On Writing: Characters and Group Mentality

I’ve been trying to develop the middle part of my current work. I have an idea of how my hero, Chip, will progress and how he will change due to the psychological problems he will be dealing with, but I still have to figure out how he will fit in with the group.

Groups take on a life of their own, with a culture and a group mentality that is different from the sum of the individual members. The group, in effect, becomes a character, so I need to develop this character while I am developing my hero’s character.

There are five stages of group development:

1. Coming together and finding roles
2. Defining the task
3. Disenchantment with the leader, each other
4. Cohesion, feeling like a team
5. Interdependence, acting like a team, becoming more than the sum of the parts.

Most groups unconsciously assign roles to the members, and once these roles have been assigned, tacit agreement maintains them. The most common group roles are: leader, seducer (wants to bewitch others), silent member, taskmaster, clown, victim, oppressor, conciliator, combatant, nurse, young Turk (wants to take over the leadership), the naïf, and the scapegoat.

In the first part of my WIP, where Chip deals with the loss of everything he loved, he meets three mentors, but he is mostly alone. Even his cat deserts him. In the second part, he has to become a part of a group that will escape the place of refuge, choosing freedom over safety, but he is still a loner. I know readers like forceful main characters, the go-to guys and gals (for those of you who hate the word “gals,” sorry, but I couldn’t resist), but I prefer the quieter types, the ones don’t take charge until they are pressed into it out of necessity. So, in the group hierarchy, Chip will not be the leader. He will be the silent member and he will be the scapegoat.

Groups tend to isolate one person as the source of any conflict, whether warranted or not, and they deposit their negative feelings on that person. Because Chip keeps to himself, and because the others think he’s “teacher’s pet,” he becomes the scapegoat. I don’t think he cares, though, so if you don’t care, are you still the scapegoat? Either way, that’s the role the group has assigned him.

Chip’s eventual love interest will fulfill the roles of nurse and taskmaster. A serial killer will fulfill the role of clown. A woman who never quite fit into her other life will find a fit as the leader. The combatant and perhaps oppressor will be a soldier. A lawyer, an erstwhile ambulance chaser, will be the conciliator. But I don’t yet have characters to fill the other roles. So that’s what I need to work on — creating those characters.

This was supposed to be a silly book, a story just for fun, but in the development, it’s becoming something different, something I have to learn how to write as I go along. I keep promising myself that my next book will be one I know how to write. It would make it a heck of a lot easier. But then, where’s the challenge in that?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

4 Responses to “On Writing: Characters and Group Mentality”

  1. ceylanthewriter Says:

    Thanks for the great insights! I wish you lots of luck with your writing! Keep on writing! Keep positive!

    Ceylan

  2. joylene Says:

    Your story sounds fascinating, Pat. I got to the end of your article and wanted more. Honestly. That’s a powerful gift. Even your blogs entice me.

    I’m challenging myself with my 6th story. I’m doing the thing “they” say not to do: fill the opening with backstory while maintaining a sense of now. I love a good challenge.

    Best of luck with all your endeavours.

  3. gigi1953 Says:

    I love your posts, Pat. Your bring writing expereince to the level that we’re familiar with, that we can look at and say, “Hey, that’s me!” You let us know we’re not alone in the writing journey. Can’t wait to hear Chip’s development!

  4. Pat Bertram Says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I find the process of creation endlessly fascinating, but I’m never quite sure if what I write will be of interest to anyone except me.


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