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The creative writing tough choices and death

Subscribe to our FREE email newsletter and download free character development worksheets! Use these 5 keys to weave moral dilemmas into your stories—and watch your fiction climb to new heights. This guest post is by Steven James. James is the award-winning, bestselling author of 12 novels. He enjoys dark roast coffee and teaching storytelling around the world. His latest book on the craft of writing is S tory Trumps Structure.

Learn more about James at stevenjames. Also, follow him on Twitter readstevenjames. Give Your Character Dueling Desires. Before our characters can face difficult moral decisions, we need to give them beliefs that matter: The assassin has his own moral code not to harm women or children, the missionary would rather die than renounce his faith, the father would sacrifice everything to pay the ransom to save his daughter.

A character without an attitude, without a spine, without convictions, is one who will be hard for readers to cheer for and easy for them to forget. So, to create an intriguing character facing meaningful and difficult choices, give her two equally strong convictions that can be placed in opposition to each other. A woman wants 1 peace in her home and 2 openness between her and her husband.

If she only wanted peace she could ignore the problem; if she only wanted openness she would bring it up regardless of the results. The creative writing tough choices and death tension drives a story forward. So, find two things that your character is dedicated to and then make him choose between them. When the man is released on a technicality, does the minister forgive him and what would that even look like? In this case, his 1 pacifist beliefs are in conflict with his 2 desire for justice.

What does he do? Your protagonist believes 1 that cultures should be allowed to define their own subjective moralities, but also 2 that women should be treated with the same dignity and respect as men. When she is transplanted to one of those countries, then, what does she do? Click here to sign up now for this great online conference! Brainstorm a list of at least 10 inner demons your hero has to fight.

Then choose the best one.

5 Moral Dilemmas That Make Characters (& Stories) Better

Give him actions that demonstrate the flaw. How much would you have to pay the vegan animal rights activist to eat a steak bribery? Or, how would you need to threaten her in order to coerce her into doing it extortion? What would it cost to get the loving, dedicated couple to agree never to see each other again bribery?

Or, how would you need to threaten them to get them to do so extortion? What would you need to pay the pregnant teenage Catholic girl to convince her to have an abortion bribery?

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What threat could you use to get her to do it extortion? Look for ways to bribe and extort your characters. As a result we might shy away from putting them into difficult situations. Now, challenge yourself—try to think of something else just as bad, and force your character to decide between the two.

What does my character believe in? What priorities does she have? What prejudices does she need to overcome? Then, put her convictions to the ultimate test to make her truest desires and priorities come to the surface. Force Your Character Into a Corner.

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Force him to make a choice, to act. Take him through the process of dilemma, choice, action and consequence: He could be caught between loyalty to two parties, or perhaps be torn between his family obligations and his job responsibilities.

What does she do? What if that person is her best friend? Again, make your character reevaluate his beliefs, question his assumptions and justify his choices. How is he going to get out of this? What will he have to give up something precious or take upon himself something painful in the process? Explore those slippery slopes.

Delve into those gray areas. Avoid questions that elicit a yes or no answer, such as: Let the Dilemmas Grow From the Genre. Examine your genre and allow it to influence the choices your character must face.

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For instance, crime stories naturally lend themselves to exploring issues of justice and injustice: At what point do revenge and justice converge? What does that require of this character? When is preemptive justice really injustice? Love, romance and relationship stories often deal with themes of faithfulness and betrayal: When is it better to hide the truth than to share it? How far can you shade the truth before it becomes a lie?

The creative writing tough choices and death

When do you tell someone a secret that would hurt him? For example, your protagonist, a young bride-to-be, has a one-night stand. Fantasy, myth and science fiction are good venues for exploring issues of consciousness, humanity and morality: How self-aware does something need to be an animal, a computer, an unborn baby before it should be afforded the same rights as fully developed humans?

At what point does destroying an AI computer become murder? Do we really have free will or are our choices determined by our genetic makeup and environmental cues? Look for the Third Way. You want your readers to be thinking, I have no idea how this is going to play out. And then, when they see where things go, you want them to be satisfied. In those days, in that culture, adultery was an offense that was punishable by death.

The men asked Jesus what they should do with this woman. I call this finding the Third Way. We want the solutions that our heroes come up with to be unexpected and inevitable. Present yours with a seemingly impossible conundrum. And then help him find the Third Way out.