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That Old Adage

Understanding how your fictional characters react is essential to  making them three-dimensional. There is an old adage that says it’s not the situation you face but how you deal with it that defines character. The idea is that 10% of life is what happens and 90% is how we react to it. It’s about our response mechanisms. Are we fight or flight? What is our attitude when faced with adversity? Or how about when we’re faced with a surprise, success, or something else that warrants an emotional response? 

Passing the Buck or Taking Control

A lot of people are quick to pass the buck when it comes to responsibility for their actions. The attitude of fatalism with these types of people—and with that comes acceptance of the inevitable. These people are at the mercy of their circumstances. 

For others, the idea that they have control within the situations they face. They control their actions and emotions. They are not victims to the inevitable. 

How Will Your Characters React?

This is true for your characters, too. Do you know how they will react in different situations? The next series of prompts are about discovering more about your characters based on how they deal with a variety of situations. For these folks, it’s not what happens to them that determines their path; it is how they choose to react that defines them. When we choose to shape our own feelings and act in ways we choose, we control the outcome. 

So, when we face adversity—as we all do at one point or another—keep in mind that these adversities do not define us. We can let go and be defeated. Or we can act and navigate through the hardships. We can overcome obstacles.

Lessons Learned

The process of dealing with the adversities we face teaches us valuable lessons. We learn every step of the way. Our experiences broaden our perspective and shape us as we move forward. 

Your Characters

It is the same for your characters. What do they do in the face of obstacles? Do you know? You can solidify who they are by putting them into situations for the sole purpose of seeing how they react. What they do. Are they proactive, or fatalistic?  

The next set of prompts is geared toward helping you understand your characters on a deeper level.

#1: A woman exits the bathroom with the back of her skirt tucked in her underwear. What does your character do?

#2: Your character witnesses an accident. Does he or she pull over and help? Drive on by? Panic? Remain cool and collected? 

#3: A dog is on the loose in a neighborhood where your character is driving by. He or she will be late for an appointment if they stop. But the dog could get hit by a car if they don’t. What does your character do?

Think of other situations you can put your characters into. As you write about these, you’ll get to know them better and better. You’ll figure out who they are and how they will respond. 

Have fun!

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Write larger than life characters


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