We've spent the month of April trying to figure out the best place for Andy to go to college, as he winds down his last few months of high school. We visited a bunch of these colleges before he applied, so we do know that he likes them. But "likes" versus "wants to invest thousands of dollars and the next four years of his life there" ... two very different feelings.
This decision is an enormous one for us. And it hangs over us, every day, with the deadline date of May 1 looming like a thick, dark cloud, threatening to burst open and pour all over if we make the wrong choice. What makes the most sense? What's the "right" choice?
Ever have to make a decision like that?
I gave one of my characters a big heavy choice. She gets to choose between... wait, I don't want to give it away. (You'll have to read the jacket flap!) Let's just say, it's pretty huge. It will impact her whole life. It hangs over her, looming like a thick, dark cloud... but she is more decisive than we are right now. She made her decision in a day. I wish we could do that.
When I wrote my first draft and I got to the part that Angeline has to make this giant choice, I thought to myself, Is this really what Angeline would do? Would she really have the nerve to pick the option that she does? It seemed, in some ways, wrong. It seemed like she was leaping off a cliff after spending the whole story creeping along. Her final decision was such a departure from the character that I had developed through all of these chapters.
But that was okay.
Sometimes characters surprise us. Sometimes life surprises us. Departure from the expected is not always a bad thing! It certainly makes for a more interesting plot twist. The real question is, is her choice believable? Could it really happen? Will the readers believe that it could happen that way? One of my friends revised the ending to her story recently, and she told me that her character surprised her when she 'flipped out.' But when I read the revision, I thought it was completely believable and well done. The character had so much rage building in her that it seemed natural that she went a little crazy at one point. It made me, the reader, feel some relief with the character for having vented her anger.
If your character surprises you, go with it. Take the twist, and make it work. If your character flips out, seemingly out of nowhere, go back and work in some anger. In your revisions, add some layers that make the surprise, whether it be an action, a choice, a statement, or whatever... make it work. It will often make for a more interesting story. It's also an option you don't have in real life--no revising, going back and adding elements to make sense out of decisions. In life, you have to make sense out of the options before you make the choice.
And that's not always easy to do. Just ask Andy.