|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
I KNOW YOU WANT IT SNOOKUMS, BUT DO YOU REALLY NEED IT?
THIS IS WHERE IT STARTS GOING ALL SIGMUND FREUD ON YOU.
We've been talking about your protagonists desires, their wants, but where does all this come from? And what is it that makes them interesting? Someone who works to become a movie star because they are just so damned pretty is far less interesting than someone who is plain, or even ugly, and overcomes myriad obstacles to succeed at the same goal. When you sit down to figure out your character's wants, you must also figure out where they come from. You need to identify their needs.
Needs are those deep motivators that drive your character's behavior. They differ from wants in one crucial way, they are very often unacknowledged by the person experiencing them. They lie in the subconscious of a character. Your character knows he/she yearns to be a star, but they may not recognize that their motivation is to gain the admiration of their friends and family for their ability in spite of their looks. You have to figure out what these needs are even if they don't make an overt appearance in your story.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified five basic needs that compel human behavior. A basic understanding of these might just help you better portray where your character's motivations stem from and help you develop a better structure for your tales. They are, in order of importance:
1. Physiological or bodily needs.
2. Safety needs.
3. Social needs.
4. Needs for esteem.
5. Need for self-actualization.
Physiological or bodily needs. Food, water, air to breathe, rest, etc. The things that are necessary for survival. These are the strongest and most basic needs. When not met they can, at the least, be uncomfortable and at their worse, life threatening.
As in the case of prisoner of war camps whose denial of food, sufficient clothing, medical care has caused some to drift into complete disregard for all other needs in a constant search for food. Even to the point of cheating or betraying fellow prisoners.
Safety needs. When the bodies needs are met the need for safety becomes more dominant. The need for shelter and personal security. Children have a more acute sense of personal safety than adults. When faced with an imminent danger, safety needs can trump, bodily needs.
A village is living a hand to mouth subsistence life. But they are faced with being overrun by a ruthless military force. They abandon their fields and singular food source and flee.
Social needs. The needs for love, affection, and belonging. They make their appearance when the need for security and bodily needs have been met. The human animal craves acceptance, whether in the family, social group, religious or work environment, or gangs. We need to feel loved and accepted. Without fulfillment humans become lonely and alienated. Few social needs are greater than the need for acceptance, especially among our peers.
A student feels ostracised because his/her family cannot afford the quality of clothing and activities others can. He/she takes up shoplifting and petty larceny to meet these needs and finds acceptance in a criminal element at the school.
Needs for esteem. This is internal and external. The need for self-esteem and the feeling we get from the respect of others. Healthy individuals have a stable, high level of self-respect and outside esteem. Without these needs being met an individual develops feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. On the flip side, over-indulged, a person can become snobbish or ego-maniacal.
A young man is admired by his co-workers and friends for his abilities on the job and his good looks. He is noticed by management and moves up the ladder. His rise is so fast he begins to believe he is destined for these things and that he is due better treatment than his peers. This results in his fall from grace.
Need for Self-Actualization. This is the need to do what we feel we were born to do. Without this, a person may feel, lacking, on edge, restless, unfulfilled. This need manifests itself mainly when it is not being met.
A young woman shows a real knack for drawing and illustration in school. But, because of her family's low social standing she is driven to become a lawyer. She has a talent in the courtroom but never is able to find the drive of her co-workers.
These are the things beneath the desires. The fire, as it were, that heats the boiler, that drives the engine. Without an understanding of these motivators our characters are at best two dimensional and shallow, at worse, vacuous and completely unworthy of our sympathy. Tomorrow we'll look at connecting wants and needs.
Meanwhile...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis