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Bad Choices versus Mistakes

Dennis Brown in his book Rule of Life 101 defines the difference between bad choice and a mistake thusly: 

“A mistake is innocent, a bad choice is not. A mistake is being completely oblivious to the error being made. An example would be telling someone your name and them pronouncing or spelling it wrong. Or giving someone the wrong phone number because you just got a new number and it slipped your mind. These are examples of mistakes. A bad choice is being totally aware of the error being made and choosing to do it anyway. Say for instance your boyfriend or girlfriend was sleeping with your best friend. A bad choice is knowing something is wrong or hurtful and doing it anyway.”

In any story, the critical turning points are either actions or decisions. Bad choices or actions result in goal failure. Mistakes cause conflict along the way. Take a look at your work-in-progress. Have your characters made bad choices or mistakes? How did they complicate the overall story problem?

If the inciting incident is a bad choice, Dick is forced to take steps to repair it. The key turning points will show the progress toward and steps away from repairing his life, relationship, or situation to the status quo.

If the inciting incident is a mistake, Jane will have to make amends. In the first turning point whatever she has tried doesn’t work. She will have to approach the problem from a new angle. At turning point two, that angle didn’t work either. In fact, Jane compounded the mistake, perhaps by making a second mistake. In the third turning point Jane will realize the right course of action that will restore the story balance. In the climax, she makes amends and all ends happily, usually.

The caution I want to offer is this: it is hard to root for a character that continually makes bad choices and mistakes. One or two sprinkled throughout a story can drive it. However, if the story is riddled with them, it becomes abusive.

I’m reminded of a recent television series I watched. After two seasons with a main character who continually made mistakes and bad choices, there was no growth. He never caught on that he was the problem. It made sense that the series was cancelled.

Make sure your characters are not continually making mistakes and bad choices. People who don’t change make poor protagonists, friends, and lovers. It’s okay for the reader to shout “you idiot” once or twice in a story. However, they are likely to burn the book if it happens in every chapter.

As Dennis Brown concludes: “People’s mistakes should be forgiven, and even some bad choices are forgivable, but consistent bad choices should never be overlooked. Know when enough is enough; if you have no boundaries, people have no reason to respect them. A person can’t respect what’s not there to respect. Whether it’s in a friendship, marriage or business relationship, bad choices that lead to adverse circumstances for you should never be tolerated.” 

Even if the characters are fictional.

For more information on using conflict to drive plot, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, available in paperback and E-book.

Gift Ideas for Writers

This was originally posted on the Blood Red Pencil, but I thought I’d repost here as a reminder to nurture the writers in your world.

Most writers have seen ads galore for gadgets and gizmos to increase productivity that do anything but. You have undoubtedly received endless pens, paper weights, journals, etc.

Here are a few of my favorite tools that you can ask Santa for this year. If Santa neglects to bring them, treat yourself.

1. Nuance PDF allows you turn documents into PDF documents within Word for Windows: just select Print, Save as PDF, and voila - done.

2. Word Web Pro brings up a dictionary and thesaurus within word with a click of Control-W. It includes pronunciations and usage examples, and has helpful spelling and sounds-like links.

3. Smart Edit goes beyond the many editing tools available in Word for Windows (as outlined in Story Building Blocks III) to make your prose the best it can be before you turn it over to an agent or editor. If you are an independent publisher and can't afford an editor, at least give your manuscript a run through with this tool before hitting upload.

4. Natural Reader reads your work back to you. The readback voice is not the quality that allows you to make an audio book, but it beats reading your manuscript back to yourself. You can purchase additional "voices" beyond the basic two.

5. Serif Web Plus provides website building for the HTML challenged. There is no need to learn code. If you can operate a photo manipulation program, you can build your own website with this user-friendly gem. You can utilize a template or build your own from scratch once you get the hang of it.

6. Interior Templates by Create Space creates a template based on the selected trim size. If you can use Word for Windows, you can modify the template to fit your needs. The pre-calculated gutters and margins keeps your text where it needs to be. You can customize the headers, footers, and fonts.

7. Cover Creator Templates
 by Create Space allows you to use any photo manipulation program or Adobe Photoshop to create stunning covers. It generates a template based on the trim size and page length.

8. Calibre helps you create an e-book with ease. It supports all the major e-book formats. It can rescale all font sizes, ensuring the output e-book is readable no matter what font sizes the input document uses. It can automatically detect/create book structure, like chapters and Table of Contents. It can insert the book metadata into a "Book Jacket" at the start of the book.

9. Scrivener: there is a learning curve, but it is an excellent way to organize your plot and works perfectly with the Story Building Blocks theory of story structure and character creation.

10. Story Building Blocks Series: learn how to structure a plot, build believable characters, craft believable conflict, and revise like a pro with this set. One fan called it a Cliff-note MFA.

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflicts examines the core building blocks for plotting your book and their relationship to the different genres.

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict introduces you to sixteen character prototypes that can be warped and tortured to create realistic characters your readers will care about. It helps you create psychology-based conflict amongst the cast members of your story.

Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers takes you through high-low revision techniques to remove the plot holes and speed bumps from your first draft and basic editing tips so your agent and editor won't cringe while reading it.

Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook uses the sixteen mannequins from Story Building Blocks II and offers a "fill in the blanks" format to flesh out your cast.