how to write a holistic character with my linear brain

Question: Matching a linear MC with a holistic IC (or vice versa) sounds like a great idea.

Problem is, it appears I have a linear brain and can't figure out how to write a character who takes the holistic approach. Could you offer any tips or examples of such characters?

Answer: As a primarily linear thinker myself, I have struggled to understand how holistic minds think.

The differences are so profound that whatever type of brain you have, there is a tendency to dismiss the other type as defective. For instance, before feminism it used to be acceptable for male chauvinists (who are mostly linear types) to make derogatory statements to the effect that all women were irrational or suffered from cloudy thinking. Similarly, one occasionally hears women (the majority of whom are holistic thinkers) put down men for being overly simplistic, if not simple-minded, in their approach, and lacking emotional sensitivity.

Here are a couple of things to consider.

When faced with a bevy of concerns or problems...

1. A linear thinker will immediately identify the biggest concern or problem and focus on solving that, labeling the rest as irrelevant or insignificant by comparison. His plan is to deal with the big issue first and then tackle the next biggest, and so on.

2. A holistic thinker will tend to see all the concerns as equal. To her, excluding any of them is to invite unintended consequences of your actions. She will look for a way to bring all the concerns into balance simultaneously.

When trying to solve a puzzle or analyze a situation...

1. A linear thinker will look for the biggest causal factor and conclude that is the key to what's going on.

2. A holistic thinker will look at all kinds of little clues that by themselves seem trivial, but together form a pattern that explains what's going on. In this way, many little factors can outweigh one big one.

Typical problems are...

1. For a linear thinker, accomplishing a goal in time. (Knowing what needs to be done is the easy part.)

3. For a holistic thinker, making the right choice. (Time is not a real problem.)

When trying to understand other people...

1. Linear thinkers will try to speak clearly and directly, take other people's words more literally, and believe people have a responsibility to clearly say what they think and feel. Making assumptions about what people feel, or trusting body language can lead to misunderstandings.

2. Holistic thinkers will rely on reading people's body language or subtle clues in their voice and behavior (as well as their words) to intuit what other people are feeling and thinking. They feel that direct statements are overly aggressive and confrontational. Other people have a responsibility to intuit what they are feeling.

Some examples of holistic thinkers:

Obi wan Kenobi and other Jedi knights who consider the big picture, trust their feelings, and look for a more subtle approach to dealing with problems than, for instance, Luke Skywalker.

In fact, many mentors in popular stories are holistic thinkers who try to get the hero to balance the issues. Think of the stereotypical Taoist or Buddist master or Indian guru figure. The oracle in The Matrix is another example.

Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice weighs up all the possible sides of issues such as the reasons behind the behavior of her and her sister's suitors (Darcy and Bingley).

In Amadeus, Salieri is the linear thinker who follows a step-by-step plan to get his goals, but is confounded by the holistic Mozart whose intuition makes him a far better composer and who enjoys many successes resulting from coincidences rather than planning.

In The X-Files, Mulder is the intuitive thinker and Sculley is the linear thinker (a reversal of the stereotype gender roles).

Comments for how to write a holistic character with my linear brain

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Jan 08, 2015
Thank you thank you thank you!
by: John

A thousand times thank you!

This one page was extremely useful. I had seen another answer that touched on linear vs. holistic thinking that was interesting and it lead me to click on this link. Am I ever glad I did. Your answer here was very thorough and thought provoking while still short and sweet. Excellent job!

I have been struggling with the relationship of two characters in a piece I've been tinkering with for quite some time now. This will greatly aid me in fleshing out their dynamic, since this was exactly the focal point I couldn't articulate to myself.

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