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Practical insights for writers from author and developmental editor Jessica Morrell

Quick Take: Tough Choices

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 12•15

People are defined by their choices. This applies to poker players and politicians, world leaders and criminals, parents and coaches. Fictional characters are also defined by the choices they make. Choices start off a story because a character needs to respond to the inciting incident and first plot point. In Act two when the protagonist’s situation gets really complicated the choices and dilemmas become harder, even brutal.

In many genres  these tough choices are made in each scene and sequel. Good examples to illustrate this are found in Act 2  of The Hunger Games when decisions are all about survival–at any cost.

They all follow that whopper of a choice in Act 1– Katniss Everdeen’s fateful decision to take her younger sister’s places in the deadly Hunger Games. Hunger Games Katniss takes sister's place

In Act 2 she’s confronted with a dizzying array of choices:

  • fakes a romance with Peeta
  • shoots her bow with deadly accuracy toward the Hunger Game officials in the training center
  • allies with Rue who personifies innocence and goodness and is a stand-in for her sister Primrose
  • follows or ignores her Haymitch’s (her mentor) advice
  • unleashes the tracker jackers after her enemies
  • performs a ceremony/tribute to Rue when she’s killedThe-hunger-games-katniss-rue-death-flowers
  • shows disdain and defiance of the Capitol with a  gesture into the all-seeing cameras Hunger Games Katniss salute defiance
  • trusts that Peeta meant to save her life and is not on the side of the Careers
  • struggles to save Peeta
  • returns to the Cornucopia at the center of the arena despite its dangers and the bloodbath that occurred there. It’s where desperate tributes try to obtain supplies…and often die for their attempts.

Choices are especially delicious when they’re  moral dilemmas. And please, no win-win types. Decisions also need to align with a character’s personality traits, backstory, and morality.

When you stage choices  they prove the natural trajectory of a character arc. In the case of Katniss and Peeta, they’re heading for an act of ultimate defiance, something almost unheard of in the Capitol.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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