Smeerp of Wonder
- Oct 13, 2008
- West Sussex, UK
I mentioned this in a crit this morning, and it got me thinking about my own writing, and writing in general.
Critical choice is one element of the eight-point arc, which, for those who don't know it, runs thus:
5. critical choice
This can apply to a whole novel, or a scene, and within the grand arc of a novel or series you will have major arcs, and within those, minor arcs, etc. The idea is that each element is a consequence of the one before it, with each arc being a process of significant change. (Reversal doesn't mean a 180-degree turn, just a significant consequence.) I've found it a useful tool not so much in planning, but in working out why something doesn't feel as dramatically satisfying as perhaps it should.
Interestingly "critical choice" is an element missing from at least one other drama analysis tool, Freytag's triangle, and I've come to realise that I perhaps pay lip-service to it rather than implement it well, and maybe quite a lot of others do too.
Common sense tells us (I think) that the most interesting path for a character is one where they have to make hard decisions. Not only do we have the consequences of the choice they take, but as readers, we also get to think about the foregone consequences of the one they didn't (and maybe the character gets to angst about it too). But quite often, my characters are faced by choices where the decision is pretty obvious -- the path they choose might be hard and dangerous, but the one they reject might clearly be even worse, or would take them away from their goals. Or the alternative is to do nothing and stay safe, which might be an option in reality, but not in fiction, where it would often make the story grind to a halt.
I'm not sure how much of a problem this is. A story in which a character is faced with terrible, difficult dilemmas every chapter (save your own child or millions of strangers) would quickly get wearing, and if a choice leads a character in an interesting direction, then the reader possibly isn't likely to carp about the decision having been an obvious one. I still love Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, even though the last time I read it, it struck me that the main character Will doesn't really make any choices at all.
And in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo's decision to take the ring to Mordor, made at the Council of Elrond, feels almost a spur-of-the-moment thing, and is in its way very obvious, but feels much more powerful than, say, Aragorn's dilemma over which way to go after the breaking of the fellowship, the consequences of which are almost as large.
So how important is this aspect? Does the important impression of character agency depend on it? Discuss.