Under Pressure

Putting our characters under pressure is what we writers do. Their reactions to that pressure creates plot and pushes them to change. So I started thinking about how people react to pressure.

I react to stress in two distinct ways: 1) I clean/organize and/or 2) I buy stuff.

I must not have had a stressful childhood, judging by the massive mess that was my room back then. These days when I am feeling overwhelmed, scattered, and out-of-control, I tend to clean and/or organize things. Why? Because it gives me a sense of control and it gives me instant gratification. After making a messy desk clean, things feel much calmer—I’ve accomplished something!

I hate to shop, so #2 might surprise people who know me. I don’t buy stuff whenever I am under stress—it is particular to grief. When I have experienced grief, I find that I buy stuff—usually more expensive stuff. I do not mean out-of-control spending, but simply talking myself into buying something slightly more expensive than I normally would. I think the buying is my version of “comfort food”—an indulgence in a time of pain. The object I buy is also real, tangible. Something physical I can hold onto in a time of loss.

These are two very specific reactions to very particular stresses. They are particular to me. What specific stress reactions do your characters have? Do they whistle? Scream? Cry? Run away? Every one of your unique characters will react in their own way to the same stressor. This is another way you can differentiate your characters and add depth to them.

How do you react to stress? What unique stress tics have you given your characters?

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