Are you ready to develop your characters in a new way? Why not try using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This pyramid (as seen below) is something that I use all the time. I use it in my coaching, in my personal life, and in my writing. Why? Because it helps me prioritise my workload and personal life, teach how to prioritise, and understand my character’s needs as well.
So, how can Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs teach us about and help us develop our characters? It’s all about their motivation. Motivation is the thing that drives your character and story forward.
As you can see from the pyramid, we begin at the bottom with physiological needs. So, what physiological needs could be driving your character forward?
In my novel The Birth of Ida, my main character finds herself in an inhospitable land that she has never before dealt with. That means that a lot of her development takes place at the bottom rung on this pyramid. She is cold, hungry, and a little desperate. Therefore, she learns to hunt, build fires on snow, and become an all-round badass outdoorswoman. This is a part of her character development.
The next level is safety needs. Let’s look at Ida again. If I consider her motivation in this section, she is driven to protect herself and reclaim her property. That is another level of her motivation. Remember that characters, like people, are complex. They won’t just have one level of motivation because all of us have these levels. Usually, we need to satiate hunger before we can move up a level, for example.
The next level is love and belonging. Ida is a bit of a lone wolf in this category, but she does have her horse, who fulfils her need for belonging. It might be that you are writing a romance, and so your character’s motivation in this section is more substantial than Ida’s. That’s down to each character and person.
Now we’re onto esteem. This level is about respect and freedom. Ida’s motivation at this level is strong – she is striving to be respected as a woman in a patriarchal world, and after being locked up for many years, she values freedom above all else. That goes some way to explaining why her belongingness category is not so important to her – her values are different.
The highest level is self-actualisation. This level is all about achieving your highest potential – it’s the highest goal. Of course, this is most likely your main characters most easily spotted motivation – because the big goal is what we usually consider. But, remember that a character or person cannot reach this level unless the other levels have been considered. After all, one needs a full belly, some support, and at least a little respect to slay a dragon.
A well-rounded character will include all of these things, so try this with your main character today and see how they develop according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Any questions about this? Get in touch and ask; I would be happy to answer!
If you need a hand with your writing craft, I can help. As a lecturer in Creative Writing for over six years, and with a PhD, MA and BA in the subject, I am well poised to answer any issues you have been facing.