DL Fowler's Blog

A Story’s Five Psychological Movements

Posted in Emotions, Psychology, Transform Your Fiction, Writing by DLFowler on October 19, 2017

Woven into a story’s three acts we often find five psychological movements. These movements parallel Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and actualization. Readers are most satisfied when stories help them grow psychologically alongside our characters.

maslowThe first psychological movement in a story presents the status quo, which is represented by the Lead’s normal world. When readers are introduced to a story world, the characters’ physiological and safety needs often are being met. At least the characters are not usually agitated over their condition, even if the situation leaves much to be desired. However, something changes the characters’ perceptions. Their safety is threatened, they are displaced from their homes, their food supplies are disrupted, or some combination of these disturbances occurs. The Lead reacts and sets out in pursuit of a solution.

Near the end of Act 1, the inciting incident not only propels the Lead into the story’s second act, it also prompts her into the second movement — engagement. She engages perils for which she is ill prepared and experiments with alliances that may or may not be helpful. These experiences offer opportunities for the Lead to grow in wisdom and open the doorway into the third movement — enlightenment. Her enlightenment raises her esteem, both in her own mind and in the opinions of allies. Along with her heightened esteem, the stakes in the story increase as she confronts the personal cost of resolving the moral premise.

Her enlightenment accelerates during the Moment of Grace, preparing her for the fourth movement — empowerment. In the fourth movement, the Lead’s resources and alliances increase, further bolstering her esteem and equipping her to defeat the Big Boss Troublemaker. Her victory in the climactic scene paves the way for her to satisfy her need for belonging and to resolve the moral premise, leading to full actualization.

Readers need to achieve vicariously or at least validate their own actualization through the Lead’s journey. When the five psychological movements, status quo, engagement, enlightenment, empowerment, and actualization, are woven seamlessly into the story’s three acts, readers can fully satisfy their psychological needs alongside our characters.

Do you ever find yourself so deep in a story that you see yourself as one of the characters? Do you know what drew you in? I love hearing from you. Please leave a comment.

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Coach Heller said, on October 20, 2017 at 1:06 PM

    Incredibly insightful my friend. There are two authors that pull me into their stories as you’ve described them. Nicholas Evans, and Ethan Hawke. Both of these authors portray the male main characters in ways that I completely empathize with and am inspired by.


    • DLFowler said, on October 20, 2017 at 1:37 PM

      Telling an author that you emphasize with his/her characters is the highest compliment, especially if the time you spent with them helped you grow.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The Whole Story | DL Fowler's Blog said, on October 26, 2017 at 3:23 PM

    […] A Story’s Five Psychological Movements […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: