To create a memorable character - discover the secret of emotional needs
When we write stories about Christmas it is always on the theme of ‘a time for families’, ‘faraway friends’ and ‘a time for giving’. The characters in our Christmas stories are taught to be aware of another’s troubles and, if possible, to offer a helping hand. They are written to basically become more of the person that has the ‘Nine Ladies Dancing’ in their ‘fruit’ basket of characters (see Fruitful Characters).
Therefore, I have to ask, where has this ‘expectation’ of gifts originated from? Why do people feel upset when they ‘get nothing’ under the Christmas tree? For want of a better phrase, I remember my grandma say to me:
“When I were a kid … I just got an orange for Christmas, so thank your lucky stars.”
Given that her generation had just been through a war and rationing was still in force many years after it, this wasn’t so hard to believe.
However, this mad rush to ‘get stuff’ seems to have been at the centre of Christmas since I’ve known it. When I were a kid (!) … my dad gave me way too many presents to count (books, mostly, and pens and paper to write on – who’d have guessed?). I was actually so overwhelmed with the amount of gifts I got, the night before I almost wet the bed in anticipation.
But, for fear of being labelled a ‘cheap-skate’ can I ask you to pause for a moment to think about whether presents really need to be ‘things’? I mean, what was Charles Dickens on about when he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’? Did he intend for the meaning of Christmas to be embedded in ‘things’? Particularly when those ‘things’ tend to be forgotten, or we grow bored of them, or we break them, or never understood them to begin with. They were all nice and shiny and blue once (don’t you just love electronics!), when we first got them. But they soon became part of the furniture and forgotten.
What do people want from life? When it boils down to it, it seems to be what the contents of books offer to us:
Yes, that one small word says such a lot.
As a psychotherapist/author, I learned I had always hungered for meaning in my life. My University thesis helped me to recognize that meaning comes from satisfying our ‘emotional needs’.
Writing stories about people tells us that they all start out wanting, or needing, or desiring something they can’t have. The story then becomes about the challenge of meeting that need/want/desire. At the end, the character either ends up getting that need/want/desire is satisfied – or not.
When we break it down, there are only ten core emotional needs that everyone wants to have satisfied. I’ve even created an acronym for it:
They are all rolled out as follows:
Safety, Purpose, Attention, Control, Intimacy
Security, Privacy, Appreciation, Community, Emotional expression
When we think about it, all any of our characters wants is in either one or all of those ‘needs’. They start the story by wanting something they can’t have, the story continues unravelling as they try to get what they can’t have, then the end results in either getting what they can’t have or not getting what they can’t have.
All stories are about getting those emotional needs satisfied.
Think about them, explore them with your writer’s mind. Think about them as though your character has not got these needs met at Christmas time. When your character hasn’t got these needs met, particularly at this time of the year, they tend to be faced with enormous challenges that seem insurmountable or crushingly painful. The challenges they face are, generally, centred around getting those needs met.
Even a non-fiction book is about identifying an emotional need that is not satisfied, then teaching how to get it met.
Here’s a challenge:
Write a short story. Create a character who has not got (one or some of) these needs (above) met. Create the challenges they have to face, in order to get them satisfied.
If you chose to send them to me by the end of December, I’ll personally give a gift to an author that makes me think about their story.
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