Pursuit of innermost desires

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    Edmund Lloyd Fletcher

    So, we all know we have some foundational human needs such as:
    (This is off the top of my head, not a definitive list…)

    • Value / Personal worth
    • Love
    • Meaning
    • Purpose
    • Peace
    • Happiness
    • Freedom
    • Justice
    • Community/belonging
    • Salvation from the mistakes of the past
    • Hope for the future
    • Eternal Life

    I may have missed some, there.  Feel free to add your own.

    Of course, good news for us, the Christian worldview provides the correct definition for all of these things.  Hurray!

    But the more interesting question I have as an author (and the one that I want to put to you all) is, what are the WRONG ways that people try to meet these needs?

    Because — and I’m spit-balling here — I think those wrong answers are ready-made motivation for our villains and the basis for conflict in their world (as well as our own).

    For instance, is revenge a wrong-headed attempt at justice, or is striving for power a worldly attempt at proving one’s personal worth?

    What do you think?  You’re a smart crowd – I’d love to hear your ideas!

    Homeschooling father of 10, writing Christian action/adventure novels from my home high in the Rockies.

    Ariel Ashira

    @edmund-lloyd-fletcher this is off your topic…but wait.  Your a Merakian?!?  How did I not know that…

    "No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets, or how hard you fall, you are never out of the fight."

    I, David

    This is an interesting discussion… I’ll try to pick it up when I get the time.


    I, David

    Well seeing as how sin is a perversion of what is good–lust and adultery pervert love and marriage, murder perverts life, greed perverts contentment–it follows that for every good thing and desire, there is an alternative for evil.



    Idols. That’s how people pretend to meet their needs apart from God. They don’t really actually meet them, but they delude themselves into thinking they are.

    The thing is, if people aren’t worshipping the true God, they are worshipping idols – success and iPhones are just as dumb as the stone columns that people used to worship. (Don’t tell Apple.) Idols also include people: when people idolize each other, interesting conflicts can develop when the person being idolized doesn’t meet the need in question.

    That means that the people are either a) deluding themselves that their idol meets their need and lying to themselves about the fact that it does, even when it doesn’t; or b) they know that their idol DOESN’T meet their need right now, but they think if only they believe in their idol more and put more effort into it, it will. Type B is the most common type in America – type A makes your character seem eccentric or insane unless it is a culturally accepted type A. For example, if your villain is Buddist, there are needs that Buddism supposedly meets that your villain might buy into.

    A good example of Type B is performance addiction – people think that their success, achievements, accolades will meet their needs. It’s a sneaky workplace thing because your income is a function of how much you get to eat, right? No, God provides or does not provide for people. The poor are opportunities for those better off to show generosity.

    Another example of Type B is relationship addiction – people believe that if they just have the right relationships, it will meet their needs. Wrong again. That leads you to going through husbands or wives like melted butter because clearly you have not found the One. Hint: God is the One. Who will meet your needs. Everyone else: not so much.

    These are the most common idols, but the variety of idols and those who serve them is enormous. More eccentric ones I’ve heard about include: Star Trek (actual worshipping the franchise and thinking it’s real), Star Wars, furry animals, metal music (I mean, metal music is awesome…but it can’t supply all of your needs – music can even fall short on meeting the emotional ones, I’ve found), Bionicle *shudders and runs for the exit*, bike riding.

    (In case you haven’t noticed, LGTBQ is an idol, folks. Peeps serve it to the exclusion of good sense. Just look up the efforts they spend on getting kids…it’s a lot easier to do it the right way.)

    Most unbelievers actually serve MULTIPLE idols. This is an extremely important fact to consider. That’s because idols damage a person and create more needs, not less, which require more idols to fill in more of the needs…*insert death spiral here*. However, an unbeliever can actually be happy (I know, scary) if they have matched up the number of needs to the number of idols and serve them all well. They will be less satisfied than a mature believer, of course, but they can still be happy. But if some of their idols get knocked down or even threatened, party’s over.

    Consider the performance addicted guy who comes home to his Netflix and his wife every night. As long as he’s climbing the corporate ladder, his favorite shows aren’t being canceled, and his wife is happy, he’s in pretty good shape. But once his shows get canceled, his wife cheats on him, and/or he gets fired, he’s in emotional freefall. He might be able to ensure his security by using his corporate climb to buy his wife presents, and his wife might recommend better shows. You see how this becomes difficult to break. Even if he does get to the point of dissatisfaction and pursuit, the sin nature will be 300X more likely to grab a new idol or an entire new set of idols.

    In a fantasy setting, you’ll more likely see characters believe in “magic” or a religion specific to that location. This may or may not interlock with the truth. Narnia has that in direct opposition; Lord of the Rings has “magic” used by both good and evil. Also, in fantasy settings you can use old fashioned idols like rings or even stone columns. Just saying. Other idols: knowledge, wisdom, some sort of self-knowledge or some power unlocked through some “enlightenment”. Or you can make up your own “evil religion” – just make sure you don’t start believing it!

    In sci-fi, technology and science and human progress are the idols a la carte. Think Star Trek and Elon Musk. And iPhones. Trust me, the iPhones are much better in the future. 😛 Also, the visionary leader that led to all of the human progress or alien progress will get the idolization treatment. Just ask Tony Stark. And Big Brother. Yikies.

    In historical fiction, idols will be dictated by the specific time period your work takes place. If you want a fast breakdown, look up “literary periods” for the location you’re considering. That will tell you the most commonly accepted idols at that time in history. For example, the “The Age of Reason”…reason was the most commonly accepted idol during that time. You get the idea. That worked out well until Dr. Logic’s demise in the chaos of WWI. Never mind, we have emotions now, cue Modernism, for clearly science and art have failed us…ah yes, reinvention is the better idol! And so on.

    Alright, that is enough. But hopefully that will get the ball rolling. Unfortunately any number of idols can meet any number of needs in the big list you gave me. Someone could use Star Trek to fill all of them…or only one of them…or maybe they use butterflies for that. It’s really up to the writer and character and what they want to do.

    Sarah, Miss S, Sierepica_Fuzzywalker


    This is really interesting! I think you’re right in that evil actions can stem from not using gifts the way they’re meant to be used. I agree with the fact that people sometimes seek power in order to gain a feeling of self-worth and use revenge as a tool to gain “justice.” Here are my thoughts on how desires can be perverted (just ideas):

    Love/relationships (not just romantic relationships, but friends, employees, family, etc): manipulation, self-serving without giving to the other person, utilizing relationships for money and status, etc. Essentially, not seeing people as human beings with needs, but using them merely as a tool to serve one’s own ends.

    Freedom – insubordination, rebelling simply for rebellion’s sake and not toward meaningful ends.

    Community/belonging – giving into peer-pressure, doing bad things to be accepted and “cool,” codependency.

    Happiness – hedonistic but not in a good way. Greed, obsessions with obtaining money/possessions, stealing.

    Value/personal worth – workaholism, “producing” and performing for love, seeking one’s own vainglory, materialism, using people to gain status, manipulation for sympathy, needing to be seen as “the hero,” attention-seeking, bullying, abusing one’s own authority/power/beauty/charm to harm people.

    Hope and peace for the future – needing to be in control of everything – people, events, etc.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by Michaela.

    "May it be mercy I show for it is mercy I've been shown." - Written to Speak

    Naiya Dyani

    Bookmarking this thread! I may or may not have a habit of forgetting to give my characters motivations. . . 😛

    I just figured out/developed motives for some of the characters in my WIP. One of the main themes of my story is revenge vs. forgiveness, so I’ve been throwing a lot of foil characters in there. One is determined to avenge his family (even if the people he’s hurting didn’t do anything). Another focuses on the specific people/person who hurt him, but goes all out in his attempt at revenge. A third tries to ignore the hurt as much as he can, but eventually has to make a choice when (*insert spoiler here*). (Can’t ruin it in case I ever post it here for betas, ya know? 😉 )

    There are multiple ways to go wrong with the same motive. That’s part of what I’m looking at. It’s kind of fun digging into all the different ways to go about something and looking at the consequences of each 🙂


    Hearts are like matter--they can be beaten down, torn, and burned, but they cannot be destroyed.

    Josiah DeGraaf

    Personally, I think one of my favorite paths to twist a villain’s motives in this regard is by giving them utilitarian reasoning in their efforts to achieve these goals. Saul from the Old Testament is a great example of this in the ways that he (initially) seems to be seeking the right things, but just doesn’t have enough faith to do them in the right way. As a result, he seeks to obtain good things, but does so by taking the most straightforward path rather than the moral one.

    Lit fanatic. Eclectic reader. Theology nerd. Writing fantasy at https://josiahdegraaf.com


    Also, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs may be a helpful resource (not that it’s entirely accurate, per se). For example, although people strive for some level of morality, survival is considered to be a more basic need than ethics. This is why formerly-“good” characters in post-apocalyptic books are willing to kill if their physical needs are dire enough (that’s no excuse, of course, but it’s a common occurrence in fiction).

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Michaela.

    "May it be mercy I show for it is mercy I've been shown." - Written to Speak

    Sarah Inkdragon

    So, might you even consider these to be foil character traits?

    I agree with @i-david that this deals mainly with the perversion of what is good – let’s take a look at it in the sense of basic economic theory. In economics, we have these magical things called incentives. Incentives are exactly what they sound like – an external or internal motivation to do some thing. Anything. They can bring about good or bad, but it depends upon the incentive to determine whether the outcome is the wanted outcome or not. We like to call these perverted incentives – incentives that appear to fix the problem, but actually create the opposite result. There was once a story about a country(I believe it may have been India?) that put a bounty on a certain type of venomous snake. For every dead snake brought in, they would award a sum of money.

    Well, turns out the sum must have been big enough to make people look, because you can bet they started bringing all sorts of dead snakes. But then they got smarter, and started breeding the snakes, killing some and bringing them in, and breeding more. By the time to government noticed, they had more snakes that they had started out with in the beginning. They cut the bounty on the snakes, and people released them. The problem had doubled, because of a perverted incentive.

    I like to compare a perverted incentive to what we’re talking about here – an incentive that might look good but can be twisted to meet human measure. Justice is a noble enough pursuit – our God is just after all, and cannot tolerate injustice. Naturally a good pursuit would be justice – but in some contexts even justice in a plain sense can become revenge quite easily.

    Humans are absolutely terrible to being objective – it’s nearly impossible to put aside all person prejudice, goals, thoughts, and personality to make a truly objective statement, unless you’re saying “up is up and down is down” (Though if you’ve ever taken Physics, even that can be subjective.) Due to this, we quite easily twist about everything and anything to our own perverted incentives. Even the protagonist of a novel in his noble pursuit of justice against the man who killed his estranged father and escaped justice is not free from this – he can very easily turn it to revenge even without strong personal connections.

    As for the wrong ways people meet these needs – well, pretty much any way that is not God’s way. The ends do not justify the means, so even if the outcome is good it doesn’t mean it’s truly good if the means of getting there are bad. It’s one part of the massive problem that is mental wellness in the world right now – let’s take the whole “be yourself/unique” spiel. Sure, on the outside it looks okay. We all like being different than the next person – but why? There’s a great deal of narcissism brought into the world today by the notion that we should do whatever makes us happy, and you’ve got Adam Smith(and all of humanity) to thank for voicing that in The Theory of Moral Sentiments – the pursuit of one man for whatever makes him happiest is not the best way, if that’s not already shown by basic business theory and basic morality(even if we don’t realize it). Unfortunately history seems to endlessly repeat itself in that manner.

    So yeah. These are all good foils and mirrors for villains to mimic, and I’d be interested to see them used. 🙂 Enjoy my very economically-based rant. (We’re studying economics and I personally love them, so yeah…. it’s bound to leak in somewhere. XD )

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

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