PSYCH 101 for Writers & Their Characters - or Pavlov’s Dog for Writers
by robert w. walker
Professor of creative writing and psych buff, I will be providing 10 Psychological concerns for you & your creations for the next ten weeks each Friday, beginning with #10 & working down to #1 for ten teeth-gnashingm fingernail bitiing weeks. Let the mystery of the psychology of your characters work for you as it has for me.
Over time, I have considered these 10 questions that delve into the relationship between psychology and writing the novel, and being a novelist. In other words, what has psychology to do with imagination and creating whole worlds populated with people out of ink marks on a page? The following questions and answers delve into the psychology of the author himself, and eventually will also ask about the psychology of characters an author creates: This is Psych 101 for Authors and Readers interested in the craft and creative impulse.
As a writer, how does knowledge of writing help you? In short, how did you come across your knowledge of writing novels?
A: Anyone can learn to learn, or rather take steps to learn more about a topic--any topic. I learn best via doing, as in teaching. You teach it, you learn it. The more a writer comes to own knowledge, the higher his or her WQ--writing quotient.
IQ tests are indicators of potential, but it is motivation that drives us to learn the lessons of such things as research, analyzing data, accurately reporting or using information in a story. As for learning about the creative process, whether it's in writing or another art form, one gains experience only in doing, not unlike shooting baskets long enough will teach you how to shoot. When you practice to become a wordsmith, there're years of apprenticeship involved. Some of us began when just children. Being born as a silver-tongued genius is rare. Most writers must work to overcome failings, stuttering starts, self-conscious writings, and a slew of problems. In fact, writing is in a real sense all about self-analysis. Only after much study and painting oneself into corners and many missteps does a writer see the path to sentences that sizzle, snap, crackle, and pop or just plain sing. Lessons such as "if you can't make it sing, at least make it clear" come hard won only after gobs and gobs of hard work and fun and play with words and language.
Working with words on a daily basis is the only way I know of how to improve oneself as a writer. With each new novel or short story I write, I am reminded of lessons already learned and that I need to learn more; the more you know, the more you need to know. Only through hard work, determination, persistence, and sometimes pestilence over long years in the field do you easily pick the fruit. If you can't get thee to a 'nunnery' or a 'university' where they will sweat you in a writing program in boot camp fashion, then create your own rigorous program, and if you make it last as long as I did, four years, it might take. I would not ever trade in my PQ--persistence quotient for any amount of IQ. There is also the little matter of MO--motivation quotient. Let us not forget the EQ--experience quotient either.
This has all been directed at the author\writer\creator, but intelligence and knowledge play a huge role in character-building as well, not to mention reader intelligence and knowledge. Otherwise good characters who represent their careers and fields in many books seem lacking in knowledge of said field or career. A truly great character is partially great because she is so clearly knowledgeable (Ahab knew his whales!) in her field as with a medical examiner or detective. As for intelligent readers, they are the ones who both understand what we writers write and love us for it no matter who we have to kill off, no matter how tough things get, knowing we must 'sacrifice' for the good of the story.
Q#2 -- WE TAKE UP NEXT FRIDAY is : How does 'abnormal behavior' enter into the realm of creative writing and fiction? Or are we all nuts?
Catch my new ebook on Kindle - Killer Instinct, a Dr. Jessica Coran novel...in fact her first introduction, and by the way, do DO do leave a comment!