Another post on character needs, extracted from Character Fiction 101: How to Write Fictional Characters and Character Stories.
Today, the need for security, which played a significant role in the life of the character “Eddie” in From the Ashes of Courage.
Security includes our need for shelter, cleanliness, protection, and safety, and the like.
From the time we were newborns, we instinctively knew how to establish rapport with our mothers, whom nature had already primed to fulfill our need for security. From the moment they’re born, babies how to recognize human faces and to imitate them. And they instinctively know how to cry. No one needs to teach them how. They immediately use these innate communication skills to establish a relationship with their primary caregivers, which will provide them everything they need to survive, until they are able to provide for themselves.
No longer newborns, we now find security in other relationships, in control over our environment, in our jobs, even in our governments. In general, if we feel we have the resources to deal with any situation we find ourselves in, we will feel secure. That’s why we instinctively seek rapport with others in our families and communities, because we can find security in close relationships. And it’s why we instinctively seek control over our environment, because the power to control the world around us enhances our feeling of security.
Change and fear tend to threaten our sense of security, anything that might result in us not being able to meet our other needs: An economic recession. Losing a job. Rising gas prices. A fight with our significant other. Our boss’s angry tone. Disease. War. The armed criminal lurking around the next dark corner. The terrorist we suppose will board the next airplane with us. The monster chasing us through the Tunnel of Love. Some people feel threatened by immigrants working for low wages, by next-door neighbors of a foreign culture speaking a foreign language, or by shifts in political opinion or religious practice. Others are afraid of black cats, step ladders, and broken mirrors.
So whenever a character feels he might lose his ability to meet any of his needs, he’ll react to that loss of security. This can happen even if circumstances aren’t that bad, because it all depends on his imagination. If he imagines that he’s running out of food in his pantry and that he won’t be able to afford to go grocery shopping this week, he may act as though he’s about to starve, even if he has enough bits and pieces to scrape together another month’s worth of nourishment, even if he has friends and family that would never let him actually starve, even if he weighs 237 pounds and could stand to lose a third of that.
We all want to feel the ground stable beneath our feet and the world firmly anchored around us. Remember that whenever one of your characters encounters change—and he will—in your story.