Thursday, March 12, 2009

Character Reaction Believability

Something on the light side for the blog today. Don't worry, I haven't forgot about God.

Fictitious characters in novels and movies run across creatures and situations that would cause ordinary people to wet their pants. Characters maintain enough composure to battle zombies, capture fairies, speak to ghosts, and kiss mermaids and it's typically believable.

The kids and I are currently watching Hellboy. When Agent Myers meets Hellboy for the first time, he doesn't run screaming from the room. He doesn't become petrified by fear. He greets him as politely as he's able.

Harry Potter and Hermoine run across ghosts for the first time at Hogwarts and don't turn white and flee the Great Hall and they grew up in the ordinary world like the rest of us.

In Labyrinth, Jereth, the goblin king, stands before a brave Sarah who juts out her chin and sasses him. She calmly walks into the maze and asks a worm for advice.

Alice falls unnaturally slow down the deepest rabbit hole ever burrowed lined with bookcases and wonders calmly where she'll end up.

So in my budding YA urban fantasy novel, why is it so hard for a couple of my critiquers to believe that a young woman doesn't absolutely freak out when the guy who stalked her and made a lame attempt to kidnap her buys her a sandwich? Is she under reacting? You betcha, if we were talking about a real person. She's going to face a lot weirder things before this novel's through. If she became hysterical every time something frightening happens, we won't have much of a story.

Maybe my problem is, I haven't billed it as a fairytale.

Any idea from fellow writers, readers, or avid movie watchers?


Rick Bylina said...

With the exception of Sarah in your examples, the other characters live in "other" worlds, so their underwhelming reactions could be considered normal.

Bea's reaction to Finn in the restaurant is quite subdued considering what had just taken place, but you pull it off nicely. She could, however, raise a straw and point it at him in defense.

The Geeky Quill said...

LOL That's funny you should say that, Rick. I was working on a revision tonight that involves Bea picking up the napkin dispenser.

"The Human Misconceptions About Whimsicality" ;) will prove to be a story set in a world where strange things do happen. Do you think the problem is that her reaction (or lack of) happens too early in the story so that it looks like Finn's an ordinary bad guy doing ordinary bad guy things?

Rick Bylina said...

He's not an ordinary bad guy three pages into the story. He brought her lunch (correctly knowing her epicurial proclivities) and then let her leave even though in the previous scene the outward appearance was an apparent kidnapping or mugging.

Damn, are my fingernails dirty or what!

The Geeky Quill said...

Oh, have you been digging a rabbit hole? That may account for the dirt.

randy said...

On a side note, based on this post and some earlier ones, don't look for excuses not to enjoy what you're doing. The desire for validation from others is the root of all misery (soon to be blog post title).

karabu said...

I've only read the one chapter, so I don't know the whole story I guess. But in general, I find that people under extreem stress often do strange things that may not seem to make sense at the time. Shock could easily be misinterperted as undereaction, could it not?

karabu said...

P.S. The girls and I are listening to an audiobook of "The Wizard of Oz", and I've thought to myself many times as I listen, "Wow, she's taking this all very well."

The Geeky Quill said...

That is a very good point, Kara. And I think sometimes a person goes through a semi-unacceptance about whatever strange and frightening thing is happening.

Yes, Dorthy reacts much like Alice. If characters gave a more realistic reaction, they'd never calm down long enough to make friends with scarecrows, cheshire cats, or two headed aliens.

StrugglingToMakeIt said...

I haven't read your story for a while. I'm way behind on critiques, but I don't remember Bea's reaction as sticking out as odd to me. Besides, we're still learning about Bea and her history with at this point. There could be all kinds of reasons she's not in super freak-out moment. I agree with the not falling into the seeking approval trap. That's something I need to work on as I fall into it every time I read a crit... :-/

The Geeky Quill said...

Thanks Nik,
I used to take every crit personally. I rememember the first one I ever got was very unkind and it may as well have said, "Your story's only good for lining the bird cage."

Then I started to notice that a lot of it is a matter of opinion because I'd get applause for some element from one critter and a boo about the same element from another critter.

Bliss Addison said...

Did you ask the critiquers why it didn't seem credible to them that the young woman didn't absolutely freak out when the guy who stalked her and made a lame attempt to kidnap her bought her a sandwich?

Was there a build-up to her reaction, or in this case, non-reaction?

Was there interior monologue to explain why she didn't have the reaction that the critiquers might have anticipated (expected)?


The Geeky Quill said...

Hi Bliss,

I didn't ask and they didn't say. I probably didn't have enough interior monologue. We've only just met the character in question so I was trying to show something about her by the way she reacted.

randy said...

I just finished reading Nothing To Lose by Lee Child. I also read an interview where he gave this advice to aspiring writers of thrillers, "Just get it done-finish it. Do not under any circumstances listen to any advice. And write exactly what you want to write, even if you feel everyone will hate it. That is the only way of having a living, breathing manuscript that has a chance of winning". I couldn't agree more.

He also said, "I want books to be entertaining, and I want them to be easy reads. It's up to me, not the reader, to do the work. If someone says that my books are well written, I worry a little. I don't want that to be noticed. It should be the invisible undercarriage".

Again, I couldn't agree more. I hate when people write, seemingly, for their english professors instead of prospective readers wishing to be entertained. Of course, I'm just a simpleton.

The Geeky Quill said...

Yeah, I'm a simpleton too. ;)

I read because it's fun and write because it's fun. I was a lit. major because it was fun to read books and write about books and even write about reading books. Maybe even read about reading books. Only recently have I begun reading about writing books.

That's good advice, Randy.

I hope people have fun reading my work. It seems mostly women like my current project. I guess I write like a chick for chicks.