Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Fork in the Road

Do you ever think back to a certain decision, a certain moment in time, and wonder—what if I’d gone the other route? Do you ever wonder about that in the books you're writing or reading?

I’m currently watching my oldest son go through this dilemma. He’s in his final semester of high school and had three universities in mind for college. He applied for scholarships at all three, and as of last Saturday, has received scholarships for all three (yea for him, and yea for my pocketbook ;)

When the last scholarship letter came in, his face practically radiated with excitement. He’d wanted to go to one of three schools, and now he simply had to choose. And when THAT hit him, the excitement faded, and the dread set in. Seriously, I watched it transpire on that face in a matter of ten minutes. “Now I have to choose,” he said. Of course, trying to throw a positive spin on this, I said, “Now you GET to choose.”

Then this young man, eighteen this year, proceeds to discuss how this decision could impact the rest of his life, what job offers he receives after school, what girl he may meet and marry, what friends he will make in college that will potentially be his friends for life.

Oy! So…no decisions have been made yet. Time will tell. But, his dilemma got me thinking that in books, there are often times when a character makes a decision where you know they’re choosing the correct path, or the wrong one, depending on the situation. However, most of the time you don’t learn definitely what would have happened if the other choice was taken. You may assume you know, but really—how can you?

That got me to thinking about a couple of books and movies that did show me how the alternate choice would have affected that character’s life. I mean, can’t you just see James Stewart as George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life when Clarence tells him, “Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.” George Bailey saw how all of the decisions he’d made in life had affected an entire town, and even Harry’s life itself.

A book that I ADORE that did this very well with three heroines is Jude Devereaux’s The Summerhouse. If you haven’t read it, do! These three women live their lives, but then get a chance (and I won’t spoil the plot by telling you how) to go back and re-do their lives from one certain moment, the day they all met, when they were twenty-one. You watch all of the different decisions these intriguing women make that change each of their lives, and at the end, they can keep the new version of their life (with the understanding that they won’t remember the original version) OR they can stick with the first time around. Very intriguing premise, and I cheered with the way Ms. Devereaux defined the three characters. Loved it!

So—tell me about books and movies that you’ve read or seen that show the alternatives. Those that answer the question “But what if…” And yes, I’m asking for selfish reasons. I want to read those books and watch those movies!

Happy Reading and Writing!

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