Monday, September 19, 2022

Decisions! What a Process!

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? 


  1. In my second traditionally published book, my carefully crafted novel pointed to the guilt of one person. I had clues, red herrings, and foreshadowing all in place, but something was wrong. My characters, like yours were silent until my fourth read through. That’s when my villain could no longer contain himself. He chortled and admitted guilt. I read the book again and discovered yes, he had been guilty all along. The rewrite of the last few chapters went quickly and tied up all those loose ends! Mystery solved.

  2. Whenever I find that my characters are silent, rather then impatiently pointing the way the story needs to go, I figure the whole thing's not completely formed yet, and needs to go on the back burner for a while. Then I switch to something else to work on, and usually, when I go back & reread the one that wasn't quite working, the characters spring to life & get busy
    showing me what has to happen next. Sometimes I wonder if they don't get jealous, or at least worry that I'm not going to get back to them, so they regroup & get the story going again when given the chance.

  3. Such a good post. It's a difficult balance, and I'm facing this issue for the first time because I've got more characters to introduce from the beginning than usual. I hope my characters aren't silent and can tell me what to do!

  4. Like KM, when things are not working, it means I need to let things percolate longer. Left to simmer in the background, my unconscious will provide solutions. However, that's a luxury I can afford only when I do not have a firm commitment date hanging over my head.