Note to Authors: Keep your Character Ambivalence Tight

It’s usually a bad idea to show internal conflict by jumping from “A” to “Not A” and back again in repeated succession. That doesn’t make your character feel any more ambivalent than just doing it once. But it makes your thrust unclear, it feels like needless padding, and it undermines the “meta” sense of your narrative authority (i.e. I’m questionin’ your skillz, yo).

Here’s a template that keeps things tight – First, gather up the “Not A” points and give us those. Second, add a point of doubt or transition (“then again,” “on the other hand,” etc). Third, give us the “A” points (the position the character finally takes, the thrust of your narrative intent). Finally, if the character is still ambivalent or the situation is still unclear, then add a sentence that simply says so.

TL/DR: We only need to see the character do the waffle once to understand that waffling is a circular process.

* Disclaimer: This is a general stylistic guideline, and as such, it is subject to breakage under certain conditions (if you’re good enough).

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