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The freedom to make choices

Writing is nothing if not a series of choices a writer makes on behalf of his or her characters. Every sentence, paragraph, and chapter offers opportunities for choice: How will your characters react? What will they say? What will they do next?

Those choices reveal a lot about your characters. Choices are perhaps the strongest indicators of character at your disposal as a writer. Stronger than dialogue or dialect, stronger than mannerisms or mode of dress, choices give a glimpse into the deepest level of character: how someone thinks.

Someday I will write a lengthy article on the power and pitfalls of the choices your characters make. But today is Independence Day in the United States, so I want to talk about something a bit different.

Independence. Freedom. Liberty. Whatever you call it, it amounts to the same thing: the ability to make unfettered choices. Life, after all, is nothing if not a series of choices for you to make on your own behalf. How will you react to your circumstances? What will you say? What will you do next?

In life as in fiction, the choices we make every day reveal a lot about our own character. Do you choose to sit on the couch and watch other people’s lives go by on the T.V., or do you go out to do some living of your own? Do you spend your time looking out for number one, or do you work to improve the lives of others?

Today we celebrate a historic declaration that the people of the American Continent are—whether King George III liked it or not—a free people. That we would have our unfettered right to choose our own destinies, absent the dictates of a distant and unsympathetic ruler.

Thus, I think the choices we each make about how we spend this day, among all others of the year, perhaps says something more about us than usual.

A lot of us are bringing out our flags for the day, firing up the barbeque, and figuring out the logistics of how to make it to the nearest fireworks show.

But some Americans are spending the day standing on hot street corners, baking in the sun, holding up signs demanding an end to the war. Some are calling the offices of senators and congressmen, demanding a “public option” in health care reform. Some are working to end mountaintop removal strip mining in Appalachia.

It’s not hard to see what those choices reveal about their character. My hat is off to them, and I thank them for their service to their country.

July 04, 2009 21:20 UTC

Tags: Independence Day, choice, character, King George III, peace, health care

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