Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Either you'll love this post, or you'll pick apples

I am all about giving characters choices. In fact, what is the point of having a character that doesn’t make his or her own choices (they’d just be drifting through the story that way and that’s no fun for anyone). What I don’t like is when the author creates an illusion of choice where none exists really—or is so limited as to not matter. This brings me to the third logic fallacy I want to highlight, the black-and-white fallacy, aka the either/or fallacy.

This fallacy is pretty straight forward, but I am shocked by how often I run into it in writing, published or not. The basic issue is that the writer sets out choices based on the false assumption that there are only two choices or outcomes that exist when there are clearly several. Outcomes and choices are rarely so simple. I can’t count how many times in romantic dramas it comes down to the protagonist can either stay with the partner or leave and never look back, and those are the only choices. The reason changes for why the protagonist feels this way (adultery, betrayal, better offer, protecting the partner, etc.), but I can usually think of at least five ideas for what other choices are still on the table. Really, when you force a false binary such as this, you are not actually offering choice at all.

Then why do it? My best guess is that the writer only wants the character to have to choices, the one the advances the story and the one that is such a bad idea that no one in their right mind would take it. So, this is my frustration with this fallacy in particular; this is the golden opportunity to really deepen a character. Let them realize all the choices, debate, decide, and move forward. We, the readers, get to know the characters through theirs actions, not through the universe forcing them to decide between to false dichotomies. Don’t get me wrong, I do it sometimes, too, but it really robs the reader of those precious times in which they get to look into the character’s mind.

In short, it’s either all or it’s nothing with character development. ;-)


writtenwyrdd said...

Now I'm gonna have to reread to make sure I didn't do that! It IS very easy to write the situation so the character's emotions/ responses/ choices are funneled just where you want them.

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm really liking your blog, nicole! Good points in here.

It occurs to me, after pondering the matter, that the flaw in the writer's thinking is that they may be focusing on what they want to happen and not what the character wants?

In other words, if you determine you want outcome A, but the character as portrayed would logically want B, then they have failed to consider all options open within the context of the story's framework.

This is probably just a restatement of what you said relating to logic, but from the perspective of plotting.

bunnygirl said...

The last time I gave a character an either/or choice, she bugged out on me. She abandoned husband, friends, family, love interest, and even the death I had in mind for her, and struck out on her own. It made for a much better ending.

Sometimes you just have to trust your characters to know what's good for them.

Nicole Kelly said...

Written- I think that is most definitely the problem: writers know what they need the character to do, but don't listen to what the character wants.

My mother, who wrote plays, used to say to me that when she would get lost in a plot line, she would just ask her characters what they thought should happen.

bunnygirl- I think if you trust your characters, the either/or situation will work. To say that it is always a logic fallacy, is a fallacy in and of itself. Sometimes a character is presented with the two BEST options, which is totally fine. It just has to be consistent with the character, the plot, and the theme. Or, at least, that is my thinking.