Natural disasters, or as some may call them ‘acts of God’, can often be difficult to cope with. This could refer to a bad storm where a telephone pole smashes your car or it could refer to a loved one getting very sick. Ultimately, these situations refer to circumstances beyond your control. These occurrences, which are all negative in their own way, can make a character ask questions like why me and am I being punished? There are many different types of disasters that can be beyond a character’s control and there are a variety of reactions your character could have to each one.
One natural disaster would involve the weather in some manner. This could mean a hurricane is blowing through town or an electric storm toppling over a tree, cutting off the house’s power in the middle of working on an important presentation. These sorts of horrible luck can allow the reader to learn more about how your character views the world. If your character is more religious, it may make him question why God would put him through this. If he isn’t spiritual, does he believe in karma or luck? Your character could even have a unique very begrudging relationship with whatever part of the universe he thinks would put him through this.
Oftentimes, when it comes to acts of God, one of the important ways to get to the point where we see him questioning his reality is through a buildup of events. So maybe it starts with the power going out and all of a sudden his house gets flooded. When we first encounter an act of God, we’re not necessarily suspicious, but a string of horrible luck can bring out anyone’s innermost conspiracy theorist.
Another tough pill to swallow is when either your character or one of their close friends/family members gets sick. Does your character get angry? Does he or she become inconsolably sad? Do they try to remain strong when around their friend but then, when they’re gone, they’re more expressive about how they feel? When choosing who an illness could befall in your story, consider how your character feels about themselves vs. how they feel about other people. In addition, consider which traits about your character you’d like to highlight.
For example, let’s say your character cares much more about themselves than they do about others. If you want to show this off, you could have them be the one that gets very disappointing medical news. They’ll wish that it could’ve fallen on anyone but themselves and they’ll likely start to question their own morality, if they’re being punished, if they’d been a better person maybe this wouldn’t be happening.
Sudden Unpredictable Disaster
This one is a little trickier because some people may not attribute it to an ‘act of God’ per se. For example, let’s say your family is at the beach swimming in the water and then, all of a sudden, the current picks up and your brother drowns in the water. Different people will attribute this freak accident to different things. It could be your brother’s fault for swimming out too far, it could be the life guard’s fault for not getting there fast enough, but there’s also the catalyst which is the mere fact that the tide started to pick up in the first place. Other examples of this would be a character falling through ice, getting caught in a fire, being impaled by a pole on a construction site, or losing their job the same week they get dumped. These instances are all involving other people so they’re not directly ‘acts of God’, but it’s interesting to see at which point a character starts to question their luck or faith.
Writing Prompt: Take a character from your book and write a scene where they encounter a natural disaster (or a bunch of them). This about your character and what these occurrences could highlight about how he views his role in the world at large. Also consider how they want to be seen by others in the face of these events vs. how they actually feel. Using all of this, think of the perfect disasters that could befall on your character in order to highlight all of these aspects of their personality.