My bedroom is in the basement of the house where my roommates and I live. This morning, while I was still half asleep, I kept hearing a smoke-alarm-like beep from the main floor, followed by "B" (the fiancé of my roommate "H" and a daily visitor) yelling things like, "It's me! Testing!"
By the time I actually came upstairs, "H" and "B" had left. But I found a carbon-monoxide detector sitting on the TV stand, flashing a low-battery alert and beeping accordingly every minute or so.
When "H" and "B" returned about an hour later, I teasingly asked them, "Have we figured out whether we're going to explode?" (Yes, I know that's not what carbon monoxide does.) They began explaining that "B" had been testing the detector earlier. "H" started to go up to the second floor, only to turn around and see "B" lick the terminals of the now-removed 9V battery.
"H's" and my reactions were rather revealing.
Me (silently): "Why would you do that? You're going to get zapped!"
"H" is rarely concerned about things like germs, but it seems licking a battery is where she draws the line. I surprised myself by not thinking of germs first. Then again, with all my klutziness and experience of hurting myself in strange ways, it's less surprising that my thoughts went immediately to the potential for injury.
Thankfully, apparently the battery really was as low as the detector said, because "B" didn't react to licking it but did burst out laughing at "H." But they were back to having a relaxed conversation a few minutes later, so I guess he's forgiven. 😁
This reaction trick can be really useful when we're writing. Reactions are a great way to reveal character, especially when multiple characters witness or learn about the same event.
For example, in the episode "The Honorable Ones" from the Star Wars Rebels series, the Empire ambushes the Ghost crew on a space station above the planet Geonosis. Zeb gets separated from his friends in the escape and has to eject in an escape pod. Thanks to a damaged steering mechanism, the pod crashes into a deep crevasse on a nearby moon. Unable to contact Zeb, his friends assume he's landed the pod on Geonosis and begin searching for him there. As the hours pass and they can't find him, their reactions demonstrate each of their personalities:
Kanan, the group's co-leader and a cowboy-like Jedi, runs all applicable scans, checks all communications frequencies, and reports the negative results with obvious stress in his voice.
Ezra, a teenage orphan and Kanan's apprentice, suggests additional sweeps in case the crew has missed something.
Chopper, a cantankerous droid, asks whether the others are sure they want Zeb back. But after Ezra hits Chopper and tells him not to be a "sleemo," Chopper reluctantly helps with the search.
Rex, a retired clone trooper, looks out the window as if still searching even while he points out that Imperial reinforcements will arrive eventually.
Hera, captain of the Ghost and the group's mother figure, coordinates the search efforts and urges the others to work faster and widen their scans
Sabine's reaction isn't shown, but given her technical skills and the fact that she owes Zeb her life, she's likely tweaking sensors and communications systems to make sure the searches don't miss him.
Obviously, being separated from a close friend under dangerous circumstances is a major event. However, reactions to even small events can reveal a character's personality. If someone flirts with Character A, does he flirt back, blush, pretend he didn't notice, or do something else? If the barista gets Character B's order wrong at Starbucks, does she yell at the barista, ask for a correction, just take what she gets, swap drinks with a friend who likes the incorrect drink, or what?
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(Thanks to Mika Baumeister for sharing their work on Unsplash.)