Monday, January 17, 2011

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 5)

I love to eat. No, really I mean I love to eat. So much so that Carole has expressed some jealously about my relationship to food.

Despite – or maybe because of - her concern about my lascivious obsession with food, we eat at the best restaurants, take cooking classes together, and have a ball trying new recipes and cooking together in our kitchen. We are constantly looking for new tastes that tingle our senses.

I look for that same primal, sensuous experience when I read a novel and thrive on tension building titillating action like that offered by J.A. Konrath. I just finished Shaken and hated to put it down.

Adrenaline junkie that I am, however, what I find most memorable about any book are the characters. Flavoring a story with interesting and unique personalities is like eating at Bella Bistro – our favorite restaurant in Arvada, Colorado. I want to savor every last morsel and can’t wait to be served up another course.

Providing our readers the opportunity to crawl around in the grey cranial matter of our fictional characters to experience the motivational core that drives behavior is equivalent to adding a to-die-for icing or sauce to any already mouth-watering thriller. In Part 1 through 4 we employed Dr. Elias Porter’s  relationship awareness theory as the model for understanding motivational value systems.

We have already discussed the three primary and one of the blend motivational styles utilized in the Strength Deployment Inventory: Assertive-Directing (Red), Analytical-Autonomizing (Green), Altruistic-Nurturing (Blue) and Judicious-Competing (Green-Red). I provided examples of fictional characters from novels, television, and movies of each of these motivational styles and hopefully conveyed how each style motivates behavior, presents unique points of view, and presents potential pitfalls for persons with such personal preferences. If you missed out on reading the earlier blogs I invite you to visit them in the archives section.

The goal of today’s blog will be to examine the Cautious-Supporting (Green-Blue) motivational value system. Green-Blues are driven by a concern for affirming and developing self-sufficiency in themselves and in others. Such persons are thoughtful and helpful and have a strong regard for justice. At work, they are likely to build effective, user-friendly processes, provide resources to enhance the welfare of others, and support intelligent activities that facilitate personal growth and bring forth the best in others.

If you ever had a science teacher in school that provided entertaining experiments that made the class laugh and provided humorous memory aids to help students internalize complex ideas, chances are they were a Green-Blue. A real feel-good comedy that Carole and I enjoy to watch on gloomy days is Multiplicity, starring Michael Keaton. Keaton plays a contractor stretched to his limits by work and family obligations. A scientist convinces him to clone himself so he can be in more that one place at the same time. One of the clones, meant to represent his feminine side, portrays the Green-Blue style beautifully. In one scene he instructs his wife on the proper technique for wrapping meat products to avoid the meat going stale. TTF. Tuck, tuck, fold. Two tucks and a fold. Think of Elizabeth Taylor. A tuck here and a fold there. For Greens there is a right way to do everything. Blues want to help you succeed. Green-Blues are motivated to facilitate your growth, to enable you to become independent and self-sufficient.

I’ve read all the Alex Delaware mysteries by Jonathon Kellerman. The retired psychologist, Alex Delaware, is a consultant to the LA Police Department. He is a warm and compassionate person who combines compassion and intellect in solving child related crimes and to provide enlightened guidance for others. He is thoughtful and respectful of other’s feeling and goals and thorough in whatever he undertakes on another’s behalf.

The ranks of certain areas of specialization (e.g., child psychology and family therapy) and schools of thought in psychology (e.g., humanistic psychology) are filled with Green-Blues. Other psychology specializations, such as behaviorism and Freudian therapists, are often dominated by persons who are more Analytical-Autonomizing (Green).

Mikael Blomkvist from Stieg Larsson’s popular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is another popular character that fits into this category. Like Alex Delaware, he is not driven by a need to be top dog or to win at all costs and his involvement in intrigue is a side effect of a burning desire to know the truth and be of assistance, not of a competitive psyche. He can be overly trusting and his blind faith in others has nearly ruined his career.

Leonard on the situational comedy, The Big Bang Theory is another character from this mold. A congenial and brilliant physicist, he is conscientious in his work and habits, patient with his anal retentive roommate, respectful of the Sheldon’s oft outlandish rules, and a devoted friend dedicated to acting in a fair and just manner that is considerate of all concerned parties.

As is true for all Green-Blue blends, Leonard must be on guard against the amplifying effects of overusing or misusing any of his personal strengths. Both Green (Analytical-Autonomizing) and Blue (Altruistic-Nurturing) types strive to maintain harmony. In order to avoid conflict, Leonard often withdraws from confrontation or submits to other’s arguments when he cannot overrule them with his logic. He can be overly cautious in his relationships, not wanting to offend.

I often find that in real life where blends include a Green component, Green is more dominant of the two styles. Many of the high tech companies in which I have consulted have a Green-Blue organizational culture. Intelligence and techie-ness are essentially but there is no reason we can’t have fun doing this work. The biggest differences between Greens and Green-Blues is that the latter often has a more external focus (an authentic concern for people based on empathy rather than a reserved emotional logic and appreciation for justice and fairness). They are often much more openly funny and usually deliver a punch line to a joke with more enthusiasm.

Greens are more common character types in thrillers than are blends. If you can think of some others, I hope you comment on this blog and share your insights.

As always, I’ll look forward to your comments. Don’t forget to take a look at my novels if you need reading material for your next vacation or business trip. I’m making terrific progress on my third thriller, Black Ice, and hope to have the first draft complete by the end of February. Talk with you again on Thursday.


  1. I am enjoying reading your blogs. The one you posted on Jan 3, you commented that you and Carole read to each other. The books are on both ends of the spectrum, chick books to thrillers. What would be the biggest challenge to writing a thriller that would appeal to the solid blue public? Yet still satisfy guys like me that enjoyed Tom Clancy’s latest “Dead or Alive”. Gregg

  2. Thanks for your question, Gregg. Blues (Altruistic/Nurturing valued motivational style) are relationship/other oriented. Thrillers are action driven and the characters often one dimensional. I try to craft characters that have interpersonal relationship issues and reveal the internal workings of their psyche as they resolve these issues while driven along by external circumstances beyond their control. I'm currently working on a third thriller about schizophrenia and multi-universes. The protagonist is a University of Colorado physics professor who is living as a street person after having killed her daughter in an automobile accident. Marcie is a Green (analytical/autonomizing type) intellectual struggling with her emotional disconnect from other people. Thrown into harrowing situations marked by intrigue, murder, and secret government experiments, she reclaims her life and also learns how to surrender herself to love.