I visited San Diego with my college roommate—just to go somewhere that was scenic and relaxing, that we hadn’t visited before.
But I needed to finish my manuscript and send it to my agent yesterday—so I used every minute of that five hour flight to and from San Diego to Charlotte, to work. I inserted place description, character description, chapter breaks, and a full subplot. I’ve a feeling, actually, that I might have driven the folks beside me nutty with my typing.
But after ten total hours of flying, I had a manuscript that was ready to turn in.
Both flights were totally packed with people—not a seat was free. And the flight to California from North Carolina was stressful at times.
When we were waiting at the gate in Charlotte to board the plane, there was a toddler of about 13-14 months who was absolutely pitching a fit.
I think every one of the passengers was praying that we wouldn’t be seated next to that baby, or near him, for the five hour flight.
Fortunately, I wasn’t. But that child had quite a set of lungs on him. His wailing---no, really, it was screaming—lasted for the entire fifteen minutes before boarding the plane and a full hour after we got on. He certainly had stamina.
What was interesting to me was the reaction of the other passengers on the plane. And what that reaction seemed to say about them.
There were some people who just looked stoically miserable.
There were some passengers who turned to look angrily back—at the parents.
There was a woman who looked concerned about the baby.
There were a couple who somehow managed to go to sleep, making me wonder why they were exhausted enough to doze during that racket.
I saw one young woman in her early twenties who put down her Cosmo magazine, looked back toward the baby with great irritation and rolled her eyes at me when she saw me looking at her.
I saw several people plug their ears with earbuds and listen to their iPods and not think twice about it.
I heard one elderly lady behind me tell the person next to her, “The poor thing. He doesn’t understand what’s going on.”
I heard one person say, angrily, that the parents shouldn’t fly a child that age for that length of time.
For me? I just worked right through it for the hour. Anyone could correctly draw the conclusion that I had kids of my own, a lot of work to do, and was immune to the noise.
The nice thing about showing character through reaction is that we can actually let the reader draw their own conclusions—even incorrect ones. That gives us room to write surprises into our stories. We can lead the reader to believe one thing about a character and make a surprising revelation about them later.
There were a few people on the plane who I figured weren’t parents—just solely based on their angry reaction. But my impression could easily have been wrong.
They might just be really impatient people who would be just as upset if their own babies were screaming like that.
They might have just been unusually tired or flying to a stressful situation—like a family member in the hospital. Maybe a situation like that one wouldn’t ordinarily have fazed them, but did this one time.
Do you use character reactions to a situation to show something about them? Do you ever purposefully give a misleading impression of a character? How else do you give readers clues to a character’s personality?