It’s not the most catchy title, but it’s what I want to warn you against.

In real life, listening to conventional wisdom is often a good strategy. In fiction, not so much. In fiction having a character follow conventional wisdom makes the action predictable and too ‘safe’ to be very interesting.

Let’s say the antagonist hits your protagonist. Conventional response? Hit back. If you want a conventional fight scene you’re in clover – it’s right there waiting to happen. For some stories, that’s perfectly fine.

But you have the opportunity to take this initial action (and yes, you’ve planted it there yourself, so you have some purpose in mind) and make the reaction fit your overall purpose more precisely.

How else could the reaction work? Passive aggression maybe?

“No supper for you tonight.”

“I’m leaving home.”

“I’m going back to mother.”

A storm of tears, maybe? This provokes pity from someone – a neighbor, a friend, the hitter. And this person did what? Called the police? (Conventional wisdom) Got embroiled in a fight? Ask yourself – what could they do that is more off the wall?

Could they throw a pan of cold (or scalding hot) water on the hitter? Sic a rottweiler on him? Booby trap his car? Anything but the conventional.

The initial reaction could be one of superiority,

“I always knew you were a brute and now you’ve proved it!”

“You’re drunk. Get out of my house!”

It could be one man hitting another and the reaction could be triumphant,

“Now I’ve got you. I’ll see you in court.”

What if the hitter broke his hand?

What if it was a woman hitting a man? How might he respond?

Once you’ve got a definite action, take a moment to review all the possible ways that the reaction could occur. Yes, the response has to match the character as you’ve created it, but this response also builds the character further. It can cement him in place or take him off into a different and perhaps surprising dimension.

These moments of thinking ‘outside the box’ at decision points are what lift a story out of the run-of-the-mill and give it life. These decisions are what make your writing voice unique.

Following conventional wisdom will give you a conventional story. Is that what you want?

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