Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Using Psychology to Write Characters

By Mindy Lawrence

One of the first writers I fell in love with was Edgar Allan Poe. His gothic horror latched on to my mind. I was powerless to save anyone from going over the precipice. He not only got into the heads of his characters but also into the heads of his readers.

Using psychological information to reach out and grab your audience can create unforgettable characters that burrow into the psyche. Questions you can answer to create memorable protagonists and antagonists include:

What are my characters afraid of?

Is your character afraid of water and has to take a trip at sea? Is your protagonist raised by a family that strongly believes in hell and tortures them with the fear of going there? Fears like these can drive characters to do what they might not have done without their unconscious psychological upbringing. Decide what triggers those in your novel to fear.

What do my characters hate and why?

Did your protagonist or antagonist grow up in a household that hated cats? How about people or another religion or background? Making your characters try to overcome their faults (or carry through with them) can drive your story.

What are my characters’ oddities and what caused them?

When I think about oddities in characters, I think about Ignatius Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. In the first few pages, we get a snapshot of Ignatius that we picture in our heads throughout the entire book. He hates so many things. He writes his worldview in Big Chief notebooks. He’s obviously unsound of mind but winds up solving a crime by accident.

What backstory affected my characters?

What does the character(s) go through before the story begins that causes them to react as they do? Were they raised in a cult? In poverty? In a well-to-do family? All this affects the way the character thinks and acts.

Is there any salvation for my character(s) or is the story destined to follow the path it takes?

Like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, does his hate doom him from the beginning? Or like in Lord Jim does the main character find his own salvation and come to terms with his actions?

Characters that remain in our heads come from good development. Consider building your story using psychology to grab your reader, maybe forever.

Take some time to dig into the minds of your creations.


LINKS (For those not hyper, just copy and paste into your browser.)

Character Development Fears
https://unblockingwritersblock.tumblr.com/post/110467516538/character-development-fears

Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature
http://plaza.ufl.edu/bjparis/books/imagined/imagined.pdf

What Really Drives your Characters?
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychology-writers/201109/what-really-drives-your-characters

The Psychology of Character
http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/02/17/the-psychology-of-character/

How to Diagnose your Character
https://www.amazon.com/How-Diagnose-Your-Character-Depth-ebook/dp/B00CH3WERA

How to Craft Characters Scene by Scene
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-craft-characters-scene-by-scene


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Mindy Lawrence is a writer and artist based in Farmington, Missouri. She worked for the State of Missouri for over twenty-four years and has retired to her sumptuous home office where she’s writing, doing calligraphy, and making a mess. She has been published in Writers Digest magazine and interviewed by All Things Considered.

 

 



3 comments:

Terry Whalin said...

Mindy,

I don't write much fiction but what a terrific series of insightful questions for every fiction writer. Thank you,

Terry
author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition)

Karen Cioffi said...

Mindy, I felt the same way about Edgar Allan Poe. Using psychological information to help craft characters is a great way to make them 'real.' Thanks for sharing these useful tips!

deborah lyn said...

Thanks for these guideline tips Mindy! Thanks too for the references for further information.

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