I’ve spent quite a few days mulling over this very question. In order to make my protagonist believable, I need him to react and emote in a believable way. Being the logical chap that I am, I broke the reactions into sections and scoured some of my favorite books for ideas. Currently, I’m reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and I’ve pulled reactions from this book.
I had an agent write the word “voicey” on my manuscript once. It actually works. You want your character to feel like he or she is talking. Mostly, I find that these involve short fragments that reveal the character’s impressions of something happening in the story.
He had told no one about the nightmare. Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fortnightly (or so) phone call, definitelynot his grandma, and no one at school. Absolutely not.
You can see the character’s voice shine through with the phrases: Obviously, Definitely, and Absolutely not.
These are the types of reactions I struggle with. Where the character has a strong emotional reaction to an event in the story. Here’s another from A Monster Calls. The protagonist, Connor, just learned that he might have to live with his grandma, whom he loathes.
Connor frowned, and for a second the whole room seemed to get darker, for a second it felt like the whole house was shaking, for a second it felt like he could reach down and tear the whole floor right out of the dark and loamy earth.
Quite literally, Conner had the rug yanked out from under him. It sounds better the way Ness phrases it.
I do visceral fairly well. Often writers need to show, not just tell, that a character is feeling an emotion. This is that gut wrenching feel that can never translate to a movie. In this bit, Connor has just been thrown a jab toward his sick mother. Rather than saying Connor took the insult personally, Ness shows it.
Connor’s stomach contracted to a ball of fire, like a little sun burning him up form the inside.
I don’t know about you, but I can totally see the hate eating this character up. The author paints a beautiful image that conveys exactly what he’s feeling.
When you’re penning that next breakout bestseller, remember to include reactions to show your protagonist feeling, rather than telling.