The story I'm writing begins with the main character in an unusual and demanding situation. For various reasons, this situation causes him to behave in ways that are quite different to how we see him act for the rest of the story.

Now, if this were happening later in the story, I'd simply establish what has changed and why it's unusual for him, and provided I'd characterised him right, his unusual (for him) behaviour would seem natural and appropriate, given the change of circumstance.

My trouble is, since the character is going back to far more familiar conditions, and isn't self-aware enough to think about or acknowledge this fact (at least, not without prompting from another character), many of the usual tricks I would use to show that his relationship to his environment has changed will be unavailable to me.

How then do I flag up the relevant changes, such that the character's behaviour doesn't seem arbitrary to the reader, without "breaking character" (in the sense of revealing things from the character's perspective that the character himself would pay no attention to)?

  • Is there a reason you don't want "prompting from another character"? That seems like the most straightforward method. Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 1:25
  • @Lauren Ipsum The main reason is that he's alone for the first part, so his behavior afterwards is unlikely to be remarkable to anyone else. In other words, I think giving him "prompting from another character" would break character for them. Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 9:17

3 Answers 3


NOTE: I'm new to this site, and not completely familiar with the finer points of etiquette, here, so please do let me know if this (answering my own question) isn't considered the right way to go about this sort of thing.

I've given this problem more thought, and I believe I've found a nice solution (which isn't say I'm not still open to other suggestions, mind you).

I think the answer is to introduce a common element to both. If I have the character encounter a specific and recognisable stimulus in both parts of the story, and his reactions are noticeably different, I think that should be sufficient to signal that there has been a shift in how he is responding to his surroundings, and should draw the attention of any reader who notices it to the corresponding differences in his situation.

  • It's completely fine to answer your own question and be open to other answers as well, for instance I answered my own question over on the Board and Card Games exchange and since my answer fit my question it worked out: boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/33054/…
    – Cyberson
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 23:56
  • 2
    @Cyberson Thank you. I guess that makes sense. An answer's an answer, regardless of who it's from. Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 0:01

If he's not aware that he's back in a familiar environment, then why would his behavior change?

Maybe what you might try is having the character act the same way even though the environment changes, and then have something occur where due to him acting like he is in the unfamiliar environment would either seem extremely out of of character to the other people in this familiar environment, or would cause him to "snap out of it" and return to his normal behavior.

Ex: If a typical high school student finds themself transported to the realm of Star Wars as a Jedi-in-training, then they would probably freak out a little bit. If, however, they were later transported back to their native realm as a high school student, they might try to use the force to laughable results, prompting one of their fellow students to ask them what in their right mind they are doing.

  • Does your behaviour only change because of things you're aware of? I think we all behave differently in different situations, when interacting with different people or doing different kinds of activities, regardless of whether we're consciously aware of these differences or not. I suppose what I'm talking about is sort of the emotional equivalent of letting your gaze relax after you've been focusing on something specific. You don't generally think to yourself "Oh, I'm now not specifically looking at that thing anymore". At least, I don't. Nonetheless, thank you for your answer. Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 0:20
  • To clarify, he is aware that he's back in a familiar environment. He's not aware (or at least, it's not high enough in his awareness for the narrator to swoop down and grab it) that he's fallen back into his usual habits because of it. Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 0:23
  • @TheTermiteSociety If he's fallen back into his normal habits, and is aware he is back in his familiar setting, what are you trying to point out as an author? If you're just trying to say "this is normal" then you could just let the readers figure it out by the fact that he seems more comfortable now and that nothing like what happens initially occurs again later.
    – Cyberson
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 3:51

I'm pretty new to this site, but the first thing that came to my mind: are there any inside jokes or something like that? Something that only familiar things/people can make the character do? Or maybe you could be like 'I don't know how, but I feel like I've done this before...I dismiss that thought and--' or close to that

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