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4 minutes
January 4, 2017

Finally Understanding Linear And Holistic Characters

The Main Character of a story solves problems either step-by-step or by balancing inequities.

Truth be told, one of the hardest things for a predominantly linear Author to understand is the mind of a holistic character. We simply don’t get this idea of emotional tendency; you either want to do something or you don’t—there is no in-between.

In this example of the difference between linear and holistic problem-solving, Melanie Anne Phillips offers us on-off thinkers the emotional experience of dealing with the tides of emotions.

As with most of Melanie’s writing, I return to this one often for greater clarity. For some reason, over the holiday break, I started to really get this idea of what it must be like for a holistic character to balance all the varying degrees of motivation that run through their head.

It’s worked wonders for my own personal relationship as well. :)

Taking Home the Bread

In this fantastic post, Melanie takes you through the thought process of deciding whether or not to return to the lunch table to pick up some bread she forgot…

That’s good bread, but I’m full. I might take it home, but I’m not convinced it will reheat. Also, I’ve really eaten too many calories in the last few days, I’m two pounds over where I want to be and I have a hair appointment on Wednesday and a dinner date on the weekend with a new friend I want to impress, so maybe I shouldn’t eat anymore. The kids won’t want it, but I could give it to the dog, and if I get hungry myself, I’ll have it there (even though I shouldn’t eat it if I want to lose that two pounds!) So, I guess it’s better to take it than to leave it.

Sounds like a nightmare to me to have to sift through all these different considerations to arrive at a simple decision, but apparently this is the reality.

She explains:

To me there was only a tendency toward bringing the bread home, and barely enough to justify the effort. To Chris it was a binary decision: I wanted to bring it home or not.

Well yeah. Do you want it or not??

I’m thinking, “How does this change the way I feel about the situation?” Chris is thinking, “How can she solve this problem.”

This is where I started to really understand what it must be like…and therefore, how to create that same kind of understanding in the characters I write that aren’t exactly like me.

I’m trying to convey about a thousand petty concerns that went into my emotional assessment that it was no longer worth going back for. Chris just hears a bunch of trumped up reasons, none of which are sufficient to change one’s plans.

And that pretty much nails 90% of all the arguments between me and significant other. One woman’s problem-solving is another man’s justification.

I operated according to an emotional tendency to bring the bread home that was just barely sufficient to generate even the slightest degree of motivation. Chris doesn’t naturally assume motivation has a degree, thinking that as a rule you’re either motivated or you are not.

Read through this a thousand times in year’s past, and this is the first time I actually saw the words “emotional tendency”.

Now, what does all this mean? When men look at problems, they see a single item that is a specific irritation and seek to correct it. When they look at inequities, they see a number of problems interrelated. Women look at single problems the same way, but sense inequities from a completely emotional standpoint, measuring them on a sliding scale of tendencies to respond in certain ways.

Unbelievably coherent understanding of the difference between our two operating systems and a key insight into applying this reality to our own stories.

Probably time to re-read Melanie’s article on the difference between male and female problem-solving.

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