My kind-of Christams post with a kind-of link to character creation.
Do you watch people when they open presents?
I don’t mean in the creepy-judgemental way where you glare at them until they manage to contort their face until an ‘appropriate’ expression of gratitude. I meant the general, I’m intereseted in what you think kind of way.
People receive gifts in a few different ways depending on the situation. This is my list of observed typical reactions:
- They know what the gift is in advance and are happy to be receiving it. These people are grinning broadly before they even begin to unwrap. They might rattle the packet a bit and make comments like, “I wonder what this could be?” but when they finally open the present they give it a quick look over, hug the person who gave it to them and move on to the next gift.
- They know what the gift is in advance and think it is the worst idea for a present they ever heard. They also make comments along the lines of “I wonder what this could be?” but there is a definite sense that they are grinding their teeth at the ridiculousness of having to play through the charade of opening the gift. Once opened they might say “Oh look, its a…” then they also put it to the side and move on but they don’t hug the person who gave it to them.
- They think they know what the gift is in advance and are happy about it. They grin as they pull the paper back but then their face kind of freezes into the ‘oh’ kind of expression. It doesn’t matter whether they like the actual gift or not there are a few moments of dead time while their brain attempts to shift gears. Finally they decide whether they like or hate the gift and react accordingly.
- They have no idea what the gift is and love it. The squeal with delight, and busily turn it over and over examining what it is and thinking about where it will go and when they can use it.
- They have no idea what the gift is and neither love nor hate it. They thank the person politely and move to the next one.
- They have no idea what the gift is and really can’t believe someone just gave it to them. I’ve seen two distinct reactions to this scenario. The usual one is the forced smile and the forced “thanks” meanwhile this gift isn’t stacked neatly to the side, it is usually just slid along the floor, usually in the direction of the paper pile with the false hope that maybe it will vanish. The second reaction is the “what am I going to do with this” reaction which never seems to go down well.
Yes there are other ways to receive gifts but these are the typical reactions. What does this have to do with writing?
Your characters react to situations. Reactions that fit within typical and expected models don’t require a huge amount of explanation as to why the character reacts in that way. Their dog just dropped a dead mouse at their feet. They say “Eww gross” – they are probably a female or a more urban male and they get squeamish around dead things. Nothing really needs to be explained. They kick it aside – they are either male or female and are trying to get the thing out of their sight but at the same time not react verbally because that might show them as weak. Again, not much to explain. They pick it up and decide to place it on their desk – you best explain this one because I don’t think the reader is going to understand why anyone would do that.
So – your protagonist was given a gift for christmas. What was it and how did they react? (Mine firstly asked for an in-depth explanation of what Christmas was including references that she could look up to verify my facts and then she stared at me blankly over the wrapping paper before asking me “Why do you think I need a hairbrush?”)
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