A SERIES OF POSTS ON MOTIVATION: CONNECTION

Assuming we’re still hanging in on the “Six Human Needs” I introduced a few weeks ago, a good starting point on the subject of what drives us all, I’m pressing ahead with the fourth of the six: connection.

Connection has been called the first of the “fundamental needs” in that not everyone is particularly motivated by, say, a desire for significance, but everyone craves some sort of connection—connection to other people, mostly, but also to groups (ideologies, religions, and so on), and even things.

Starting with the most obvious, I’ll fall back on what I wrote in The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction on the subject of romance:

Both fantasy and science fiction require fully realized characters, and that usually includes some form of romance. People have done extraordinary things in the name of love, both positive and negative. When you’re developing your characters, it’s important to know who they go home to every night—or who they hope someday to go home to, or who they usedto go home to but can’t anymore.

Like action and violence, a well-developed love interest is all about balance and motivation. Even the most male-dominated sword and sorcery or military science fiction story should still have some sexual dynamic.

One of the greatest fantasy stories of all time, “Red Nails” by Robert E. Howard, still might have had as much blade-swinging action with just Conan, but when Howard added Valeria to the mix, it burst into life. Conan loved her, and when her life was at stake, we were drawn into their story.

Note that I said “their” story. Even though Valeria spends most of “Red Nails” more or less “off camera” she remains Conan’s primary motivation throughout. In my online Pulp Fiction Workshop we talk about taking what pulp authors like Robert E. Howard have to teach us and filtering it through a contemporary sensibility. So your characters’ relationships won’t be quite as retrograde as Howard’s “barbarian saves the girl” (though Valeria is pretty tough in her own right) but a hero/heroine can be strongly motivated by the desire to attract or rescue or otherwise gain the favors of either a significant other or a hoped-for significant other. Actually, villains can be motivated in the same way, but again, a hero (male or female) is someone who’s motivations we can understand (“get” the love interest) and whose methods we find inspirational or otherwise positive. A villain is someone who’s motivations we can understand (also “get” the love interest) but whose methods we find abhorrent. How you define words like “get” and what those methods actually are… that’s called a story.

And an emotional or even romantic connection isn’t always about sex. Mark Manson, in his article “Sex and Our Psychological Needs,” wrote:

Sex is a strategy we use to meet our psychological needs and not a need itself.

How do we know this? Because there is no evidence that celibacy or asexuality is actually physically or psychologically unhealthy. You don’t die from not having enough sex. In fact, there are many health risks becauseof sex. One could even argue that there are psychological and health benefits from not having sex.

And he continues…

On the other hand, if psychological needs go unmet for long periods of time, it will absolutely fuck us up physically and psychologically. People develop neuroses, addictions, and even delusions to get their needs met. Research shows that social isolation is more harmful than alcoholism or smoking. Depression and stress are related with all sorts of terrible physical issues.

So “connection” on the romantic level doesn’t mean your characters have to, y’know… do it.

But note that he said: “Research shows that social isolation is more harmful than alcoholism or smoking.” Though I can’t speak to the actual existence of that research it certainly at least seems reasonable to believe that social isolation is bad for us. Prisoners who are bad boys in prison get tossed into solitary confinement—social isolation is a punishment even in a place where most of the people you’re connecting with on a day to day basis are convicted felons.

Why is this?

Sarah Rudell Beach wrote in her Left Brain Buddha article “Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Why We Need Connection and Friendship”:

We are born long before our brains are mature, for the simple reason that we would never make it out of our mothers with fully developed craniums. We are born helpless, and therefore we’re wired to connect in powerful relationships with other humans so we can be taken care of and grow up big and strong and send our genetic material on into the future.

And of course romantic relationships end up being a big part of this—especially in the sending on of genetic material—but in the same way a baby needs a mother, not a lover, we often seek out connection with others in lots of different ways, from lots of different people or groups of people. In my online Worldbuilding course I ask students to sit down and, as quickly as possible, write a list of every group they belong to—every way in which they share something with some other people. These don’t have to be formal groups with actual membership cards or anything—just anything you share with more than one other person. I get a lot of things like “husband” or “mother” or “American” but also “Subaru driver,” “Dr. Who fan,” and lots of other things like that. I’m a Trekkie—I’m connected to that fan base. I’m a gamer—old school, pencil and paper RPGs, that is. That means a lot to me. I’m a science fiction fan, a fantasy fan, a horror fan… my list goes on. And this connects me to other people. And your characters, however weird the world in which they live, should have a similar list of groups, of personal connections.

These groups will change, our connections changing along with them as time and circumstances go by. Sometimes we can see this, in our own lives and in fiction, and the faster that transition takes place the more dramatic the disconnect, like in this bit from Joe M. McDermott’s The Fortress at the End of Time:

The question I ask of you, my confessor, is this: I took the side of justice and righteousness, with the oppressed women, and this was another step in the diminishment of my career. This should have been rewarded by God. Instead, the men looked upon me as if I were not worthy of my uniform, as if the guilt I felt for one woman’s death was enough to make me lose sight of the accepted gender-imbalanced realities of our posting. Why was I diminished for trying to be just? Unless my ultimate reward was my crime against the universe, and it was no sin, then what else could it mean?

At least the women on the station had some respect for me. Jensen and I ended up on the same cycle down to the planet, and she was kinder to me than before, when she should have been furious. At the time, I interpreted it to my foolish sense of justice.

Here we see a character losing his connection to one group for having nurtured his connection to another—and he suffers for it.

Strangely, and certainly of interest to fantasy authors in terms of a character’s connection to something like a sword or some magic item, or a science fiction character’s connection with a starship or other piece of technology, is the fact that we’re also capable of forming strong bonds with things. Han Solo and Captain Kirk both love their starships—not in a weird, romantic way, but in the same way real people can love their cars, a connection that led Darryl Harrison to ask “Is Tech Taking Away Our Emotional Connection With Cars?” in the era of ride sharing and so on:

Traditionally, cars have been about need and desire. They capture so many feelings for so many people. They serve a purpose and create an emotional connection, no matter how one feels about them. In today’s fast paced, increasingly connected world, will the cars of the future maintain emotional connections with their drivers or has technology increasingly eroded that connection? Will the introduction of more and more ride sharing choices, born out of new levels of connectivity and technology, break our connection with our cars?

I’ve seen people bemoaning the loss of vinyl records, typewriters, and other obsolete technology—why not cars? In Darryl Harrison’s list of groups he might have “car lover” and “reluctant Uber user,” but the group he’s really talking to here is the former. His desire to feel better by sharing this pain with like-minded individuals speaks directly to them, almost seeking permission to let go—or support in hanging on. Going back to Tony Robbins again, he said: “Most people’s lives are a direct reflection of the expectation of their peer group.”

This is true.

But it’s not always positive.

I’ll leave you with this bit from “The Loved Dead” by H.P. Lovecraft & C.M. Eddy, Jr.  in which a need for connection goes… Lovecraftian…

I haunted the death-chamber where the body of my mother lay, my soul athirst for the devilish nectar that seemed to saturate the air of the darkened room. Every breath strengthened me, lifted me to towering heights of seraphic satisfaction. I knew, now, that it was but a sort of drugged delirium which must soon pass and leave me correspondingly weakened by its malign power, yet I could no more control my longing than I could untwist the Gordian knots in the already tangled skein of my destiny.

I knew, too, that through some strange Satanic curse my life depended upon the dead for its motive force; that there was a singularity in my makeup which responded only to the awesome presence of some lifeless clod.

Connect with that.

 

—Philip Athans

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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