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A Character’s Reflex and Senses

We did the Active Shooter Response Training this week at school. Big shoutout to the KSP--it was fantastic. I learned so many things I’d never thought about before, and for the first time in my career, I don’t feel like a sitting duck. 

One thing the speaker said resonated with me as a writer. He talked about how in a scenario like a school shooting, the body tends to focus on a single sense, like tunnel vision.  The person in danger could literally see everything in the room and hear nothing. I heard what he said, but it wasn’t until we started doing drills that I really understood. We get so carried away with trying to throw in all those sensory details that sometimes we forget to check reality.

In some of the drills, we had to flee. I’ve never ran so fast in my life, and surprisingly, I wasn’t breathless. Here I’ve been making excuses about not running 5K’s and who knew I could jet across a parking lot in ten seconds, ha ha. But the crazy thing is, I remember all of the cars in the parking lot beside where I was standing. I remember details of the back of our school that I’ve never noticed before even though I’ve been out that same door several times. Everything I saw the second the drill was over is blazed in my mind.

Then it hit me (duh) that I’ve taught anatomy, and human reflexes are pretty well-researched phenomena. 

Here, for example, is one of the sites I like to use:  Our Body’s Rapid Defense Mechanism. It explains involuntary movement and what almost always happens when we get injured.

Tying this back to characters, it makes me wonder how well we pace their reflexes. When I heard gunshots in the hallway, I stood frozen for about 5 seconds before I ran, evaluating which direction was safe. Sitting in a room with someone pointing a gun at me completely changed the way I see that kind of scene. They told us in the training to fight the man, and I dove at him before I even knew what I was doing. Let me tell you, in that instance, I wasn’t thinking about what color shirt he was wearing or whether or not he had a certain hair color or style. 

What I’m saying is placement of details matters. In that 10-15 seconds that I held the “shooter’s” wrists and the other teachers helped me ambush the poor guy, my only thought was keeping that gun out of my face. Now after he was on the table and the “danger” was over, I noticed everything in the room. 

Now I’m pumped, ready to write a good fight scene 🙂