I ordered this book, Meet Your Happy Chemicals by Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD. The following is a summary of what the back book cover states about four brain chemicals. I thought learning about the chemicals would be useful in showing how our POV character or the antagonist could be deficient in
one or more of the chemicals, which could explain some of their behaviors.
Dopamine makes us jump for joy. Dopamine feels great so we try to get more. It rewarded our ancestors’ will to explore.
Endorphin helps us to mask pain. Our ancestors survived from predator attack because endorphin caused them to feel good. Exercise triggers endorphin so we can safely reach home. Laughing or crying triggers it too.
Serotonin is stimulated by the status aspect…the pride of associating with a person of a certain stature. It triggers our need for respect.
Oxytocin is stimulated by touch and by social trust. It flows when we stick with the herd and create social bonds. Herds protected our ancestors from harm.
In my WIP, Norman in the Painting, my protagonist, Jill, has a need for more dopamine and endorphin. Her inner fears cause her to love running. Her goal is to run three miles every day. The endorphin rush makes her feel safe. Her lack of dopamine causes her to have no desire to explore. She spent most of her years close to her hometown and has no interest in travel. I’ll make sure she will produce more dopamine that will help her grow in her character arc.
The antagonist has a severe deficiency in oxytocin and serotonin.
Does your character have a chemical deficiency?
I’m reading Sophie Littlefield’s latest novel, The Missing Place. Colleen and Shay, the mothers whose two sons are missing, have frequent disagreements due to their different backgrounds. Littlefield contrasts these characters in a realistic, sometimes humorous, way. On page 69, they argue outside about how to proceed with searching for their sons. Shay gives in and lets Collen try to get information her way. Colleen prepares to approach two young girls working for the North Dakota oil business. She “faked a pleasant smile and went back inside.” It reminded me of my post on November 7th about smiles.
A few paragraphs later on page 70, Colleen asks the young girls about the sons disappearances. She tries to contain her emotions and maintains the fake smile. Littlefield writes, “Her face felt brittle. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep it up. But she’d learned the technique—smile before speaking even when disagreeing—at a conflict-resolution workshop she’d taken back when she was on the PTA regional board, and it really did help. Something about tricking the brain, redirecting one’s impulses. “Did either of you know my son Paul? Paul Mitchell?”
Colleen is right. As babies, the brain is programmed to recognize a smile as friendly. She wanted to win over the young girls so she smiled before speaking to them (a fake smile since she was too worried to genuinely smile). Although Colleen’s face “felt brittle” from holding the smile a long time, one of the girls takes the risk to talk to her.
The Missing Place is tension-filled with interesting characters and an unusual setting. A good book to read this winter.