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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

#IWSG Writing Character Relational Styles

Thank you to Alex Cavanaugh for his brainchild: Insecure Writers Support Group!

I give permission for today's post to be included in the anthology IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond, full of tips for writing, publishing, and marketing.

Jennifer Lane: Blocked, Streamline, With Good Behavior, Bad Behavior, On Best Behavior, Swim Recruit

Three Character Relational Styles

(Topic: Writing)

Are your fictional characters overly compliant, aggressive, or withdrawing?

Why do they act that way?

As a psychologist/author (psycho author), I will address three relational styles for your characters:

1. Moving Toward (compliance)
2. Moving Against (aggression)
3. Moving Away (withdrawal)

Psychologist Karen Horney theorized that we learn to cope with anxiety by adopting one of these three interpersonal styles. In other words, when faced with conflict, we engage in submission, fight, or flight.

Imagine a family with an alcoholic father, an enabling mother, and three children.

Alicia, the oldest daughter, craves her father's love. She earns straight As and keeps the house clean to avoid his wrath when he comes home drunk. Alicia has no idea what she wants or needs but is adept at reading the needs of others. She avoids anxiety by trying to please others around her (moving toward). 

Derek, the middle son, hates feeling weak. He tells his mother he doesn't care about her. He gets in fights at school. When his father becomes abusive with his mother, Derek intervenes and provokes his father to hit him instead. He avoids anxiety by lashing out at others (moving against). 

Jonah, the youngest son, gets a stomach ache when his parents argue. He hides in his tree house or spends hours alone, shooting hoops. When his friends ask him to hang out, he shrugs and claims he's busy. Jonah avoids anxiety by withdrawing from others (moving away).

Each relational style can be effective when used flexibly, but problems arise with rigid styles. Alicia might lose herself in a loveless marriage. Derek may get fired for yelling at his boss. And Jonah might drown in loneliness as an adult.

Connecting relational styles to family experiences provides compelling character motivation.


Cherie Colyer said...

I like how you break this down. I've been working on character development and could use this to help me know my new characters better. Thanks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's awesome how you broke it down. I never thought of the three styles that way.
Can we use this in the anthology?

Jennifer Lane said...

Cherie, thank you! Hope it is helpful.

Jennifer Lane said...

Alex, I would love this to go in the anthology. I need to edit the post to give you the info you need as well as complete the form on your website--I was rushing to get to work this morning and didn't have time.

Donna McDine said...

Absolutely terrific post! I enjoyed how you broke it down with description. Thanks a bunch!

Best regards,
Donna McDine
Award-winning Children’s Author
Ignite Curiosity in your child through reading!
Write What Inspires You Blog

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

What a clear, easily understood breakdown of types of reaction to conflict and problems.

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

Your scenario illustrates a multilayered dysfunctional family dealing with alcoholism (or drug related issues.) It is all so complicated. Thanks for sharing your information. This will make an excellent contribution to the anthology

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Toward, against, away - I'm going to remember that.

Nicki Elson said...

Your pshycho insights are always so helpful -- and you have such a great way of explaining so that the average bloke can understand. Thanks!


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