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Lovely hypotheticals

May 8, 2012

A hypothetical no-win scenario

Would you lie to be seated on a jury if you believed strongly that the accused was guilty? (Innocent? If you believed jury nullification was appropriate?)

In my travels around the Interwebs, I stumbled upon that question. It’s a twist on the standard how do I lie to get out of jury duty question. (Hint: Preface every response with I consulted the Tarot and it said…)

These types of hypotheticals have made for great stories all along. What if you had to choose which of your two children would die? (Sophie’s Choice) What if the only way to save your first child was to have a second child to act as an organ donor? (My Sister’s Keeper)

In general, what happens when you have to sacrifice one principle to uphold another. How do you react?

These types of questions make for riveting stories, but before you can create them, you have to do your homework:

  • You have to establish your character as someone who would be internally conflicted by the choice laid out in front of them. The person in the opening hypothetical would have to be shown as having a strong dedication to truthfulness, based on deep-seated emotional commitment. Or perhaps they believe very strongly in the legal system and must consider whether to violate that belief so substantial justice can be done.
  • You have to create a choice in which both available options are equally bad. Even in the most logically applied conscience, if two evils are approximately equal, there’s no good choice.
  • There has to be no visible way for your protagonist to escape unscathed. Captain Kirk may not believe in the no-win scenario, but your readers have to. If they can figure out a resolution where everyone wins, your story gets blown away.
  • At the end, your protagonist has to suffer. This is one story line in which your protagonist can survive, but they have to be diminished. If it truly is a no-win scenario, anything else is cheating. Sophie ultimately commits suicide. The donor girl gets killed in a car accident. They can’t happily ride off into the sunset in this one.

What about your protagonist? What’s her no-win scenario?


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