Predicting Character Reactions

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Character Reactions

Have you ever come to a pause while writing, trying to figure out how your character would react to a situation? Humans beings are complicated creatures. They're completely unpredictable. Around some people we can act one way, and around others we can be an entirely different person. Often times, we don't even know ourselves well enough to predict our own reactions. Your character must also have this quality if you want them to be truly realistic. But this creates a quandary. How exactly would you achieve such dichotomous character reactions? How can you predict the unpredictable? Read on.


This is one factor that plays into every reaction-our relationship with the person who we are interacting with. Our family may see one side of us, our friends another, and our enemies something completely different. People are much more loose and friendly with those who they're familiar with and while they might be friendly with a stranger, chances are that they'll feel more awkward and conversation will be more stilted. Consider this in your writing and determine how the character feels about this particular person. But this grows more complex when we toss in both how they view this person overall and how they view them in the present. I'm sure we've all had disagreements with a friend at one time or another. A disagreement would be much more heated and possibly violent. So, once you consider these factors, you're well on your way to deciding just how your character will react, but there are still other things to consider.

How does the character feel about the other characters?

How does the character feel about them overall?

How does the character feel about them in the present?

How familiar are they with the other character?


Circumstances and our surroundings definitely affect the way we feel. The same character who might be all business at work may be bubbly and outgoing at parties. Or someone who's cool and aloof under normal circumstances might totally freak out under pressure. Consider what your character has just been through and what they're currently going through. What sort of mood are they in? Are they disappointed? Sorrowful? Hesitant? Frustrated? Afraid? Their mood and reaction to their circumstances is dependent on our personality, which brings us to our final factor.

What is the character's surroundings like?

What aspects of their surroundings can they control?

In which circumstances do they feel sad? Happy? Serious? Silly? Mad? Calm? Loud? Quiet?

How do they feel in this environment?

What in their circumstances/surroundings is affecting their mood?


It all boils down to the characters themselves. There are three main facets of the character that contribute to their reaction: experience, personality, and motivation. All of their earlier experiences act as a filter for what the character is currently experiencing. Look at your character's back story and think about whether they would react negatively, positively, or if they would react at all. Then there's personality. Personality is tied directly to their mood and therefore their reactions. How they deal with and express their emotions is dependent on their personality. Their goal and internal motivations are also a part of your character and have a significant impact on their reactions. Think about your character's goals. What motivates them in this scene? What do they want/need? What are their story goals? Life goals? All these come into play when considering character reactions. By determining your character's personality, you'll find it much easier to predict their reactions and write accordingly.

What is the character's backstory?

How is their backstory relevant to what they're currently experiencing?

What is the character's personality type? (Hint: use the Myers and Briggs 16 personality types or the 9 Enneagram personality types. Take the test as your character and see what happens!)

What variations are there in their personality type? (No one fits a personality type description 100%.)

What emotion are they currently experiencing?

Are there multiple or overlaid emotions? (We rarely experience only one emotion at a time.)

How do they express their mood? How do they express their sorrow? Anger? Happiness? (Hint: This is a great opportunity to show and not tell by using body language to communicate the character's emotions.)

What are your character's goals for this scene? For the story? For their life?

What is motivating them in this instance? What are they trying to get? What do they want?

What do they need? Do their wants and needs correlate? Or do they oppose each other?

Once you make the decisions regarding their relationship with the other character, their circumstances, and the character's foundation, you'll find it much easier to write and express their reactions. I hope this helps and I would appreciate if you left a comment below to tell me what you think!

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