Whether we have free will or not is a philosophical, existential and psychological conundrum that will forever tease and challenge us. While I can't speak for philosophers, I can for psychologists:
Behaviorists will tell you it doesn't exist (look up Skinner); Cognitive behaviorists will tell you it's mostly elusive, except for some times (soft determinism a la Bronfenbrenner). Humanists will tell you that you have to work to acquire it, but it's there for the taking if you really want it (look up Maslow and Fromm).
Just so that it's clear where I'm coming from, in the discussion that follows, I stand somewhere between Bronfenbrenner and Maslow: my estimation from my studies and experience is that we are to a substantial extent the sum of our learning experiences and social interactions, as well as the impact of the historical times we live in, society's forces and the interrelationship of the people that form our network, close and extended. However, no two individuals will yield the exact (or even similar, sometimes) same behavioral patterns and personality if exposed to the same forces, experiences and influences.
Some argue that this is because tiny differences exist even when to a third party observer it is not evident, and others argue that this is the manifestation of a person's free will: their free will to interpret, take initiative, create motivation, and opt to have one reaction rather than the other.
I fall in with the ‘that’s where free will manifests' crowd.
And that's how I write characters and their free will:
For a big part, a character will act as a sum of their background- their experiences, the historical times they live in (real or fictional), the dogmas they grow up in, the society they're part of and their social networks, core and extended.
But, I also allow for a fraction of unpredictability in them. I mostly know how they will act and react in the story (and thus I also know where the story will go) but I always give myself a fraction of a doubt. That at any important junction when things are unusual, dire, unprecedented for that character's general experience, he/she might act in a way I hadn't originally intended.
And that means that they may cause the plot to take a detour, or need others to step in where I'd planned for them to act.
And I have to be prepared to let that happen.
That preparation often means that I have other characters ready to step up should that be necessary, or other ways the story, despite the detour, can get back on track. Or if the choice might be such that the story cannot get back on track, then I have to be prepared to know where the story is headed on its new trajectory.
(this is especially hard when writing a historical fiction where history has already determined how main events go… but it's doable)
To me as a creator, that slight degree of uncertainty keeps the story fresh and gives me a thrill every time I write ahead. And for the audience, it makes the characters seem and feel like real people, people who could have existed.
Because what makes you more alive than experiencing free will?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, June 20, 2020
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