The Psychologist Looks at Characters

 

An Emerging Character

Internal Conflict

Something emerged as I was writing the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy. It was a tug of war between a writer and a psychologist. One might think immediately that this conflict could be a real asset. The truth is much more complicated than that.

It seems likely that similar conflicts exist in other creative enterprises. My dissertation dealt with painters and how their personality might influence their work. In fact, using the personality typology of Carl Jung, it was clear it does influence their work. Is that information useful to the artist?

Might he or she step back and do a different kind of analysis of the painting taking shape? They might, but their art is not a cognitive enterprise. It seemed best for them to let their creative processes flow. I doubt the person considering their painting would really be interested in those kinds of contributions for something to hang on their wall.

A Different Kind of Challenge

The written word brings a different kind of challenge. Of course it is reflected in the particular form of that written word but a similar tug of war can take place. The very matter of plot and character interactions lends itself to construction and it is easy to slip into analysis which may affect content, direction and style. With characters we hope the reader will be attracted or repelled by them depending upon their role in the story.

As a psychologist there came a point where I had to deal with my own inclinations. In life I have to contain my analytical tendencies. In seeing friends or in social occasions doing dispassionate analyses of the people with whom you are interacting is not typically a good idea. In fact it gets in the way of life.

I have, from time to time, been told a person was disturbed by the feeling that I was analyzing them. Most of the time I was doing no such thing. That is, unless there were warning signals which indicated I needed to be on my guard for one reason or other. Sometimes you meet someone who seems intent on manipulating you and the situation. My inner psychologist kicks in at once.

Around the Edges

In developing characters there is an essential conflict. Spending too much time on the analysis can be stultifying for the story. Often there simply needs to be a flow. The character has to live within and emerge. At least that is what I’ve concluded. There may be other approaches.

A good example for me relates to my lead character in book 1 of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy. Avery is a bright, dedicated young woman but in the background is the fact that she had lost her parents in an early part of her adulthood. She wanted them back and had felt abandoned.

When she finds that she has another kind of family I wrote her as doing a lot of whining. Such a reaction under the specific circumstances of this story is completely understandable at least to me. But most people would contain it inside which is what I was relating to. When it became clear it wasn’t working I had to reconstruct her. It worked a lot better. Sometimes reality in storytelling simply does not work.

The Bottom Line

This example is what I, as a psychologist, had to view. I’m sure many writers have things they have to face in their writing—things that are coming from inside of them. It was not a matter of my personality but reflected my training. Each form of art has its own pitfalls and I suspect that many writers of fiction have to wrestle with components coming from within themselves. In some instances it may enhance the work or it may yield flaws which must be dealt with.

In what ways does the “inner you” affect your vocation or art?

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon home page

Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt

Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership

Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt

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