A Crisis Can Test Your Characters

The huge, lumbering machine of healthcare has let us down yet again.   At work, we switched over to a new insurance company.  Our old insurance was set to expire, and we were supposed to be in the new system with our cards in the mail within two weeks.

You guessed it:  no cards, no policy number, nothing.   And now no insurance.

In today’s economy, paying out of pocket for healthcare is detrimental to most people’s budgets.  I’m lucky; all I’ll be out is a couple of prescriptions and one of them is only $4.00 anyway.  Unless this nasty cold I have turns into something worse, I should be okay.

Whether it’s a health crisis or something else, adversity reveals character.  People who ordinarily are pretty sweet-tempered can lose their minds over a budget snafu or customer service issue.

Your characters are no exception.  How would they react to the following scenarios?

  • Susan’s insurance expired (ha!) and the new healthcare company hasn’t sent her policy number yet.  Both her prescriptions need refilling and her son just fell off his skateboard and broke a wrist.
  • Gary’s mother shows up at his front door, the same day his new internet girlfriend is supposed to visit from out of state.
  • Thomas gets the wrong food order after waiting nearly 45 minutes, and he is late for an important meeting.
  • Nina’s unreasonable boss puts six big fat folders on her desk at 4:50 pm and asks her to stay late, but she has a critical theater audition in an hour.

What they do next will depend on what kind of story you’re writing.  All of these situations are annoying, and at least one has comedy potential.

Take Gary, for example.  He could try to manage the situation by introducing his mother to the girlfriend.  The fact that he barely knows her himself sets him up for another crisis, because she might be a total nutjob.

Or, he could try to hide the two from each other.  Plenty of room for slapstick here.  He better learn something from this.

If characters don’t grow or change, they fall flat.  They trudge through a story while everything happens around them.

  • The character could have an extreme reaction:  external, or internal.  If internal, the other characters might be puzzled by his failure to acknowledge a stressor.  The story conflict could then come from their frustration with him.
  • You’ll have to establish a new trait in order for the character to deal with the crisis.  Someone dropped into a remote wilderness will adapt, or die.
  • If the situation requires heroics, the aftermath can change your character.  Whether for better or worse is your decision.

No one will react rationally to every situation, no matter how self-possessed.  Have some fun with your characters.  Give them more to deal with and you might be surprised at what bravery or cowardice emerges.


4 thoughts on “A Crisis Can Test Your Characters

    • Yeah, I sometimes make them act TOO rationally. Like I would never go into the dark room where the killer might be, but if they don’t do that in the horror movie, where’s the fun?

  1. Actually the last Nina scenario looks like a ripe one for some humor. I can picture some Lucille Ball type comedy as she tries to do both things.

    But you are so right. There are so many ways crisis and stress can be handled and sometimes the more extreme or irrational the better it can be.

    Tossing It Out

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