Jill Weatherholt

Writing Stories of Love, Faith and Happy Endings While Enjoying the Journey

Analysis Paralysis

49 Comments

Photo courtesy of Walmart.com

Photo courtesy of Walmart.com

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”   ~ Theodore Roosevelt

When I was little, I loved sweet and sugary cereal for breakfast. My mother didn’t buy it often, but when she did, she bought the Kellogg’s Assorted Fun Pack. I loved all of them, so it was tough to make a decision. Frosted Flakes were great, and so were Sugar Smacks, but Cocoa Krispies turned the milk into chocolate milk, that was a bonus.

Recently I heard the average person can make up to 5000 decisions a day. Initially I thought there’s no way that’s accurate, but then I started to think. When I wake up in the morning, I decide to turn off the alarm clock, to get out of bed and to put on my slippers. That’s three decisions and my eyes have only been open for one minute. Our mind doesn’t see all of the little decisions we make as a big deal because it’s part of our daily routine.

A big decision I must make as a writer is whose point of view (POV) to use for each scene, unless I’m writing in first person, which I love. My job is to choose one character that will control the scene. I’ll ask myself who has the most to lose and to gain? Which character has the most important information to reveal to the reader?

Next, I’ll decide which character has the most potential to learn or to grow. My POV characters should not only have a stake in the plot, but they also need to have a character arc. They must be different at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.

My last decision is which characters are the most compelling. As a reader, this is important to me. Which character do I want to know and become more intimate with? As a writer, which character do I want to get to know inside and out? Which character has the deepest flaws and is constantly facing obstacles? This type of character will resonate best with my readers and I’ll enjoy telling their story.

Decision making is a fundamental part of being a writer. We’re continually making decisions about the whats, whens and hows of our work. If only it were as easy as deciding between Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Krispies.

How do you decide which character will control the scene? And I have to ask, when you were little what was your favorite sugary cereal?

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Author: Jill Weatherholt

My name is Jill Weatherholt and I’m a writer. I have a full-time job, but at night and on the weekend, I pursue my passion, writing. I write modern stories about love, friendship and forgiveness. I started this blog as a way to share my journey toward publication and to create a community for other new writers. Raised in the Washington, DC area, I’ve lived in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2004. I hold a degree in Psychology from George Mason University and a Certification in Paralegal Studies from Duke University. My first book, SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE, published by Harlequin Love Inspired released on February 21, 2017 and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. I was the first place winner in the Dream Quest One Short Story Contest in the Winter 2014-2015 competition. In 2014, I placed second in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest. I was also a top ten finalist in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest in 2012 and 2013. I’m a 2010 and 2012 winner of the NaNoWriMo Contest. I love to connect readers, visit me at jillweatherholt.com

49 thoughts on “Analysis Paralysis

  1. I love the detailed process you lay out above (first, then, finally). I’m sorry to say my thought process is not this organized. My short stories usually begin with an idea or a premise, and I let it build out from there. Who would be the best person to put in this situation? What’s her background? How did she get here? What’s her motivation? What obstacles can I throw at her to keep her from her goal? Where do I want her to be at the end? The answers come in no particular order, and for me, this is the fun of developing a story.

    Fruity Pebbles. Definitely.

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  2. Something I notice a lot from first-time fiction writers is the tendency to bounce around with POV in the same scene. I often wonder if they just found it difficult to make a decision about which character is important.

    Frosted Flakes. They are too sweet for my taste now, but I loved them as a kid. Fun post, Jill!

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    • Thanks, Candace! I loved Frosted Flakes and Captain Crunch as a kid, but like you, they are much to sweet for my mature (old) pallet. 🙂

      I agree, the first-time fiction writers could have had a difficult time choosing a POV character and sticking with it or, they might not be aware of POV. When I first started writing fiction, I was a major head-hopper.

      Enjoy your weekend!

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  3. I always enjoy your quotes and segues into your topics of discussion. You do that so well! It is so true how important it is to decide which character will resonate the most with your readers. A lot of thought has to be put into it.

    As kids, we always fought over the Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Krispies & Corn Pops. Nobody wanted to get stuck with the regular non sugary Corn Flakes! 🙂 When I was pregnant, I craved corn pops all the time!!

    Have a “sweet” & wonderful weekend, Jill!

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    • Thanks, Maria, I appreciate the compliment. Recently I read a book where I enjoyed the secondary character so much more than the main character. I wondered if the author did that on purpose and plans to tell her story in her next book.

      LOL! Oh yes, the dreaded non-sugary Corn Flakes. My sister and I always left that for my dad. I’m wondering if your kids like corn pops…

      Have a great weekend and a wonderful, relaxing vacation, Maria!

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  4. I like writing in the first person, too, Jill. The tutor I had last year had a real bee in her bonnet about POV so it’s something I’m very aware of – don’t swap it around unless your protagonist is a mind-reader! Strangely, I usually work out the ending of a story first and then write to that. I have to ‘see’ my characters before I can add dialogue – I find that way, the conversation sounds more realistic.
    Ricicles were my favourite – and we always had those variety packs when we went on holiday!

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    • First person is so much fun!

      LOL…I love this Jenny, “a real bee in her bonnet.” It sounds like your tutor knew her stuff.

      I find it very interesting that you work out your ending first. I would imagine that does make your dialogue more realistic. I might have to try it.

      Of course, I had to Google “Ricicles” even though I had an idea what they were. Sugar coated Rice Krispies…sounds delicious! Have a wonderful weekend, Jenny!

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  5. This is great, Jill. Are you a LIBRA by any chance?
    We get a kick out of reading Rob Brezsny’s FreeWillAstrology in The Independent each Wednesday. The horoscopes are intertwined with history, psychology, mythology or philosophy. This week it congratulates us (the Libras) of new energy and attitude…but it warns of “paralysis through over analysis.”

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    • Thanks, Marylin! Actually, I’m not sure what I am. 🙂 My birthday is July 22nd, some horoscopes say I’m Cancer and some Leo. Usually I’ll go by the better horoscope for that day. 🙂

      So, have you been suffering from “paralysis through over analysis” this week? I hope you’re continuing to enjoy your visit with your mom. Enjoy your weekend!

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  6. My mother also bought the Kellogg’s cereal pack, but stopped because we wound up with several boxes of certain cereals leftover, which started to add up. I was a Froot Loops fan, and so were my brothers, so that cereal always went first.

    Great segue into decisions! Before I start a story, I usually know who the point of view character will be. That usually doesn’t vary, unless I elect to add a second–or in the case of my current novel, a third–point of view character. The addition of other characters usually comes through free writing. I’ll try a few scenes and see if that character’s perspective resonates with me.

    But sometimes a beta reader has helped in that process. When I was in school, my advisor read the first thirty pages of my novel. She saw potential in a character I had only planned to include in one scene. I’ve since written two short stories about him and he’s one of the POV characters in my novel.

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    • I guess it was first come, first serve with the Fruit Loops at your house. I suppose it’s common in every household to have those left over boxes that no one wants.

      I remember you mentioned turning a minor character into two short stories. I think that’s great, L. Marie! As I mentioned in my response to Maria’s comment, sometimes those secondary or minor characters have stories of their own. Your stories are proof of that…nice!

      Have a fantastic weekend, L. Marie!

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  7. I like how you move “Who is the most interesting character?” to the forefront of your decision-making process as a writer. I’m not sure a lot of writers make that consideration or think of it at all until beta readers let us know much later.

    I know I make thousands of decisions everyday at work, since the bulk of my job is looking at numeric data and translating it into customer-friendly, text-based business reports. Every single sentence requires me to choose the word order and flow, decide how to best connect it with the previous idea, and what sequence is ideal for laying out the information. It’s fantastically dull!

    On to the more important stuff: I go through cereal moods, but, over time, my favorite cereal has been Lucky Charms. It still is, by the way.

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  8. You would make a very interesting character, Eric. 🙂 Of course, I would have to change your profession because it does sound, “fantastically dull.” Hey, if it pays the bills, that’s what matters.

    Of course, Lucky Charms are your favorite, they’re magically delicious. I always loved those mini-marshmallows. I hope you’ll be enjoying a big-ole bowl of Lucky Charms tomorrow morning. Have a great weekend!

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    • We make jokes at work that someone should a reality show following the exploits of the Quality Management department. Each week, viewers would be treated to scenes of 5 people starring at computer screens and wearing headphones for an hour. Just before we go to commercial break, I’ll stand up. Only when the commercial block is over do the fans, driven mad with suspense, find out that I got up to visit the men’s room.

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  9. Jill, you hit the nail on the head with needing to make so many decisions. This has been a big source of my frustration when writing as I am the king of second-guessing and being indecisive. I always feel like I can make a better choice and end up procrastinating all together until that better idea comes along. Not a good way to work!

    I’m getting better at forcing myself to choose and move ahead though. Just takes a lot of time and effort.

    Another well thought out piece! Thanks for that and have a great weekend!

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    • Thanks, Phillip! It can be so frustrating and that frustration steals the joy of writing. Trust your gut and stick with it, Phillip, you’re a great writer.

      I’m glad your health is doing better. Enjoy your weekend!

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  10. My favorite characters to get to know inside out are the villains. 😉 And my mama never allowed us to have sugary cereal, but my aunts did and my favorites, Apple Jacks or Fruit Loops.

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    • Villains…very interesting, Elizabeth. Good for your mama, not allowing the sugary cereals. I’m an aunt and I always allowed my nieces and nephew to eat the “bad” foods. I loved eating Fruit Loops straight out of the box. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!

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  11. I never thought of the writing process as decision-making. Crunch! Now I’ll get confused. When I let go of day-job I try to avoid decision-making. Which, based on how much I liked those variety cereal packs, is part of my history! Of course, that was back in the day before Sugar Smacks and Sugar Pops went politically correct and lost the ‘sugar’ in their title, but not so correct that they lost sugar content. Who made THAT decision??

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    • Writing free style requires no decision making, you just write. I love to do that now and then and it sounds like that works best for you.

      Really…who did make that decision? Are they calling them Smacks and Corn Pops now? Kids these days don’t know what they missed.

      I read on Phillip’s blog that you’re having some health issues, Shel. I hope everything is okay. Enjoy your weekend!

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  12. Wow! We sure make a lot of decisions daily. Jill, you put so much into your writing that I always leave your blog with some new knowledge. I will use your ideas when I decide to write short stories.

    Now, about the cereal, I never had cereal as a child. My current favorite as an adult is Honey Bunches of Oats. It’s so yummy with a bowl of warm milk! I don’t often have cereal for breakfast, I have it as a snack during the day or at night.

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    • I appreciate your kind words, Elaine. It’s pretty amazing when you stop and think about the number of decisions we make each day. I would say for many of us, it’s well over 5000.

      I don’t eat cereal for breakfast either, normally it’s hard boiled eggs and yogurt. I agree, cereal as a snack is a nice treat. A few years ago, I loved to eat Captain Crunch straight from the box. 🙂

      Have a wonderful weekend, Elaine!

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  13. Good post. I tried to write a poem once about decision making, and it was such dangerous territory it ruined the poem ;). Sometimes what should be writing decisions, though, becomes just a “tic” or a default position we fall into without thinking.

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  14. Great post. I Learnt so much from it. Yes it’s true that as writers we have to make so many decisions and the success of the writing does depend a lot on these decisions. Which character will rule the scene is the most crucial decision. My most adorable character would be the one with a lot of flaws and who is facing a lot of obstacles.
    My favorite cereal was cocoa Krispies. I am a chocolate person. Still love sugary sweet things, but of course once in a while.
    Lovely post which made me do some real thinking about the decision making in writing. Thanks for sharing another superb post Jill. I admire your innovative spirit, every time you post something. Take care and have a lovely weekend.

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    • Thank you so much, Samina. I’m with you, there’s nothing better than a flawed character, it makes them more real.

      My mother is a huge chocoholic, she always has something chocolate in her purse. 🙂 As I’ve gotten older, my cravings for sweets have diminished somewhat. I guess I ate enough sugar when I was a kid. 🙂

      Enjoy your Sunday and have a great upcoming week, Samina.

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  15. Pingback: Choosing the Star of Your Story | ericjohnbaker

  16. Favorite cereal was Fruity Pebbles. I don’t have one method for deciding on who is the POV character in a scene. But you raise excellent points to help make that decision. Sometimes it’s pure gut instinct and sometimes it’s a very rationalized well thought out decision. 😉

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    • So you and Gwen are both Fruity Pebble gals…I loved Cocoa Pebbles. You’re right, Kourtney, sometimes it is gut instinct; you just know the story couldn’t be told by anyone else.

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      • Cocoa Pebbles were yummie too. The milk was awesome to drink. Unlike with Fruity Peebles where it became an odd sort of puce color. I also tend to use one or alternate POV in my stories so that definitely helps narrow the choices. 😉

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      • LOL! You’re right, Fruity Peebles did turn the milk into an odd color. I would never drink it. I’m considering my first “first person” project. I love to read first person, so I thought I’d give it a try.

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  17. Coco Krispies!!! Definitely! Although as I got a little older I went through a Lucky Charms phase where I ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a couple of weeks…I’m surprised I didn’t die of scurvy or something. 😉

    I loved reading this post because I just started writing a new story, and I’m definitely having some indecisiveness…I have three main characters but can’t figure out if each should have their own POV, or if it should be in alternating third or first, or…well, the decisions are endless. Right now I’m just writing bits and pieces of the story from each point of view, hoping I’ll figure out which one feels like the right way to go, but it’s a little stressful. I’m not super decisive in life, either, and I think that carries over into my first drafts – definitely something to think about. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Ah, another chocolate lover. 🙂 When I got a little older, I got hooked on the frosted mini wheats. Like you, I often had them for dinner.

      Wishing you the best as you start your new story. I always love the start, but it does take some trial and error to figure out the POV. You’re doing the right thing by writing bits and pieces from varying POVs. Sometimes interviewing the characters or writing a letter from the character’s POV has helped me. Good luck!

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  18. Great post, Jill. I like how you went from the simple decisions we make every day to the momentous ones we make as writers (just slightly tongue in cheek). I often get “decision paralysis” and your post has helped me to realize why: the thousands of decisions we make every day can be overwhelming. We recently remodeled our kitchen and now we have to put everything (dishes, glasses, cookware, food stuffs) back, but we have a slightly different configuration of cabinet space. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. When I feel overwhelmed, I usually cannot make any decision, at least for a while. So, for me, writing is an escape from that. I don’t make many decisions about my characters. Yes, I decide the basics: who their are, where they live, what (if anything) they do for a living, their relationships. But it seems that pretty quickly, they start taking charge, basically telling me what to do next 🙂 I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it’s a nice contrast to my daily life.

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    • Thanks, Marie! I love how you write, Marie…a true free spirit!

      I’m like you, when I become overwhelmed it’s very difficult for me to make decisions. Remodeling a kitchen comes with thousands of decisions. Good luck putting everything back in place, that’s a big job.

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  19. Oh, and my favorite cereal was Cheerios … yup, boring, bland, but it was the one I always went for first 🙂

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  20. Always gratifying, Jill… Still getting settled in Tennessee and sometimes takes a while to get caught up. Best wishes to you.

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