The Critical Choice

In my post, The Five Stages of a Character Arc, I mentioned that a character’s arc is basically their journey from their identity to their essence. What I want to talk about today is the thing that happens at the end of stage four: the critical choice.

According to Dr. Phil McGraw, we are the people we are today because of three types of external factors. One of these is called the Seven Critical Choices. Here is the definition from McGraw’s Web site:

Seven Critical Choices: There are a surprisingly small number of choices that rise to the level of life-changing ones. Critical choices are those that have changed your life, positively or negatively, and are major factors in determining who and what you will become. They are the choices that have affected your life up to today, and have set you on a path.

The reason I am quoting Dr. Phil is not because I have decided to take up Pop Psychology. It’s also not because I am the next future guest host of Oprah. Although…wait, no.

The reason I am bringing this up is because every great story is about one of these critical choices and that choice is made at the end of stage four (the climax of the story). Let’s look at the example from my previous post:

After Fiona runs into her ex-boyfriend, Jake asks her for another date and she refuses because she believes he will dump her just like her ex did, even though Jake has given her no reason to think this. Her sassy gay friend finds out, slaps her across the face and sends her on her way.

What happens next? Fiona makes a choice: either give in to her fears and let Jake walk away forever, or listen to her sassy gay friend and go after Jake. Obviously, she picks the latter choice.  Maybe she marries Jake. Maybe they have three wonderful children and a dog named Buck.  The point is that Fiona makes a critical choice that changes the direction of her life and if you want your readers to feel like your main character has gone through a similar life-changing transformation, he/she must make one too.

Category: On Writing