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Can studying psychology work in creating realistic and likeable characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by js1161997, Jul 17, 2020.

  1. Arranah

    Arranah Troubadour

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    Watching people works the best for me. See what they do and how they act. Consider old friends, new friends, old spouses or lovers, your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Listen to what they say and see what they do. I have training is psychology. But often people don't react like the text books say. A psychology book could provide some insights though. I would just keep in mind that it is just someone's opinion.
     
    Nighty_Knight likes this.
  2. rhd

    rhd Troubadour

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    I'd say of course it works and it works very well. The only story of mine that's been published deals with psychoanalysis and was inspired by The Aetiology of Hysteria by Freud. I always assumed he was an old humbug who imposed his own sexist framework on human behaviour but Aetiology was an early work and recommended by feminists, and it turned out he was incredibly sympathetic to his patients (of all kinds). My story dealt was biblical horror and my mom was so thrilled to have a writer in the family that she went around making my relatives read it, if only she knew how close to home it really was (lol!) So I'd say you can be inspired by psychology, and it helps reading up on it because you can categorise people, but be careful to avoid presumptions because that's unfair to anyone. People can break away from their programming and that's what I'm interested in. I find psychology so interesting that I've used it in my life on people and become all the wiser for it. I've noticed people have a tendency to be ruled by transference, emotions and subconscious biases like by a lot. On the other hand, you can tell a lot about a writer by reading their work, after you've read a couple of books at least. I'd give examples but I'd land up sounding spiteful, so I'll keep that to myself :D
     
  3. rhd

    rhd Troubadour

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    To add, the body language and behaviour of animals is also incredibly interesting. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb describes it beautifully by blending human and animal behaviour/psychology.
     
  4. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    I'm not an expert here, but I think some basic concepts are important, such as introvert versus extrovert. But keep in mind that they are all just a crude simplification. Like, a guy may practically live alone (introvert) but once he starts talking, he can go on for hours.

    Which concepts do you folks think are a must for writers?
     
  5. Arranah

    Arranah Troubadour

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    People can be so different from time to time. Just about the time you think you have someone figured out, they surprise you...and possibly themselves. It makes for good twists in a story.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >Which concepts do you folks think are a must for writers?

    The most important concepts are the ones that work for you as a writer.

    Just as there is a myriad of people, there are endless kinds of writers (especially since each writers changes from book to book). So there's nothing I would say applies to all writers as a necessity. Instead, I would encourage writers to think about these topics, explore the ones that catch your fancy, for fancy is not easily caught.
     
  7. Arranah

    Arranah Troubadour

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    Now, you tell me. I've been chasing fancy for years.
     
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    What is interesting to me, and may be slightly off topic, is the way characters are characters—and not people.

    There's almost always some form of exaggeration, an excess in one direction while some other aspect is never explored.

    Hamlet is a good example of this, heh. Or heck, just pick any famous character. People can describe him—we certainly know why he's Hamlet and not, say, Macbeth!—but this is because a handful of traits stand out while others do not.

    In everyday genre fiction, this effect is even more obvious. We see the serving girl who is always timid, or the best friend who is always a joker, or the mother who is always loving. Or always weeping. Or, whatever.

    So I wonder if the psychology that helps writers best is the sort intended to "shed light" on our fictional characters, offering us a guide for writing characters, or if what we really need to understand is readers, real people who will be picking up that book to read.

    This is a fascinating and terrifying consideration, in my opinion. Do real people need the simplification, the exaggeration, the easily identifiable archetypes? But then, I remember an essay of Auden's, in which he said that most people see themselves as wilting flowers (paraphrasing) and others as stronger (again, paraphrasing.) In other words, perhaps we are adapted to seeing real people as being a bit of one-note, after all, and are therefore likely to see characters as real people precisely when they are somewhat exaggerated. Then, they seem like the people around us or like ourselves.
     
  9. Arranah

    Arranah Troubadour

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    I think it depends on who you read. There's a lot of bad writing that becomes famous. I try to make my characters as real as possible. That works fairly good, if you base their personalities on someone you know.
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Well it's a rabbit hole I know, but what does it mean to make characters "as real as possible" ?

    Another turn to the screw: How well do I know the people I know?

    So what precisely are we basing the character on? Only the partial person, the person we know, but not the whole person, the real person? A facet or two or three but not the whole unknown gem?

    At what point should a character, particularly a main character, not surprise the reader any more? Or else, should we hold back major surprises for key points in the story, knowing they will be shocking, pivotal? OTOH, how often have we been irritated, upset by characters suddenly acting in ways we didn't expect of them? Hmmm....
     
  11. Arranah

    Arranah Troubadour

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    You watch people. You listen to what they say and see how they act. They often contradict themselves. You see how that plays out. To be a good writer one needs to be a good observer of human behavior. Yes, we can get irritated at characters who act out of character. In my opinion some of that is fine...but if a writer does it too much, I stop reading them. Often times on a tv show you can tell when the writers run out of ideas. They throw in something that changes everything, and they do this too often. So pretty soon the character I liked is now someone else entirely, and I no longer like them. I stop watching the show.
     
    FifthView likes this.
  12. Toby Johnson

    Toby Johnson Minstrel

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    yes yes yes, it can, ive done this in the past and it has really improved the way i understand and write my characters
     
    J.W. Golan likes this.
  13. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

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    Which psychologists or approaches to psychology have you used?
     
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