The Power of Choice

Today is November 15th, which makes it the official half-way point in NaNoWriMo. Assuming your novel will finish in 50k words, you are now at the exact center of your novel, which means: Mini-climax time!

Also known as the second disaster, the mini-climax is your hero’s biggest mistake yet. This is where you raise tensions and raise the stakes. As I said in my post on Planning Disasters, it’s good to have the mini-climax be something your MC caused. The best way to do that is to give him a difficult choice where either decision can bring something good at a cost, then have his decision go horribly wrong.


Let’s take a look at one of my favorite examples: Star Wars. The hero, Luke Skywalker, is training under the Jedi Master Yoda. Luke sees that his friends, currently elsewhere in the galaxy, are at risk of losing their lives. Luke then must make a choice: finish his training to become a full-fledged Jedi master, or leave his training half-finished to save his friends.

If he finishes his training, his friends will die, but he will be fully-equipped to take down the Empire once and for all. If he goes to save his friends, he and his half-trained self will be exceptionally vulnerable to the dark side of the force, putting him (and really, the rest of the galaxy) in great danger.

Luke, being the hero he is, goes after his friends. He loses his hand and light saber, learns Darth Vader is his father, and though his friends live, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and served fresh to Jabba the Hut. Luke accomplished something good at a cost, and now has his next goal: save Han Solo.


If you’re working through your middle, take a look at what your characters want, especially your MC. Peeking at his goals should open up at least one of the following choices:

  • Choice between two short-term goals (save friends or finish training)
  • Choice between a long-term goal and a short-term goal (live happily ever after but your friend is deathly ill)
  • Choice between long-term goals where the original goal becomes less appealing (win the princess’ love, but oh wait, that means I become king… do not want!)

If you’re not sure about what choice to give your MC, don’t give yourself writer’s block over it. The important part is to increase tension and raise the stakes. If you do that, the choice may become apparent to you. On the other hand, you may do perfectly well without a choice at all. A difficult choice helps draw the reader’s sympathies to the MC, but is by no means the only way to do so.

How are you doing in your current draft, be it for NaNoWriMo or not? Have you used choice to raise tension and stakes, or have you made use of one of the many other methods of doing so? If you’re not quite to that point yet, what are your plans?

(PS: Meredith from the Fiction Fix-it Shop made a great post on how to Increase Conflict in Fiction. Check it out if you’re having troubles.)

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About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on November 15, 2010, in Ishy Writes! and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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