Make Your Character Reactions Twice as Interesting

Make Your Character Reactions Twice as Interesting

Character reactions are just as important as character actions—if not, arguably, more important. What makes me say that? After all, character actions usually headline the story. When you look at a book cover, the character is always doing something. Wielding that sword. Kissing that dude. Running from that killer. So where are all these important reactions I’m going on about?

As you know, there are two parts to every scene: the scene (where the action happens) and the sequel (where reactions to those actions happen). Although the scene is the site of all those exciting and mind-blowing action set pieces, the sequel is actually the glue that holds your story together.

Without convincing and consistent character reactions to every single important event, the causal realism of your story falls apart. But even more important, readers love character reactions. Sequel scenes are almost always my favorite part in any story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m an action girl. I love my action stories. But without interesting reactions to prove the characters are interesting, the action (whether it’s explosions or romance) is ultimately nothing more than eye candy.

In the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and its near perfect use of sequel scenes), I re-watched Thor: The Dark World and couldn’t help but compare. Now before I start being critical, let me say I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and felt it lived up to pretty much everything I hoped it would be—with a few major exceptions.

The most important of those exceptions is the lack of development in the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster. Aside from the fact that this oversight left the marvelous Natalie Portman with basically nothing to do, it also robbed the film of weight and depth that could have been added in just a few quick scenes.

So much emotional, personal stuff happens in this movie. Thor’s mom dies because he’s brought his sick girlfriend home. Even if she stays healthy, Jane’s going to live out her life and die in what basically amounts to a single year in Thor’s life. Thor’s dad is mad at him for his highly impractical romantic choices. And Thor decides he’d rather live that year with Jane than be king.

But Thor and Jane never talk about it. Sure, Thor reacts. He and Odin talk. He and Loki talk. He and Sif even talk. But he and Jane—one of the most important catalyst characters in the story—never share reactions.

And that leads us to our main point: It’s not enough for just one character to react. Readers need to see how all of your important characters are reacting. Even better, they need to see the character reacting together. Want to instantaneously get twice as much out of any character reaction? Easy-peasy. All you need to do is have him share his reaction with another character.

Tell me your opinion: Do your two most important characters share important reactions in conversation?

Make Your Character Reactions Twice as Interesting

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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.

Comments

  1. I have to say now that I am loving reading this blog in general – so much food for thought, thank you!

    As for character reactions, my main two characters do a lot of reacting together. I’d never thought of it in terms of action and reaction before, but analysing now, I have always preferred reaction scenes when watching and reading, and also prefer writing them too. I don’t seem to have extended that to some of my lesser but still important characters though, so will be keeping this post in mind while I continue with my edit/re-write.

    I also definitely need to watch Thor: The Dark World as this is the fourth mention/reference to it this week from totally different people. I need to take the universe’s hint!