Tag Archives: craft of writing

Writer’s Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for his theory about human motivation, aka the hierarchy of needs. He believed that basic needs must be fulfilled before an individual can progress to higher levels. For example, an individual cannot realize their self-potential ( the highest level ) if the basic necessities of food and shelter are not met.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Anyone who’s ever taken a Psychology 101 class is familiar with the conceptualized pyramid denoting the levels.

Well, it struck me that writers have a hierarchy of needs of their own that must be satisfied  before they can hope to achieve creative greatness.

Writers hierarchy of needs


Physical needs: Writers don’t need much–our minds are full enough. However, coffee to awaken the Muse, snacks for feeding the Muse, a computer ( or notebook and pen in a crunch ) and the happy hormones found in chocolate are writing staples.


Safety: Internet connections help us research and connect with friends. With a flash drive or Cloud we rest easy knowing our masterpiece is safe from virtual viruses. Any writer losing their work or revisions to a computer crash remembers the agony of their genius vanishing like dust in the wind. ( cue “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas )

Love & Belonging: We might be solitary folk, happy retreating into our creative cave, yet we need the fellowship of FaceBook , Instagram, Google +, LinkedIn, and Twitter. We seek validation not only from other writers but from reviewers, readers, and  friends. There is safety in numbers, in belonging to groups where the written word reigns supreme and reading is revered!

Esteem: We are fragile sorts, our egos crushed daily by plot flaws, meager word count, and scenes refusing to flow. So thus we turn away from the story, casting our attentions to the Likes, Tweets, ReTweets, and hits on our social media. Sadly, they validate us, at least for the moment. And when our confidence is lifted by enough Likes and RT’s we venture back into our novel.

Self-Actualization: Having attained our needs we are now eager to plunge into the story. We conjure the Muses and force them to do our bidding. Words flow from our brain, pass the heart, and course through our fingertips. Reality vanishes and we are happy, our Zen restored.

 So should you experience the horrors of writer’s block, fear not!
It’s not you!
Your Pyramid of Writer’s Needs is not being met! 


Related Links: Readin’ & Writin’ & Rx for Writer’s Block

Characters with Humor

This is not a post about funny characters. This is about creating character personalities based on the 4 humors.

The what?

Here’s a quick refresher course on the ancient Greek categories.

Hippocrates ( 460–370 BC) is responsible for taking an even more ancient Egyptian theory and developing it into one that categorized temperaments into 4 basic types. These personality types were attributed to an excess of certain ewww-worthy body fluids.

A surplus of:

1. Blood corresponds to a sanguine personality. The best of all the temperaments, these extroverted folks are fun-loving, carefree, optimistic, kind, caring, and loving. They are easily distracted but also forgive and forget just as quickly.

2. Black Bile is associated with melancholia. These introverted and idealistic types are prone to introspection and depression. They can also be neurotic, obsessive perfectionists. They are the quintessential brooder.

3. Yellow bile is linked to the choleric traits of aggression, decisiveness, ambition, and vengeance. These quick-tempered types are cunning and quick to blame others.

4. Phlegm is associated with phlegmatic traits. Lazy, slow, cowardly, and lack of ambition are the negative aspects of this type. Patient, docile, and peace-making are the positive aspects.

Note: Yes, one could be a balanced personality and have all the requisite amount of fluids, but what would be the sense in creating a character without flaws?

See chart at end of post for more associations.

It’s easy to find evidence of humor types in TV, literature, and film. From  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ( Ferris = sanguine; Cameron = melancholic; Sloane = phlegmatic; Jeanie = choleric)  to The Hangover ( Phil = choleric; Stu = melancholic;  Alan = sanguine;  Doug = phlegmatic) scores of characters are created that fit the 4 humor types.

Why create characters that conform to some ancient weird-gross body fluid classification? 
A good story requires:
  • a cast of characters with distinct personalities. The 4 humors help a writer “see” their characters’ strengths and flaws with more clarity.
  • interesting dialog. Knowing your characters’ type helps create authentic dialog.
  • lots of conflict. What better way to add conflict then have these personalities be at odds with one other. Ninja Turtles, anyone?  Seinfeld?
  • character growth. One type learns from the others. Whether that growth is positive or negative is determined by your plot.

Other types of categories for sussing out characters: Western astrological signs, Chinese zodiac signs, Greek/Roman gods, and the Meyer-Briggs categories.

Have fun creating your characters!

4 humors

Related links: Rock Your Writing

Dining & Feasting

mealsIt was the best of times. It was the worst of times! Oh, the drama of the family meal! People eating and drinking together is tasty with yummy symbolism.

Why is that, you ask? In ancient times, sharing one’s meal symbolized hospitality and goodwill. Certain foods, drink, or days were associated with religious and social rituals.

If one was breaking bread with someone, it indicated friendship, truce, partnership, or an alliance. The human race hasn’t changed all that much—we still enjoy eating with those we like–and eschew eating with those we don’t.

Eating and/or fasting rituals are found in most religions. And I can’t think of a holiday that doesn’t center around or end in eating! Eating together & sharing food is an act of communion/agreement/fellowship/harmony.

I’m sure you can picture a few eating scenes in movies! (My favorite is the scene in Flashdance where the rich guy watches his date eat a lobster in a most provocative manner!)

Shared meals can:
  • be a plot device
  • reveal character
  • reveal the relationships between characters
  • be thematic
  • be an allusion to other famous religious meals or foods ( the Last Supper, maror & matzo of Passover)
  • be an allusion to famous literary meals (Tom Jones, Like Water for Chocolate, Good Earth,  Oliver Twist)

Writing a meal scene is challenging, but can reveal much about the plot, character, relationships, family dynamics, setting, or culture of the novel.

A few symbolism-weighty factors to consider:

  • Who is sharing the meal? Enemies? Lovers? Family? Strangers?
  • What foods are they eating? Is the food and drink symbolic of religion or social class, OR  is the food itself fraught with symbolism. See the posts Fruit of the GodsSacred Spices, and Foods of Life for information regarding the symbolism of some common foods. In the Merkabah Series, there are several eating scenes–each revealing something about the characters and their relationships. One character orders a flambeed dish. Yep! You bet it’s symbolic.
  • Why is this particular meal described? Why is it significant to the plot/character?
  • How does the meal end?  Did someone choke? ( plot device or sign of character “choking” on their own words or that of another’s).
  • Did someone stalk off—an indication the communing/fellowship/agreement went wrong. Remember the scene in Great Gatsby when Tom jumps up from the table to take a phone call from his girlfriend?
  • How is the character eating? Are they nibbling ( dainty ), gobbling ( glutton ), selective ( picky ). Sloppy or neat or overly fastidious? Did a character stop eating mid meal–and why? Is a woman enjoying her meal with great delight indicative of her sexual appetite? (Is she smacking her lips, making mmmm & aaahh & oohh noises?)
  • How does the character feel about the meal? Do they hate the food (closed-minded?) Trying new food (open-minded?)
  • Does a character take food from another’s plate? Do they refuse to share?
  • Does a character become sick? (is it a plot device OR is a character “sick of” or “sickened by” a character, conversation, or turn of events at the table?)
  • Is a character eating with his favorite 12 friends?( allusion to Last Supper)
  • Do the characters share a utensil, straw, or drink ( either accidentally or with purpose).
  • Does one character feed another? This may be erotic, suggestive, a prelude to sex, or reveal who is the boss in the relationship
  • What’s happening under the table? Hand-holding, clenched fists?
  • Is a character refusing to eat? In effect saying, I’m here with you, but I don’t like/approve of you.

An eating scene is full of chewy symbolic deliciousness.

Have fun feeding your characters!

Related Links:  Rock Your Writing;