Monday, March 1, 2010


El Greco, Lady in a Fur Wrap, 1577-80 Sunday morning I woke up with a stiff neck. Since Sunday was really busy for me, I just ignored it. I continued ignoring it the entire day…until I sat down to write this post and started thinking about it again.

But what if I weren’t a busy mom? What if I were an Olympic athlete? I’d be devoting some time trying to resolve the problem. Maybe I’d take some ibuprofen (or maybe not—not sure about the drug testing there.) Maybe I’d put ice, then a heating pad on it. I’d be talking to my coach. Maybe getting a massage?

What if I were a hypochondriac instead of an athlete or a busy mom? My whole day could be devoted to my stiff neck. I could be on the internet for hours, looking up symptoms….could I have meningitis? I might drive straight to the emergency room and spend most of the day in there because the triage nurse decides immediately that my case will be the last priority—there’s an odd lack of temperature for someone who has meningitis.

So, depending on the character, reactions will not only be very different to each possible situation, but will demonstrate a lot about the character in a show-don’t-tell way.

The fact that we don’t all react to situations in the same way seems obvious. But I find myself frequently thinking that friends or family members share my mindset on things they couldn’t disagree more on. It’s always a surprise to me. Doesn’t everyone think the way I do? :)

And that thinking seeps over into my first drafts sometimes. I consciously have to say, “Okay, in this situation, I would do this….but I’m not an octogenarian.”

And then there’s the wonderful moment in the first draft when I get into my manuscript and the characters come alive and act on their own accord and I have nothing to do with it. It’s one of the happiest parts of writing for me.

Before your characters come alive, do you have to consciously think like them and put yourself in their shoes? Or is your protagonist so much like you that you share the same reactions?