Pros vs. cons

A colleague told me one time that on a class evaluation a student wrote, “he said ‘um’ 47 times in 50 minutes.” This is one of my worst nightmares: to stand in front of a group of people and have them point out my tics. In addition to a lot of hand waving and water drinking when teaching, I think one of my tics isn’t so much a tic, but a love of repeated sayings. One of my go-to’s: “It’s a pros and cons game.”


So much of writing comes down to making decisions, and while we want there to be an absolute right decision, that often isn’t the case. It’s a weighing of the outcomes, a juggling of the payoff and the drawback. I had a student recently say that he wanted all the scenes to take place in one location because it would emphasize the bleakness of that one aspect of the character’s world. I respect that, but at what cost? Was he missing out on a wonderful scene where the character’s having dinner at a restaurant with his mother, or some other setting that could be viewed and emotionally mined on the drive home? What else could the story offer up to outweigh that decision?

My advice in situations like this is always to write out the scene and see what it gives you. You’ve got to write it out: that’s another thing I say a lot. What’s the worst that could happen? You end up with a scene or two that sucks? So be it, but my guess is you’ll still be ahead in knowing your character and story, even if you decide, in the end, not to include those pages. The best thing that could happen? Endless possibility.

It’s rare there’s only one thing that can happen in a story, and if that’s the case, maybe you’ve written too narrow of a story. Pros and cons. If that happens, do you try to revise it, or write another, better story?

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