Thursday, September 24, 2020

Make Your Hero Choose

by Henry Mclaughlin @RiverBendSagas

This week I want to share on a topic I first heard Randy Ingermanson teach on several years ago. It’s a simple yet powerful tool to improve our stories.

Simply stated—force your hero to make a choice. Not just any choice like which burger to order or coffee shop to visit. Make it a tough choice. Not a choice between good and evil, but a choice between good and good.


One of the beauties of this choice is that it flows naturally out of the character you’ve established throughout the story.


The method is simple. As your character moves through the story, make it clear to the reader there are things he values highly. We all have core values, beliefs we will hold onto no matter. Giving a character values is something I think most, if not all, readers can identify with.


Once you have established her values, pick the two most important, and then write the story with these values in mind. Provide instances were these values are evident through her actions and thoughts. Let it flow naturally. If we try to force it into a scene, it will come across manipulative and phony.


I’ll give you an example from my first book, Journey to Riverbend. By the end of the novel, two of the hero’s, Michael Archer, values are clear.


One is he will always keep his word. Before he met Jesus, Michael lived a life of cheating and lying. Back then his word was, as Rich Mullins once sang, as useless as a screen door on a submarine. Since surrendering to Jesus, Michael keeps every promise he makes, no matter how hard the task. The story begins with Michael promising a young Ben Carstairs he would visit Ben's father to complete a prodigal son reconciliation. Ben is about to hang for murder and his father is nothing like the father in the Bible story.


The other value prominent in the story is Michael will not kill anyone. He believes he killed his father and, before he met Jesus, other people only existed to help get what he wanted. If they didn’t, he took whatever measures he needed to get them out of the way. There is a point in the second act where this value surfaces. Michael and his posse are ambushed. One way to escape is for Michael to shoot and kill one of the bandits. Instead, he shoots to wound.


Later, at the climax, this option is not available. He is in the position of having to kill another person to keep his word to Ben. At that moment, he has to choose between his core values.


In another about our heroes facing death. click here And it isn’t always or necessarily physical death. In Journey to Riverbend, Michael faces spiritual and psychological death because of the choice he has to make.


The higher and more universally shared the values, the greater the stakes, and the more intense the tension and inner conflict. This is not the time to have the cavalry ride to the rescue. No deus ex machina to pull a rabbit out of the hat. This is a choice only the hero can make. In the denouement, we can show the consequences of the choice.

In your current work, what would your hero do when confronted with making a moral choice between two equally desirable values?


Make Your Hero Choose - Henry McLaughlin, @RiverBendSagas on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest.

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers. 

Connect with Henry on his blogTwitter and Facebook.


  1. Henry, this is one of the most valuable posts for novel writers. It's the key to successful plotting. Many thanks!

    1. You are most welcome. I can testify I have found it very helpful.

  2. This is also a good idea when writing for children (which I do). Thanks for sharing such great insight, Henry.

    1. You're welcome, Crystal. I'm blessed you found this post helpful.

  3. Thanks for this writing this morning. It's very meaningful and helpful to me. Always so good to read your words.Thank you for sharing.

  4. It's so important to let characters make decisions and face their own consequences. That's the best way to show a story, rather than tell it. Thank you so much for this!

    1. You're welcome, A.C. This technique has helped in every novel I'v written.