Motivation and characterisation.
Welcome to 2012. During the holiday season I have been looking over my own manuscripts and delving into the motivation driving my characters.
I believe as fantasy authors, we need realistic motivation to bring our characters to life. Of course, this meant looking further than my own understanding. I have discovered that psychologists believe an early incident in life imprints on a character and can cause reaction and behavioral nuances much later in life. There are articles that describe how the timing of the incident can affect later motivation. The link is below. Following the ‘hierarchy of needs’ from Abraham Maslow, we find there are five classes of motivation. In very simplified terms, we as fantasy authors should find them useful. This translates to meaning…
Wants and desires can influence behavior. Only unsatisfied needs are associated with motivating the character. Satisfaction doesn’t.
Needs can be ordered in rank of importance from basic to complex. For example the need for food, shelter, security, love, to the need for acceptance, understanding and self esteem, achievement and finally self actualization.
Advancing to the next level will not occur until the character’s more basic needs have been satisfied.
Individuality As the character meets the needs at the basic level, moves up toward more complex needs and meets them, he will show more psychological health, humanness and individuality.
So where do our hero/villains/characters find their motivations? What has caused them to become determined and motivated; to partake in their quests? Are they behaving consistently, relative to their background?
Apparently there is a list of 16 needs, or basic desires that guide most human behavior, as listed by Professor Steven Reiss. Click here to see the whole list online.
Acceptance, the need for approval
Curiosity, the need to learn
Eating, the need for food
Family, the need to raise children
Honor, the need to be loyal to the traditional values of one’s clan/ethnic group
Idealism, the need for social justice
Independence, the need for individuality
Order, the need for organized, stable, predictable environments
Physical activity, the need for exercise
Power, the need for influence of will
Romance, the need for sex
Saving, the need to collect
Social contact, the need for friends (peer relationships)
Social status, the need for social standing/importance
Tranquility, the need to be safe
Vengeance, the need to strike back/to win
The article there is an interesting read. Hmm… Can’t say I am entirely comfortable with the information but then, I write fantasy, I don’t actually study human psychology. I think I feel more confident now though, that my characters are behaving within believable parameters.
Discussing this topic with a psychologist, I was urged to mention that motivation will come from the imprint that occurred earlier in life. Hence I am adding Ericson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. This table is well worth a look.
For a better look at a full version of the table online – click here.
|Age||Virtues||Psycho Social Crisis||Significant Relationship||Existential Question|
|infant -18 months||Hopes||Trust vs. Mistrust||Mother||Can I Trust The World?|
|18 month-3 years||Will||Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt||Parents||Is It Ok To Be Me?|
|3-6 years||Purpose||Initiative vs. Guilt||Family||Is It Ok For Me To Do, Move and Act?|
|6-12 years||Competence||Industry vs. Inferiority||Neighbors, School||Can I Make It In The World Of People And Things?|
|12-19 years||Fidelity||Identity vs. Role Confusion||Peers, Role Model||Who Am I? What Can I Be?|
|19-40 years||Love||Intimacy vs. Isolation||Friends, Partners||Can I Love?|
|40-65 years||Care||Generativity vs. Stagnation||Household, Workmates||Can I Make My Life Count?|
|65-and on||Wisdom||Ego Integrity vs. Despair||Mankind, My Kind||Is It Ok To Have Been Me?|
So, I guess without some incident to leave a mark on our character, the resulting reaction and motivation isn’t going to feel right. It all comes down to the basic rule, we as authors already know…and should adhere to. We need to know each of our characters’ backgrounds, so we can refer, if only in passing, to what happened to them and when it happened, to cause their behavior now.
At least that’s how I see it. What do you think?