Good beta readers and critique partners are essential for writers, not just because they make individual manuscripts stronger, but also because they can make writers aware of problematic patterns.
My beta readers often comment that my characters don’t react or show emotion to big things – like finding out demons exits, losing a loved one, seeing someone get shot, or having some slightly mundane but life changing news delivered.
Despite the validity of these comments, I often get very defensive about them. It’s not that my characters don’t feel or show emotion; they just don’t do it right away.
There is a reason I write them like that.
I almost never have instant reactions to things unless that reaction is rage or something completely irrational.
I may have immediately dissolved into screaming and swearing that one time there were cars on a hiking (I may have had a staring contest with the car)but when my grandmother died, and when I got offer a contract for my book, I just kind of stared and went through the motions before I truly reacted.
When big things happen, I don’t react to them right away. I go blank and stare until my brain figures out how it wants to react, considers how people expect me to react and finds a compromise between the two. Therefore, in my first drafts, my characters seldom react the way readers expect.
I need to stop mentally fighting readers about this.
My characters are not me.
Maybe if I am writing a character that has the same not completely diagnosed flavor of mental illness that I have, the readers would have to deal with it. However, if I am writing a neurotypical character and/or one that is mentally healthy, then they need to react like one of those people would.
Without beta readers, it would be almost impossible for me to see this. Even with them, it has taken me far to long to figure it out. Even being aware of it, I’m sure it will still happen in all my first drafts, but I am going to work harder to catch it early revisions so that my readers can focus on other things.