2 min read

Write characters better with an emotional needs image board

Every character in a story needs to have some emotional needs they are acting from. For example: Respect, validation, safety, control, order, comfort, amusement, a feeling of competence, responsibility, protecting another, curiosity, fascination, obsession, compulsion, excitement, change, competition, mastery, skillfulness, challenge, justice, revenge, fairness, freedom, space, breathing room, independence, meaning, authenticity, responsibility, personal autonomy, sacredness, or profanity. There are tons of different possibilities, and each character in a story will have their own typical mix. But because there are so many possibilities, I find it hard to orient to this long list of words as anything useful.

I've found an image board/thread useful for orienting to the possibilities. This is simple to put together:

  1. I created a page in Logseq for examples and one bullet per broad group of emotional needs. For example: "Superiority/hierarchy/authority," or "Excellence/excitement/competition/challenge. Mastery, skillfulness." Whatever list of needs you come up with, group it however makes sense to you.
  2. Under each gruop-of-needs bullet, I then listed as sub-bullets a mix of relevant real-life experiences, and fictional characters and contexts. For example: Under "Excellence/excitement/..." I made separate sub-bullets for Gon Freecss, Killua, and Hisoka from Hunter X Hunter. Each of these characters represents a slightly differnt angle on the need for excellence, excitement, competition, and challenge.
  3. I then collected images to match each fictional character bullet. To do this I went to Duck Duck Go, searched for the character name, the show name if needed, and any other keywords I need to narrow down the show.* I then saved any images that seemed appropriate for the thread given the emotional need of "excellence/excitement/...". So now I have a list of "need for excellence/excitement/..." images for Gon Freecs, for Killua, and for Hisoka, each list under the appropriate bullet.
  4. Generally I aimed to have three familiar examples and images in each need-group. This isn't necessary however, and I definitely didn't get there for every group.
  5. For each group of emotional needs, pick one image to use as the "cover image." Also not necessary, but makes the list a little nicer to skim. Best to pick smaller images here if possible.
  6. Optionally collapse all the emotional need group bullets. Makes things easier to scroll.
  7. You're done.

I expect to use the top level outline and images much more often than the sub-bullets. It's nice though to have made the sub-bullets. Each sub-bullet and each image adds a little more nuance and possiblity to that group of needs. The nuance may be good to reference sometimes, but it also seems useful simply to have examined each example in some detail. Overall I expect this to help with grounding what my characters want in emotional needs.

*Sometimes I also filched images from IMDB by manually examining the HTML to get an image URL (fair use!). To save on storage space I also downscaled most images as much as possible while keeping them recognizable. Generally I downscaled to 300 or 400 pixels on the largest side.