Character Choices and True Consequence

I have this problem with YA books that claim to be about choices and how you always have them, yet somehow manage to completely fail to give the character a real choice.

Okay. This book I was reading. It claims to be about choice. The epigraph was the most cliched poem about choice ever written. I went into this book expecting the main character to make some sort of choice that would drastically influence the plot and her character development.

What I got was character whose path was laid out at her feet, and a plot that was so predictably bland it almost wasn't worth reading.

The two options of her "choice" were obvious: Good and bad. Should she go to the dark side, or fight for the rebels? I read the summary for this and thought, "Oh, cool! We could get some legitimate inner struggles and character development and what if she picks the dark side how awesome would that be ahhhhh!"

As soon as I started reading, I knew my hope was pointless. From almost the very beginning, it's obvious that the MC is going to go to the good side. And throughout the book, it gets clearer and clearer that there is absolutely no possibility of her switching to the dark side. 

No. Possibility.

There is no choice made, because she never considered any other option. She was firmly set against the "wrong" path the entire time. 

And when she "picked" the "right" path, there were no consequences. The regular sorts of action sequences happen, but no one was permanently injured. No one was killed. No one lost anything. And by the end of the book, you'd think the world would be hunky-dory forever and ever and everyone lived in the world of rainbows and sunshine. 

Point is: if you're going to make choice the main theme of your book, then give the MC A CHOICE. A big one. Give them good reasons to seriously consider both sides. And then, when they pick one of those sides, make consequences happen. Every. Single. Choice. Has a consequence. I want to see them. I want to see the characters in pain. And if it's a big choice, I want it to be long-term consequence. Preferably series-plot-altering consequence. A consequence "shock wave" if you will. 

And I want to be able to see that consequence coming. Just a little bit. I want a hint of it on the horizon, because that's what's going to keep me reading. I want to see the shit flying toward the fan. And I want to know that when it hits, it's going to hit big. 

[What about you guys? Read a book about choice that gave you the finger and told you to hit the road?]

11 comments:

  1. Yes, yes, a million times yes. YES. (And I have another book in mind. Another one with a potentially uber-powerful and kickassed character who could have chosen to go to the dark side and DIDN'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.)

    Writers: I know it's hard to hurt your characters. I know you love them. But shank those bitches and watch them squirm. They'll thank you for it later when they win awards, become bestsellers, or are possibly considered classics.

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    1. GRAHHHH *shakes fist*

      I second this. All of this.

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    2. Now I'm curious as to what this book was.

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  2. Your rage. I feel it. I hate it when a main theme comes to nothing. Actions need consequences!

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  3. This. So much.

    (Was this books $HATT3R M3, by any chance? I didn't read the book, but I remember reading the epigraph and thinking "If you really wanted to take the road less traveled, you would have picked a different f***ing poem.")

    I usually try to steer clear of books that specifically claim to be about choices. a) I feel like the author is trying to preach to me about something I already know, b) it seems that nowadays, the word "choice" basically means "love triangle," and c) ALL books should involve a protagonist who has to make choices. Not that they all do, but they all should. The only good book I remember that was explicitly about choice was THE GIVER.

    I'm reading Paolo Bacigalupi's novel THE DROWNED CITIES now, and it's a really good book about choices. (One that doesn't stand up and wave its arms around screaming "Look at me! I have CHOICES!") Not only does the main character have to make a lot of choices, but her choices aren't always noble, and they actually have consequences. Also, it's a really good book.

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    1. Yael, can we be best friends? Let's be best friends.

      Same here. In some cases, I don't even realize the book is supposed to be specifically about choice until I start reading it. Or, it's NOT supposed to be about choice, but then the author gets wrapped up in a love triangle and that's what it turns into.

      I haven't read THE GIVER in such a long time. I need to check it out again. And it really sounds like I need to read something of Paolo Bacigalupi's, because I've heard all of his stuff is good.

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  4. Um, YES. Yes, yes, yes. I'm getting tired of reading books with clear-cut, black and white, good and bad choices or characters. Because most good people are not all good. And most bad people are not all bad. And I want to read about characters who are PEOPLE, not characters who are characters or pieces in a plot. And I totally agree that if they are going to make a choice, even if it is a choice to join the "good" side, then there should be consequences.

    Good post :D

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    1. Amen to that. I think the only time you should have clear-cut black and white characters is when it's part of their arc, or they are EXTREME, and it's the main facet of their character, the one that causes problems. Like the saintly character who refuses to shoot one comrade, so he gets all the rest of them killed. (But ooooh -- would shooting one be considered better than getting all of them killed? Is his personal purity more important than innocent lives?)

      And there you go--consequences, both internal and external. I think there are just WAYYY too many authors who like writing their ways around the consequences, or conveniently leaving them out.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Hey! I've given you an award from over at my blog! :)

    http://www.lifeisgood-forever21.blogspot.com/2012/07/fabulous-blog-ribbon-award.html

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  6. I'm querying a manuscript about choice, but in the story, she chooses the dark side and ends up leading a band of folkloric huntresses to kill a human guy. But what can I say? I think the dark side is kinda fun. ;)

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