Writing fiction often brings the writer to a crossroads: Should I take my character(s) down this road or that? Will they decide this or that, and what will the consequences of either choice or decision be? Which would fit best into my plot? All of these questions can be answered by applying a corporate business tool called the SWOT analysis chart. I have this baby hung on a magnet strip near my desk, along with other prompts such as the sensory image, and I apply it frequently. Just last week I faced a crossroads: Would A) my character run away, or would B) another character (or C) take her away? On the latter question, I had another two options (thus, B & C); I needed the SWOT.
This image shows you the variables of each option; internal vs. external influences or attributes of a situation or choice; helpful vs. harmful in reaching the character’s goals, or the consequences of the choices laid before you. What are the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of each path at your character’s feet?
I’ll give you the example of my thought process as I applied it to my historical novel’s fictional situation: If my character ran away (A) , the strength would be that she would be taking her destiny into her own hands – it’s what you want your main character to do; the threat would be that such an action might raise assumptions that would damage her reputation (was she pregnant?). The opportunity of doing things in her own timing was overshadowed by the weakness of practicalities: How would she, without support, get from her family’s estate to Portsmouth, at least a good half-day’s journey by carriage? If the “B” character (her mother) took her to Portsmouth, the main character would be passive in the decision – the action would happen to her rather than her controlling or causing it. The opportunity of solving the weakness of “A” by giving her a ride to Portsmouth was a strong incentive, but would raise a bigger threat in that it might seem like the mother was being just as manipulative as the father, forcing the main character into making a choice to suit the mother, which wasn’t the case. If “C”, her future husband, came to sweep her away from the problems at home, again it would seem that the main female character wasn’t strong on her own two feet, or was too pliable and passive.
I took each scenario through the SWOT rigorously, and in the end I decided – well, when the book comes out next year, you can find out for yourself!
Applying such tools helps you focus your energies on finding solutions, rather than finding yourself stuck in writer’s block.