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Ditherers and Despots: How Decision Making Creates Conflict

There are several different methods characters rely on to make decisions when it is crunch time.

The way a character processes decisions can resolve an obstacle or create one. Let's look at ways temperament affects decision-making.

1) The Ponderer

If Dick prefers to think long and hard, he will examine the information in a detached way. He will choose the direction that makes the most sense logically, even if he encounters resistance. He will make a rational decision and follow the rules, regardless of the cost to others. He will reach a decision by evaluating all of the facts and by understanding how the pieces form the whole. This is his comfort zone. He wants facts to back up his decision.

His method creates a new set of conflicts if he is relying on information that is outdated or isn’t accurate or if he does not have time to think it through. It creates conflict when Dick is forced to do something that isn’t logical or goes against the rules.

2) The Feeler

Jane prefers an emotional approach. She will try to put herself in the other person’s shoes, testing the information to see if it “feels” right. She will make decisions that maintain harmony. She will look for consensus from others. She wants people to back up her decisions. She will consider the needs of the people involved regardless of whether it is logical or follows the rules.

Her method causes problems when she relies on people who aren’t accurate or people who don't deserve the consideration. It can cause problems when the decision violates rules.

If you want to really torture your characters, force Dick and Jane to work in tandem 

3) The Ditherer

Fuzzy Sally is incapable of making a decision. She worries about making the right one, so she hems and haws and avoids making one. She tries to force someone else to make the decision to avoid blame. She can make Dick or Jane crazy if they need her to decide something quickly. A more aggressive character might make the decision for her and create a bigger conflict. Sally might simply be a procrastinator. She might argue that if you procrastinate long enough, action becomes unnecessary. This tactic might work, or her delay can cause a small problem to grow large.

4)  The Pacifer

Dick might prefer to make a decision that is “good enough” just to get it over with. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the best option is. He flips a coin and is willing to accept the outcome. All characters have to make judgment calls from time to time. Sometimes they don’t have time for in-depth analysis and are forced into swift judgment calls which can create further conflict.

5) The Obstructionist

If Jane is passive-aggressive, she will use the decision to not make a decision as a weapon. She holds the other person hostage until the decision is taken out of her hands. This can force the opposite party to make a rash decision that they end up regretting, which is exactly what the passive aggressive Jane wanted all along. Then if things go wrong, Jane can say, “Well, it wasn’t my decision.” If things go right, Jane usually changes her tune and says, “Well I would have done that if…”

6) The Despot

Some characters are born to lead, or push, shove, and bully everyone else. Sally has no doubt that she is right and everyone else is wrong. She will not tolerate being questioned. Her beliefs are often based on vague assumptions with no backup or foundation whatsoever. It won't matter. She will take charge and steamroll the passive-aggressive, the ditherer, and the pacifier. She will fight to the death with the obstructionist and the ponderer.

Pair opposites in decision making and you have conflict. Put them in the cauldron of a marriage, a friendship, a workplace, or a family, and their opposing ways of making decisions make solving the overall story problem harder. Each will strongly defend their rationale for making or not making a decision.

Characters forced to make painful or life altering decisions can serve as an overall story problem or complicate it as part of their personal dilemma.

Small, difficult decisions can drive the story at scene level. If a decision appears easy, it can have unforeseen consequences. If a decision appears difficult, the repercussions might not be as bad as the character feared.

If you cut the green wire, does the bomb go off? If he chooses the wrong bachelorette, he can be in for a nasty surprise. If he pushes the button will the train kill one person or five?

Employing difficult decisions as conflict increases the emotional stakes in the story.

For more on how to motivate your characters based on personality type, check out:

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict in paperback and e-book.

Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook in paperback and e-book.

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