Moodiness: a part of real life, not fiction


Clipart from


The other day at my waitressing day job, I approached two customers to take their order. The man smiled and answered my greeting questions, but the woman snapped that they had been waiting 20 minutes for me to serve them. This was untrue — since I knew for a fact their table had been empty 10 minutes ago — but a waitress is wise not to argue this sort of thing. I shut my mouth and hurried to bring bread and salad.


I figured there were two likely diagnoses for the woman’s behaviour:

1) She was one of those people who thinks serving staff are inferior human beings.

2) She was just cranky because she was hungry.

It turned out to be the second option, fortunately for me. By the time the woman was halfway finished her chicken pasta entreé, she was chatty and smiling just like her dinner companion. She even apologized to me for her earlier unpleasantness.


And I forgave her, both outwardly and inwardly. Because, I mean, I’ve been there. Feeling inordinately witchy because it’s been an hour too many since I ate anything and my instincts are telling me to kill something for dinner. Part of being a person is that we’re complex creatures and we sometimes struggle to handle the smallest of problems.


But it doesn’t work that way for fictional characters, does it?


Fictional people are just as complex as we are — that’s the case for well-written fictional people, anyway. But fiction carries a burden of meaning. Stories are supposed to have patterns and significance. If a character in a novel snaps at her undeserving waitress/assistant/servant, it’s far more likely that the author is showing us what a nasty person the character is (or how crummy the servant life is). If the character apologizes to the servant, it’ll probably be to demonstrate how she’s grown as a person. Sure, she could just have a low blood sugar moment and snap with no real consequence. But if it’s not foreshadowing some greater loss of control, well, what’s the point of that scene? It’s not contributing to the story’s greater message (unless that message is “life is senseless and often cruel”).


I guess it’s part of the way reality is stranger than fiction. We want our fictional characters to be real, but not as real as we are. Because we get plenty of real life every day we live, thanks — and too much aimless reality would clutter up a fantastic tale.

3 Comments on “Moodiness: a part of real life, not fiction”

  1. Christa says:

    Wow, this never really occured to me that moodiness isn’t one of those things that translates well into a story. And I agree, it’s true that a writer doesn’t have much room for a character to have a moody day because as readers we pick up on it as a general trait they have, not just an instance.

  2. […] Moodiness: a part of real life, not fiction → […]

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