Give characters core needs and default psychological maneuvers

Tags: Writing CharacterizationCharacterization

In Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel Elizabeth George suggests that two ingredients that help understand characters are their core need and their psychopathology or psychological maneuver.

Core needs are emotional, physical, or psychological. The core need grows out of the character analysis; knowing what need is driving the character can help give depth and shading to a character, making him or her multidimensional.

  • Examples of core needs in fictionExamples of core needs in fiction
    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Characterization]]

    On the use of "core needs" to add depth to characters see [[Give characters core needs and default psychological maneuvers]].

    Examples of core needs includ...

The character’s psychopathology or psychological maneuver may be an aberrant behaviour, a conflicted or confused mental state, a self-created bodily oddity, an unusual but revealing reaction to something, or an erroneous belief. It is something that lies within an individual and is generally—but not always—out of the public view, concealed by whatever persona the individual projects. It is triggered in moments when anxiety, stress, fear, or the character’s troubled mind can’t be soothed, or when their core need cannot be met.

  • Examples of psychological maneuvers in fictionExamples of psychological maneuvers in fiction
    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Characterization]]

    Examples of a psychological maneuver might include:

    aggression against others
    eating disorders
    drug addiction

  • See Specificity brings characters to lifeSpecificity brings characters to life
    Tags: [[Characterization]]

    Vivid characters come to life when they are rendered using a limited palette of specific details. These details can include physical elements—think of Ahab's ivory leg—o...
    . Characters' psychological maneuver should be specific to the character. Avoid giving characters many of these maneuvers. They should have a default tactic when facing conflict.
  • See Keep characters focusedKeep characters focused
    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Characterization]]

    Each character in fiction should be crafted with a limited number of key traits that are revealed through conflict in the story. Characters need focus: burde...
    . Avoid giving characters too many key traits.


George 2020