Monday, January 31, 2011

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 7)

We’ve arrived at the last of the seven motivational styles (flexible-cohering) based upon Dr. Elias Porter’s relationship awareness theory, a model for understanding motivational value systems. Utilizing this approach, we view behavior not as an end product but as a vehicle that allows an individual to achieve their goals. A final step to creating memorable, layered fictional characters is showing our readers how motivational style drives behavior.

The Flexible-Cohering (Hub) valued motivational style is a blend of all three of the basic motivational systems: Red (Assertive-Directing), Blue (Altruistic-Nurturing) and Green (Analytical-Autonomizing). Hubs strive to be well rounded and completely flexible in their behavior, readily adapting to changing circumstances. They pride themselves in being open minded and inquisitive, and enjoy experimenting with a variety of approaches and options for behavior. They like to socialize and are curious about what others think and feel, embrace diversity, especially diversity of thought, and are tolerant of different styles and points of view. For the Flexible-Cohering cadre, variety is the spice of life. Hell is being stuck in boring routine.

Such persons know how to democratically exercise authority and understand when to follow rules and when to exercise their own judgment. They tend to be consensus builders and loyal team players that encourage interaction, demonstrate sensitivity to other’s feelings, and enjoy coordinating others in some common undertaking that involves closeness and opportunities for self-reliance.

Two of the most popular Flexible-Cohering contemporary fictional characters are James Patterson’s Alex Cross and Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt (yes, I am aware I listed Dirk as a Green/Red in a previous discussion). At first glance the personalities of these two characters may appear to have little in common. That is often true of Hubs because each individual is a unique blend of the three dominant styles and often favor one or more of the styles over the others.

Alex Cross (an African-American homicide detective and psychologist who eventually becomes a Senior Agent with the FBI before returning to a private psychologist practice) is a Hub with an Analytical-Autonomizing (Green) preference. He is portrayed as a reserved, lonely man, loyal to the memory of his murdered wife, and a model father. He is empathetic in dealing with the public and despite the fact that he is well educated and makes a decent living, chooses to continue residing in the Southeast quadrant of D.C. where he is very involved in community work. Hubs are strong persons, generous with their help, who are patient and don’t lose their heads. They tend to dislike subservience or domineering people or those who isolate themselves, withhold support, let the group down or fail to live up to their commitments.

Cross has had bad luck with women. His wife Maria was murdered. A lover is involved in the kidnapping of two children, for which she is executed. Another girlfriend was kidnapped for almost a year. However, in his choice of women one can see the Hub tolerant and inclusive nature and their desire for variety.

In an earlier discussion, we assigned Clive Cussler’s action-oriented hero, Dirk Pitt, to the Red-Green (Judicious-Competing) cadre but one could also make the case that he is a Hub with a Red/Green preference. Pitt an adventurer with a confident and commanding presence and a quick, sly wit that often infuriates those opposed to him. Stressful situations are desensitized through comical banter with his sidekick Al Giordino. In the course of his work as a marine engineer for NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency), an oceanographic research organization the highly intelligent and intuitive Pitt thwarts a large number of plans by villains intent on global catastrophe or world domination. It is his added dimension of an ability to develop strong interpersonal relationships and altruistic pov that makes him a legitimate representative of the Flexible-Cohering style as well.

For those who enjoy heroic fantasy, take a look at David Gemmell’s Troy: Shield of Thunder. It is part one of a three book retelling of the Homeric legends of the Illiad and Odyssey and Gemmell breathes new life into the characters of ancient lore. His portrayal of Odysseus is pure delight and an excellent example of multidimensional Hub-ness.

So, too, is Scotty from the original Star Trek television series. Hubs fit in and adapt to their surroundings and their company. Is Scotty ever in conflict with anyone? In his interaction with Kirk, Scotty is a problem solver, unafraid to take action or to think outside of the box to get things done. In Spock’s company, he is a brilliant engineer/scientist and a logical and thoughtful reservoir of information. When socializing with Bones McCoy he is a lighthearted and humorous humanitarian and proponent of team harmony.

Andrew Shepherd, the character portrayed by Michael Douglas in The American President delivers the perfect Hub speech in the climactic scene of the movie. If you can get past your personal politics and want a glimpse of how Hubs think and communicate, observe how the emphasis of his message shifts from Green to Red to Blue to Red and back to Green again. Stereotypical Hub behavior.

reflective of their inclusive nature, Hubs are often the mortar that holds a team together. They model desirable team oriented behavior, recognize and acknowledge the validity of different points of view and frames of reference, build consensus, and assume whatever role is necessary to get things done.

As discussed in the preceding six installments of Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach, within every personal strength resides a potential weakness. Overusing or misusing one’s strength can be dysfunctional, delimit success, and lead to conflicts with others. Since Flexible-Cohering individuals are the most complex motivational style, so too are their potential weaknesses.

In his hilarious movie Zelig, based upon his short story The Chameleon Man, Woody Allen plays a curiously nondescript enigma who yearns for approval so strongly that he physically changes to fit in with those around him and accepts other people’s thoughts and feelings in place of his own. Hubs can be so open minded that they lose sight of what they think or lose a sense of who they really are. Zelig needs so desperately to be in the presence of others that he is afraid to be alone. Hubs who need to fit in too much impress others as having no real convictions and often struggle so hard to keep their options open that they find it difficult to take a clear stand on issues. In Allen’s movie his psychiatrist elevates Zelig's self-esteem much too high and he temporarily develops a personality that is violently intolerant of other people's opinions. When Hubs step over the line they can assume the role of gadfly, disagreeing just to show that there are many ways to do things and annoying others in the process.

There is a tendency for we humans to project one’s own motivations onto others. It is not uncommon for non-Hubs to view the ease with which Hub’s adapt with suspicion. Hubs can be seen as uncommitted, two-faced, slippery, manipulative and conniving. Consequently, Hubs must be on guard against being so flexible that others view them as inconsistent, wishy-washy, or lacking in focus.

An essential component to developing good characterization comes down to helping our reader understand the inner subtleties of a fictional creation’s motivational style – the core beliefs about what is most important in life. We have looked at seven motivational value systems, each with their own unique driving forces and corresponding potential weaknesses that might lead to conflict with others.

Next time, we’ll examine subtleties in verbal communication that distinguish these motivational styles from one another. I hope you this discussion interesting enough to leave me a comment or question and will come back to visit me again. I’ll look forward with enthusiasm to hearing your thoughts.

My name is Bill Hubiak and I am a novelist. You can find links on my website to both my novels: my latest, Troubadour of Peace, a political thriller, and my first novel, Embodiment of Evil, a psychological thriller / horror. My current project is a third thriller with the working title, Black Ice.

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