Writers take us to many places from far off lands, to city streets, to other dimensions to outter space. And it’s interesting and entertaining and fun.
They also take us other places with their development of character. The inner world can be as entertaining, chilling, exciting and gripping as the outer world.
Whether we writers realize it or not, we have to cultivate a basic understanding of what it is people really want and need. There’s a sort of a basic five.
Human beings are a predictable lot and it makes sense that we are. We need things in life to keep things running smoothly, things like:
Safety and security- ever had your house broken into? Yeah, like that. It’s a basic need that we feel secure and safe in our lives, that those around us we love like friends, family, even pets are in that same safe space.
We’re always looking for love – sometimes in the wrong places, right? We need love from spouses, family, close friends and even, again, those pets we take into our homes. People need to feel they belong somewhere to someone or something. Thus, families, organizations, churches, whatever.
People also need to secure basic biological needs. We need to eat. And that ties into safety and love. We need to not be in pain, to be physically mobile, all the things we barely give a thought to throughout our day if we’re basically sound and healthy.
Folks crave recognition from the simplest pat on the head from an employer to the full blown power mad dictator. I’d classify that as a need. Along with that comes the need to reach our potential and strive for and reach some sort of personal fulfillment.
But sometimes, as authors, a drastic shift in morality is exactly what we want for our characters. This kind of change doesn’t occur easily, but it can happen under the right circumstances. This is where basic needs come into play.
Take any one of the above things away from a person or hold it just out of reach and there’s going to be created a seismic shift in the personality of a character to get that need back.
Just staying alive is the most crucial need – Life in danger, loved ones in danger always strikes a chord.
But it goes deeper. What if the main character is a moral stand-up kind of guy trying to protect his (or her) family? What if there’s no cooperation from authorities and suddenly that person has to consider and do things that normally wouldn’t be considered? What changes happen? What if a city slicker is thrown into a wilderness survival situation – and there’s a person intent on murder hot on his heels? You’re removing his safety and security and just staying alive doesn’t seem so simple any more.
We writers are constantly throwing curves at our characters. It’s our job. It’s through adversity of some kind that the inner workings of our characters are revealed.
So know what the needs of your characters are. Know their moral compasses. Then pick one or more of the above needs, take them away or jeopardize them and play with your characters heads. How many times have we all thought, “I would do….” Whatever in that circumstance? Put your characters to the test and take your readers along for the nail-biting ride. You can chortle heh, heh, heh if you like while your characters flounder for their new equilibrium.
Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.