How much control do your characters have over their fate?

How much control do your characters have over their fate?

by Joshua Hoyt

This subject is kind of interesting to me because it isn’t about what is true take ctrlbut more about what a person/character believes. In a 1966 study conducted by Julian Rotter, he designed a scale that would evaluate how much a person believes he/she is in control of his/her fate. The scale was called the I-E Scale, I for internal and E for external. The closer the individual was to the I, the more likely they felt like they had control over their fate. The closer an individual was to the E, the more likely they felt they had little control of their fate.

“I” people tend to bet on sure things, whereas “E” people tend to be willing to take greater risks. “I” are more likely to influence the attitudes of others and less likely to be influenced, whereas the opposite was true for “E” people. There was some support for the idea that “I” individuals have more self-control than “E” people. Further, it was found that “I” individuals achieved more and are able to conform less.

It is worth noting three things that Rotter reported as possible reasons people become an “I” or an “E” individual: (1) socioeconomic status, (2) how the individual was parented, and (3) culture.

IE drawingOne of the areas we will look at is culture. Culture plays a huge role in who we are and how we behave. Whether we go against the cultural norm or we follow the cultural norm, we are still being influenced by both the culture in which we were raised and the culture in which we currently live. Some things that culture influences are: interpersonal attraction, sex, touching, personal space, friendship, family dynamics, parenting styles, childhood behavior expectations, courtship rituals, marriage, divorce, cooperation vs. competition, crime, love, and hate.

It is always important to take into consideration the culture in which a person lives. A person can also have cultures within cultures. For instance, Nancy may (1) live in America, (2) in a particular state, (3) within a specific county, (4) in an incorporated city, (5) in a particular neighborhood, (6) within a family unit. This doesn’t even take into consideration her family’s religion, or whether they’ve recently moved or have lived in the same place their entire lives, etc.

Research by Triandis, et al. (1988) proposed that culture can be viewed in different dimensions. One dimension of culture is whether or not the culture is individualistic or a collectivism. The team listed several differences between the two types and then began conducting studies on them.

Group of construction workers with flag. Isolated on white background

Here are a few of the attributes considered to emanate from a collectivist culture: Here are a few of the attributes considered to come out of an individualistic culture:
  • Sacrifice
  • Self as an extension of group
  • Group as paramount
  • Greater conformity to norms
  • Vertical relationships (e.g., child-parent, employer-employee)
  • Shame
  • Hiding of interpersonal conflicts
  • Etc.
  • Hedonism
  • Self as distinct from group
  • Self-reliance as paramount
  • Less conformity to norms
  • Horizontal relationships (e.g., friend-friend, husband-wife)
  • Guilt
  • Preference to confront interpersonal conflicts
  • Greater value on money and possessions
  • Etc.

It is important to note that these two types of cultures lie at opposite ends of a continuum, so individuals and cultures will generally lie between the two extremes.

When creating our characters and the worlds they occupy, it is important to understand the culture in which they live. It is interesting that in many stories, the main characters are generally fighting against the culture in which they live, so the author needs to demonstrate the reason for this. I feel like I have said this before but I will say it again: in order for our characters to be realistic, the reader needs to understand the reason they are acting outside of the norm.

Josh HoytJoshua Hoyt is a school psychologist by day, a father of four and a gamer when he’s not spending time with his family, and an author in all the other spare minutes. He is the author of How to Diagnose Your Character: Using Psychology to Create an In-Depth Character and Order of the Rose. Check out his blog where you can follow the exciting adventure of “The Old Man” and his website to be the first to learn about new releases.

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