When I was teaching, I often noticed that beginning writers tended to make all their characters behave the way they themselves would act in a given situation. I usually ended up telling them the jam story.
When my husband and I were first married, we settled into a pattern of having brunch on Sundays. I would make pancakes, eggs and English muffins and set out several kinds of jam. After a couple of weeks, my husband asked, "How come we always have a lot of different jams in the house, but we never have grape or strawberry? Those are the only two kinds I really like."
I apologized and explained that I didn't know that. I didn't buy either because I didn't like them, but from then on, I would make sure we always had grape or strawberry jam in the house. "How come you only like those two flavors?" I asked.
"Because," he said, "when I was a boy growing up on the farm, we always had grape or strawberry jam. That's what I'm used to, and that's what I like."
Then he asked, "Why don't you like grape or strawberry jam?"
"Because," I answered, "when I was a a girl growing up in the country, we always had grape or strawberry jam, and I got tired of them."
Same circumstances, two different people. Two completely different reactions. It shouldn't surprise us that brains are not all wired the same way. Unfortunately, we often tend to forget that fact and get upset when someone doesn't see things the way we do.
Writers make use of such situations because conflict is the engine that drives good stories. In real life, however, understanding differences in brain wiring can avoid conflicts and make life a lot more enjoyable.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.