Sunday, November 1, 2015

Call back blog -- Don't Panic: a writer's guide to disaster

So, this one was originally posted in 2011

As I'm still playing tour guide through tomorrow, I shouldn't have too much in the way of new material. Heck, I barely got the radio show up and running.  That's a funny story for another time.

Anyway, enjoy.  I should be back on Wednesday. I hope.

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I should start by mentioning that this is going to be less about writing disasters, and more about a character reacting to them.
My characters have all sorts of problems.

In my books, I've had people confronted with Being beaten to deathDestruction of public property, heartbreaka small war, as well as vampires and the end of the world.

In most cases, this is easy for writers to put down. Fear is easy, everyone has experienced it in one way or another.

In my case, not so much.

There are two moments in my life that highlight the reasons my characters react the way they do.

One New Year's eve, I was over at a friend's house.  My sister decided to be helpful in the kitchen, and went to work cutting vegetables with a mandolin slicer.

Somehow, my sister managed to cut off the pad of her little finger.

The husband of the house couldn't look at the sight of blood. The wife felt immediately ill. My sister felt faint from blood loss almost instantly.

I rolled my eyes, sighed, made sure that the severed part clicked into place with the rest of the meat puzzle of my sister's finger, wrapped it, and drove her to the nearest ER.  We were seen immediately, since it was only 6pm on New Year's eve.  Midnight would have been a different kettle of fish, I'm sure.

I didn't freak out before, during, of after the incident. I was mostly annoyed that the evening might be shot to hell.  I went out into the parking lot with my cell phone and started calling people to wish them all a happy new year.  It took about 90 minutes for my sister's nine stitches to put her back together again. And a fun time was had by all.

And this isn't gloating. This isn't "I kept my head while others lost theirs!" moment. This was a moment of irritation, annoyance, and "Damnit, I have to play ambulance driver? Really?"

Now, you could say this happened to someone else. so why should I worry.

Then there was the time I was accused of being a terrorist....

Yes, that is a true story. It's a true story that'll wait for another time. Suffice it to say that the incident was before 9/11, and it was a very bad week that involved the cops, lawyers, a judge, and a parody of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Mikado."

Yes, when things happen to me, they happen in the strangest possible way.

My reaction wasn't fear.  It was a deep, cold, residing anger that made half of my insides go numb. I spent the next seven days looking through what are commonly known as "cursing psalms" in the Bible.

The closest I've ever come to panic was when I was being cornered by the local felon and drug addict in high school.  Though my fear couldn't have been too bad, since that encountered ended with my hand on his throat and him up against a brick wall. Most of my emotional memory from that encounter is less a matter of fear, and more a matter of adrenaline.

So, trying to write fear is not something I do well.  Most of my characters get annoyed, frustrated, or simply get even.

Then again, looking at my cast of characters, they shouldn't be running and fleeing in terror all that often: Secret Service agents, Swiss Guards, Interpol cops, policemen, mercenaries, spies, bond girls, etc.

Yeah, a lot of fear is on the part of innocent civilians fleeing in terror.  Those people not smart enough to flee will get Darwin awards in my novels. (Keep that in mind in case you ever ask to appear in my novel. I have no problems with dropping a house on someone.)

I'm much better in making my characters crazy from utter frustration.

The lesson? Well, there are some people who are too busy solving a problem to feel fear. Everyone reacts to different things in different ways.  With Sean Ryan, mercenary, if people shoot at him, he smiles and fires back. With Scott Murphy, should he ever see his death imminent, he will be less afraid of being killed, and more annoyed that he didn't see it coming and plan accordingly. And so on and so forth.

And, for those people who should be feeling fear -- when all else fails, stick with the physiological manifestations of adrenaline: increased respiration and heartbeat, the blood pounding in one's ears, limbs shaking, and the desire to either kill something, or run.

At least, that's what I do.  Other people react differently, and they should, especially in your writing. Let the reaction fit the character.

1 comment:

  1. Good read. I have a hard time writing fear, too. I usually have to call someone and say, "Hey, if this happened to you, how would you react?" Even then, I think, "No, this won't work, this is not a cheesy horror movie, my characters are not going to be this ridiculous!"


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