Daily Archives: February 16, 2011

10 Percent Uncontrolled

Yesterday, Dear Hubby sent me an email on the 90/10 Principle.  In it, Stephen Covey describes how only ten percent of the occurences in our lives are uncontrolled.  The other 90 percent of our day happens because of our reaction to the ten.

His example was a spilled cup of coffee.  But it could be anything.  The muddy dog tracks.  The overflowing bathtub.  Dear Daughter’s speech paper that takes up all your writing time for the day.

These things are uncontrolled events.  Our reaction to them can make or break the outcome of not only our day, but of those around us.  There is a truth in this that should extend to our writing.

Last week on Agent Query, we had a guest speaker, Editor Kristen Weber.  One of the things she commented on as being in the “biggest manuscript mistakes” category was not having a fleshed out plot.  These manuscripts tend to be a series of events. 

And then this happened…and this happened…and…well, you get the picture. 

Rather than having our characters encounter an uncontrolled event and make choices based on those things, we are sometimes guilty of skipping the reaction stage.  Our characters simply survive from one exciting conflict (car crash) only to have another plopped in front of them (thugs).

We don’t force our characters to make a decision about how they react.  We simply let them overcome the obstacle and move on to the next event.  But this way of writing makes for a lack of cohesion.  Our overall story arc is flat.  Our characters cannot grow, because they haven’t made any choices in the way they live.

Ninety percent of our life occurs BECAUSE of what we do. 

Holy wow!  Our characters suddenly have a lot of responsibility in our writing.  Instead of simply staggering off in the middle of a blizzard because they must to get to the farmhouse to meet up with thugs, we need to make them consciously choose. 

Do I stay with the car or go into the snow?  

Then when the tow truck happens upon an empty car and our MC is literally freezing her toes off in a cornfield, the character has responsibility for her predicament.  That she stumbles into the drug ring on the abandoned farm site now has meaning. 

MC made a choice-albeit a bad one.  But it is this sense of responsibility toward the outcome that will inevitably make our writing unique.  Our characters’ reactions create our characters and force them into further conflict.  Our plots become whole and not simply a series of unfortunate events.


What kind of plot do you have?  Are your characters in control?  Do they make conscious decisions that create problems as often as they clear them up, or do they simply rush from one conflict to another?


The power is in us to control the tone of our day.  I hope yours is fantastic!