Category Archives: Emily Godhand

Physically Reacting to Conflict, Part 2: Reacting to the Threat

A guest post by Emily Godhand.

When it comes to actually reacting to the threat, there are many factors that determine if the character will Fight, Flee, Freeze, or Fawn. In his book “Violence: A Writer’s Guide”, Rory A. Miller talks about how violence is, at its simplest, a tool. He discusses how our psychosocial conditioning can heavily influence how we wield and react to violence. Essentially, we use what has worked in the past.

It’s in our nature to find a way to adapt to situations. So a character who was discouraged from solving confrontations physically might find another way to ‘fight’. Therefore fighting need not be entirely explained as a “physical confrontation” within this context.

‘Fight’ can be explained as a show of resistance:

*Physical attack/counter-attack
*Defense (block, redirect, dodge)
*Passive-Aggressive actions or words (“Whatever, do what you want.”)
*Verbal confrontation
*Willfully refusing to fight (”Turn the other cheek” )

Imagine these responses as a spectrum of difficulty; If a character has been allowed to get away with physical violence, or been encouraged to use it, they are more likely engage with violence than someone who has been conditioned to “find another way”.

…hitting people is a hard mental barrier to overcome.

Flight is avoidance of the stressor:

So if fighting is ruled out either by reason or socialization, it makes sense then that your character would want to find a way out. This could be through physically escaping or some attempt to gracefully back out of the situation without tripping over their proverbial train.

There may be situations in which your character can’t reasonably escape, such as in a child in a classroom (he can’t leave school without repercussions), a worker at the job site (they need the money), or fleeing results in negative repercussions (such as in learned helplessness).

If the body is unable to flee, the mind still may. Your character may start to disassociate from the situation, fantasize, or even turn to chemical means of escape.

Freeze is the body shutting down:

And if fighting and fleeing are both ruled out either by reason, socialization, or fear, the body may freeze. In this way, the mind may be perfectly willing to engage or flee if it’s not choked with fear, but the body itself may betray your character and refuse to move. The mind may even disassociate to spare itself from an expected horror. This “playing possum” or “deer in headlights” response is a legitimate survival tactic. Motion may draw a predator’s attention whereas stillness may go unnoticed. Our society expects some sort of active response to a threat, so people who react with ‘freeze’ aren’t likely to see it as a way they survived. Instead they may feel a sense of failure and shame.

Fawn is mitigating the situation:

So if you can’t beat ‘em, and you can’t flee’em, what can you do? You’re left with “Join’em”.
This can also be called “Tend and Befriend” but scientists have an affinity for alliteration and rhyme. This more often seen in women due to socialization within our society. However it is not inherent. Any character may find merit in feigning surrender and working for/with the threat. Other ways this may present are seeking out the social group for protective safety, focusing on tending offspring, or diffusing the situation through diplomacy.

The degree and rate to which adrenaline is released differs by psychosocial history.

Multiple influences, as addressed in the first part, factor into the degree to which we perceive something to be a threat. The more something is perceived as a threat, the stronger the adrenaline reaction tends to be. But the rate at which that adrenaline is released and processed can differ from person to person.

An anticipated threat allows for the adrenaline to “trickle out”. If the character has been trained they can use that to prepare themselves. And if they can’t, the fear can build upon itself until they are overwhelmed. If your character is overwhelmed by uncontrolled adrenaline they are more likely to freeze if they don’t have the muscle memory from training to immediately take control.
By its very nature, an ambush catches the victim without the benefits of an adrenaline rush. Without adrenaline, people are more likely to freeze.

Managing adrenaline comes from training in the environment

Characters who have any degree of training over regulating their emotions, stress, and the social rules of engagement, from school-yard play fights to trained martial operatives, are going to have an advantage over characters who haven’t had any such training.

Sometimes that training isn’t enough. In order to be effective, training needs to be continuous and as close to real world conditions as possible.

An eight-hour “self-defense” isn’t likely to develop muscle memory. A martial arts class may only teach competition fighting, with staged and willful engagement may not prepare your character for the ambush of a street fight. Police officers practice shooting at the range, allowing them relative quiet to focus on perfecting their stance and breathing. However gunfights won’t happen in well-lit rooms while wearing appropriate ear protection. While good for the basics, range work doesn’t simulate the circumstances under which an officer is likely to draw his weapon.

Adrenaline is meant to keep someone alive, but even with the best of training under the best of comparable conditions, it can still work against your character.

Dilated pupils: Good to take in more information about your environment…or give you tunnel vision. Which means you may miss your opponent’s buddies coming in from the side. This can also skew your depth perception where your enemy, 20 feet off, sudden appears right in front of you.

Selective hearing: Also known as ‘auditory exclusion’, it is much like ‘tunnel vision for your ears’; you may not hear your comrades call out to take cover from the incoming grenade.

Increased muscle tone: For increased strength and speed. Side effect? Shaking. Trembling. Lack of fine motor control. The classic movie gesture of showing a man light a cigarette was to bring attention to this hands and how much they moved as an indication of how calm he was.

Increased strength: The reason we only get the levels of strength we do in stressful situations is it has become ‘Life or Death’, and life with torn muscles from overexertion is preferable to death.

Are the risks worth the engagement?

Engaging in conflict is not a decision you can take back, you can only mitigate the repercussions. You accept the risks and sign that contract with your life.
Potential Risks:
Physical harm, of any degree. What amount of harm are they willing to accept?
Social harm, of any degree. Will the crowd turn on you? Will you lose face?
Further escalation of violence. Will it make things worse?
Risk to others. Will I put others in danger?
Ego. Will I be able to live through and with the decision I make?
So all of you writing cops, soldiers, bad-asses, urban fantasy heroines, dystopian rebels, operators, and bildungsroman coming of age beating-up-your-bully stories, keep this in mind:

Committing violence is usually hard, even for the best of us.

About Emily Godhand: Emily Godhand HeadshotEmily Godhand is a cross-genre author who lives in a book fort in Denver, CO, with nine rats who revere her as their Queen.As former psychiatric technician, she draws her inspirations from her work and the constant nightmares she’s had for 13 years. As such, her works tend to focus on an exploration of trauma, immortality, and human consciousness.  Read her latest work on Wattpad, where she is an Ambassador.

Physically Reacting to Conflict, Part 1: Perceiving a Threat

A guest post by Emily Godhand.

Growing up, health classes taught that when filled with adrenaline, the human body would react in one of two ways:

A) React with extreme violence (Fight)
— or —
B) Run away like a coward (Flight)

And of course they were phrased as such. As if the only fighting that could be done was physical, and that running away isn’t a legitimate survival tactic.

But once I moved out of the realm of elementary school sound-bites and actually evaluated the world I was raised in, I came to the sobering conclusion that the body’s reaction to a threat is much more complicated and twisted than I ever would have imagined. … And I write horror.

The month of April could be devoted to daily lessons how a person’s response to perceived physical, mental, or emotional threats develops from their psycho-social upbringing. In fact, I could probably spend the month contrasting the various different ways a character could develop Complex-PTSD based upon childhood development traumas and the way that would present as an adult. But that’s a bit much and better people have expanded further than I ever could.

For ease, I’ll split this into two parts:
1) Characters perceiving a threat, whether physical, emotional, mental, or social.
2) Characters reacting to a threat (Fight, Flight….Freeze, Fawn)

There are many factors that come into play when determining if the body will perceive a stimulus as a threat.

1) Have they experienced this before?

a) Do they have a frame of reference for what might happen?
“I’ve never met a bear but I’ve heard stories.”
“Mother taught me not to go out at night.”

b) Did it end badly for them if they have?
“Last time I asked a girl out I made a fool of myself.”
“Dont touch me. Don’t you ever touch me!”

c) Could it have ended badly, but didn’t, so they have a false sense of security?
“What’s anyone going to do about it?”
“No one cared/bothered me last time.”

2) Is there a social difference (age, class, gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc).

a) Opponent is perceived to be stronger/faster/better trained, or
A male vs a female, if the society discourages females from violence/fighting
An armed person/Police officer/Soldier versus a civilian
Crossing the street to avoid someone of a certain ethnicity or class

b) Opponent has more socio-political power.
Authority/Parental figure vs protagonist
Rich man vs Poor man (who will buy the better lawyer?)
“Antagonist is a respected pillar of this community, who is going to believe

c) Does your character care?
“I won’t stand for this any longer!”
“I don’t play well with authority…”

3) Is the character’s perception skewed in some way?

a) History of Abuse
“The last person who hurt me was sex/race/Authority, so I’m nervous
“Every time I tried to fight, I was punished.”

b) Prejudice
“I don’t trust THOSE people….”
“What’s SHE going to do? She’s 50kg of adorable!”

c) Ignorance or self-delusion
“What? Did I say something wrong?”
“How was I supposed to know they would be hostile to outsiders!”

Each of these will paint a different lens through which your character views the world, and the perception of the power that they wield, the power the world feels they are allowed to wield, and the degree of repercussions for violating that amount of permission.

“But, Em, I’m not a (insert race/sex/gender/orientation/religion) in (insert culturally appropriate location)! How am I supposed to know how their perspective might differ?”

Simple: Ask them. If you have the opportunity and good rapport with someone who might identify with your character, ask for their opinion and feedback on the passage, and what they’d be thinking or worried about in this encounter. Sometimes we have to imagine ourselves in our character’s shoes, and it’s better to get an outside opinion from someone who would have an easier time doing so.

You might be surprised. The world can be terrifying.

About Emily Godhand: Emily Godhand HeadshotEmily Godhand is a cross-genre author who lives in a book fort in Denver, CO, with nine rats who revere her as their Queen.As former psychiatric technician, she draws her inspirations from her work and the constant nightmares she’s had for 13 years. As such, her works tend to focus on an exploration of trauma, immortality, and human consciousness.  Read her latest work on Wattpad, where she is an Ambassador.

TELL Me a Story

A guest post by Emily Godhand.

Oh sure, give Friday the 13th to the horror writer. I see how it is. Two can play this game.


I apologize for nothing.

It seems a bit blasphemous (Hi! I’m Godhand) to call out one of the first rules I ever heard when writing stories: Show, don’t tell.

This quickly became the only rule I ever heard, as it seemed the easiest way for anyone who had ever put pen to paper to become a critic and ‘help’ me with my story. (Even you, Ms. High School English Teacher! For shame.)

But the problem was, as well-intentioned as everyone was, there was never enough ‘showing’ and any sort of ‘telling’ was immediately reprimanded with that ‘rule’. They were taking it as an axiom, and weren’t looking at context, style, pacing or point of view. They weren’t listening to it as a story, as an oral narration passed from person to person.

Oh, no.

It was just “you’re directly telling me something and there’s a RULE against that and therefore that’s bad.”

Sure, they wanted to be helpful, but they didn’t have or didn’t know how to deliver constructive feedback, so by God, they were going to keep repeating that suggestion no matter how minutely I described every mundane detail of every person my protagonist encountered. It wasn’t enough to just say he was “fair, fit, and flawless”; they wanted every last detail of this man’s physical description until I had spent a page non-ironically devoted to the magnificence of his beard.

Bearded Guy

When really, there are no words.

I mean, it was a well-intentioned enough rule meant to draw out vivid descriptions and immersive, flavorful text that evoked cinematic images from the effective use of word-play. It was meant to avoid mundane descriptions and narrations. But…in the process, describing every last little thing in an attempt to ‘show and not tell’ creates mundane descriptions and narrations.


“Bob was happy. He drank his coffee. Then he went to work.”

Some have taken it so far as to be interpreted as “Don’t tell ANYTHING”, as if the story is some sort of well-kept secret only to be ascertained by the finest of reader-sleuths.
…After they dredge through a purple sea of descriptions, that is.

Snitches Get Stitches

“The Writer’s Motto!” …wait…

The other extreme being, of course, is to show EVERYTHING. Which isn’t much better.

Let’s go back to Bob.


“Bob picked up his yellow mug with a bright smile. He took a sip then set it down. His lips puckered at the taste and twisted his face into a scowl. He took another sip. The metallic toaster popped up golden brown toast. His stomach growled. He left the toast in the toaster and took another sip….”

Do I care that the mug is yellow? Is there something special about the toaster that I need to describe it as ‘metallic’? Is toast anything but golden brown? Does all that description even matter? Bob’s having breakfast. Tell me he’s having breakfast and then Cut. End scene.

You could tell me he got ready for work “with his usual breakfast of black coffee laced with self-loathing”, but to tell me anything more implies there is something important within the context of the breakfast itself. If there isn’t, you’re just slowing down the pacing. Giving attention to something tells the reader ‘this is important!’

But you can mix showing with telling. You can do that. You’re the writer. You’re a God with a pen in your hand; there are no rules, only suggestions.


“Bob was happy.

At least, that’s what he told himself as he poured a large mug of black coffee. He had a good home, a good wife, a good job. He plastered on a smile and chugged down the burning liquid, still ignoring the toast that popped up behind him minutes ago.

What good was his home to him when he was never there?
What good was having a wife when she hated him?
What good was having a job if he couldn’t bring himself to go in?

He hung his head in utter shame.
No, Bob was miserable, and he knew it.”

Ask yourself:
Is this adding to the texture and flavor of the story?
Is it appropriate for the current pacing? (description slows things down)
Is this most effective way of delivering important (or at the very least, interesting) information in your style?

If not, get on with it already! There’s an antagonist to face and obstacles to overcome and you’re here writing something that could be summarized as “Bob had his normal breakfast of black coffee and self-hatred before heading into work.”

But that would be story-telling.

So what is a writer to do?  

*Keep point of view in mind-
Who is telling this story and who are they telling it to?
Would you say it this way when telling the story to someone else?

*Keep pacing in mind-
What information do they need to know right now, and is it worth slowing the story down to show this information?

*Keep in mind this is a narrative medium, not a visual one-
You can hand over information freely in a narrative medium. You are conveying information; give the information the reader needs to, or should, know, in order to enjoy the experience.

Then again, there’s a lot to be said about straight up telling information to your readers without ever showing them anything.

As it is Friday 13th, there’s always the classic horror tactic of telling the reader just how indescribable something was, because, My God, it works.

Horrible Alien Thing

Look at this lucky bastard with no eyes.

“My dearest reader,

I cannot even begin to describe the horror, the insanity, that this beast invoked within the depths of my jaded soul.

I cannot — WILL NOT — describe this evil nightmare, as you and this .45 are my only friends left, and I fear if I even began to describe a fraction of the terror I’ve witnessed, your eyes would burst within their sockets and your mind would shatter into a thousand pieces.

They would lock you away in a quiet room at the furthest reach of Arkham’s towers because you’d do nothing but scream,
and scream,
and scream.

The image of this grotesque monstrosity would be forever seared into your mind. Never again in your short, miserable life, (if God is merciful), would you ever know any rest or peace again.”
-Lovecraft possessing Godhand

And it’s like, well, Mr. Narrator- writing-in-second-person, you’ve done a lot of telling for sure, but, you’ve also shown me what this thing looks like as well, and …you know what, Man? Maybe…maybe I don’t wanna see it.


That’s how it’s done. Ladies? Call me.

My friend and mentor Bruce Elgin gave me only two rules for writing:
1) Be Clear
2) Don’t be boring

If you can do both these things, your writing works. You can do what you want.

So go on and tell me a story.

Disregard the Constabulary

About Emily Godhand:Emily Godhand Headshot

Emily Godhand is a cross-genre author who lives in a book fort in Denver, CO, with nine rats who revere her as their Queen.

As former psychiatric technician, she draws her inspirations from her work and the constant nightmares she’s had for 13 years. As such, her works tend to focus on an exploration of trauma, immortality, and human consciousness.

Read her latest work on Wattpad, where she is an Ambassador.