Psychology Tips for Writers

by | Jul 1, 2023 | 0 comments

How to Write Psychologically Consistent Characters: Insights from Therapy

As a writer, crafting characters that resonate with readers is a crucial aspect of storytelling. One of the key challenges is creating characters that feel authentic, multi-dimensional, and psychologically consistent. In this article, we will explore how insights from therapy can help writers overcome writer’s block and develop nuanced characters with depth and complexity.

The Influence of Childhood Experiences

To create psychologically consistent characters, it is essential to consider the impact of their childhood experiences. Our early interactions with our parents and the environment shape our sense of self, our coping mechanisms, and our ways of navigating the world. In particular, the relationship with the opposite-sex parent often influences our understanding of lovability, purpose, altruism, creativity, and productivity. On the other hand, the same-sex parent tends to shape our coping strategies and how we approach challenges.

When developing a character’s backstory, writers can explore these early influences and how they contribute to the character’s psychological makeup. For example, a character who experienced neglect or rejection from their opposite-sex parent may struggle with self-worth and have difficulty forming healthy relationships. Conversely, a character who received unconditional love and support may have a strong sense of purpose and be driven to make a positive impact on the world.

Incorporating these childhood influences into a character’s development can add depth and authenticity to their actions, motivations, and inner conflicts. It allows writers to create characters with complex and sometimes contradictory traits, making them more relatable and engaging to readers.

Exploring Different Parts of the Self

Another valuable insight from therapy is the concept of personality parts. We all possess different aspects of ourselves that influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. These parts can include the inner critic, the pusher self, the wounded child, and the authentic self, among others. By incorporating these internal conflicts and voices into a character’s psyche, writers can create more believable and psychologically consistent individuals.

The inner critic, for example, is a common personality part that manifests as self-critical thoughts and self-doubt. A character with a prominent inner critic may struggle with self-esteem, constantly questioning their abilities and worth. This inner conflict can drive their actions, leading them to seek validation or avoid taking risks.

The pusher self, on the other hand, is a part of our psyche that compels us to keep moving forward, often at the expense of confronting difficult emotions. Characters with a dominant pusher self may exhibit workaholic tendencies, obsessive behaviors, or addictions. They may prioritize achievement and external success over their emotional well-being.

By exploring these different personality parts and how they interact within a character, writers can create rich inner lives and compelling character arcs. It allows for the portrayal of internal struggles, growth, and transformation, making the characters more relatable and emotionally resonant.

The Role of the Shadow

In Jungian psychology, the concept of the shadow refers to the aspects of ourselves that we reject or deny because they conflict with our self-image. These repressed traits, desires, and impulses can have a significant impact on our behavior and relationships. When writing characters, incorporating elements of the shadow can add depth and complexity to their personalities.

Characters may have hidden desires, fears, or traumas that they are unaware of or actively suppress. These shadow aspects can drive their actions and create internal conflicts that propel their character development. For example, a seemingly kind and compassionate character may harbor repressed anger or resentment that emerges in moments of stress or when their values are challenged.

Exploring the shadow can provide a structure for character arcs and create compelling narrative tension. As characters confront and integrate their shadow aspects, they undergo a process of self-discovery and transformation. This journey can be a powerful source of growth and change, allowing characters to evolve and become more authentic versions of themselves.

Aligning Actions, Thoughts, and Dialogue

To create psychologically consistent characters, it is crucial to align their actions, thoughts, and dialogue with their psychological makeup. Characters should behave and react in ways that are congruent with their backstory, personality parts, and shadow aspects. Inconsistencies or contradictions in their behavior can undermine their believability and disrupt the reader’s immersion in the story.

When writing a character’s actions, consider their motivations, fears, and desires. Their choices should reflect their internal struggles and the influence of their past experiences. Similarly, their thoughts and inner monologue should align with their personality parts and the conflicts they face. A character with a prominent inner critic, for example, may have self-deprecating thoughts and struggle with decision-making.

Dialogue is another crucial aspect of character development. The way characters communicate and interact with others should reflect their psychological makeup. Their word choice, tone, and manner of speaking can reveal their inner world, their coping mechanisms, and their relationship dynamics. By crafting dialogue that is consistent with a character’s psychology, writers can create authentic and engaging interactions that deepen characterization.

Mapping Characters’ Psychology

To effectively create psychologically consistent characters, writers can benefit from mapping their characters’ psychology. This approach involves creating detailed character profiles that outline their backstory, personality parts, shadow aspects, and internal conflicts. By having a clear understanding of a character’s psychological landscape, writers can make informed decisions about their actions, thoughts, and dialogue.

Character mapping can be particularly useful when dealing with writer’s block or when faced with complex plot decisions. By referring to a character’s psychological profile, writers can determine how the character would realistically respond in a given situation, ensuring consistency and authenticity in their behavior.

This approach to character development offers a third way beyond the traditional dichotomy of plotting versus pantsing. Plotting involves meticulously outlining the story’s plot beforehand, while pantsing relies on intuition and allows the plot to unfold organically. Psychological mapping provides a structured framework for character development while still allowing for spontaneity and discovery in the writing process.

Creating psychologically consistent characters is essential for crafting compelling and engaging stories. By drawing insights from therapy, writers can develop characters with depth, complexity, and authenticity. Considering childhood influences, exploring different personality parts, and incorporating the shadow can help writers overcome writer’s block and create nuanced characters that resonate with readers.

By aligning a character’s actions, thoughts, and dialogue with their psychological makeup, writers can ensure consistency and believability in their storytelling. Mapping characters’ psychology provides a structured approach to character development, allowing writers to make informed decisions and create realistic and intriguing character networks.

Ultimately, the goal is to create characters that feel alive and independent, with their own desires, fears, and narratives. By delving into the psychological depths of their characters, writers can craft stories that captivate readers and leave a lasting impact.

Bibliography:

  1. Jung, C. G. (1959). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton University Press.
  2. Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and Personality. Harper & Row.
  3. Rogers, C. R. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.
  4. Campbell, J. (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books.
  5. Vogler, C. (2007). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions.

References:

  1. Adler, A. (1927). Understanding Human Nature. Greenberg.
  2. Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. Grove Press.
  3. Freud, S. (1923). The Ego and the Id. W. W. Norton & Company.
  4. Jung, C. G. (1968). Man and His Symbols. Dell Publishing.
  5. Miller, A. (1979). The Drama of the Gifted Child. Basic Books.
  6. McKee, R. (1997). Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. ReganBooks.
  7. Truby, J. (2007). The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber & Faber.
  8. Vogler, C. (1998). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters. Michael Wiese Productions.
  9. King, S. (2000). On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner.
  10. Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor Books.

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