Rule #15

If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

I’ve been watching Grimm, the NBC TV show. Since I don’t have a TV or cable reception, I’m watching Season 1 and 2 via Amazon Prime. So, yes, I’m a little late to the scene, but hey, I’m here.

Anyway, it’s a silly show. Unbelievably silly. But, you know, I like it. It’s fun, has lots of action, and there’s enough romance to make it enjoyable, but not soppy.

And one other thing the show does get right is this: the actors react appropriately horrified at horrible things. (Okay, I’ll concede that maybe not all the time, but most of the time, the actors on Grimm representing normal people react like you or I would if we saw a real-life monster.)

I mean, come on, what would you do if you saw this:

Cracher Mortel from Grimm (Season 2)
Cracher Mortel from Grimm (Season 2)

You’d probably scream, poop your pants, then run. Well, okay, maybe that’s just what I would do.

But really. Think about it. If your character is someone who sees this sort of thing all the time, then yeah, they’d probably punch it in its face. But if they are not monster-hunting Grimms, then they might react more like I would.

Let’s take another example. What if your character suddenly finds herself visiting a new world. If they do this sort of thing all the time, the sense of wonder and awe might get a little jaded after a while, but if they hadn’t, don’t you think they’d be distracted by all the new things they’d be seeing? Comparing it to what they did know? I know I’d be trying to classify things into dangerous and not-dangerous. The reason why I was there would take second fiddle for a while.

So, tell me, given your character’s background, how would they react if they saw an alien (or monster or big guy with a sword bearing down on them)?

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15 thoughts on “Rule #15

    1. A fight? About Grimm? Is there some heated internet debate about the show that I am unaware of?

      I know they play loose with the folklore and fairy tales, but…well…it is fantasy. I kind of see it the same way I see Peter Jackson’s interpretation of LOTRs and The Hobbit. It is not the original novels. It can’t be because it is film. I see the Grimm story line and individual episodes as borrowing from folklore and making new stories. Isn’t that what we all do?

  1. Scream like a girl… 😉 and I love “Grimm”, especially as I live in Portland where it’s filmed so it’s always a giggle when I recognize a place or building. One of my co-workers (well, same company but he’s in a different building) apparently works out at the same gym that some of the cast members use. We get a kick out of that stuff here. 😉

    1. That’s so awesome! I love Portland (that’s one of the reasons why I love the show). I’ve only visited a few times, but each time I’ve gone I’ve wondered, why am I not living here? I envy you and all of Portlandia. 😉

  2. This is an interesting one. One I don’t necessarily agree with… unless I am reading it too literally. Your protagonist and your antagonist are going to react in different ways so you can’t necessarily imagine yourself acting like both of them (or either of them for that matter). I think the better rule would be to fully develop your character and then imagine how they would react in a given situation.

    Premise: A drowining man
    a) Your hero would risk his own life to save him
    b) You personally might take the risk but you’d be terrified in case you might both die
    c) Your villain will probably let him die for any number of reasons. He’s a thorn in the villain’s side / the villain might be selfish or vidictive or the villain might think he’ll have nothing to gain from doing it

    1. Ah ha! I think you nailed it on the head, sort of.

      The thing is, I would think the hero would be terrified they might both die, but jumps in anyway. Without the real emotional reaction of terror prior to jumping in, the hero can come across as a bit of a cardboard cut out. The same would go for the villain. Yeah, she may not have any intention of saving that drowning person, but they may shudder (in relief or elation, depending on how sick they are) at the victim’s last gulp of breath, wondering how she would feel if the situation was reversed. At least, that’s how I interpret the ‘rule’.

      I think the idea is to lend all our characters (each with their own motives and backgrounds) our real emotional reactions to unbelievable (or extraordinary) circumstances. But, of course, as you point out, nothing is ever that simple. We have to definitely keep in mind our character’s backgrounds and motives. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the post!

    I think this could be paraphrased as make your characters respond in reasonable ways. What is reasonable? That’s very story specific.

    I’m with you on the reaction to this sort of prickled headed monstrosity. But would my warrior hero react that way? it depends. Most of mine would certainly have some doubt. But some of my warriors would also be worried about looking like a coward in front of other warriors or a love interest. I’m perfectly happy running away but maybe my warrior should not.

    Plus, in the end, folks often want to read about characters more interesting than themselves. So while my personal reaction is a good data point, and something to consider, it may not be the right way for the character to act.

    One reader of my current project commented “I love the protagonist; he acted pretty much like I would have acted in those circumstances.” I’m not really sure what to make of that. It was great he liked the character but does that mean my character isn’t heroic or interesting enough? I think (hope) in this case it’s okay but it makes me wonder.

    1. I think this points back to what MGM was saying (above), and that rather than have our characters do what we would in that situation, show us the fear (or bravado or what-have-you) they would undoubtedly have (just as we would), and then have them overcome that fear (just like we would want). That’s how I see this writing tip, anyway.

      1. Yeah to be me my own devil’s advocate, I might not run from Mr Prickle Head if I was defending my family. I.e., maybe give the characters a good reason to stay. If nothing is a stake, why not run?

        Any way, great post as always

    2. Oh, in regards to that reader’s comment on your story – your hero probably acted the way the reader *wanted* the hero (an extension of the reader) to act. There’s some weird psychological stuff that goes one when a person becomes invested in a story. Sometimes, when I really enjoy a character or find a character very relate-able, I actually *dream* of being that character. (I wonder what that says about me… 😮 )

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