I am having a kind of writers block with a short story... not a writers block in a sense, that the problem is, that I just want to challenge myself.

Which methods writers usually use in order to make characters act out of character; and how to build this up quickly (one act in a short story with a three act structure, less than 500 words).

In my specific use case, I want my character, a police officer with pacifistic tendencies, to attack his work mate while having a chat during maintenance of their equipment (very everyday situation).

Which methods will make the use of violence believable in abstract sense, where the work mate must remain very much innocent for his fate; the act of violence is totally undeserved and caused by double meanings only apparent for the main character and the reader.

I have discovered, that using reverse SCARF method would work: Taking away characters Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and perception of Fairness; these usually happen in stories before the character snaps. However, I want to go deeper. What other methods are there for me to discover?

3 Answers 3


The short answer would be that characters don't act out of character - they act from aspects of their character the reader doesn't know yet.

For someone the reader had previously regarded as a pacifist, a sudden act of violence would need a very good reason - or something the character believed (and the reader could believe) was a very good reason.

The last of those is a good one to play with. If you want the reader to continue to believe that the character is essentially peaceful, a misunderstanding that was later revealed to be wrong would be a nice way to go.

You could also play with specific events in the character's past that the reader may or may not know at the time of the contradictory event.


For most people there is a difference between what values they believe in and what values they are able to consistently follow in their life.

  • There are people who believe in a healthy lifestyle, yet can not stop themselves from eating unhealthy junk food from time to time.
  • There are people who believe in the sanctity of marriage, yet succumb to temptation and cheat on their spouse.
  • There are people who believe in fairness and egalitarianism, yet act selfish from time to time.
  • I believe in good work ethics, yet here I am, sitting at work, writing this post which has absolutely nothing to do with my job.

Many people strife for a certain ideal version of themselves, but they rarely succeed in achieving it. Everyone encounters situations where they succumb to their emotions and act contrary to their ideals. That's not acting "out of character", that's acting on a character aspect someone tries to suppress, but fails.

Emotions are the key here. Something must trigger an intense emotional response in your character, which causes him to act contrary to his pacifist ideals and have a violent outburst. If you want to keep the victim innocent, it must be something which seems quite mundane to the victim, but very important to the perpetrator.


The key to this is motivation and circumstances. Or a possible alternative might be mental illness.

I might normally be a pacifist who rescues worms from the street, but if someone seriously threatens the safety of my three year old daughter, perhaps I would be able to pull the trigger on a gun.

So you need to build up the passive qualities of your police officer by showing him acting passively in some way right from the beginning. Then you need to demonstrate to the reader a good reason that they can empathise with for him to suddenly behave violently. Was there another, greater, danger that he was ultimately protecting his colleague from? Or did he actually know something about this colleague that made his actions justifiable for the greater good?

Or, moving onto mental illness - could he be having hallucinations or breaks with reality that make him believe his colleague is something else - something dangerous?

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