Every once in a while, in real life, we find ourselves jumping into the middle of a situation with both feet, and then wondering why we did that. Some people think everything through, but others instantly react instead.
Circumstances certainly make a difference. If it’s a matter of safety, by all means, react. If someone makes a snarky remark, do you really need to jump up and down and pitch a fit? Can you shrug and let it go? Would it further your situation to react? Not always.
I have a friend who got up one morning and dropped bread in the toaster. The toaster chose that moment to go berserk, and the toast was burned to a crisp. She spilled coffee on her white pants and quickly changed. She figured she could stop on the way to work and grab some fast food, but when she tried to start her car, it was broken, too. What a morning. And she had to be at work by five o’clock.
She took her purse back inside her house when the strap broke. Since she’d have to walk to work, she decided she didn’t need the purse. She shoved a couple of bucks in her pocket and picked up a book bag, stowing some paperwork and books inside, along with a sack lunch.
It would be a long trek to work, but she wasn’t about to call in and say she wouldn’t be there. She had responsibilities. However, she knew a shortcut she could take through an alley. By this time she was angry and frustrated enough to spit, but she’s too much of a lady.
So there she is, walking down the alley in the early morning hours, and suddenly two figures step out of the shadows. Two young men start circling her and making snarky remarks. “We want your bag. Give it up or we’ll hurt you, ol’ lady.”
They continued to circle her.
What would you do? What would you have a character in a book do? Her response might surprise you.
She slammed the book bag on the ground and stood with her hands on her hips. “You want my books? Take them! You want my lunch? Take it! You want to do my paperwork? Be my guest! You want to hurt me? Give it your best shot!” She actually started bouncing from foot to foot.
The two young men were so surprised that they walked away, laughing.
“And there was no money in the bag,” she yelled after them.
Yes, I realize things could have ended quite differently. In a book, they might have.
As writers, we have an advantage when we’re setting up a scene. We have a choice about whether our character reacts or thinks things through. We can take our time about picking a battle. My friend simply reacted. I happened to see her later that same morning and she was still frustrated and furious; so much so that I took a step back. The look on her face made me feel that she wanted to smack someone, and I decided it wouldn’t be me.
The look on my face made her laugh, and she calmed down.
Sometimes the best reaction is not to react at all. Sometimes we have no control over what we do. Keep these things in mind when you’re creating a scene for your character, because sometimes a surprising reaction works the best.
By the way, this was a true story. I didn’t make it up. Life hands us some unexpected trials sometimes, and we do the best we can, while hoping for the best. I take that back. There are times we simply don’t have time to hope for a good turnout so we simply react.
Until next time, I hope you don’t have to pick a battle this week. If you do, I hope it will be a small one.
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