Reel in Readers With a Devastating Choice

image by geralt

A Writer’s Digest article* suggested a devastating choice will hook readers and show much about your character. This intrigued me. Although the writer discussed how to develop the story before and after the choice, I approached the idea from a different angle. How would people’s past and current situations affect their choices? For examples, I chose characters with three different situations.

The Setup

image by Foto-Rabe

A fictional poisonous creeper snake strikes the character’s hand. The character knows the crone a two-minute walk away will have a potion to save his life. He heads for the crone’s shack.



The Choice

The crone inspects the red poison line creeping up the character’s arm and extends a vial. “This is the only potion I have on hand for this kind of viper’s bite. You must consume it within the next four minutes.” The character grabs the vial and removes the stopper. The crone grips his arm, stopping him from drinking the potion. “If you drink the potion you will live, but your memory will be forever erased.”

The Decision

Rex’s Reflection

image by Frantisek_Krejci

Lacking his memories, will he still be the changed man inside he is now after his ten-year stint in prison? Or will he reject his wife and daughter—even worse—beat them as he did his first wife? If so, can he hope he’ll change again? But will the change occur after he’s destroyed his loved ones? They’d be better off with him dead and cherishing loving memories of him. Surely, they will love again.

Rex throws the vial to the ground before he can change his mind. The crone calls her son into the room, points at the ax in the corner, and says, ”Hurry. Chop off his arm above the red line. (For the story, Rex must live.)

Orin’s Reflection

His wife and daughter are the joy of his life. Having no memory or love for them, his life will be worthless. How will his daughter bear his vacant eyes and disinterest? Suppose he doesn’t choose to love his wife and daughter again? How can he put them through that trial? But how could he not soon love his beautiful wife and sweet daughter again? Surely, they’ll supply his important memories. He wants to live. Orin drinks the potion.

Chad’s Reflections

image by KasunChamara

Live, having no memory of his deceased wife and daughter? The memories of them keep him going— No, they keep him suffering guilt, drunk, and living on the streets. Wiping his memory clean could end his pain and give him an opportunity for a new life. But he’d have no guarantee an empty memory bank would improve his sorry existence. Society would be better off with him dead. Yet…in building a new life without the painful memories, he might save someone’s life. Chad drinks the potion.

Each situation, after the choice, offers great challenges for the character. The reader will hopefully want to know how he overcomes them and how he ends up.

Try giving your story character a devastating choice to make. Click to tweet.

What are possible creative and unexpected challenges the characters could face after their choice?

*“What Would You Do?” by David Corbett (Writer’s Digest January 2018)

How to Use Personal Experiences to Write Stories That Matter


I recently read insights I’ve heard before but were worth hearing again as I prepare to write my next romance:

  1. Ask myself what matters to me, stirs me, and bothers me;
  2. look into my personal life for experiences that accompany these three things; then
  3. write something that says something.*

Here’s an experience I might use:

When I was in fifth grade, my family lived in Norfolk, VA. My sister, Marcia, was in ninth grade. One winter day, Marcia, her friend, Jean**, my friend, Patsy**, and I went to investigate a reported rare sight. The neighborhood lake, where a two-year-old boy had drowned the summer before, had frozen over.

At the lake, people walked on the ice. A boy ran and jumped on his sled and slid across the ice. We judged the ice solid. I itched to feel the frozen water under my feet.

Our group walked on the ice farther than other people had dared. Then, clustered together, we all fell through the ice in one whoosh.

Non-swimmers, Jean and Patsy panicked and pawed the ice edge.  We tried to get a purchase on the ice rim, but the ice caved every time we applied pressure. Our soaked heavy coats and boots worked against us. I questioned whether we could get out before we drowned.

Soon, I was so fatigued I decided to give up. As soon as I was under the water and the bottom debris touched my legs, I gained renewed desire to live and worked my way to the surface.

Finally, the ice edge held firm. While treading water, Marcia shoved Jean out. Jean tramped away without looking back. How could a friend do that?

Marcia pushed Patsy out. My friend asked if she should help us. Marcia told her to leave the precarious edge and go home.

I pulled myself out. Marcia called to me. Exhausted, she asked me to help her. I admired her heroism, and love stirred. And now, she needed me. Shivering and teeth chattering, I stepped to the dangerous edge and extended my reddened hand. She linked her little finger with mine. Obviously, she needed only sisterly support and hoisted herself onto the ice surface.

I spotted my mitten on the other side of the large cavity. I gasped. Mommy had knit that mitten for me. I asked, “Should I get my mitten?” Marcia said, “No.” My stomach sank. Why had we been so stupid? How would I tell Mommy I’d left the mitten?

People on the lake hadn’t come to our rescue. They stared at us as we trudged toward home. I was too cold and drained to care. Once home, my mother was angry with us for our foolishness. My lips trembled as I told her I’d left my mitten. She ordered us upstairs to peel off our freezing wet clothes and get in a tub of warm water.

Mommy entered the bathroom and gave us each a shot of brandy. It burned my throat, but I warmed inside. Mommy wouldn’t have given us the brandy if her love weren’t greater than her anger.

Use personal experiences to write stories that say something. Click to tweet.

What do you think mattered to me, stirred me, and bothered me? 

* “Making It Matter” by Deb Caletti (Writer’s Digest January 2018)

** Not their real names.


Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:





Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!



Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?


Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!


Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?




Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…

Keep Characters’ Actions Linear & Put Readers in Their Shoes

image by FirminoGennarino

If your character acts in real time, the reader will move along with and feel closer to, the character. This means the author never tells actions before they happen.

In the paragraph below look for five instances in which the author tells an action before it happens. Try rewriting the paragraph so all actions are linear. (Speaking dialogue is an action.)


Passage With Non-Linear Actions

As she buttoned her coat, Melissa spoke in earnest. “Listen to me, Alex. Jeanne is cheating on you.”

Alex couldn’t listen to Melissa for another second. Before he opened the apartment door for her, he leveled his gaze on hers. “You’re wrong.”

Later, he’d find out he was wrong, but for now, he based his opinion on what he knew about Jeanne. How was he to know Jeanne had cheated not only on him but on her first husband?

Melissa took off the coat he’d helped into minutes ago. “I’m staying until you hear evidence to the truth about Jeanne.”

Sentences That Aren’t Linear

  1. How could the point-of-view character, Alex, know Melissa spoke in earnest until she’d said the words? If the dialogue sounds like she spoke in earnest, this sentence could be left out.
  1. In real time, Alex levels his gaze on Melissa and then opens the door.
  1. The author intrudes and tells the reader Alex would later find out he was wrong. 
  1. Yes. How would Alex know in the current conversation that Jeanne had cheated on her husband?
  1. Sometimes, to keep the plot moving, an author will summarize in a current scene what has happened between scenes. The summarized event wasn’t important enough to have its own scene. But Alex helping her into her coat is easy to put in the right place in this passage. Taking the reader back is an unnecessary interruption.

 A Linear Passage

Alex helped Melissa into her coat.

She fastened buttons. “Listen to me, Alex. I don’t want to hurt you, but you need to know the truth. Jeanne is cheating on you.”

Alex couldn’t listen to Melissa for another second. He leveled his gaze on hers. “You’re wrong.” He opened the apartment door.

Melissa stood and studied him. She couldn’t be right, could she? He’d never seen or heard anything that pointed to Jeanne’s unfaithfulness.

Until now.

Melissa unbuttoned and removed her coat. “I’m staying until you hear evidence to the truth about Jeanne.”

Don’t you feel more intimate with what’s going on with and inside Alex in the rewrite?

Linear writing keeps readers inside the character’s body and mind as he acts and reacts. Click to tweet.

What other principles help you identify with a character?



Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.