1. Dragon Boy
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    Dragon Boy Member

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    Can psychology books help to create more believable characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dragon Boy, Jan 21, 2012.

    I am currently in the process of gathering as much information as I can to help me in my writing and a question hit me. I was wondering if you find that reading on psychology is of any use when dealing with development or do you prefer to make your characters evolve more instinctively and based on personal experience?
     
  2. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    IDK. I took 2 psychology classes and I don't feel my characters being any more real.
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I combine all three - lots of reading in field of psychology and real characters I know from experience I use to "flesh out" the characters I conjure up in my mind. But I have a really good working knowledge of psychology and lots of work experience too, so I suppose it is easy to read when you already know a lot. Perhaps to a lay person, just reading psych texts might be confusing or not very useful at all, because it takes time to assimilate that knowledge and apply it to real people or characters.
     
  4. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    Many people can learn from books while others need learn from experience. I'd suggest this: read and try to understand. If you still can't imagine AND empathize with where your character is coming from, you proabably didn't take enough away from what you read to rely on this method. I do like the way you think though - good on you for even considering utilizing this method.
     
  5. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    Personally, I've always been interested in psychology. It's always been one of my strongest interests. I always incorporated my love & knowledge of psychology & sociology into my writing. Some writers aren't really affected that much though. I think it has a lot to do with the writer more than the course.
     
  6. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    In my studies, I find the most use from psychology comes from case studies. Some textbooks will have blurbs about case studies spread throughout the text. Also useful is personality categorizations, such as the MMPI the Myers-Briggs, and enneagrams (which isn't actually psychology, but is personality and useful for character building). With these, you can typecast a character to fit a certain personality type to a character and make them more real. You don't need to stick directly with one category, as personality is far more complex than we could ever categorize.

    However, the bulk of most psychology textbooks, while it may be useful in the long run, is overall not worth your time to sit down and learn.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not sure it would be very useful to a writer to study psych books. How many great writers in history have been psychologists? Probably not many. But how many have been journalists, literature students, travelers, etc.? Those writers gain whatever knowledge of psychology they need firsthand, by actually meeting and dealing with people. Reading a psychology textbook might give you a theoretical idea of how humans behave, but I don't think it would be any substitute for getting out and seeing the world, getting to know actual people.
     
  8. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    I think you're better off looking at books on body language and communication.
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, reading case studies sometimes gives me an insight about certain problems I haven't experienced at first hand. But it isn't any more helpful to me than reading poetry, for example.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the books that will help you the most in learning how to write good fiction aren't how-tos or textbooks on psychology or whatever, they're those written by the best fiction writers!

    absorbing how good writers do it all is what will serve you best and be the best use of your non-writing time... for writing good characters, add watching and studying real people, instead of reading case histories...
     
  11. Ziggy Stardust
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    Ziggy Stardust Active Member

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    Well it couldn't hurt. Especially if you're writing about psychopathic serial killers or other such personalities that you hopefully don't have much contact with in real life.
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I definitely think it could help you to understand the character better and to create one that seem believable. I have actually done that once myself, writing about a character who had childhood problems I have never experienced, just to understand fully how that might influence a person. I see it as a kind of research and I think we can all agree on research being a good thing. :)
     
  13. miss sunhine
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    miss sunhine Member

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    Reading a few books in Psychology wont really help you, it takes years to totally understand and ne able to apply it to real life and to people. It's more analyzing than creating. And to be honest we knoe what makes a character, a personality, we see it every day in the people we meet and even the ones we don't. If you're sensitive to the people around you, you cna make connections and learn to read people.
    Example: Quiet people, tend to be deep thinkers and tend to notice things around them.
    So you learn what goes with what.
    I hope i make sense lol as i often don't!
    You don't need an knowledge in Psychology to create a real character, just be insightful and sharp.
     
  14. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    If there's a particular affliction or trait or disorder your character has that you'd like to know more about, referring to a psychology book may be helpful. I'm studying psychology currently, and it's helped me understand my characters here and there, but it's not a necessity as far as I can tell. Reading best-sellers and making real-life observations has helped me become a better writer more so than studying psychology.
     
  15. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    I wonder how many of those skeptical about the utility of psychology in character development are psych majors....

    Yes, it absolutely can help. Not "textbooks" per se, but the more comprehensive understanding of the human thought process, motivations, social cognition, the influence of socioeconomics on psychosocial development, etc that comes from a hefty understanding of psych/sociology, are absolutely relevant to crafting a deep and human character. A lot of people act like psychology/sociology are lofty, abstract disciplines that don't or barely apply to us "sane", normal people, but to me the most salient and insightful facets of psych are those that help me understand myself, people I know and... well, people in general. We're more alike than we are different, and the behavioral sciences lend a theoretical backbone to making sense of seemingly unreasonable, unpredictable homo sapiens. So yeah, basically, of all the "soft sciences", psych/soc has been most useful to my writing, personally.

    Of course, actually reading great works of literature, studying history, etc, travelling, hanging out with friends and otherwise drawing material from real life is invaluable, but atleast perusing some psychological theories, studies, etc. could only help. Just my 2 cents.
     
  16. Dragon Boy
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    Dragon Boy Member

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    Thank you everyone for the insights and comments.
     
  17. jonsnana
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    jonsnana Member

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    I haven't used a textbook...but, I have used a psych test on my characters to make sure they were complete. As in, if the character fits one type of personality but doesn't have any of the traits that go with the usual sub-types of that personality, then I realize why the character isn't working and how to fix the problem. For me this is an editing trick. Like outlining a sentence when it doesn't flow right. I write first, putting characters together from people I've met and giving them problems to solve. I like the suggestion on reading books on body language and communication. Don't just read, analyse. How many words does it take your favorite author to tell you the character is a good guy with a troubled past?
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, very well put :)
     

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