I read a post on Evelyn Cullet’s blog today about author, Connie Cockrell (http://evelyncullet.com/connie-cockrell-mystery-at-the-fair/). She shared an excerpt from her book, Mystery at the Fair. When her protagonist finds a body, her reaction stirred something in me.
Have you ever truly thought about how you might react to situations you put your characters in? I can think of a few moments when things happened and they truly felt like I was in slow motion, such as falling in a hole I didn’t know was there. It seemed like the fall, the pain, and my reaction were in slow motion. I was in shock for a couple of minutes before picking myself up and limping into the house.
Similar to the hole I refer to, thanks to a sweet dog (not this one).
If we think about how we react to things, our characters might be just a tad more realistic in their reactions.
I’m not a screamer. I don’t remember screaming in my entire lifetime. I might gasp, or moan, or yell, but I don’t scream. Some people do. Depending on your scenario, what might your character do? Some people scream about everything – a spider, a bee, an unexpected moment, or maybe an intruder. My preference would be to suffer in silence, but that’s probably not typical.
When you write, think about how you might react to something momentous. Think about how Aunt Suzie might react, or Jane Smith from next door. Which person more closely resembles your character and how they might react?
Aunt Suzie might fall into a hole like I did and jump right back up before realizing she’s injured herself. Things might actually speed up in her mind instead of slowing down. After all, she’s a go-getter who never takes anything with a grain of salt.
Jane Smith might fall into that same hole and scream before calling out for help. She might be afraid to move, just in case she injured herself.
I have a friend who deals with emergencies through nervous laughter. She’ll handle whatever happens, laughing all the way through it. Have you ever watched a scary movie and laughed nervously instead of cringing in horror? Or maybe it’s in addition to cringing in horror. Maybe it’s hysterical laughter, I don’t know.
I know that sometimes I become repetitive, but once again, put yourself in your character’s shoes, or put her or him in your shoes. Okay, put this person in Aunt Suzie’s shoes, or Jane Smith’s shoes, or Uncle Fred’s shoes.
It’s a guy thing (I think), but often men try not to react, at least noticeably. However, in my Sandi Webster series a character named Stanley Hawks reacts to almost everything. And he screams like a girl. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it sets him a bit apart from the other characters. In fact, it makes him lovable. It endears him to the other characters (and hopefully the reader). Imagine what he feels when he finds himself standing right in the middle of a tarantula migration. (What Are the Odds? - A Sandi Webster Mystery)
It’s difficult for me when I read a book in which the female protagonist, who happens to be about five feet tall and weighs maybe ninety-five pounds, reacts to everything as though she expects people to call her Wonder Woman. Nothing stops her and she can fight off ten men at a time without losing her breath. She can then move on to another action scene and do it all over again, never even breaking a fingernail. I’m talking about books that are mysteries, not super hero books. And, honestly, I’m not referring to a specific book. This is just one of my over-imaginative examples.
I enjoy fiction as much as the next reader, but I’d like at least a little reality in the story. How people react to situations often gives a realistic feeling to the story.
Let’s say you’re being interviewed by a reporter in a restaurant setting. Would you sit up straight and answer their questions without hesitation? Hmm. You might stumble over your words while you pick a paper napkin to shreds. Then again, you might feel insulted by a question, jump out of your seat and stomp out of the restaurant.
And my point is? Mix some reality through actions in with fiction. Let the reader feel like they’re sitting at the next table watching the action. Let them relate to reactions.
I guess I’d better pay closer attention to my own advice. I know what I like to read, so maybe I’d better apply that to what I write.
Until next time, think about something from your past and how you reacted to it. You might surprise yourself.
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Reality? Do you believe in time travel? Even if you don’t, you might enjoy Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery.