There’s an old saying about never judging someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. That’s great advice. However, for a writer that saying can have a whole different meaning.
An author can write fictitious mysteries, and they can create all kinds of havoc and adventure. We can set the scene whether something is happening indoors or outside. We can tell you how a character is dressed, or how their hair is combed (or not combed), and we can make it believeable if we play our cards right.
There’s one thing that a writer needs to handle very carefully – people’s reactions and emotions. They can make or break a story. People need to react to a situation realistically, even if the reaction is somewhat inappropriate. If the reaction is inappropriate, then the author needs to convey why the character didn’t do what was expected.
I’ve made a number of comments throughout these blogs about observing people. As a writer, I figure this is one of the most important things I do. For purposes of this post, I’m going to use a funeral as an example. You might see so many different emotions. So let’s say that Cousin Gertrude passed on unexpectedly last week, and it’s time for the funeral.
Gertrude’s daughter may cry uncontrollably. The death was unexpected, after all, and mother and daughter were close. Gertrude’s husband may appear completely lost and a single tear may slide down his face. Hubby is lost because Gertrude was his best friend in life. He’s visibly shaken.
What about Cousin Gerard? Why does he have that smirk on his face? He never liked Gertrude, and they had a falling out a month before her death when he asked to borrow money and she told him no. He feels like she got what she deserved. He doesn’t know that Gertrude didn’t have the money to lend him. She didn’t share that with him.
Here comes Justine, Gertrude’s granddaughter. Her face is drawn, but her eyes are dry. Why isn’t she crying? She adored her grandmother. Could it be that she’s in shock? Or maybe she simply doesn’t want anyone to know just how badly she’s hurting inside. She may hang her head and not look anyone in the eye. There are also some people who simply don’t cry – about anything.
Gertrude’s best friend, Cynthia, is sitting in the rear or the church. A small giggle escapes her lips and she places her hand over her mouth. Ah, she’s the nervous giggler. Whenever disaster strikes, she begins to laugh. It’s her way of dealing with a crisis. She’ll jump up and take charge in an emergency – laughing all the while.
Buster is sitting next to Cynthia, fidgeting and not paying attention. Is he jiggling his knee? Pulling at the collar of his shirt? Repositioning his behind on the seat every few seconds? He finds Cynthia’s giggle annoying, and he wants to go home to watch the big game. Gertrude meant nothing to him. He’s only at the funeral for Cynthia’s sake.
Everyone reacts differently to each situation. That includes humor. What one person finds funny may make another purse her lips and make a tsk tsk sound. The lip purser may think the humor was in bad taste, while it’s just exactly what the doctor ordered for the laughing person.
So put yourself in someone else’s shoes and decide which reaction is appropriate to a particular situation and character. Even though you might curse and yell if you hit your thumb with a hammer, someone else might actually just say, “Shucks.” Yes, I’ve seen and heard that reaction, although it wasn’t me. Keep it real, but make sure the reader knows why someone is emotional, or emotionless, by their actions and reactions.
Until next time, if you read a book this week pay attention to the characters’ reactions and see if they make you feel an emotion in conjunction with what the character is going through. And have a piece of chocolate to see if it perks you up. Perking up is an emotion, too, and chocolate is my answer to everything.
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Entrance to Nowhere – A Sandi Webster Mystery is in the works and nearing completion. In the meantime, you might try Having a Great Crime – Wish You Were Here, another Sandi Webster mystery.