Core Needs and Psychological Maneuvers Give Fictional Characters Depth

In Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel Elizabeth George suggests that wo ingredients that help understand characters are their core need and their psychopathology or psychological maneuver.

Core needs are emotional, physical, or psychological. The core need grows out of the character analysis; knowing what need is driving the character can help give depth and shading to a character, making him or her multidimensional.

Examples of core needs include:

  • The need for approval
  • The need for perfection or to be seen as perfect
  • to be seen as empathetic
  • to be right
  • to be competent
  • To control events and people
  • for nurturance
  • for excitement
  • to be seen as authentic
  • for admiration
  • for attention
  • to be of service
  • for connection
  • for an adrenaline rush

The character’s psychopathology or psychological maneuver may be an aberrant behaviour, a conflicted or confused mental state, a self-created bodily oddity, an unusual but revealing reaction to something, or an erroneous belief. It is something that lies within an individual and is generally—but not always—out of the public view, concealed by whatever persona the individual projects. It is triggered in moments when anxiety, stress, fear, or the character’s troubled mind can’t be soothed, or when their core need cannot be met.

Examples of a psychological maneuver might include:

  • self-mutilation
  • aggression against others
  • bullying
  • eating disorders
  • drug addiction
  • alcoholism
  • uncontrollable rages
  • physical ailments with no known cause
  • obsessive thoughts
  • compulsive behaviours
  • obsessions
  • nymphomania
  • chronic laying
  • mania or phobia

George, Elizabeth. Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel. Viking, 2020.



George, Elizabeth. Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel. Viking, 2020.