John Paul Satre said "We are our choices". I believe he was right.
I am currently in the process of raising a teenager and every day I'm reminded of this quote. For her it is so easy to go with the flow, to do what's expected and provided she doesn't move to far outside of the norm, her life at school (and at home) continues in precisely the manner that society dictates.
Recently I suggested to her that she take a year off school between Year 11 and Year 12. She's a year younger than the rest of her cohort anyway and because she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, school is just something she's doing because it's what kids do. Don't get me wrong, she's doing well, but she's doing well without passion, without effort and without any particular direction. She's doing well because she hates failing, not because she's aspiring to greatness.
My suggestion has rocked her world. She wants to take the year off. My rationale makes perfect sense to her. She's also terrified by it. This is not what people do. In taking this year off, she would be stepping away from the norm and out of the current that sweeps students along through their education.
Jodi, in my book UnEarthed is also someone who tends to go with the flow. It lands her in some seriously hot water and she never really understands how it happens because she never deliberately chose. She just did what seemed easiest.
Looking at my books to date and considering the way I 'do' life, I guess this is the single biggest commonality. One that I never really considered before. I always knew I didn't like it when people strove to be 'normal' but beneath that is the concept of choice.
Choice requires you to actively and deliberately decide, moment to moment, day to day, what you want to do. This requires awareness of the fact that you have a choice.
Our system at the moment doesn't encourage that. Not our educational system, nor our system of media production. Two of the biggest influences on kids (aside from their parents) are designed to zombify them and discourage active engagement with their own lives. In my books, I give my characters the chance to choose. Whether they do or not, and why...well that makes all the difference.