Today's tip is about plot revisions and character agency. Sometimes, as writers, there's a path that we particularly want our characters to go down, or a way we want them to solve a problem. But when we get too wrapped up in our pre-decided ideas for the plot, we sometimes deprive our characters of their agency.
Remember, believable characters will react in believable ways.
What that means is, if there's a simple solution and a complicated one, most characters will try the simple one first. For example, imagine I have a MC named Sarah, and her mom is sick. The doctor says Sarah's mom needs a special medicine that can only be found in two places: the local pharmacy, or deep inside the dark forest behind Sarah's house.
Sarah's probably headed to the store, right?
If I wanted to tell a story about Sarah going off on a quest for the medicine through the dark forest, I'd need a good reason why she's making that choice.
The key to keeping your character's actions believable is for them to be consistent. Lay the groundwork that will affect their decision-making in advance.
In Sarah's case, maybe there's a clerk at the store who terrifies her. Maybe Sarah has agoraphobia, and the thought of going to the store is much more stressful to her than hunting through the woods for some plant. For either of those reasons to feel believable, though, they need to have come up in the story before this moment. Otherwise, it feels to a reader like exactly what it often is - an author coming up with excuses to close a plot hole.
To sum up: when you present your character with a problem, make sure there isn't an easy, obvious solution that they need to try first. If there's a reason they can't try that solution, introduce it early enough in the story that it feels like a natural part of the character's identity when they reach that crucial point.
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!