Using Psychology to Deepen Character Development

I presented Using Psychology to Deepen Character Development for the first time at Flights of Foundry last month and received some lovely feedback.

I reflected on the role of the unconscious, internal/external conflict, and self-narrative in shaping complex characters, did a deep dive into defence mechanisms (with a lighthearted spec-fic twist!), and explored attachment theory in relating to others.

I also touched on embodied emotion, psychology interfacing with magic/tech/worldbuilding/horror, and other sorts of minds–although those themes would deserve a talk of their own!

I thought I’d share a couple of key slides/points.

The mind is a speculative place

◦ Psychological theories are frameworks for seeing the mind from different angles

◦ No single theory or framework can explain the human mind

◦ Applying a psychological understanding allows you to show rather than tell the reader what your characters are like

◦ Moreover, you can pare back the showing so it can be implicit, subtle, metaphorical and open, allowing the reader to imbue the story with their individual interpretations and personal meaning

The mind is not a single, unified entity

◦ Inner disharmonies are unavoidable

◦ We can consider the different stories within our characters–different origins, aims, and defences mechanisms of various agencies within the mind.

A conceptual diagram of Freud’s Topographical and Structural Models. Taken from
Kenny, D.T. (2016). A brief history of psychoanalysis: From Freud to fantasy to folly. Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia.

Exercise: Think about a character from your work. Visualise them clearly in your mind’s eye. Then, consider the following questions…

Id

What are your character’s hidden desires? What do they yearn for? What would give them a sense of wholeness and vitality? What sparks their lust, aggression, or anger? What wishes or fears are they unable to admit to themselves? Can other characters glimpse these drives? Will events force them to confront buried aspects of themselves?

Superego

What sort of early upbringing did your character have? Who were their role models, and what values and morals would they have internalised? What standards does your character strive towards? What is forbidden territory for your character, associated with guilt or shame?

Ego

How does your character resolve these conflicting aspects of themselves? What is the story that your character tells themselves? Which coping mechanisms do they tend to turn towards in times of stress? What happens when these mechanisms are overwhelmed? How will their unconscious desires and value systems shape their actions and manifest in the story?


I really enjoyed adapting psychological concepts for writing, especially for speculative writing. I’m hoping to further refine and develop it for the future.

I hope this is the beginning of a helpful resource.

Happy reading and writing, friends!


PS. Thank you, so much, to the Dream Foundry for having me. The talk will be available on the Dream Foundry YouTube channel later this year.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8jDna_LNiWUbJ254-dymVg

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