24 Jun 2013

How to Create Character Reactions for a Story

Here's a lesson I did with a student to create a sense of character for a story he was writing based on Alan Wake.

The character is looking at a brick wall which should not be there. It is impossible and now he is starting to panic.

So how do we describe his reaction? Thoughts1. We can narrate his thoughts. Here are two different versions:
'But that's impossible. If it was - it was there, solid as the back wall of my place back in +wherever.'
'Rough brick - but - it's solid - real - it's really there. But it can't be.'
But it was.
What's nice about this is it also lets you sneakily infodump a bit of information about where he's from. The dash gives a broken up effect like he's panicking a bit or confused. The short abrupt sentence 'But it was' shifts you out of the 'thoughts' into reality and links well. It's abrupt, with the shocking reality that the wall is really there.

2. Actions
- I had to look at it twice.
- I looked again. It was still there.
- Slowly, I walked towards it, blinking like my eyes wanted to switch it off - wake me up - anything.
- With trembling fingers, I reached towards it, ready to snap them back as if it might bite. (this is personification)
- I pushed it. And I hurt my hand.
- I kicked it hard, my steel-toe capped boot bouncing off the damn thing like it was real. It was real, what am I saying. It shouldn't have been there but it was.
- I heaved my shoulder to it, with all my weight pushed against it and succeeded in crushing my shoulder. The wall stood like it had always been there mocking me. (yet more personification).

3. Body Language/ Adrenaline Reactions (Panic)
When people panic they freeze, breathe more shallowly or more rapidly, their heartbeat picks up speed, and they get a huge shot of adrenaline that has several effects: everything seems sharper, more vivid, you get shaky, edgy, jumpy, you get a metallic taste in your mouth. Your body may feel like it is buzzing. So, how are we going to describe this?
-The inside of my mouth dried with a taste of metal
- the streetlights buzzed against the inky black, trailing drunkenly as I walked towards my car
- my heart pounded/hammered in my chest
- I felt drunk, disoriented, lost in this alien landscape
- I stared, my whole body fizzing with it. This was not real. It couldn't be.
- My whole body froze/ legs stopped working
- I turned slowly, panic rising within me like a tidal wave that would burst and fell me, knock me over