I love a good dilemma. The moment in a story when a character must choose between two impossible choices. It is in that when I really dig in. I have my own opinion formed because the writer has brought me to this point along with the character. What will they do? I must know.
This is what every author wants from a reader. Sitting on the edge of their seat, holding their breath as their eyes skim the words and tensing from anticipation. Because when this happens, magic happens. The reader is invested they have become part of the story and the story part of them. They may cheer because the character chose wisely or cry out “No!” because they went against the readers idea. Either way it works, it makes them read on, it solidifies the moment in their memory because it was charged up. Now they are going to go tell their friends. “You have to read this.” At least this is what happens when I read a book.
Sasha sat facing her boss. Mr. Clifton. A beady-eyed man who had never spoken more than twenty words to her in six years. A man who fired people on a whim all because he can. He was the owner and he liked to strike terror into his staff. He owned an advertising and design company and had no clue which end of a paintbrush to use. For Sasha it was an insult.
“Miss Parsons.” He picked up a small folder from his desktop. “I was told you caused quite a stir yesterday changing out the ad layout last minute.”
“I did sir. I felt it was.” She stopped at his swiftly raised hand.
“No need. That little stunt gained us their full account. Instead of one layout they want five on all media platforms.”
Sasha swallowed hard. That was unheard of. All that over her idea?
“Take this.” He held the folder out to her. “I want you to do a private project for me. One that you cannot share or talk to anyone about. No one.”
Her stomach jumped. The folder. The preverbal pink-slip. Every time someone worked on a hush hush project for Clifton, they disappeared. It was the big office rumor and scary story. The mystery that made them all walk on eggshells. This didn’t make sense. She was a dammed good artist. She worked hard and has made this company a lot of money. She took it with her shaking hand and opened it. Six pages. All simple images, all but one were common items.
“They are numbered, they must all be used in order and the last is to be subliminal.”
She looked up suddenly. “But that’s restricted border line illigal we can’t do that.”
“Cant? That’s not for you to decide young lady. I need someone talented to pull this off. I think you are the one. So here are your choices. Do this project in secret and make sure it is good.” He leaned forward. “And I might consider you for Wilber Marks position. Corner office, name on the door and your own department to run. Refuse and well.” He shrugged. “Go on, go work your magic.” He dismissed her with a waive of his hand.
She got up and walked out numbly, folder in hand. Wilber was retiring and she desperately wanted his job. She wasn’t the only one. She looked at the pictures again. The message being conveyed was clearly something illegal and the method questionable. That it was to be secret made her conscience bang around in her head. “But Wilber’s office…” She walked back to her small windowless office and closed the door. “Six years is a lot to throw away.” Sasha frowned at the pictures. “Do something illegal, get a promotion and a fat raise or quit.” She sat back and chewed her lip. She couldn’t afford to quit her job, it took forever to get this one and nobody is hiring that she knew of. Competition is fierce.
She stared at the images. This was a decision she had to make on her own or she would lose the option to decide. She wouldn’t risk Valery’s input lest he fire her too.
“What do I do?” She rubbed her temples. “Sell my soul and move into the corner office or foreclose on my mortgage and move into my parents basement?”
What she decides isn’t what you think. It took me a bit to decide what to do(The writers dilemma) and it ends up being a huge turn in the plot. I sat there and thought about what would happen with each choice. Then I thought what would the reader expect a good honest person, but in a tight financial situation to do? I chose to do what is unexpected not what the reader expects. This is the point where her life is about to be completely turned on its head. The dilemma acts as a catalyst for everything that happens to her from this point on. FYI This isn’t from BiaAtlas. This story started with a blog post. It has since turned into a side project.
My advice about dilemmas.
Take advantage of an opportunity to make characters decide their fate. Decisions like these happen for real and are relatable. Who doesn’t love a good tense moment of “What to do?”
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