Helen (heleninwales) wrote,
Helen
heleninwales

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When characters have to make choices

A couple of things have sort of coalesced into an idea for a post.

coneycat posted a link here to an article in the Kansas City Star about Captain Sullenburger, the pilot who successfully crash-landed on the Hudson River. They point out that the tricky landing wasn't what made him a hero. That was just doing his job -- admittedly to an extremely high standard, but that's what he's trained and practised all these years to do. No, it was going back through the sinking plane, twice, to make sure that none of the cabin crew or passengers were trapped. That was what made him a hero.

And here green_knight is talking about preferring smaller scale drama in her fiction. She wants to read about characters who have to make real choices, not yet another Oh, noes! The world is about to be overrun by killer mutant zombie-vampires and only the kick-ass feisty heroine with her werewolf/vampire/supernatural (delete words that do not apply) boyfriend are the only ones who can save the day. As green_knight says, if the world's going to end if you don't fight to try to save it, is it really a choice?

That was one of the few points on which I disagreed with Patricia Wrede, back in the days when we both used to frequent rasfc. Patricia liked to manoeuvre her characters into a position where they had no choice about whether or not to go on; my personal feeling is that it's a more powerful story if the characters could walk away and say, "None of my business," but goes on to do the courageous thing anyway.

In real life, it's never the case that only one person can Save The World -- there's always someone else -- so when someone does step and take responsibility, it's that much harder. It often makes for powerful biographies, so why not use that technique in fiction? Am I being dense here and missing something obvious?
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