Quick! What does he do?
So . . .
I’m writing a new character in the Familiars world, one who appears in a previous book but who gets fleshed out in a sequel. He’s, well, not to have any spoilers, but by the time he appears on his own, his issues have subscriptions. He’s not a happy camper. And then he’s tossed into trouble.
What does he do?
Ah. Flee, fight, freeze, or yes?
Julie Glover at Writers in the Storm has a good, short piece about character responses, real-life, and how to combine them.
“A minister, a priest, and a rabbi are walking down a dark alley — no, this is not a joke, but hang with me here — when an eight-foot, three-headed monster jumps out, roars, and bares his sharp teeth and claws.
The minister throws a punch.
The priest runs.
The rabbi can’t seem to move.
See? I told you it wasn’t a joke. It’s acute stress response; that is, the way our bodies and minds handle the presence of an immediate threat.
So, what will my poor character do? As I wrote earlier, he’s got problems. He’s trying to avoid trouble. But he’s also got something watching him, weighing him, considering his heart. . .
In my case, I throw in an additional motivator, an outside character who may or may not be able to influence the person with problems.
In real life, you often get a combination – the guy who freezes, hears a woman scream, and then fights. Or the woman who starts to fight, realizes that there’s a second monster, and runs like the blazes. A different character might flee until he gets cover, then he pulls out his pistol and starts firing, while speed-dialing his hunting buddy and saying, “Bubba, you gotta come to 8th and Vine, because whatever it is, there ain’t no season or limit! And bring friends. And your big guns.”
In some ways, fight is the easiest choice, especially if you need action to keep the reader happy and to move the plot. But here’s the kicker – is it the best fit for your character? And is it the best fit for the character at that moment. My character Auriga “Rigi” Bernardi-Prananda might choose any of the three options in combination, depending on several variables. Is she armed well enough to deal with the creature? Is it threatening her? Is it threatening her children or dependents? In the latter case, Katy bar the door, because she’ll do whatever, however, to protect her children. But her assistants might stop her and force her to flee, because of her position in their culture.
Another character might default to “attack it,” until he realizes that he lacks the firepower needed, or that it is different from what he anticipated. Then flight (until he can get reinforcements) or hiding until it goes away. A third character might freeze in concealment, because her job is to report back to her superiors that a teleport has gone horribly wrong. Even though other people are in danger, delivering information is more important than charging to the rescue. Or perhaps the character will flee, because he knows very well that he can’t fight, and he’ll just get in the way of people who can. He also knows that freezing won’t help when he us upwind of a monster that hunts by smell, not sight or sound.
It’s getting messy, isn’t it? So is real life. I can say from personal experience that I’ve done all three, depending on the situation and what else was going on. Although I was avoiding two-footed or four-footed predators, not alien monsters. Thus far.
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Speaking of Rigi and Co.
Art, adventure, ambushes, dances, diplomacy, and wild accusations of stuffed-animal theft. Just a normal year for Rigi and her family. Perhaps.