Peggy Bechko on “Human Needs & Story Conflict”

by Peggy Bechko

funny_basic_human_needsAs writers of fiction, whether on the page or for film or stage, we all know we need conflict in a story. Simply put, no conflict, no story. We’ve all heard that, right?

And it’s true, I’m not going to start to be all original and tell you it isn’t. But the question arises then, what is at the heart of conflict? Your hero or heroine must have a goal. And that goal has to be an integral part of the plot.

So how does that work? Well us humans have some very basic needs and desires. For example. The very most basic need is food to eat, air to breathe, clothes to cover us, warmth (i.e a roof over our heads) to keep us from freezing and so on. That’s the very nitty gritty.

But we don’t stop there. We also crave safety and security like a steady job, a way to protect our homes, freedom from debilitating illness and that sort of thing.

That’s followed by (or preceded by) the deep need for love and belonging in the form of family, friendship and romance.

Then most of us look for some kind of recognition and respect. We cherish independence, gratitude for the things we do and appreciation.

And, of course it is an unusual person who doesn’t want to find some higher meaning in his or her life once the basics of survival are met such as seeking in the spiritual sense, perhaps pursuing the arts or travel or somehow contributing to others.

Now, all that said, let’s pick just one to examine a bit in this post.

Second only to the very basic desires and needs of food, shelter, etc. is the safety and security issue. To connect with your audience who is obviously human, this goal is right up there on the list. It’s one with which you can dive deep and create drama. Your hero or heroine will greatly desire this state of safety and security for him or herself and the family and friends who surround.

When a good guy’s career is destroyed by a ruthless Wall Street Banker, or a family member’s well-being is threatened by a mistake the Hero has made, or that security and well-being is put under stress. So think about the many ways you, as the writer, can use this need for safety and security. How many ways can you come up with to threaten that state of your hero or heroine? And how can that be tied back into your plot?

And while you’re at it think about how that need/desire can (and undoubtedly will) overlap some of those other needs and desires I mentioned above. Live is messy. We’re rarely allowed to focus on one thing at a time.

What if a light plane crash results in several people stranded on an island though they’ve gotten their SOS out and it’s a matter of time (a clock ticking) until they’re picked up, but they don’t know how much time so they have to survive until rescue.

What if one of the passengers on board was intent on killing another and the first wasn’t aware of the murderous intent? What if the handful of other passengers who’ve survived in various states of psychological and physical stress keep getting in the way of the murder and we don’t know when rescue will arrive?

Now your story has overlapping needs and desires coming into conflict. The very basic needs are realized – survival meaning food, shelter, etc. but that is compounded by the need for physical safety when we don’t know what might live on this island besides the survivors in addition to the murderous intent of one unknown passenger.

Consider those human needs, weave them into your story as you develop plot and character and you’ll draw your audience into a very rich tale.

Want to learn more? Check out psychologistAbraham Maslow https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Maslow and scroll on down to see more on his observations on human needs.


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™.  Learn more about her HERE. And don’t forget to visit her sensational blog, where this post was first published.