Thanks to Barbara for having me on her blog today. It’s an honor to be here!
Every author hopes to create characters that will stick with their readers–not only so each character differs within each story, but so they also stand out from all the other books that particular reader has enjoyed.
When an author first starts out, many characters within their stories may be modeled after people the author already knows, because the author has a basic understanding of how these people will react in certain situations. (If you tell your mom you’re pregnant, got fired, sold a book, are getting married, etc., chances are you know exactly what she’ll say.) So, it’s within an author’s best interest to sometimes base characters on real people, because they are already three-dimensional individuals whose personalities will jump off the page.
But other factors in your characters play key roles, the most important…Motivation. Each personality you create must have an underlying motivator to explain the characters’ actions. And if an author is trying to be really savvy, they should be able to state this motivating force in one word.
PROVIDE: This is one of my husband’s primary motivators. We run a business from
our home, and being a small business owner in today’s economy is…challenging.
If business slows, our advertising campaigns don’t pay off, or one of our
regular clients disappears, you can bet your sweet bippy my husband’s mood will
sour. This is because his primary motivator is to provide, and until he solves
this problem, all other motivators take a back seat.
NURTURE: I don’t like the rest of the family in the kitchen (and with a son on the brink of
adolescence, trust me, this is sometimes difficult). The minute the
refrigerator door opens my ears perk up. One of my main motivators is the care
and feeding of our family, and if anyone messes with my pre-planned meal
schedule, I get irritated–same with the bedtime schedule, the errand schedule,
game/practice schedule, showering schedule, boo-boo tending, and care and
feeding of our numerous pets. Stay out of Mom’s way, because I’m on a mission.
ENTERTAIN: One of my son’s primary motivators is to entertain. He brings levity to
any situation, and sometimes gets his younger sister laughing so hard, she
hiccoughs for half an hour afterwards. He’s the magician, game player, and all
around goof ball. He gains satisfaction within our family by making everyone
LOVE: Without a doubt, my daughter is the heart and soul of our family. One of her primary motivators is to give and receive love. She has an incredible sense of empathy, but if she goes without her cuddle time at day’s end, she literally cannot fall asleep. She often initiates tasks to gain my approval, earning a “gold star” each day in order to track her level of success.
Now, you may notice I explained ONE primary motivator for each member of my family. This is how an author gets a good start. However, in order to make your characters three-dimensional, you must also include other underlying motivators. One useful tool I use to navigate a character’s personal development is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed as a pyramid, with the largest and most fundamental needs at the bottom, and self-actualization at the top. The lower-most layers contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “d-needs” are not met, the individual feels
anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level must be
met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the
secondary or higher level needs.
Physiological needs: The literal requirements for human survival. If these are not met, the human body simply cannot function–air, water, food, clothing and shelter. Without
them, the individual cannot motivate toward the next level of development.
Safety needs: Once physical needs are relatively satisfied, the individual’s safety needs
take precedence and dominate behavior. People’s yearning for a predictable
orderly world in which perceived unfairness and inconsistency are under control.
Safety needs sometimes manifest as job security, savings accounts, insurance
policies, a reasonable disability plan and the like.
Love and belonging: After physiological and safety needs are met, the third layer is social, and involves the need to belong–friendship, intimacy, family. Whether this
comes from social groups, religious groups, sports teams, or small social
connections (family members, intimate partners, mentors, confidants),
individuals need to love and be loved (sexually and non-sexually) by others.
This need for belonging can often overcome the physiological and security
needs, and if not met, can lead to loneliness and sometimes depression.
Esteem: All humans have an innate desire to be respected, by themselves as well as
others. People need to engage in order to gain recognition–have an activity that
gives the person a sense of contribution so they feel accepted and self-valued.
Imbalances at this level can result in low self-esteem or an inferiority
complex. People may make seek fame or glory to counter-act this imbalance. However,
people must first accept themselves internally before attaining success.
Self-actualization: This level pertains to a person’s full potential and their realization of
that potential. Maslow describes this as the need to become more and more what
one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. While one
individual may have the strong desire to become an ideal parent, in another it
may be expressed athletically, while in another it may be expressed in painting
pictures or inventions. As mentioned before, in order to reach a clear understanding
of this level, one must first not only achieve the previous level,
physiological, safety, love, and esteem, but master these needs.
I often use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, placing my characters within a certain level to create internal conflict. Using this diagram helps me “flesh-out’ my characters, find that innate quality which makes them tick. But this is just one of many tools available to any author. I would suggest finding one that works for you, and using it round out each
character you create.
Thank you AJ, for your interesting article. Please tell us about your latest release.
Jezebel’s Wish Blurb:
Haunted by nightmares, tormented by guilt, Jezebel came to Redemption Ranch to escape the past—except now she’s stuck in the middle of nowhere with no redemption in
sight. When her mother pushes her into riding lessons with local veterinarian
Matthias Saunders, Jezebel balks. Sure, the doctor is gorgeous, but he’s
completely obnoxious and knows how to push every one of her buttons.
Only her deep connection with The Reverend, a gentle stallion who guards her
darkest secrets, has her agreeing to spend any more time with Dr. Saunders.
Caring for the stallion is the first bright spot in her life in months, and if
being around the horse means she has to deal with Matthias Saunders, then so be
it. Surely a city girl like her can handle one country vet—even one with
disturbing blue eyes. Can’t she?
Jezebel’s Wish Excerpt:
Jezzy stopped. “I thought I was having a riding lesson.”
“You are.” He nodded toward the empty paddock. “Go in.”
“Go in?” Jezzy propped a hand on her hip. “You sure you know what you’re doing? Because it was my understanding that an actual horse is needed for a riding lesson.”
“Don’t you think it would be wise at this juncture to leave the understanding up to the professionals?”
Jezzy rolled her eyes. “You’re making this way too easy. Professionals? Please. Don’t get me started.”
“Why not? Getting you started is exactly what I’m here for.”
Jezzy’s jaw dropped. She didn’t quite know how to interpret that remark.
He held out the rope. “Now go in. And take this lead line with you.” Steely blue determination
glinted in his eyes. There was no way he was going to give in.
Jezzy snatched the lead line from his hand and stormed through the gate, then turned when he closed it behind her.
He put a foot on the bottom railing and rested against the gate, facing the horizon. “Take the chair
to the center of the paddock and sit down.”
“And just exactly how is that supposed to teach me to ride?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You want out of the deal?”
Jezzy’s fist clenched tight around the lead line. What she wanted was to march back to the fence and
smack his face.
AJ Nuest lives in northwest Indiana with her
loving husband and two beautiful children. She is the author of two
contemporary romance novels.
Visit her on the web at:
Facebook: Tattered Pages http://tinyurl.com/3qvxyn6
Jezebel’s Wish Buy Links:
The Wild Rose