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Thursday, February 3, 2011

T3 - Different Strokes for Fictional Folks

This month, I'm moving on to my newest professional interest: Transactional Analysis (TA).

Transactional Analysis sounds really daunting and intellectual, doesn't it? It's actually just analyzing a person's transactions with others in such a way as to improve their lives. Simple, huh? But you might be wondering what a series grounded in TA can do to better your character development and by extension, your writing.

The answer is an unmeasurable amount! TA is so intuitive--the concepts so "Ah-ha!"--that you'll have a better understanding of not only your characters, but also of yourself. Just stick with me.

TA is a theory of personality as well as an approach to doing therapy. It's main idea is that people make decisions based on past experiences and understandings that were at one time necessary for psychological survival but now may be no longer valid. (Many times, they aren't!)

The first aspect of TA I want to introduce you to is the idea of "strokes." Eric Berne, a Freudian-trained psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who founded TA, believed that humans need physical, social, and intellectual stimulation, and that a "stroke" is any act of recognition/stimulation. He theorized that people needed these strokes to develop a sense of self-esteem in themselves and trust in the word. Without strokes, a person can die, as research has proven infants who go without human contact do die.

Hold it right there. In all the reading and writing you've done, wouldn't you say that a lack of self-esteem (in some regard) or a lack of trust in others form the basis of many an internal character arc? A heroine who sees herself as unlovable. A hero who will never trust another woman. A character who believes all goodwill toward him is faked. Another who sees herself as unattractive, unworthy, imperfect.

Psychological strokes of acceptance, recognition, or attention are what give our characters confirmation (or the opposite) of their worth. Strokes can be verbal or non-verbal, and they come in 2 varieties:

1) Unconditional or Conditional

Ah. Gets interesting here. Conditional strokes are received for doing something. "I'll like you if/when you act a certain way, achieve a certain goal, make a certain dollar amount." These strokes have to be earned, and are contingent on the person having to make a change in some way. Unconditional strokes are given just for someone being who they are. "I like you no matter what." These strokes don't have to be earned.

2) Positive or Negative

Positive strokes (a.k.a. "warm fuzzies" -- I'm serious) say "I like you." They can be non-verbal physical touches, smiles, waves. They can be verbal words of appreciation, love, friendliness. These strokes are necessarily for a person to be psychologically healthy and whole. Negative strokes (a.k.a. "cold pricklies") say "I don't like you." This could be a cold shoulder, walking the other direction when they see you, setting a person up to be made fun of, etc.

People want to be recognized and accepted. As children, we test various ways of garnering strokes to see what behaviors or tactics will get us what kind of stroke. We will carry these methods into adulthood. If positive strokes are lacking, people will seek negative strokes, as research has proven that negative strokes are better than no strokes at all. If a person receives no strokes, they can become depressed and will resort to self-damaging and harmful methods to receive recognition.

Now for some questions for your characters:

1) What does your character do most often to receive strokes?
2) What kinds of strokes does your character receive?
3) How much of his/her time is spent trying to garner strokes?
4) Who in your character's life give them the strokes they survive on?
5) What kinds of strokes is your character most likely to give?

Q4U: You tell me...will this help you get inside your character's head more? In the comment section below, give me a Thumbs Up for more transactional analysis posts or a Thumbs Down comment for "No more, please!" (Won't hurt my feelings...I want this to be useful!)

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Janice Thompson's new release, Stars Collide. Click here!

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Juliette Wade said...

This is an interesting post, and made me think of the character "No-Face" from the Miyazaki film "Spirited Away." Unconditional positive strokes make him happy, but he so desperately needs strokes that he'll solicit conditional ones...and then wreak revenge on the people who fall for his offers.

Lisa Nowak said...

Thumbs up. :) I'm mostly a lurker because I'm so darn busy, but I do like your blog.

Linda Glaz said...

Great post and so much to think about.

Michelle said...

Thumbs up!!!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.