Psychology, People, and Personalities in Writing

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.

Psychology, People, & Personalities in Writing - Tea with Tumnus

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!


23 Comments Add yours

  1. daleydowning says:

    So, having studied Psychology, having been interested in this subject as an agnostic and as a churchgoer and lots of levels in between, and as a writer, here’s my two cents:

    Psychology in terms of trying to understand the why isn’t necessarily helpful or successful. The personality types thing drives me batty. Honestly, I really feel that having ways of identifying certain things — for example, PTSD and anxiety disorders — is extremely beneficial, but from a medical point of view. Talk therapy often doesn’t help people, and a lot of drug addicts/bipolar/those with severe depression found that just sitting on a couch and going over every sad thing that ever happened in their life was not necessary nor progressive towards their recovery. It’s what I’ve found by trying to see counselors who didn’t really have an “end game” in mind as well.

    As a writer, understanding your characters can be immensely satisfying. That’s because you have the chance to resolve all their problems, give them a conclusion that makes sense, and help them get past all their challenges and struggles and grow. We all know that real life is not always that nice. 😛 I think understanding the inner minds of your characters is *vital* to the difference between writing a fun or interesting or enjoyable story, and writing an amazing and beautiful or super-touching story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting opinions! I personally love the MBTI as it is helpful when identifying characters’ personalities and giving more weight to their words and actions, but I definitely agree that it can tend to stereotype and label (only 16 types??? The different types of personalities are infinite, but when creating characters, I like starting simple and building off of a personality type). Taking the MBTI test for myself has helped me understand my personality even more and I know that not everything about that type has to fit me perfectly.

      I would like to do some research on talk therapy. It has been helpful in my experience but I guess it depends on both the client and the therapist in question. I can see how simply talking about the past and how it’s devastating can worsen a person’s state even more. (And besides, I feel like talking with therapists and counselors is weird. Not exactly sure why.)

      Intriguing stuff! Thanks for your thoughts.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. daleydowning says:

        To a point, I can understand where learning more about certain traits and behaviors based on personality types (because a lot of the research is definitely valid, and interesting) would help, especially writers. And it is fun to take the test once and see what it says. Maybe it’s just *my* personality, but I don’t think basing one’s whole self-view (and esteem or inner perspective) on what the psychology of a particular theory is really helps in the long run. And indeed, we are such complex creatures that so much of our motivations/goals/inward workings aren’t going to be determined/comprehended by what an online survey says. 😛

        Most people like the idea of therapy in theory — the concept that not having to keep everything of a really traumatic/stressful situation to oneself can be very liberating and ultimately healing. And it’s not that I disagree with that, not at all. But talking to a complete stranger about very personal things is offputting for lots of people, and it’s partly why talk therapy often doesn’t work, or has a limited effect. It turns out that support groups are usually extremely beneficial for people — especially veterans, addicts, domestic abuse victims, etc. — since the “shrink” takes a backseat, and those who genuinely know what it’s like to be in those shoes take the lead. (That could maybe be a point for your research?)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree. I think MBTI is just barely touching on each of our personalities, but it’s a good place to start I suppose.

        Yes, I think talk therapy might only work with certain people. Maybe certain people like talking more than others (different personalities prefer different kinds of therapy?), and it probably does depend on what that person went through. I think it would be a fascinating topic of research, yes. My intrigue has been piqued. 😀

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I love this!!! I was just contemplating the way we all long to be understood, the way we all desire for someone to search our hearts and love every bit of who we are. And the way that we are just way too complex for that.
    That realization hurt. But then I remembered that He understands EVERYTHING. And He loves it all. Haha I’ve been writing a bunch of poetry!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes!! That’s such a good point. I never really thought about it that way, but it’s so true. Thanks!


  3. Elizabeth says:

    Psychology is such a fun thing to study! I really like figuring out my characters MTBI types. And how their emotions are shaped by their past and surroundings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! MBTI is so much fun. 😀 Psychology is so fascinating particularly when it comes to writing and creating characters.


  4. freddyfish05 says:

    While I can’t respond to this about any characters, I will say that I too always try and figure out what makes a person tick. What makes them act the way they do? When I was younger I was very narrow minded and if someone didn’t see eye to eye with me then I made sure to have the last word because I knew I was right! As I grew older and wiser, I read more into personality disorders, or just different mind sets and different way’s of thinking. Now when I hear someone say something that I think is really stupid (in my head), I don’t just roll my eyes, I try harder to understand how this person came to that conclusion. It does become interesting to study peoples mind and it seems like a never-ending job too. I tell my wife that my perfect job would be to study subjects, specifically getting inside the mind of criminals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Studying the way people think and why they say what they say is so interesting, particuarly people with mental disorders. Trying to figure out whether they personality developed from the environment or naturally is fascinating as well. Thanks for reading!


  5. victoria evangeline says:

    I tend to first start writing my characters and then figuring out their MBTI types, because one thing I hate is forcing my characters into awkward molds instead of letting them grow naturally. It’s definitely good to start with some basic characteristics, though. =)


    1. Yeah, that’s the way I like doing it too. After you have been writing your characters for a while, it’s easier to understand them and putting them in a MBTI type is more natural. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. gumersindo says:

    I would like to do some enquiry on talk therapy. !

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mahnoor Mirza says: follow for more psychological facts

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, this made for a fascinating read.


    1. Thanks for reading! I’m glad you found it fascinating; that’s what I was going for. 😀


  9. floatinggold says:

    ” As a fellow human being who wants to understand people, I will be forever frustrated.” – THAT!

    It is difficult for me to not go insane if I do not have an explanation for something people say or do. The more you know the person, the better your chances are of knowing what makes them tick. However, when it comes to strangers… not much can be done. There can be sooooo many scenarios that I just will not be able to prove/ disprove.

    And then the issue of disorders.There is so many of them, that most of us could have a lengthy diagnosis… But then again, there are always exceptions.

    I’ve always loved any and all puzzles, which is probably why I enjoy studying psychology so much. So many clues, but the solution is so elusive.

    When it comes to my characters in writing, I tend to shy away from the deeper layers of personalities, because for some reason, I feel that not everyone will get it… But your post just challenged me to try this next time I start writing stories…


    1. I agree that if you know someone really, really well that you aren’t as frustrated with them because you know how what you say and do will affect them. But everyone is SO unique and different, that even with friends and family, there seems to be no real good answer. Psychology is fascinating because there are so many different theories and studies and ideas about things that will probably never get a scientific fact. And that leaves room for fun “what if” questions. 😀

      Layering characters’ personalities can be sooo hard, and for me, doing so can take my focus off the story and onto my story people. Which can either be very helpful or very unhelpful. It’s difficult to find that thin line where you’re balancing good character development AND a well-structured plot. Personally, as a reader, if there is a character whose personality I don’t understand, the more intriguing that character is for me and the more I want to think about and read about that character. 😀

      Thanks for your thoughts and comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Elizabeth Miller says:

    This is a topic I’ve been really interested in for a while! I love writing, but have been nervous about stepping into the fiction genre because I feel it would be impossible to fully and accurately portray a character, mostly for the same reasons you said. How can you capture a human who has experienced so much and has layers of complexity that they might not even be aware of! I’m in awe of writers who are able to do this. I feel like they must be psychological geniuses or something.


    1. It definitely takes lots of practice and learning about humans to write a realistic and compelling character. Taking psychology classes will definitely help me as a fiction writer. 😀 Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. C M Smile says:

    I studied psychology, was going to be my major and I loved it. Building a character around the nurture effect of their life rather than nature helps others identify with your character, i think. Nature and nurture often go hand in hand though. It has always been a study and debate among the psychologists and it can be difficult to decipher how this person built their life. I am now studying criminology. It’s interesting to say the least.


    1. Awesome! I’ve been thinking of majoring in psychology as well (we’ll see :P). Criminology sounds fascinating!! That can be a real help in writing as well. 😀 Yes, nature and nurture is a long-standing argument, and I think that both are the case, but in different aspects of personality. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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