For a brief moment, I breathe a sigh of relief at the completion of a trilogy (The Melt Trilogy) which has consumed me for years. But there is no rest for the weary—I leap into my next Work-in-Progress, Where the Sky Meets the Earth, outlining the plot and characters, letting my mind wander as I step into the cold, dark waters of a new novel. The other day, musing over my nascent characters, a book that I had read decades ago popped into my consciousness: I’m Okay, You’re Okay, written by Thomas A. Harris, M.D . Harris linked studies performed by brain surgeon Wilder Penfield, who stimulated the brains of conscious patients during surgery, eliciting vivid memories from his patients, with experiments from Eric Berne, who developed the ego-state models we acquire as humans interacting in the world: Parent-Adult-Child [Transactional Analysis].
In his book, Harris simplified these internal/external feelings and subsequent interpersonal transactions into four categories: 1) I’m Not OK, You’re OK, 2) I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK, 3) I’m OK, You’re Not OK, and finally (Whew) 4) I’m OK, You’re OK. According to the studies, people who were abused as children may conclude that 1 or 2 is their go-to place, whereas a con-artist may be happiest in the I’m OK, You’re Not OK existence. But Harris goes on to describe hybrids of these positions; contaminated Adult states via forms of prejudice by a Parent, or delusions from childhood memories influencing the Child within us. Hopefully, most “normal” folks are in the I’m OK, You’re OK in their attitudes, but who wants normal in their novels?
As a writer interested in creating flawed humans, not caricatures, sculpting realistic characters from clay can benefit from utilizing these various “programmed” human responses. Did the character have a happy or horrible childhood? How might a damaged soul react when confronted?
An editor once told me that one of my male characters should immediately respond to a rather personal question posed to him. I disagreed—many people simply change the subject, and either never respond or respond only when they feel secure. For those characters, body language is their primary communication.
Can these rather simplistic interpersonal responses help guide an author as to whether the dialogue or action is appropriate for the character given their specific background? Perhaps, for we humans are creations of our past, regardless of how we attempt to mask the scars beneath the surface.
What if the ice caps melted . . .
in one human lifespan?