Character Instinct

Character Instinct

A Lesson by Gabriel Strange

At a base level how will a character react given no time to think or plan.


Now you’re getting to a point where you need to start thinking about what consciousness is all about. Is it the sum of a person’s genetics, or the social environment and world around them that has influenced their development? In essence it’s a bit of both as there is crossover between instinct and the sub-conscious. We can learn new instincts and repress memories to our sub-conscious though we are changing our sub-conscious, though the core urges and drives never change. They can be augmented through the characters experiences in their early years of their lives.

At some level instinct blends with the sub-conscious as memories or repeated actions sink deeper into the characters mind to a point where the character doesn’t need to think about them. These instincts can come out as autonomous responses to events gut reactions or feelings. Almost all instinct in humans is learned, any instinct a person is born with is soon lost as the impressionable minds explores the constructs or society and it rules.

Ouch Hot

Automated reactions come from the unpleasant or pleasant response. You only need to burn you hand once to know a flame is hot, after that instinct will give off warning signals that fire is hot, unless you consciously over ride it you’re going to automatically move your hand away from the flame.

There are a number of basic instincts we all learn so your characters will more than likely have the same instincts, unless there is something wrong with them or they derive pleasure from pain through an endorphin rush or other such deviation. When presented with something new that has never been seen or felt before the brain will process a probable out come from any known factors or stimuli, such as does it look like a flame? Is it hot when I get close to it? Can I smell fire? If all the answers are yes then instinct will tell you to stay away. This calculated response to an unknown scenario is what makes the mind so unique, this will be covered in more detail later.

Should a character be presented with a series of stimuli with nothing for the mind to refer to, a truly unknown experience then the mind will tend to be cautious but curiosity may get the better of them, as in essence all humans are experience junkies.  From this unknown experience the mind will determine what to make of these or similar stimuli should the meet them again.

Automated instinct is something we all have and learn usually very quickly we don’t even need to think about what is happening we will automatically react to the situation. Much like driving or doing any skilled task you need to learn through experience and repetition.

The Amazing Mind

One thing that makes us conscious is our ability to extrapolate a probable scenario from different stimuli.  You don’t need to be hit by a car to know it will probably hurt a lot and you may die. As you have already learned that the human body is fragile, cars are made of metal and move fast and if you get hit by a heavy fast moving object it will mess you up.

The human mind can take an unknown situation and using familiar stimuli it can make an education choice as to the best action to take. These stimuli don’t need to be experienced the human’s ability to communicate means we can pass on knowledge to others about our experience of other stimuli, then these can be used in any unknown situation. This level of instinct isn’t always automatic, if the scenario is unexpected it may take the mind a moment to process what is happening and even the conscious mind may have some input as the person thinks about the situation. Pre planning is always good, no matter what the scenario is we can think ahead to what might come and work out possible responses to stimuli we might come across. Forethought is what makes us unique.

We have all been waiting for something to happen at one point in our lives and every time we are running that scenario through our minds thinking of possible solutions to anything that might happen though this isn’t instinct, it’s building instinctual responses freeing the mind up to react without thought. We will usually put a positive or negative spin on these scenarios based off past experiences or current situations.

The Sum of Experience

A characters instinct is the sum of their life experience, everything that has led them to a point is ammunition for the mind to use in an unknown situation. Some instincts become automated others need to be thought about and some come from forethought, they are all based of what has happened previously. This can be used within a characters story to great effect by introducing a character to a unknown situation that they learn form and can use later in the story to resolve there plot.

Most of the time a characters instincts will match those around them, though this isn’t always the case because cultural and geographical differences can have an effect. It is always best to look at you character past to decide if there are any significant elements which might shape responses to certain stimuli that they face in their story.

Inner Demons

We all have inner demons parts of us which instinctually say do this or don’t do that, were not proud of them and many times we are ashamed by them. We cannot overcome their voice and it’s something which can affect how other people see us.

A character’s instinctual or sub-conscious actions will always be under scrutiny by those around them and the audience. Even though the character isn’t aware of the audience, they can be paranoid that others may find out about something they do.  Some people pick their nose, some scratch there bum. Others are afraid of certain situations or even the thought of them. These inner demons rule our lives and can cause major embarrassment for an individual.

A character in there story usually has to overcome one of these inner demons, it can be something sub-conscious or instinctual, it is usually always something learned or experience that fuels these inner demons. A character will always try to maintain a level of self-respect in any situation even if there inner demons have been revealed. How they do this can be very interesting, also it is a learning experience that character can use to overcome their inner demons.

Hand in Hand

Instinct and the sub-conscious go hand in hand you cannot have one without the other and each of them reflects on the other. Using the gate metaphor, anything that has gotten past a characters sub-conscious gates comes to the instinctual gates where there past experiences are taken into account. Actions that get to the instinctual can be made based of these experiences, and before being past for adjudication to the next level. However instinctual actions happen and a character can react without any regard to their outward personality. Time or lack of attention (day dreaming) is usually key factor here, if time is short and action needs to be taken a character may throw caution to the wind or not even realise they are acting on instinct.


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Added on September 1, 2012
Last Updated on September 1, 2012

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Gabriel Strange
Gabriel Strange

Cardiff, South Glamorgan, United Kingdom

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I found myself huddled up in a Grebo community in the Midlands, here I started working in Publishing, well not really working more running around panicking as ..