Psychology has always been a fascinating subject of study and scrutiny for me. Only last week I identified the source of frustration I constantly felt about people: I just want to understand them. What goes in each of their little minds that causes them to do, say, act, feel? What thoughts and emotions and beliefs make them stand for something, hold a particular perspective, feel a certain way? What is it like in your funny little brains?
Of course, the answers to these questions have to do with other things besides psychology. In fact, a person’s psychology is shaped and built on that human’s early life, their childhood, the parents that raised him/her. And history and life circumstances impact a person’s psychology even more than we think.
And yet, there is no way to completely understand a human being, their psychology, and the feelings, actions, emotions, and perspectives that are results of that person’s psychology and history. As a fellow human being who wants to understand people, I will be forever frustrated. Because I can’t. Sure, I might know how—that’s where psychology comes in—but I’ll never know why.
As a fantasy and science fiction writer, I have unlimited freedom when it comes to creativity in developing characters and creatures. I enjoy working with minds and personalities and individual complexities that I can actually understand…because after all, I created them. Even though I do love grand scale epicness and action and heroic stories in the books and movies I read, there’s something else that may even be more important than all the awesome flashy action: the compelling characteristics of the protagonist, the antagonist, the anti-hero and the anti-villain. I like to look underneath the topping of epicness to see interesting people and psychologies that make up the person they are and how they each impact the story. This is why I love the story about Darth Vader’s arc and the fascinating backstory behind Snape’s character. There’s so much more to these stories than space battles and Jedi duels and evil Voldemortness and dementors and the Deathly Hallows. The story is made so much more interesting and complex when the story is about interesting and complex people. Readers and viewers are more impacted when a compelling and complex character they’ve invested in is affected in either negative or positive ways. Watching Star Trek again, I appreciate how they zoom in and focus on the struggles of each of the characters, and not only the fate of the universe (which is also a good thing, yes).
Psychology and character are two very similar words. Which is why the people in stories are called “characters;” they are each so different, and their different personalities and wirings are what makes the story flow. So when writing your story, take advantage of creating people you can understand. Make them interesting and compelling. Give the main characters an arc that affects the story and causes the reader to think in a certain way. You can put in themes and messages in your story through your characters, if there is meaningful development and if you let each character’s story affect your whole story at large. Have fun, but be productive with your power. The same thing goes with words. You can either create a meaningless mess of mumbo jumbo or manipulate them into a statement or perspective that has the potential to change the world. It’s your choice.
I guess I’m frustrated with not understanding people because I’m a writer and I enjoy having the freedom to understand my characters. I like to see them as real people, sometimes even as equals or friends I talk to in my mind. I learn more about them that way, and I still am learning every day. The possibilities are endless, I suppose.
Time for your thoughts. Do you focus on the psychology or personalities of your characters? Do you give them MBTI types (which is very fun and helpful and I recommend it)? How does psychology research or development in your characters affect your story and your writing as a whole? Cheers and write on!