12 Days of Writing Tips: Day Seven–Action/Reaction

Does your grocery or to-do list make you emotional? Well…scratch that, it might. But would it make a random person emotional? Would they know more about you than the fact that you like yogurt, need eggs, and that you need to stop by the chemist? 

Maybe. But the fact is, emotional reactions are what make us, as human beings, interesting. The way we deal with the crap life throws at us, the way we absorb life’s little nasty jokes and keep going…those things say more than a list of sequential actions. 

For instance:


The market was closed. She went to the bank and there was a massive line. She waited, then finally went to the bakery to pick up the cake. The name on it was spelled wrong. She sat in traffic for an hour, before pulling up in the driveway to find the house on fire. 


The market was closed, which set off the first flurry of panic. Her palms started to sweat, but she took deep breaths and kept moving down her list. She went to the bank and there was a massive line, which set off the next stage of her anxiety. At this point, she might well be late. She waited, fidgeting, trying hard not to talk to herself in line, trying to quell the shaking and worry crawling under her skin.  Finally, she went to the bakery to pick up the cake, thankful it was her last stop before she could head home, to her sanctuary. The name on it was spelled wrong, and she fought back the urge to vomit right there on the shiny pastry case. She sat in traffic for an hour, sweating, fighting off tears, avoiding the glances of drivers beside her, and nearly wept with relief when she made it off the freeway. But when she pulled up in the driveway, the house was on fire. 

See the difference? The first is a list. We know what she did, but not why any of it matters. It’s dull. But in the second example, full of the exact same actions, we get her reactions to the actions, and the story is suddenly far more interesting. Now we know what’s going on, and why it matters both emotionally and to the story in general. 

Challenge: Have you got your character’s reactions in place? Is there an action/reaction balance? 

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