Saturday, December 18, 2010
What's going inside the character's head? The basis of our stories encompass about eight inches of space. An individuals perception of self and the world surrounding the individual is all wrapped up in that small space between the ears: the human brain. One does not need to master the study of psychology to arrive at a basic understanding as to what motivates a character.
For example, think of someone you know well (preferably not yourself-for reasons we will explore, later). What is the focus of the character's concentration? Is it greed, love, hate, revenge or fear? We earlier explored the six or seven basic fears in the post entitled: How to Write Colorful Openings, dated March 20, 2010. In that particular post we concentrated on opening chapters, however, this pathology is embedded in an individuals psyche throughout the story, and in reality, throughout one's life.
For example, in my upcoming novel, The Doctor's Vice, we explore the psyche of Jon Kayyan. Jon is motivated by greed. Jon's psyche is comprised of several different people I know in real life. Each of them are greedy. Greed often overwhelms sensitivity, morality, respect for others and is counter intuitive of almost any human dynamic that stands its way.
Jon Kayyan's greatest desire is to become rich. The underlying psychological dynamic is compelled by the fear of poverty; therefore, Jon is obsessed with the idea of wealth. There is the resemblance of a Gordon Gekko residing in his brain. His entire world is seen through the lens of poverty vs. wealth.
Characterization becomes real to the reader when character motivation is consistent. Both the writer and the reader can thus determine what the character might do or say in a given situation.
Eric Berne, clinical psychiatrist and founder of Transactional Analysis discovered the significance of the "Adult" relationship between the therapist and the client toward sorting out behaviors, emotions and thoughts that prevent the development of human potential based on "transactions" or interactions between individuals. Principally, these transactions are performed through each of three ego states: the parent, the adult and the child.
Bear with me, I am not trying to give a class in psychology, but rather, a simple insight into human motivations so that your characters are true, believable and colorful
The adult ego states exemplify thinking. The parent ego state focuses upon that which has been learned (by the parent) and its thoughts, beliefs and perspective is often imposed upon the listener. The child ego state is "felt." The child does not necessarily respond to reason. Although, a single individuals ego state may fluctuate from one to another (child to parent, adult to child, etc.), each individual interacts predominantly through one ego state.
Hang in there with me. Here's my point: An Anthony Bates, or Dr. Lecter does not change simply due to reason, morality or any healthy human dynamic. If the writer attempts to make that change separate from the focus of the story, the entire story becomes implausible. I therefore, submit the importance of studying your characters motivations and stress the apparent necessity of sticking to your guns. In my case, because I write thrillers, the psyche of my madman must develop consistently throughout the story. Any attempts by outsiders to help the character "Smitty" in the Doctor's Vice, must be thwarted, misinterpreted and internalized by Smitty as a personal affront. Why? Because Smitty and most all psychopaths are eternally imprisoned by the child ego state. In other words, they have succumbed to the tragedy of the past, caged by the overwhelming devil that played havoc upon their emotions in childhood.
Writing thrillers is exciting in that unlike most fiction, there is little explanation of the characters background during the outset of the story. By the application of good technique, this rule can be broken. For example, in the thriller, "The Doctor's Vice," I open up when actions that signify the pathology of Smitty's background through the use of conflict to hopefully, gain readers sympathy for Smitty, before he becomes a madman.
My writing is about "what makes people break." That is, informally, my mission statement. I challenge you to get in touch with the mission statement (the constant idea that permeates your writing). In doing so, I promise your characters will leap from the page. Your writing will become far more colorful than before and you will, consequently create a "Brand."
Now you have it. Don't wait or you will procrastinate. Start writing....now.