Saturday, January 28, 2012

Instinctive Body Reactions

Instinctive body reactions [IBR's]- you know what they are. It's when you instinctively react to a situation without an apparent thought about what you're doing.

They just happen.
[Point Peron by William Ophius]
The other day I had a typical instinctive body reation to what I will politely call a 'bug attack'. I have the unfortunate ability to attract bugs... I'm not talking about mosquitoes or flies - they seem to leave me mostly alone, but big flying insects... they aim for my head. It's weird. Anyway, the other day we were walking at Point Peron - and a bug landed on my head. At its approach, without thinking, I screamed and freaked out. Then it landed on me. At that moment, I had no thought about anything other than getting the bug off my head. So with flailing arms, I began smacking at my head to remove the bug - with little consideration as for what kind of bug it may be. Suffice to say, I struck the bug off my head, but not before whacking it into my head first. Then I hysterically asked my husband "Is it gone?!" Yes, it had gone, but it had left a nasty little present.... a BIG STINK. The bug I had squashed onto my head was indeed a STINK BUG.
[Stink Bug courtesy Monash Uni]
Pondering this horribly stinky and somewhat distressing event has got me thinking about what makes a realistic instinctive body responses in writing.

There are few things to note about IBR's.
- They are done instinctively, and the movements are unconscious. They are not premeditated.
-They are easy to do, based on pure gross motor skills.
-They are easy to perform under stressful situations and require little need for recall.
-Individuals do not need any form of training to be able to perform them.
-With small modifications and preparation, IBR's can be very effective as self-defense in real life events. For example, my flailing arms (with slightly more control), could have been affective to protect against the bug landing on my head. However in this instance it was a complete over-reaction and ultimately caused more trouble than good. A gentle shake of my head would probably have dislodged the bug when it landed, and sent it on its own merry way. 

So it worth noting in your own writing, how and what would be a realistic when an instinctive reaction is required from your character.
For example,  when shocked or surprised, the most common reaction is usually a strangled gasp.You know, the sharp inhalation of breath into a tight chest, that makes a high pitched "herrrrr!" sound? I'm sure you do. I have the unfortunate habit of doing this whenever there is a bird on the road and I think we may hit it (we never do) and my gasp nearly gives everyone in the car a heart attack. Its a bad reaction in this situation because everyone is instinctively responds to it as if imminent danger is approaching - and in this case, we are in no danger at all. The same could not be said for the bird.
Another obvious IBR is the jerk forward or backward. When startled, we instinctively jerk away from the object/person/thing causing alarm. It's a sharp gesture that can sometimes result in a pulled neck muscle and is often combined with the strangled gasp.  However, if you are alarmed and can forsee something bad about to happen (ie: a baby about to touch the hot oven window) we usually jerk forward - hands outstretched to prevent the forseen event from occurring. The startled gasp is also usually present in this scenario. These reactions are all instinctive. Almost all functioning adults do them.

Anyway, "Magical Redemption" is waiting so I'll leave you with this final scholarly thought;
Watching and noting your own (and others) impulsive reactions to things and applying them to your characters will ensure your readers will relate immediately to the scenario and therefore engage with a deeper level of understanding to your work.... and ultimately, what more could an author ask for?

Have a super week!