What would you do?

What would you do?

Placing yourself into situations that are not comfortable help the author realize exactly what a normal person would do. Let’s give some examples. You are walking down the street by yourself at night. Up ahead you see four guys being very loud coming your way. You assess the situation and realize that this might not end up well. Do you continue down the road you are walking and walk past them, or do you decide to turn around and find another route, not knowing what could be lurking on the other path? You have some decisions to make. How would you feel? Would your heart be racing a mile a minute? Would you start to sweat in places you shouldn’t sweat unless you have been working out? How about this situation we see a lot in films and yell at the screen every time. Now again, you have to take yourself out of the audience and think if you were in this one, what you would do?

You are lying in bed and hear a noise downstairs. You don’t have any animals, so you know it’s not the cat running around acting well, like a cat. Do you go downstairs and check it out? Do you call the police thinking that someone is in the house? If you have a gun, do you grab it first and check it out or maybe a golf club or baseball bat? Again, how would you feel, what would be going through your head? Of course, you could be thinking the worst, but it might be nothing also; however, you don’t know this. But when we watch the movies, we know that the killer has been killing people throughout the movie and now he is in your house waiting for you. But now this isn’t the movies and you have no idea what is in the dark.

By putting yourself into situations like this, really think about how you would act and what you would do. I’ll tell you what, I would be peeing my pants first, and after I changed them, I would probably go very slowly to the top of the stairs and listen. Praying that the noise I just heard was either in my head, or simply a benign noise that every house has. My blood pressure would jump twenty points and my pulse would be getting close to two hundred.

This is all part of research and thinking of exactly how your character would act in a situation like this. Make your character believable, not fantasy, unless of course, that is what you are writing. But some perspective into the complex situations you are writing with each scene. Give the reader the inside look at what your character is feeling and that they are racing all the possibilities through their head. Remember that everyone is never perfect and makes many mistakes. Hell, I’ve made a couple dozen just in the last day alone.

But situations aren’t the end all to character development, dialogue is very, very important. Interaction between characters can make or break a story. Again, remember that everyone speaks differently, so don’t have all your dialogue sound the same. In writing “Green Lake,” I had someone email me and say that one of my characters said something stupid. I had a fire engine racing by on the road on someone said “God I hope it isn’t a fire.” The reader took offense to that, and said what else would it be, a weenie roast, what a stupid statement. Exactly a stupid statement, that is the point. In everyday life, we hear stupid statements every day, from the person in line at Starbucks, to a co-worker to a family member, people aren’t perfect, so don’t make them perfect. Stephen King is probably the absolute best dialogue writer I’ve ever seen. Each character has a voice and if you have to keep putting ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ at the end of each statement, then you are writing bad dialogue. The reader should have no problem figuring out who is talking.

These are just some things to think about when you are writing and creating your world of characters. People are like snowflakes, no two are the same and they will act differently in certain situations and not all sound exactly alike. So don’t be afraid to throw in some stupid statements and crazy actions, ’cause don’t we know life is stranger than fiction.
John Raab
CEO / Publisher
Suspense Magazine

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