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B is for Behavior

B is for Behavior

So I write…yes. But I am also a school psychologist. One (of the many) things I do in that part of my life is called a Functional Behavioral Analysis. Basically I’m sent in to answer the question, “Why does Johnny throw chairs across his second grade classroom and 11:27 every Thursday?”

If you’re a behaviorist, all behavior serves a function. Here are the primary reasons you, I, and Johnny do almost anything:

You–Escape
You–Get something (tangible, like food or a toy or a publishing contract *wink*)
You–Get attention
You–Get sensory stimulation (feels good–ahem)

I would also add that sometimes more functions of behavior are labeled (like Power) but fundamentally these can also be boiled down to one of the above four. Actually you could go so far as to say we are either trying to Get Something (more blog followers) or Avoid Something (the dishes in the sink)–and sometimes we are doing both at the same time (points finger at self–case in point.)

When I’m thinking of behavior and my characters, I think of these basic functions and double check to make sure that what they are doing makes sense. In ASCENDANT, my main character Charlotte WANTS to find her mother–but why? Because she loves her mother and her mother loved her and she wants her mother’s attention back.

If her mother had been a horrible, abusive, beater who was trying to sell Charlotte off into the sex slave industry, having Charlotte want to FIND her mother wouldn’t make as much sense. That story would likely be about Escape.

37 Responses to B is for Behavior

  1. Interesting post! Would that be the same as motivation? Why characters want or do something? I’m trying to improve this in my own writing – it’s not enough for me to say “Well, she’s doing that…just because…” :).

    • Yes, WHY do we do what we do. Even trickier in our writing is to show the character doing the actions while communicating THE WHY without specifically telling our audience. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Shell Flower says:

    I would really like to escape work today! We had a boy in our 3rd grade class that threw chairs pretty regularly. He helped us all avoid a boring teacher 🙂

  3. TMW Hickman says:

    Ah, I haven’t done a good FBA in years, but I should be careful what I wish for, I guess. Good post!

  4. This is so helpful! I’m bookmarking this page so I can refer to it during my edits, sometimes it helps to have a map to describe the ‘why’ behind things. Love it!

  5. Nikki says:

    Hello from your newest follower 🙂 Thank you for commenting my blog!

    This is a really great post! I love reading about psychology, I find it really interesting 🙂 I’ve been trying to get into writing a little bit – it’s always been a dream of mine – and it’s a great idea to analyse your characters in this way 🙂

    • I’m actually starting to put together a mini clinic on character behavior…wondering if it will be something I can also post online. Must think more on this 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Oh, character motivations are so fascinating. And making them consistent is critical or our readers will let us have it.

    • Hey Donna!! True that. Also KEEPING them consistent. Just beta read for someone and one of their secondary characters was flipping sides every other chapter. This was not believable, for me anyway. It was serving the need of the writer (wanting to have certain things happen, create conflict, etc, etc) but not holding true to the basic needs and wants of that character and so it did not ultimately make sense.

  7. Inger says:

    It makes so much more sense to try to figure out why a child is behaving in a certain way rather than just medicating them to keep them quiet and acceptable. Thanks for visiting and deciding to follow my blog. I will now go to sign up to follow yours.

  8. I am like you that respect. I write, but all the time I pulling on my psych degree with “what would this character do here” or “why are they doing that”. Very helpful, but sometimes I also surprise myself with what they/I do.


    Tim Brannan
    The Other Side and The Witch
    Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

  9. I’m a 7th grade teacher – I often think if I could do it all over again, I’d be very interested in becoming a school psychologist. How cool the ways you use it to help you write. 😉

  10. S.P. Bowers says:

    So true. There are so many books ruined because the characters behavior doesn’t make sense and is being manipulated by the author just to serve the plot.

  11. Laura says:

    So interesting. And yet I work with autistic children, and suddenly the rules are broken!
    Lx

    • So do I! Actually, I get called in ALOT to do FBAs (and develop behavior intervention plans) for children on the spectrum. Frequently the behaviors are about escape and sensory stimulation–of course, every child is unique. Thanks for dropping by!

    • Ann P says:

      Hi Rebecca,
      Thank you so much for dropping in,
      This post is a well woven one.
      Keep writing, keep inform
      Ann

  12. Julie Luek says:

    Ohhh this is all taking me back to my days working in higher ed with students. Makes my head hurt. 🙂 But love the application with characters. Very good.

  13. It’s so important to get the behavior and story and motivation all in sync. Great post. Glad to meet you!

  14. A job like that must give you great character insight! Lovely post 😉

  15. Hunter Emkay says:

    Stopping by on my A to Z travels, and glad to find some applicable posts for my own writing (and understanding). Will be following.

  16. This is very interesting! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  17. Nel says:

    Interesting! Stopping by from A – Z.
    until next time…nel

  18. Tara Tyler says:

    motivation is key! and it has to be strong & believable.
    thanks for boiling down the basics!


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