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The Impossible Choice: Creating a Remarkable Story

A Few Good Men Kristin Noland Speculative fiction editor crime fiction editor

How can you create a remarkable story?




Create depth to your characters through:

  • Motives,

  • Wounds and flaws,

  • Difficult decisions.


Give your main character an honorable motive, a deep internal wound or flaw, and a series of increasingly difficult decisions until you give them an impossible choice.


Tough choices make great characters.


They turn the average person into a hero or a villain.


We all must make difficult decisions. We get stuck when we balance our safety against others’ safety. Torn between what we want and what is right. The suspense you create by making your character choose builds tension in the reader.


Take A Few Good Men. Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee has Colonel Nathan R. Jessep on the stand, and his critical choice is to ask a question that could potentially get him court marshaled. I call it the ‘waterglass moment.’ He takes a break from questioning and turns to his legal partners, pours some water, and drinks it. It’s in this moment that he’s making a critical decision. Does he risk his career and his freedom to get justice for his clients, or does he play it safe and let his clients go to military prison? It’s an impossible choice. Self-preservation or the honorable thing?   


But first, let’s make sure you set up your character in the best way to make this impossible decision.


Honorable Motives


Your main character should have an honorable motive that is based on the true purpose of their journey. Saving others or the world or both.


Kaffee’s motive is to save the soldiers from military prison. It’s honorable. The soldiers were in an impossible situation, made their choice, and Kaffee is going to help them.  


Major Flaws


Give your main character a deep would on major flaw. This internal flaw will hold them back from making the right choices for most of the book. Show their flaws early in the book but reveal them in little bits at a time. Then have them make poor decisions and get themselves into real trouble before they choose the honorable thing.


Kaffee’s flaw is his desire to win every case by settling out of court, because he is trying to live up to his father’s reputation for being a great lawyer—the wound his father gave him.


The Impossible Choice


The climax is where the character-defining, impossible decision is made. Save themselves or save others? Consider making your main character seriously contemplate the dishonorable choice to increase the tension even more. Then figure out how you can you make their motives righteous and dangerous.


Kaffee’s water glass moment.


Take Bigger Risks


Try taking one of your decision scenes and coming up with some ideas for how you can make it bigger, riskier, scarier. Write about ten or so ideas, then choose the riskiest idea. This technique is based on agent and teacher Donald Maass’s method.


Having your character make critical decisions shows your character’s true nature and depth.


As Kaffee is on his journey, his decisions become more difficult. He must decide to take on the case, then to try it in court. He interviews Jessep, decides to request documents, when he knows it will anger Jessep. Kaffee and his team find a key witness—only for him to die. He must find another way to win, and that culminates in putting Jessep on the stand and deciding to ask him pertinent questions to free his clients.


Once you have an amazing climax, continue Maass’s method.


Continue the Process


Main character


Now, you will go back through your manuscript or outline and adjust all your main characters choices to become more difficult, increasing the consequences and making their struggle increasingly complex until the climax—that ‘waterglass moment’ where they overcome their internal wound or flaw, and their honorable nature will reveal itself.


Secondary characters


You can continue the process for all of your secondary characters as well. They should struggle with their flaws and wounds and make tough decisions as well.


Every secondary character had honorable motives, flaws, wounds, and tough decisions in A Few Good Men. Yes, even the antagonists.



To make a remarkable and memorable story,


  • Give your characters honorable motives,

  • Give them deep internal wounds or flaws,

  • Give them a series of increasingly difficult decisions,

  • Give them an impossible choice at the climax.


Create an incredible story your readers will love and remember.


Have a fantasy, mystery, thriller, dystopian, or apocalyptic story? I’d love to chat with you about your novel and see how I can help you create a remarkable novel.


Happy Writing and Editing!


Kristin Noland Speculative and crime fiction editor

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