Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Story vs RPG Part 7: Character Needs

Story vs RPG Series
Story: Elements
Story vs RPG Part 3: Character Information
Story v RPG Part 5: Personality Types
Story v RPG Part 6: Alignment, Morality, and Ethics
Story vs RPG Part 7: Character Needs
Story vs RPG Part 8: Character emotions
Story vs RPG Part 9: Lies - Our characters darkest secrets
Story vs RPG Part 10: Setting - cultures
Story vs RPG Part 11: Pair Dynamics
Story and Game Structure: Storylines
Story vs RPG Part 12: Larger groups - conformity & deviance

If you like this series support it by buying it today for kindle all in one file and without advertisement. Available in most countries that Amazon supports. 

This post is being made to fill in more information concerning character needs. The writing instruct I received mentioned character have needs as well as wants, however they did not go into details concerning where needs come from and how needs differ.

My Character Motivation model

The prior two posts in the series looked at character motivation in terms of personality type and morality/ethics. This third part of the character motivation portion of the series addresses the needs and drives. Together, with the other two perspectives, many character actions can be explained in terms of personality type, ethic view, and motivating needs.

I like to relate those three to the parts of the person - the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious desires of id, ego, and superego which I mentioned in the last post. Writing instruction sources normally mentions characters "needs", "wants", and the "lie" that keeps them from getting what they need. I believe that they correspond approximately to needs/drives, personality type, and ethics/morality.

Needs - Id - needs & drives, "What one really wants"
Ought - Superego - ethics & morality, "What one ought to do"
Wants - Ego - personality type & justification, "What one wants to do"
Lie - Defense mechanism, "What limits the character personality type to trying to get what they want rather than from doing what they need"

How do needs work?

The common progression of motivation is a need(s) cause a drive(s) to motivate a response(s) to attain a goal(s) that will hopefully satisfy the need through need reduction.

Need - means internal deficiency
Drive - energized motivation
Response - action or series of actions
Goal - the target of the motivated behavior
Need Reduction - how well attaining the goal satisfies the need or causes the drive to try a new or different response.

Needs and Goals in Scene and Sequel

This series can find it's way into the scene-sequel series.

In a scene, after establishing the setting briefly, the need that causes the viewpoint character to drive towards the scene goal is revealed. Most of the scene will be the response. This is through action, dialogue, description, and internal dialogue as the author shows how the viewpoint character continuously try to achieve the goal. Most of the time failing and having to try a different response. The scenes end with disaster or success with a twist.

Mary was starving and had no money. Her stomach rumbled in defiance, one that neither rubbing it nor cradling her belly could sooth. She looked out from their makeshift shelter at the menacing moon in a pained stare. She couldn't sleep. The more she curled into a ball the more her arms and legs trembled. 

"John, I've gotta eat," she said. "I can't take another night without any food."

John just turned over and pulled the blanket over his head. "Whatever," he said. He then yawned and repositioned more comfortably.

"I'm going"

A return grunt was all that John mustered. 

Her weak arms pushed her up to a half sitting position. Soon she slid out into the night. Looking around, she tried to think of any nearby food source, her head swam in weakness. She might be able to find food in one of the large garbage dumpsters behind McDonalds. She looked towards the road leading three miles down to the golden arches. She then began her moonlight walk.

In this scene, hunger and despair drives Mary to leave the comfort of their shelter alone to walk through the dark three miles in hopes of finding food in a garbage dumpster. She was willing to leave behind John, whom may be one of her important social circle of friends, a family member, a complete stranger, or an intimate partner. Deciding and assigning 'who' John is may reflect more social need conflicts. Setbacks can confront her along the journey. She may not even find food there. Or something can cause her to sidetrack, and change her method of satisfying her hunger.


Perhaps the most commonly known system for needs that a person knows is Maslow's hierarchy of needs they teach it in education, business, advertising, nursing, psychology, and sociology among other knowledge areas. The golden pyramid above shows my version of that model. Criticism of the model is mostly based on it's self-based assumptions, which the model doesn't address social selfless acts which morality can explain more fully. It also doesn't explain the repetitive behavior preference that personality type tries to explain. Maslow says the lower needs must be satisfied to progress to the higher needs.


Clark L. Hull explained motivation as drives and needs needing to be reduced. People can have different degrees of drives, especially the acquired needs which corresponds more towards personality types. For the drives and needs, I tried to correspond at the same level on the graphic above which drives and needs go along with Maslow needs. They are indicated with up arrows.

Character Differing Needs

Characters have individual needs and drives. These contribute to differing motivation even when trying to achieve a similar goal. A supporting character my differ in reason why they are helping the main character to achieve the goal. If they become a viewpoint character, those differing reasons can come more to light. Conflicting methods for achieving goals may also occur among friendly characters. The protagonist may prefer to act one way (which will not lead to success). The other characters may be trying to get the main character to try a different action - one which the protagonist isn't equipped to perform.

Many Needs Unspoken

Many needs may not be explained in the story. Most stories assume that the characters eat, sleep, and have shelter. Only in stories were these basic needs are amplified do these needs make their way into the prose. A homeless person searches for food and enter into a story plot. Survivors floating in the deep chaotic ocean strive to catch fish and collect rain water while waiting to be rescued. A tornado threatens those seeking safety possibly turning the shelter into a wind-blown deadly weapon. I watched the movie Gravity, where safety and breathing were the primary basic needs of the characters throughout the movie.

Most stories dwell in the area between basic biological needs and self-actualizing needs. What needs are emphasized might be determined by genre. Crime tends to focus on safety needs. Romance might pay more attention on affection needs.

The Higher Needs

One thing that is apparent, the higher up on the pyramid one focuses on, the smaller the reading market may become. The needs of the characters become more specialized and focused. A story which the main need focused on is the achievement of self-actualization through creating art is only going to attract readers who can identify with that type of self-actualization. The story might need some more lower need plots in order to keep other readers interested. Maybe that artist earlier in the story is struggling to live, pay bills, and earn enough money while selling art pieces. Or throw in a intimate partner with whom they can argue, fight, and conflict about financial stability.

Complex Needs

Having shown the list of basic needs and drives, more complex and intertwined needs can be created by overlapping needs.

In the example I showed above, not only is Mary  hungry and apparently homeless, she also has security needs - no money.

Next post in the series

In the next post, I may go into character emotions based on psychology theory.

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