On Writing: A Character’s Emotions

How would you react to the end of your world? In Groundhog Day, each morning was the same and only Phil Connors changed as he lived through the monotony of his new world. Interestingly enough, such monotony would make it easier for you to cope; you would know what each day would bring.

But what if the opposite were true? What if you woke up to a different world every day, where nothing was familiar and nothing made sense? You would learn to cope with the current day as best as you could, but the next day you would have to start coping all over again in an entirely different milieu. Even worse, everyone you know has disappeared. One day they were there, the next day . . . nothing.

In my current work in progress, my hero is struggling with this very problem, but it seems to me as if he’s being a bit too accepting of the situation. Dealing with his neurotic mother all his life could have trained him to be adaptable, which would make him accepting. He could be shell-shocked, which could explain his lack of emotion. He is dealing with the possibility that he’s gone crazy, which could further explain why he’s not emoting all over the place. And, to top it all off, he is in the denial stage regarding the deaths/deletion/disappearance of his mother and his friends.

But the question arises: are his the proper reactions for the situation? Could his restrained emotions be due to my lack of understanding of the human psyche, my inability to write emotional scenes, or perhaps simply my dislike of overly emotional characters?

Emotions are seldom pure and simple; they come mixed, like love and hate, fear and attraction. Sometimes they are inappropriate, such as laughter at funerals, anger at imagined slights. Some people have extreme emotional swings, and other people react unemotionally no matter what happens. And sometimes, the more outrageous the situation, the less emotion it garners.

With such wildly divergent possibilities, in the end, it comes down to what I can make the reader believe, and more importantly, what I can make myself believe. If I believe his reactions are the proper ones, I can write them properly. I like the idea that he is a stoic guy moving through his changing world until one insignificant problem arises to send him over the edge. But if he is that stoic, will he go over the edge? I think not.

And so it goes.