Monday, July 26, 2021

Believable Behavior

 If you’re going to be a writer, I believe you need to be a keen observer of your surroundings.  I’m not just talking about places and things and the appearance of people (who eventually become characters in your stories), but human behavior. 

Like when you give a book talk, you read the room.  Last Thursday night, I gave a talk to one of our many regional Rotary Clubs. This one was small in number, about twenty, the majority the audience being senior citizens.  

Most of the time, I lead with a joke that, if you haven’t heard it before, rocks the room.  Studying the faces last night, I knew that joke would fall flat on its backside. Instead, I launched with a self-depreciating description on my agonizingly long journey to being published.  

They thought that was pretty funny.   Okay, with this crowd, my pain was their comedy.

As I was speaking, I watched their faces to see if they were remaining engaged or if I was boring them into catatonia.  I’m pretty certain I did well because when I finished, they hit me with a flurry of excellent questions. 

One of them was the question I get most often, Is it hard to write in the first-person as a woman?” 

Yes it is.  I never planned to write more than one book that featured Geneva Chase.  It involves a ton of research, most of it online, of course.  When you’re writing mysteries, you look up everything from poisons to guns to escort services to muscle cars.

When writing about Geneva Chase, I also look up hairstyles and cosmetics, as well as women’s shoes and clothing.

You know how once you’ve looked something up online you receive an onslaught of related ads?  When I do my research, my computer screen is festival of weirdness. 

But I also listen to the way women talk and walk and how they act.  It’s a fine line between being observant and being creepy. 

So, let’s pivot for a moment, and talk about irrational behaviors.  When I’m writing, I try to describe behavior that’s believable.  The last thing you want is your readers to shake their heads and say, “That would never happen.”

And yet, we see irrational behavior all the time.  Most recently, people who refuse to get the Covid vaccine. Full disclosure, my wife and I jumped all over it when we had a chance to get the shot.  I was certain that everyone else would as well.  I was so certain, that I have my hotel booked and my airline ticket purchased to head to New Orleans for Bouchercon in late August.

Now, because there’s still a fairly high percentage of people refusing to be vaccinated, I’m having second thoughts.  The folks from Bouchercon sent an email to all participants that to be safe, the Mayor of New Orleans is asking people to mask up when they’re inside because of the increase in cases of variant infections, a danger in particular to those who are unvaccinated. 

The most basic human behavior is self-preservation and the safekeeping of those most close to you.  

I guess you could call this kind of irrational behavior a plot twist, but its one that strains believability. 


Frankie Y. Bailey said...


I, too, was in line as soon as I could get the vaccine. Now, I'm in the same place as you re Bouchercon -- registered, hotel room. I'm on a panel. But I'm a bit concerned about travel.

Anna said...

Irrational behavior strains credulity? Oh no. Irrational behavior is quite believable. Just look around. People are irrational all the time. It's what makes them interesting (and my own induces useful elf-reflection, when I remember to catch myself). And irrational behavior is the foundation---the meat---the bedrock---the governing premise---oh heck I'm running out of metaphors---of the fictions we write. We can turn irrational behavior into stories! Long live irrational behavior! But it's no excuse for not getting vaccinated.