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JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 01:33 PM
The Flight or Fight theory is something I ponder with all of my characters before I write them.

I wondered if my fellow writers considered this theory. I'm not just talking on a confrontation type of situation with limited consequential value. I mean in a life or death situation because I think in order to understand our characters we need to venture there with them (not necessarily in our stories but before we develop them).

Over the years I have seen many a person broken down to pure raw emotions. And I learnt early that first impressions such as looks, build, age and sex of the subject cannot be used as an accurate guage. I have seen hard men been broken before a smaller quieter man. I have seen women keep their wits about them longer then those big burly men.

The thing is, given enough time - everyone will break down to pure raw emotion under certain circumstances. That animal instinct where we fight or flight.

So imagine your characters broken and are at that raw emotion type level. What is their natural instinct? Do they fight or flight?

For me, this is truly understanding your character and allows you to build their personality upon it.

Do you explore this far into your characters?

JJ

HeronW
04-24-2008, 01:54 PM
My MC, going through a change that gets worse every time, reacts extremely violently. Instead of being able to talk her way out or fight effectively, lashes out like a crazed beast, kills several attackers and is captured.

Another time when she's in full possession of her wits and believes she is to die with no way out, stands and waits for the end.

JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 02:03 PM
That's interesting, Heron.

I don't wish to pull your character apart through detailed analysis. My observations would be that she would come on the 'flight' response. This is despite the extreme violent actions you mention. I say this because when she is broken and believes she will die, she waits it out. The flight doesn't necessarily mean she turns and runs, rather in this instance - she turns off. System shuts down by the sounds of it.

My thoughts for conversational purposes.

JJ

dpaterso
04-24-2008, 02:12 PM
Interesting thoughts, JJ, I confess it's something I've never thought about, maybe I don't stress my characters enough, or maybe they're too stereotypical (i.e. unreal) to break down this way.

-Derek

SPMiller
04-24-2008, 02:19 PM
I can see other situations where standing still to await her fate could be viewed as a fight response.

For example, she'll get shot in the back if she flees, but she might be captured alive if she doesn't. Thus, by deliberately choosing to not resist the threat, she has maximized her chances of survival.

But in other cases, if she's a fatalist, she might be making a flight response--I give up, nothing I can do will affect my chance of survival, it's time to die.

Same result either way, but you've shown her character in the way she reacted to the threat.

JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 02:33 PM
The thing I have noticed during my time interrogating is that the ones who appear the hardest and toughest, are generally the easiest to break. It's a show thing. We all have our vulnerablities - just some know how to hide them better in our everyday lives.

We need our MCs to have a vulnerability. We do. But, we shouldn't just make it a 'cosmetic' vulnerability. We need to dig deep into our character's lives and start by figuring out what their raw emotions would be. Then give them a reason for those emotions either way.

Personally, I give my MC the fight emotion deep down. On face value though he is smart enough to avoid a fight or talk his way out of one. When I put him in life or death situations he uses his wits as well as his strength to stay alive.

On the other hand, my bad guys always get the flight emotion deep down. Yet, they are pure evil at face value.

I find starting with the raw emotion and building upon it doesn't 'cheat' the reader in the end. You know the feeling you get when you say 'I knew he/she was evil/good', that's because of the raw emotions you start with. After that you can twist and add to suit your needs for the story.

JJ

SPMiller
04-24-2008, 02:44 PM
Huh. My bad guys always get a very strong fight response. Always.

Michael Davis
04-24-2008, 02:45 PM
There may be another dimension to the F or F decision process that needs to be considered. For example, if its a non life threating scenario, and someone has spit on my cookie, I'm likely to toss it in the trash and walk away. The consequences aren't worth a response. But if someone spits on my wife, my alpha male nature will be to go to jail for ripping the scums head off.

If its a life threating situation, again the scenario could matter. If someone goes to shot and me and I'm alone, I'm going to run like hell. But if my child is threated, or my mate, I'm going to die trying to save them first, even if it means confronting the threat.

Just my take on an interesting topic.

JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 02:46 PM
I can see other situations where standing still to await her fate could be viewed as a fight response.

For example, she'll get shot in the back if she flees, but she might be captured alive if she doesn't. Thus, by deliberately choosing to not resist the threat, she has maximized her chances of survival.

But in other cases, if she's a fatalist, she might be making a flight response--I give up, nothing I can do will affect my chance of survival, it's time to die.

Same result either way, but you've shown her character in the way she reacted to the threat.

Gonna have to respectfully disagree. Ultimately standing still to await ones fate can't be viewed as a fight response. What does it achieve if death awaits?

You are right by saying that by not resisting ultimately preserves life. Don't disagree. But, I'm talking about the situation where there is no choice. Death awaits. There is only flight or fight.

I've seen people, who thought they were in that situation, shit themselves. And I've seen people who thought they were in that situation shit themselves and then smear as much of it as they can on their faces, legs, arms, everywhere they can - just to keep their captors away.

That's what I'm talking about - fight or flight.

JJ

Sophia
04-24-2008, 02:53 PM
I don't think I've had my characters ever in this kind of situation, but it's an interesting idea. I think for story purposes, I'd want both my protagonist and antagonist to be 'fighters'. This is because the flight response has connotations in my mind of cowardice, even if it would be the best thing to do in most situations. Because of the negative connotation, I'd want my antagonist in particular to have a very strong fight nature, because then it gives my protagonist more to go up against. Isn't there an adage, something like, "you're measured by the strength of the enemies you overcome"? That's what I'd be thinking of, anyway.

JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 03:02 PM
My bad guys are never 'bad' guys. I guess I write literary fiction (so I've been told). My bad guys are usually just people who are 'more broken' than my good guys. There's no evil Dr. Devil in my stories... just the elements of life that cause people to struggle, give up hope and, eventually, re-find it. I think my 'bad' guys always are the ones who flight. The 'good' guys are the ones who grow... who flight and then say, "wait a minute. I can do this" and turn to face and fight what they flight-ed against. (If that makes sense?)

Great points for me to consider. I have to admit I haven't looked far beyond my genre of thrillers to consider if it would apply so much to others (is there others?). I honestly don't know, but am happy for the thoughts to be shared.

Maybe if we think of those charcters we love in books and movies and put them in an ultimate life and death situation. How would they react?

JJ

ETA. I would like to stress that your story doesn't have to have your characters go through a life or death situation. Just put them there before you write to understand them.

JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 03:10 PM
I don't think I've had my characters ever in this kind of situation, but it's an interesting idea. I think for story purposes, I'd want both my protagonist and antagonist to be 'fighters'. This is because the flight response has connotations in my mind of cowardice, even if it would be the best thing to do in most situations. Because of the negative connotation, I'd want my antagonist in particular to have a very strong fight nature, because then it gives my protagonist more to go up against. Isn't there an adage, something like, "you're measured by the strength of the enemies you overcome"? That's what I'd be thinking of, anyway.

I understand where you are coming from. I just think that ultimately your readers may be feeling like they have missed something. Who are they cheering for? The story for me needs to be balanced by these raw emotions IMO.

You can have your antagonist to have a strong fight nature. That's fine. But for me they must ultimately have the flight raw emotion. Again, that's just me.

JJ

Mr Flibble
04-24-2008, 03:39 PM
So imagine your characters broken and are at that raw emotion type level. What is their natural instinct? Do they fight or flight?


JJ

If I tell you I'd have to kill you, because that's the ending to my book :)

JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 03:44 PM
If I tell you I'd have to kill you, because that's the ending to my book :)

Always leave it open for a sequel I say. Mine ended with the MC shot a couple of times and beaten up pretty bad.

He used the break between books rehabing like the author.

JJ

Mr Flibble
04-24-2008, 03:46 PM
Oh I'm writing the sequel

I wonder how many people she'll murder this time?

Damn I gave it away didn't I?

JJ Cooper
04-24-2008, 03:48 PM
Female Dexter? On a winner if it is.

JJ

Mr Flibble
04-24-2008, 03:57 PM
weeelll not exactly. She does kill a lot though ( only if she has to mind). Running is not an option for her -- too stubborn.

HeronW
04-24-2008, 04:47 PM
Back to my MC, if I may: 1st ex: the berserk animalistic behavior overrides the 'common sense' saying the issue isn't worth an argument, turning it into life and death in her mind. She doesn't pick up fallen weapons to use for defense--neither does she chose to disable, or even run. She fights with this furious instinct.

ex 2: she is against an unscaleble rock on 3 sides, a bit of rotting branch is a lousy item for defense against the monster that is going to turn her into toast --so sez the monster. Her choice is burn from the outside in which could take several minutes or take a deep breath when the fire comes knowing her lungs will crisp and she'll die quicker.

Then there's the having to fight: kill or be killed as a gladiator, vs being tortured and crippled for and sent to work in mines.

I don't write fluffy stuff very well :}

Claudia Gray
04-24-2008, 06:18 PM
Gonna have to respectfully disagree. Ultimately standing still to await ones fate can't be viewed as a fight response. What does it achieve if death awaits?




I see we have forgotten the Alamo.

Higgins
04-24-2008, 06:33 PM
The Flight or Fight theory is something I ponder with all of my characters before I write them.

I wondered if my fellow writers considered this theory. I'm not just talking on a confrontation type of situation with limited consequential value. I mean in a life or death situation because I think in order to understand our characters we need to venture there with them (not necessarily in our stories but before we develop them).

Over the years I have seen many a person broken down to pure raw emotions. And I learnt early that first impressions such as looks, build, age and sex of the subject cannot be used as an accurate guage. I have seen hard men been broken before a smaller quieter man. I have seen women keep their wits about them longer then those big burly men.

The thing is, given enough time - everyone will break down to pure raw emotion under certain circumstances. That animal instinct where we fight or flight.

So imagine your characters broken and are at that raw emotion type level. What is their natural instinct? Do they fight or flight?

For me, this is truly understanding your character and allows you to build their personality upon it.

Do you explore this far into your characters?

JJ

I guess I have been thinking this out at some level for at least some characters. One character I thought it through with was a burnt out
ex-commando who had basically taught himself to run away from everything...but if he gets really upset or really pre-occupied or interested he stops running away and fights in a disturbingly cold
and efficient way.

maestrowork
04-24-2008, 06:51 PM
Every character is different. Like Kevin, my "bad" guys are not just villains. They're just people who are more "broken" than others, and choose certain paths instead of others. It's not to say my protagonists don't have issues and problems, but they tend to try to solve them -- "fight" if you will. In fact, they all fight because they believe in what they want.

It's not to say they always fight. I think as human beings we have to assess every situation different and we make decisions accordingly, and sometimes we make mistakes. We should have walked away, but instead we stayed. We should have fought for what we believed in but instead we walked. We can all relate to that.

But when it comes down to the deep, raw core of our being, when logic and rationale become irrelevant and all you have left is your instinct, I think it does show the true color of your characters. In that sense, I think most truly memorable characters, whether they're "good" or "bad" guys, would choose to fight. Because a strong character is one that has strong believes and desires and will do anything to get that. It's not to say you can't have a "weak" character who's best instinct is to escape. But they're weak for a reason, and usually not someone you will remember easily after a few years.

Phaeal
04-24-2008, 09:54 PM
Even Buffy will run if up against a Hell Goddess with trashy taste in clothes.

Phaeal
04-24-2008, 10:02 PM
I see we have forgotten the Alamo.

Ah, the nobility of the hopeless stand. Or, as Gimli would say, "Certainty of death, small chance of success -- what are we waiting for?"

Been a few stories about this one. ;)

mscelina
04-24-2008, 10:02 PM
I'm of the opinion that pretty much any character has to begin 'broken' in order to progress. What determines a character's good or evil are the decisions that arise from that first breaking--if that makes sense. For me, I'm more fascinated by the process a character goes through in that split-second of indecision. What does she see? Hear? Smell? And then, how does that translate to what the character ultimately becomes?

Which just pretty much encapsulated the prologue to Asphodel. My MC witnesses a horrible event--the one that breaks her--but her sensory recall is extraordinary. I wanted to put the reader right there beside her--feeling the wind, smelling burning flesh, tasting the snow, watching the horror unfold before her. Ultimately, it is that categorization that saves her, sends her into flight so that she can fight later.

Naturally, I also torture her with those sensory memories for the rest of her life but what's the fun of being a writer if you can't do that?

Sassee
04-24-2008, 11:04 PM
So imagine your characters broken and are at that raw emotion type level. What is their natural instinct? Do they fight or flight?

For me, this is truly understanding your character and allows you to build their personality upon it.

Do you explore this far into your characters?

JJ

Definitely. One of my major character arcs is actually the transition from a "flight" person to a "fight" person.


There may be another dimension to the F or F decision process that needs to be considered. For example, if its a non life threating scenario, and someone has spit on my cookie, I'm likely to toss it in the trash and walk away. The consequences aren't worth a response. But if someone spits on my wife, my alpha male nature will be to go to jail for ripping the scums head off.

If its a life threating situation, again the scenario could matter. If someone goes to shot and me and I'm alone, I'm going to run like hell. But if my child is threated, or my mate, I'm going to die trying to save them first, even if it means confronting the threat.

Just my take on an interesting topic.

Ditto. Generally, mine will fly when it's only her butt on the line. If there are other people involved she raises her fists (metaphorically speaking... not a good puncher, that one).

IMO, everyone has their breaking point. If there's no breaking point the character doesn't seem real to me. (Not that the breaking point has to happen during the course of the story, but the possibility needs to be present.)

CDarklock
04-24-2008, 11:50 PM
The thing is, given enough time - everyone will break down to pure raw emotion under certain circumstances.

Said circumstances being that the situation is so unfamiliar as to be incomprehensible to reason, and control is pushed from the forebrain into the hindbrain. If things remain intractable under primitive instinctive impulses, control is handed over to the brainstem - which simply responds in the most shortsighted fashion, without emotion at all.

Familiarity with the situation prevents this delegation of thought. If someone has been able to prepare for the situation, his forebrain may remain in control the entire time. If you drop the average American citizen into a war zone with the clatter of automatic weapons all around him, he's in an unfamiliar situation and drops to hindbrain control pretty quickly. But if you do the same with a combat veteran who's seen action on the front lines before, nothing of the sort happens. It's not an unfamiliar situation, so he doesn't lose control of his faculties.

Oh, but, uh... yeah, I think about this. A lot. ;)

Cat Scratch
04-24-2008, 11:56 PM
There's a really interesting book called Why Gender Matters that argues (scientifically backed, of course) that women do not possess a fight-or-flight response like men do. We are biologically wired differently.

I recommend that all writers read this book, because it really goes in depth about why males and females are different and behave that way. (Feminism aside--we're different, and it's time to stop acting like we're the same. I'm a feminist too, btw.)

CDarklock
04-25-2008, 12:32 AM
we're different, and it's time to stop acting like we're the same.

What she said.

Vive la différence!

JJ Cooper
04-25-2008, 03:33 AM
There's a really interesting book called Why Gender Matters that argues (scientifically backed, of course) that women do not possess a fight-or-flight response like men do. We are biologically wired differently.

I recommend that all writers read this book, because it really goes in depth about why males and females are different and behave that way. (Feminism aside--we're different, and it's time to stop acting like we're the same. I'm a feminist too, btw.)

I haven't read the book, but I do recall this theory being explored some years ago.

My recollection of some of the articles written was that some women were categorised in a more 'protector' type role. That being the instinct to protect their offspring either through flight or fight.

Thanks for bring this up - I'll go have a look at those articles again.

JJ

JJ Cooper
04-25-2008, 03:44 AM
Some interesting articles out there from a few years back on the theory that women may 'tend and befriend' instead or 'flight or flight'. Here's a sample:


The “fight-or-flight” response is generally regarded as the prototypic human response to stress. Physiologically, it is characterized by sympathetic nervous system activation, which ultimately results in the secretion of chemicals into the bloodstream mobilizing the behavioral response.

Whether the response culminates in “fight” or “flight” is thought to depend on whether the threat or stressor is perceived as surmountable. Thus, an appropriate stress response is essential to survival.

While this biobehavioral “fight-or-flight” theory has dominated stress research for the past five decades, it has been disproportionately based on studies of males. This is because females’ greater cyclical variation in neuroendocrine responses presented a confusing and often uninterpretable pattern of results. As a result, the processes involved in stress responses in females are less well understood.

Tend and befriend

A team of scientists supported by the National Institute of Mental Health has formulated a theory that characterizes female responses to stress by a pattern they term “tend-and-befriend,” rather than by “fight-or-flight.”

They believe that female stress responses have selectively evolved to simultaneously maximize the survival of self and offspring. Thus, the “tend-and-befriend” pattern involves females’ nurturance of offspring under stressful circumstances, the exhibition of behaviors that protect them from harm (tending), and befriending – namely, creating and joining social groups for the exchange of resources and to provide protection.

http://www.medicalmoment.org/_content/healthupdates/dec03/187868.asp

Danger Jane
04-25-2008, 07:46 AM
Really interesting thread. I just realized the difference between my two protagonists--I've been struggling with it since I finished the first draft and it's been holding up my edits. The two protags are a mother and a daughter who've been put in very similar situations at the same points in their lives, but I just figured out what exactly is different: the mother fights, but her daughter flees, or at least tends/befriends as well as she can. And that, essentially, is what makes them different characters.

Komnena
04-25-2008, 04:18 PM
Regarding fight or flight response, I think women definitely have them. I certainly had one the night the tornado passed by my house. It was all I could do to keep from running outside and crawling under the deck. If I'd done so I could have been seriously injured by flying debris. I believe all women should be prepared for the possibility of such a response. Yes, men and women think differently. But this wasn't a matter of thinking. It was a deep instinctive thing.

Ken
04-25-2008, 04:43 PM
my characters are broken down and in shambles from page one.
They never recuperate, except for a few glimmers of hope, that quickly get dashed to pieces. They don't fight or take flight, but sorta just weather out the storm and grow moldy. (Not exactly chicken soup for the soul.)

Claudia Gray
04-25-2008, 07:52 PM
There's a really interesting book called Why Gender Matters that argues (scientifically backed, of course) that women do not possess a fight-or-flight response like men do. We are biologically wired differently.

I recommend that all writers read this book, because it really goes in depth about why males and females are different and behave that way. (Feminism aside--we're different, and it's time to stop acting like we're the same. I'm a feminist too, btw.)


I don't act like I'm the same as men -- nor do I act like I'm the same as women. I act like I act, because I'm an individual. So does everybody else on the planet. Any writer who starts trying to make their characters fit a group instead of crafting individuals is, IMHO, 100% on the wrong track.

Danger Jane
04-26-2008, 01:04 AM
I don't act like I'm the same as men -- nor do I act like I'm the same as women. I act like I act, because I'm an individual. So does everybody else on the planet. Any writer who starts trying to make their characters fit a group instead of crafting individuals is, IMHO, 100% on the wrong track.

I've read some of the book, and IMO it's not as black and white as you might think. Any psychologist who thinks there is a boy category and a girl category is just plain wrong...just like any psychologist who still thinks gender is a social construct, instead of a biological one. It's pretty in-depth and insightful, rather than stone aged.


Regarding fight or flight response, I think women definitely have them. I certainly had one the night the tornado passed by my house. It was all I could do to keep from running outside and crawling under the deck. If I'd done so I could have been seriously injured by flying debris. I believe all women should be prepared for the possibility of such a response. Yes, men and women think differently. But this wasn't a matter of thinking. It was a deep instinctive thing.

I don't think you can group natural disasters like tornadoes with threatening situations between people. I mean, who's gonna befriend an avalanche? But you can subtly get on the good side of a grouchy boss instead of out-and-out confronting him. Hope my example's not flawed; my head's fried from driving.

slcboston
04-26-2008, 01:24 AM
I see we have forgotten the Alamo.

Well, militarily speaking, that was a pretty stupid decision. :)

slcboston
04-26-2008, 01:25 AM
And my characters tend not to have a "flight" response to often, at least not my MC's. Besides, I took Mr Sumner literally when he crooned "a gentleman will walk but never run." :D