What does the conflict lead to? Well, ultimately, it has to lead to a choice. This is by far the single most important element of any scene or story you will write. It is the one that all of my clients struggle with the most, the one that I struggle with the most when it comes to identifying important elements of a scene that works. The choice must be the most important choice the protagonist or main character faces in this scene. You must have this. I can’t stress this enough. And a lot of times the choice won’t be clear or it will be easy. And while technically that’s correct, readers want difficult choices. Readers want to put themselves into the situation and think, “What would I do?” So as best as you can, you need to make the options of that choice, that decision for that character, equally difficult or equally beneficial so that the reader is thinking, “Wow, what would I do?”
If you really want to get skilled at it, you want to think about making this choice in a way that cannot be judged as right or wrong so that you would have people arguing, “Well, I think he should do this, or I think she should do that.” And maybe the same person would do a different thing in different circumstances. You want to make that choice as difficult as possible. Make the options, the outcomes, as equally good or bad as possible and go with that as your choice. Then your character can make smaller choices within the scene. But the choice with a capital C is the most important one, and your entire scene hinges on it. And if it’s not sharp and crisp and difficult for the character, then it’s not going to be interesting for the reader.
There are a few things that come up that I find in client work over and over and over again. And one of the things that happens is clients will come to me and they will have two big choices, and they’ll say, “Is it okay if I have two choices in my scene?” And I always chuckle at “is it okay” questions, because it usually means that there isn’t a right answer. And I always answer with, “It depends,” and it drives some of my clients crazy. But in this case, I feel pretty strongly that you really shouldn’t have two major choices. And I’ll tell you why. If you have two major choices in the scene, it probably means you have two scenes. This is another difficult element for writers to get—what constitutes a scene? A scene is something that changes in time or changes in physical location. If you change either of those things for the main character or the protagonist, that’s usually a second scene. That’s a very general way of looking at it. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t work all the time, but those are red flags you can look for. If you think you have multiple scenes and you are trying to write one scene, look to see if you’ve changed the time or if you’ve changed the location.