Capturing Authentic Human Reactions in Fiction

The goal of all memorable fiction is to capture the truth about humanity. Sometimes that truth is weighty and all-encompassing, such as the ubiquitous “good triumphs over evil.” But sometimes the important truths in fiction are found in the tiniest representations of the world around us and the people who inhabit it. When authors faithfully capture the rainbow glint of a dragonfly’s wing or the raspberry sherbet color of a sunrise, they offer us a nugget of truth about our shared existence.

This is even more applicable when these truths reflect upon human nature itself. Too often, in fiction, we feel the need to streamline our characters’ actions and dialogue. Sometimes the addition of a subtle deviation can reflect human reactions in fiction so accurately it’s worth the extra effort.

For example, William Faulkner was well known for his portrayals of flawed people living in small Southern towns. His accuracy stemmed not just from his knowledge of the geographic area or his willingness to balance the black and white of sins and virtues. His accuracy was also due to the little variations and quirks he captured in his characters’ conversation and behavior.

In his classic As I Lay Dying, he writes about an overbearing woman telling her husband to come in out of the rain, or he’ll “catch his death.” A less experienced author might have been tempted to have the husband immediately voice a reply. But all Faulkner writes about the husband is that he “does not move.” The wife is forced to call his name a second time before he responds.

In this paragraph alone, Faulkner not only allowed readers an insight into the husband’s character, he also presented an exchange that screams with realism. As you guide your characters through your plot, take a little extra time to make sure they’re reacting as authentically as possible.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Yes, it’s the little things, and often what isn’t said that makes the difference.

  2. Happy holiday Katie. I’d add that finding one of those little details, and working it into your writing, can be quite a high.

  3. I was forced to read As I Lay Dying in high school. I hated it. I still recall “my mother is a fish.” I threw the book across my bedroom. (Oops, have I revealed how unsophisticated and lacking in literary taste I am?)

  4. Those are the moments I love. They say so much with so little.

  5. Keep your characters in line! That should be a Writer’s Rule. It’s so easy for me to get carried away and have them do impertinent or frivolous things contrary to their dispositions. This I must confess…among other heinous literary crimes that I have committed in my young but tainted life of misfortune and woe. ( I am crazy. I am a writer. So I am entitled >P )

  6. Getting that humanity on the page is what we all strive to do. Excellent post as always, K.M.!

  7. Sometimes it the gaps that speak the loudest truths 😊

  8. I like that remark. “But all Faulkner writes about the husband is that he “does not move.” The wife is forced to call his name a second time before he responds.”
    I find sometimes when reading a new author they become so overwhelmed with description in their story that it does not add but takes away to what they are trying to describe. My feelings are too many adjectives proves to the old adage “Less is more”.

  9. Very powerful and so true.

  10. This made me think. I believe I do this already, now if I could only market. 🙂

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