Peyton takes a black diamond ski hill. Me? I would stick to the bunny slope—or maybe the lodge, sipping hot cocoa.
What will make things worse for my characters? Obviously, when I’m making real-life decisions, I try to make ones that will make things better. But the heart of fiction is tension—and tension happens when things get worse for the characters. Sometimes I feel terrible doing it (like when I put Tyler and Isabel in the middle of a tornado in Not Until This Day), but it makes the happy ending all the sweeter after the characters have fought through so many obstacles.
How does this fit with the rest of the book? A book is like an intricate puzzle. All of the pieces have to fit together. If there’s a scene that doesn’t mesh with the rest, the whole puzzle is wrong. So I have to make sure to look at the big picture of where the story is going even as I make those little decisions about a specific scene. For every single book I’ve written, I have a pile of deleted scenes that were cut for this very reason.
What feels right? Not to sound all flighty about it, but a lot of what goes into a story is what feels right. It still has to be logical, fit with what the character would do, and flow with the rest of the story—but in the end, sometimes a decision fits all of those criteria and still doesn’t feel quite right. In those cases, it takes a little intuition—and a whole lot of rewriting—to find the decision that feels right for the story.
What will best showcase God’s love? This one applies equally to real life and to my books. As I’m making decisions for my characters (and for myself), I need to consider how they can shine the light of God’s love. Sometimes in books, that means bringing characters to their lowest point before the wonderful news of the salvation won for us in Christ finally breaks through their hard hearts. But isn’t that the way it is in real life too? I think one of my favorite low points is in Not Until Us—because Jade’s bad decision ultimately allows God’s grace and forgiveness to shine so fully.
The best part about making decisions when writing a book is that, unlike in real life, the decisions can easily be undone and rewritten. I don’t like what a character did in that scene? Delete it. That decision didn’t drive the story in the right direction? It’s gone. And I can do that again and again until I find the decision that feels just right.
So that’s my decision-making process for fiction. Now if I could just figure out as clear of a process for real life, especially as my family is in the middle of making one of the biggest decisions of our life (or at least a decision that could lead to one of the biggest changes in our life) in moving from Wisconsin to Texas. I will continue to keep you posted as we take this process one decision (and lots of prayers) at a time!
What about you: Do you like to make decisions, or are you like me and would rather let someone else decide?
Speaking of decisions, I’ve decided (see, who says I’m indecisive?) to do a giveaway. One person who comments by April 30 will be randomly chosen to win an ebook copy of the Hope Springs Books 1-3 box set.