Probably not what you expect. I’m sure most writers understand the fight or flight response. But guess what?
There are three responses. Yep, three. What are they?
Fight, flight and freeze.
And they each lead into each other.
The freeze response is usually the first. It’s the immediate gut reaction, that hard knot that stops your body still as death, eyes wide, mouth open. If possible, the person finds the smallest space to hide in, curls up and disappears.
Then what? If the person gets cornered, trapped in their space by a marauder, the next step is attack. Yes, fight. When trapped in a corner, with your back to the wall, there’s no other choice. Fight your way out – or die. Simple.
Then what? If it’s a bad thing – and a fight to the death situation usually is – the person takes the first opportunity to run like hell was on their tail. Right? Yes. Then what?
As soon as possible, the person finds a place to hide and recover. They make like very small and curl up to disappear and lick the wounds.
It’s a cycle. Of three responses, not two.
A lot of the stories I’ve read have a clear understanding of the two responses – fight or flight, but not the third (or, in my view, the first).
Only training and constant awareness will remove the freeze response from a person. Soldiers train, cops, ambos – well, anyone who deals with situations where life and limb may well be the cost of doing their daily work. Even fishing on a boat out in the middle of the ocean has a likelihood of death probability that costs a lot to insure. No hiding, you see, not out there.
Freeze, fight, flight – it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as the other way around, but that’s because we’ve become used to the way the fight or flight sounds. So, I say it backwards in the way of cyclic things: Fight, Flight or Freeze.
And I hope to understand that one of these is the first physiological response and leads into the others – if the danger doesn’t ease.
It happens in nature, it happens with humans. It is part of the natural effort to stay alive.
Fight, Flight, Freeze – a new form of understanding the immediate physical and physiological reactions when confronted by danger or enemies or backed into a space where there’s no way out.
Remember it, and your story characters will thank you for it (and the readers).