Monday, February 6, 2012


Life is a series of choices.

They are the keys to great fiction.

Thank you, Donald Maass, for emphasizing this technique. Hard choices make for powerful climaxes.

Force your hero into making a choice between

1) Action that will force him to lose what he holds most dear
2) Action that will force someone he loves to lose what she holds most dear

Be sure we know ahead of time what those dear things are. Maybe seeing them in action twice before.

In The Help, the most resistant maid spills the beans, though she takes a big risk and she is bitter about her lot in life symbolized by the journalist she has to spill the beans to.

In Pet Cemetery Steven King must choose between allowing his dead son to rest in peace or let him be reanimated knowing he’ll come back as a murderous, mad beast.

In The Godfather: Michael accepts the honor and responsibility of being the godfather of Connie’s son at the baptism simultaneous to a mass hit ordered by him.

In Fiddler on the Roof, the third daughter must choose between her family and her lover who is heading to Siberia.

In the first Star Wars trilogy, Luke must battle his own father, Darth Vader.

In The Matrix Neo accepts that he’s The One and sacrifices himself to save Zion.

And my favorite protagonist, Harold, in Harold and Maude, must choose between suicide after this 80-year-old lover’s death and the unlikely option of continuing to live with the new gusto that she taught him.

In one of my novels, Catharsis, my protagonist must admit she hired and encouraged the man who turned out to be the killer.

In another, American Moon, my protagonist hits her beloved father with her car while backing up to meet her lover who she believes is her ticket to becoming legal in the U.S.

Life is a series of choices and in fiction they need to be big choices.

- Inkpot


  1. Like so much in fiction writing, this idea is simple. Creating the choice might be more difficult to accomplish, but will always focus the story and make it better. Thanks for this reminder as I'm heading toward plotting the climax of my WIP.

  2. Yes! It's amazing how doing this one thing sends ripples through your manuscript, improving it all.

  3. These are great tips, Karen, and I can see how they'd add significantly to the power of the story!

  4. Karen, thanks so much for this reminder. Especially helpful for those of us who naturally shy away from conflict! Julie

  5. Gee...when you put it this way, it seems so simple: one gut-wrenching choice vs. the other. Must ponder more...

  6. Very timely post - I was just discussing this with my hubby. My climax is dark and difficult and I am afraid that when I get a publisher they are going to want me to cut it/change it. So the trick for me is to write it so well that it is inevitable, the only possible satisfactory outcome to a long build-up.
    But reading this, I think I've done it. I've set it up not only as the resolution to the plot, but also as that final heart wrenching choice between bad and worse.
    We will see if the Publishing Gods agree.