Decisions! What a Process! by Debra H. Goldstein
I hate making decisions. You might think that’s funny considering all the years I sat on the bench as a judge. The reality is that weighing the law and the facts of a case to issue a ruling was often easier than it is to decide what restaurant to eat at and what to order when I get there. The lack of importance or relevance of where and what I eat is what probably makes that kind of decision harder than those that involved people’s lives.
Making decisions in writing come with a different kind of difficulty. There aren’t cut and dried rules to apply because the tropes of any genre can be bent. Authors, unlike judges, aren’t reacting to an existing fact pattern. Instead, they create the narrative. This is accomplished through characterization, pacing, setting, voice, point of view, and plotting. When all of these things come together perfectly, everything flows allowing any determinations to almost seem predestined. The key is when they don’t merge well.
That’s when the decision-making process comes into play. Which element must be changed? What words should be cut? What needs to be added? What will make the piece work best for readers? These questions are perplexing. Finding answers to them is gut-wrenching.
For example, in my present work in progress, I spent several chapters in the beginning of the book slowly introducing the characters. Minor twists led to a big bang on page 200. That seemed too late, so I cut my favorite funny chapter, merged two chapters, and moved the big twist to page 100. The pace and tension have improved, but something seems to be lacking because of not having the opportunity to know the characters better. I’ve asked the characters for guidance, but unlike most times, their voices are silent. It is frustrating to have the sense that something is off but be unable to pinpoint what the defect is and how to cure it.
Yet, as a writer, I know I need to gather the facts as I did while I was on the bench and, in this case, apply my internal compass to make my own law that will dictate the outcome of the book. I only hope that my decision is not to put it into a drawer.
Authors, have you ever had this conflict? Readers, have you ever wished an author made a different decision about their work?