Motivational guru, Tony Robbins, has established the six basic human needs and how they relate to our behavior. They are certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, and contribution. So, how do these human needs relate to your writing?
Too many writers spend years creating their books only to find they won’t sell. It could be because of their unappealing book covers, or their lack of marketing skills, but sometimes there’s another, sneakier reason.
Flat, perfect characters don’t hold the reader’s attention. Psychology tells us that humans are attracted to people who are like themselves. No, there aren’t going to be identical people, but there needs to be something about the person that can be relatable.
When a book’s character lacks depth, it’s hard for complicated humans to relate. No one is utterly beautiful, amazingly successful, and has no problems. Your characters shouldn’t live this way either.
Every human’s basic instinct is to gain pleasure and to avoid pain. Does your character behave this way? If not, maybe you should re-think your story. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’m writing non-fiction, so this doesn’t apply to me. Wrong! It definitely applies to a non-fiction writer. If you are writing a biography, a memoir, or a self-help book, you need to dive into the reasons behind the actions of your main character.
When I was writing the biography of an ex-gangster, I didn’t merely relate his activities in sequential order. I tried to dive in deeper and discover the reasoning behind his actions. Sidney did most of his criminal activities in an attempt to seek the pleasures of fast cars and fast women. Growing up in poverty, he wanted notoriety and significance. As a child, he noticed all the local mobsters had the respect and admiration he craved.
So, let’s take each one of these human needs and dive in deeper.
Everyone needs to feel certain that they will be able to avoid pain and gain pleasure. They want to feel a sense of security and find it comforting. If a person is poverty-stricken and has no hope of finding food, they may steal it to feed themselves and their children. They avoided the pain of starvation and gained the pleasure of feeding their children. They may even not eat anything. I know this is a simplistic example but think about your characters now.
Is the need for certainty met in your character’s life? Yes or no? How does this affect his or her behavior?
After all that jazz about certainty, humans also need variety. If everything was exactly the same every day, humans go stir crazy. Although we need certainty, we must also have a good dose of variety to spice things up a bit.
What variety do you provide in your storyline? How does this help your character? Remember, variety isn’t always a positive thing. Sometimes it can come in the form of a bad situation.
Everyone needs to feel special and appreciated for their uniqueness and importance. Like the other five human needs, this can come in the form of a negative or a positive. Tony gives an example of a street kid mugging a citizen. That thug may have never had anything in his life. He probably felt insignificant whether he would admit it or not. But, at that moment, when he was holding the gun at the victim’s head, he was significant. He was all-powerful, and this filled a psychological need, although in a very negative way.
How is your character getting this need fulfilled? Are they achieving it negatively or positively?
Although we need to feel unique and significant, humans aren’t happy if they don’t also feel connected and loved by others. Again, humans can get this need fulfilled in good ways and bad. Why do battered women go back to their abusers? A lot of the time, it’s because they need to feel connected, and they don’t have the ability or mindset to find that connection elsewhere.
How is your character connected to others? Do they feel isolated and alone? If so, how does that affect their behavior?
Every human grows physically, but unfortunately, it seems many don’t grow emotionally. This problem is the cause of much of the office politics, drama, and chaos in the workplace. Everyone must grow emotionally and physically. When reading a book, we expect the character to be a different version of themselves at the end of the book. Notice I said different, not better. There was a reason for it. While we want the heroes to grow and become better, we simultaneously want to see the antagonist deteriorate. Although sometimes, the antagonist is so likable, we find ourselves rooting for the bad guy. In this case, we hope he or she finds help and becomes better through the process.
Every human has a deep desire to leave his or her mark on the world. We want to be significant and make the world a better place. Parents want to leave a better world for their children. People who give back to their community find a deeper meaning to life and seem to have a purpose and drive. What is your character doing to give back? How is he or she contributing to the betterment of society? If he isn’t, how does this affect him? Is he bitter? Is she depressed?
When writing, dive deeper, and answer each of these questions for all of your characters. If you do, you will find your writing will have more depth. You will have happier readers and more book sales.
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