Writing Advice

Erikson’s Generativity versus Stagnation

Okay.  So I’m a day late with this.  But, I got it done.  Anyways, here’s the next piece on applying Erikson’s theory to character development.

We are on to firm footing in adulthood.  This is the second to last stage in Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory.

In middle adulthood, roughly ages 35-60, people hit a stage called generativity versus stagnation.  Their responsibilities are increasing, careers become a primary focus, and child rearing ends all during this stage.  Adults in this stage are thinking about what they are leaving behind.  A common wish is to leave something for future generations.  Adults who are successful in learning to balance their lives and find ways to leave a legacy for future generations develop a sense of their part in a bigger picture.  They also learn a new concept of care for others.

If adults in this group cannot find ways to be productive, or to develop a legacy for future generations, they struggle.  These difficulties eventually lead to a sense of stagnation, the result of which are feelings of worthlessness and a lack of value.  To move on to the final stage of development, the challenges here will need to be addressed.

This stage seems to apply to the villains in stories quite often.  At least that is how it seems to me.  You know, the well-meaning scientist goes off the deep end trying to leave his mark on the world (for some reason it tends to be guys).  He ends up being the bad guy because of it.  Playing with this trope can be an interesting way to explore this.  Another way to play with this is to have your characters feel stuck in that malaise of stagnation.  How can they get out of it?  What might motivate them to try to change their static life?  Or, maybe, you can make the villain end up the good guy in the story.  It’s all about leaving something for the future, not necessarily that it is successful or good or remembered.

Give this a shot and tell me how it goes!


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