Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Role of Decisions in Conflict

As I tell tennis players, the best way to pressure people is to confront them with choices. That's because they fear making the "wrong" one.

If a person's fear of making decisions is greater than his desire, that fear extinguishes desire.

Have you ever known a person who cannot make a decision? I knew a woman once who couldn't even decide how she wanted her coffee. I kid you not: before ordering it, she had to play everyone at the table for their opinion on the matter.

Have you ever seen a group of people that cannot make any decision on how to deal with any problem? No matter how harmless that decision might be? And no matter how much they whine about the problem? I had the psychedelic experience of being caught in one once. You couldn't force those people to make any choice, any decision. The moment anybody proposed a solution to a problem and asked them to adopt it, the problem was suddenly "no problem." They found innumerable ways to indefinitely postpone voting on a proposal. In short, they couldn't make a decision to save their souls.

Don't put such pathetic characters in your novel (except perhaps as cartoon characters fit for a walk-on role in comic relief). Nobody finds them interesting = worth knowing.

They either want nothing enough to lift a finger to get it or they don't know what they want. As Lajos Egri says, you can't achieve anything but static conflict with characters who cannot make a decision. Result: no story. He goes on to say,

You cannot expect rising conflict from a man who wants nothing or does not know what he wants.

All you can do to move such a "plot" is introduce jumping (unmotivated) conflict. Which still doesn't result in a story.

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