Thursday, February 3, 2011

Characters, Expectations, and the Maslow Hierarchy

Reading thuRsday

Several weeks ago, Stina Linderblatt shared a post, titled "Deepening Your Character's Needs," on the QueryTracker Blog. She described Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which range from the basic (like food) to the esoteric (like morality), and how characters are more realistic and more compelling if their behavior is driven by needs from more than one place in the hierarchy.

People and, by extension, characters generally work their way up the hierarchy, satisfying needs at one level before moving up to the next. This means, for example, that your readers will cry foul if your characters stop in the midst of sudden peril to worry about their self-esteem (or, more commonly, have a romantic liaison during a lull in a gun-battle).

But it reveals a great deal about a character if and when they violate a lower-level need in favor of a higher level need. For example, someone may place themselves in danger (violating their need for safety) if by doing so they can save a loved one (satisfying their need for love and belonging).

In order to get away with violating your reader's common sense about the hierarchy of needs, you must establish the character's overriding need before they act against expectations.


Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net