Trying to establish someones personality in a stressful situation

DAgent

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Or at least one element of it.

I'm working on a story where three characters are trapped together and we are introduced to them after they had become trapped with nowhere to go. They all met at an airport, got into a private chartered bus to get to their destination and the bus breaks down in a storm in the middle of nowhere late at night.

One of the characters starts getting nasty towards the others, and at the moment just in the body of the prose I have one of the characters musing over how different she seemed to be when they all met at the airport.

The thing is, this is telling rather than showing, and to my mind throwing in a flashback (or even just starting the story at the airport and then showing the breakdown rather then starting the tale a few hours after it happened) to show them all arriving and how they met would just act as padding and add nothing rather than just gratuitous dialogue. I do have her getting progressively nastier, but I am just wondering how everyone would want to deal with a character like that in the early part of the story to sell that this is a change in personality that the other characters (who are all cooler headed) have noticed, without resorting to telling rather then showing.
 

Saiyali

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Maybe give yourself a challenge: try to write a version of this scene where there is no introspection from any character. All you try to show is their words, actions; body language, facial expression, what happens with their eyes etc. What they say, what they do, how they interact - no ''why'', just show what happens. See if it's possible to establish key facets of their personalities simply by showing what they say and do, and how they act.

eg, have your character A actually express to one or other or both of the others, that they feel character B has changed, how it shows, how it makes them feel. Don't show or tell anything as the writer, have the characters tell and show each other.
 

Wayne Mack

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How important is it to the story to have the reader know how the characters interacted at the airport? Maybe it is best to just leave that detail out? If it is important to the story, instead of musing on the character being nicer at the airport, go ahead and do a flashback of a happy interaction, a party, a night out, a day at the beach, and describe it pleasantly without saying the character was nice.

I don't know how the story progresses, but my initial inclination would be to omit that detail. If it is already written and does not obstruct the flow, I suggest leaving it for now and continuing to write the story. I have found that I discover more of a character's personality quirks as I go on and I usually need to adjust details in a rewrite pass any way.
 

sknox

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To add on to Wayne Mack's advice, you can make that flashback pretty compact. Person A recalls that he first met B when she helped him at the airport with his luggage. Or held his coffee for him. Person C recalls B had a nice smile but sometimes the meanest people have the nicest smiles.

IOW, it can be done in a sentence or a paragraph. Doesn't need to be a whole big deal. Unless the personality shift is the point of the story, in which case you'd move the beginning, but it doesn't sound like it is the point. Just background.
 

Flaviosky

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All you try to show is their words, actions; body language, facial expression, what happens with their eyes etc. What they say, what they do, how they interact - no ''why'', just show what happens
I agree. Also with the other character's reactions to actually set how wicked this character is (If all of them are wicked, they won't find any nasty behavior strange)

For personal taste, maybe the airport scene can come as @sknox says: Quick flashbacks "Hey, but back at the airport you didn't said X as you're saying now"

That way the nasty personality can slowly become some sort of mistery and help establish an antagonist. The flashbacks are tiny bits of information to help build the profile (or a false one). This dicotomy has an explanaiton and it's important to build anticipation for it, and who knows, maybe that's important for the other characters to discover so they can face the antagonist later.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

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I would first try making the other characters act confused towards her nasty behavior once it starts, continually looking for some reason other than simple nastiness that she's behaving this way--maybe even have one of the others go so far as pointing out the difference between her past and present behavior in plain English, especially if they're a particularly straightforward sort, and demanding an explanation from her about her behavior switch. It doesn't have to be a prominent part of the scene, just some honest bewilderment on their part. And whoever's perspective you're in can keep trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and think something along the lines of, "No, there must be something I'm missing here, it just doesn't add up with her behavior before." And then trying to ask her questions and make an honest effort to figure out what it is.

It takes all the exposition-ness out of "musing over how different she was at the airport", and instead converts it into the character actively trying to solve a puzzle and come to solid conclusions about her character, something which strongly affects the story now. You can also, if you want, include mental examples of what happened--His strongest memory had been of her coming over with a gentle smile and offering to get everyone coffees in the airport. Was it the crisis that had somehow changed her into this viper-tongued hag? Or was it something more personal?--instead of merely saying--She was so nice before. That sort of mini-flashback would strengthen the effect quite a lot.
 
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Guanazee

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How do the characters know the one person is getting nastier? Focus on those elements. If necessary, pick one trait or action that readers can see getting particularly worse as time wears on.

I started a new draft today. It's soooo rough but I'm showing the MC's reluctance to go to a ceremony by how far she hides behind the book she's reading.
 

DAgent

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How important is it to the story to have the reader know how the characters interacted at the airport? Maybe it is best to just leave that detail out? If it is important to the story, instead of musing on the character being nicer at the airport, go ahead and do a flashback of a happy interaction, a party, a night out, a day at the beach, and describe it pleasantly without saying the character was nice.

I don't know how the story progresses, but my initial inclination would be to omit that detail. If it is already written and does not obstruct the flow, I suggest leaving it for now and continuing to write the story. I have found that I discover more of a character's personality quirks as I go on and I usually need to adjust details in a rewrite pass any way.
All three are total strangers to each other who only met at the airport. They've never even chatted online in any way. They literally show up on different flights from different parts of the world and the only thing they have in common is their destination.
 

WSDuffy

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I'm a bit late to the party, but here is what I might do, depending on how your story is going.

1) If there is time, have the character's behavior change over the course of the breakdown. I.E. when the bus breaks down she hands out snacks or water or some sort of pick me up, but as time progresses her behavior shifts. That would give the other participants something to react to, (i.e. how can you do/say this when you gave me a bag of chips before) and the wicked one a specific thing to point at when her behavior turns.

2) Use something in the physical description of the character that is typically associated with kindness. A Canadian flag on a backpack, a Brene Brown book in her hand, etc. That way the shock is between the outward signals and the actual behavior.

Home that helps
 

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