That’s what we ask ourselves when we write. We put our protagonist in a “situation” or we cause something to happen to her or him, then we ask ourselves, what would we do, then we have our character do that. And, voila, the plot moves forward.
So now I’m asking you, Does it? Does the plot move forward?
You trap your protagonist in a cave with no obvious way out, then you ask, OK, how would I get out? How would I react in this situation? Or you have your protagonist find out she has cancer or diabetes and you then think, how would I react?
How you would react is not integral to your story. What matters is how that character would react. How that person would react and what that person would do. If your characters are just mini-yous, then they are not real people. Sure, they’re gonna have bits of you in them (you are their creator), but they are not you.
Stop and think of all the different possibilities. Your character has just been given really bad medical news. What will she do?
Go to bed and cry for two days.In any situation there are a myriad of possibilities. Don’t just go with the first one that comes to mind – the one you would do. Your protagonist has to be real to you or she won’t be real to the reader. So ask her or let her tell you.
Run to the gym and exercise herself into exhaustion.
Call friends and tell each of them.
Hide the prognosis and tell no one.
Tell only one trusted friend.
Get on the Internet and begin researching.
Stop on the way home to have her will changed.
Sit by the lake and try to soak in the beauty of the water and ducks.
Sell her house and begin a quest to do the things on her bucket list.
Call her siblings and tell them the prognosis so they can get tested.
Throw out her brown suit and pumps and head to the nightclub for some fun.
Make appointments with specialists and begin treatment.
Have you written a character that didn’t do what you would have done? Were you surprised? Did you learn something by listening to him or her?