Do your characters have a will of their own?

Imagine the following situation. Today you have the day off and you have plans to go on a trip. It’s 2 o’ clock and any minute now your kid will come back from school. You have been packing, just the essentials, and then the phone rings. With a shirt draped over your shoulder, you pick up the phone. It’s your wife and she tells you that she wants a divorce. In the blink of an eye, your whole life changes. Your wife will leave you and you will see your kid only on weekends. What would you do?

For starters, let’s define free will as: the apparent human ability to make choices that are not externally determined[1].

I will give the character above a name and a personality. His name is Jim. He is easy-going, not very brave, he loves his wife and kid and he is shy. Pretty much your average Joe. Based on his personality, what would he have done in the situation above? My story needs a brave hero who will eventually win back his wife. Can I force him to do that? I don’t want another character, I love Jim just the way he is. Through the course of the story he will change –it’s inevitable– but he will still be the same person: Jim. What do I do if my story needs a brave man and not … you know, Jim?

This is a very common problem for a writer. Plot VS. Character. We will talk about this conflict in another post.

Let’s put Jim through a test. We are halfway in the book and a month after Jim’s divorce: He sits in a bar, a bit drunk. His feelings for his wife are still strong and he’s lost his kid too. A woman approaches. They talk and, eventually, she suggests going to her place.

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