The last few days I've been writing about making characters real for the reader. We discussed giving them flaws and personality quirks that readers can relate to. Now let's discuss the way your characters react to outside stimuli. You may think that's a given, but it's amazing how many books and screenplays are written that have characters behave ridiculously at inappropriate moments. I once read a book where the main character's parents are killed in an automobile accident. The character is discussing funeral arrangements with his sister and girlfriend. In the same conversation, he turns to his girlfriend and says, "Oh, and by the way, would you marry me?"
The girlfriend actually accepts.
Mysteries and suspense are notorious for making characters behave in stupid, reckless ways because the writer needs to put the hero or heroine in a dangerous situation. We've all watched movies where the heroine descends a dusty staircase into a moldy basement to find the fuse box during a power outage while thrumming, dreadful music plays in the background. Everyone in the theater begs her to go back upstairs. Everyone but her knows she will soon be pushing up daisies.
Don't resort to these tactics in your book. Lights do go out during thunderstorms while a killer lurks in the basement, but keep it real. If your heroine must trip over a dead body on her way down the stairs, don't let her bury the body in her azelea bushes because she is sure the police will never believe that she didn't kill the guy.
I mean, come on. If you stepped outside this afternoon and found a dead body on your front porch, would you call the cops? Or would you hide the body, sure the cops would put you in prison?
Do you live under a corrupt third world government that punishes the innocent? Neither do your characters.
If you are a convicted murderer, the dead man on your front porch may raise suspicions. But you're a soccer mom. Sure, you got into that trouble in college and your brother once ran a meth lab in Miami, but if you have nothing to hide in the untimely demise of the body on your porch, investigators will soon determine that.
While you're writing, put yourself in the situation with your character. When your mother-in-law gets in your face about all the mistakes you're making in raising her grandchildren, do you burst into show tunes? Your husband tells you he's leaving you to pursue his lifelong dream as center for the Seattle Sonics. Would you lambaste him because he forgot your anniversary?
Make your characters react the way you would react. Or at least the way you would react if you had the nerve to stand up to your sister-in-law who hasn't hosted Christmas dinner in ten years because she has a highly stressful job and all you do is stay home all day with three preschoolers.
Put her in her place. At least between the pages of your fiction.