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The Psychology Workbook for Writers: Tools for creating realistic characters and conflict in fiction Kindle Edition
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The psychology is explained in a clear fashion that even the layman can understand. A set of questions at the end of each chapter guides you in creating your character with the information described in the chapter. There is also a very enlightening worksheet guiding you in using the information in the global story with character interaction for each chapter.
I recommend this book to anyone that's been baffled by characterization.
This book will also be a great addition to any well-established author's must-read-craft-books.
Tools for Creating Characters & Conflicts in Fiction
By Darian Smith
What an interesting approach to that core element of fiction – the characters we create and the interactions between them.
If you can’t make your characters 3-D and totally believable, it’s almost impossible to gain your reader’s engagement with who they are and what they do, and how they behave towards each other in differing circumstances. If readers doesn’t care about your characters – love ‘em or loathe ‘em – then they don’t care what they get up to or if they get squashed by a bus, blown up by a terrorist or fall into a volcano.
Darian Smith, as the author of The Psychology Workbook for Writers, has a dual advantage: he’s both a prize-winning writer of fiction himself and he holds a degree in psychology. His format for instructing us is simple and instructional, taking different aspects of the personality and showing us how to apply psychological principles to build the character and build the story. His worksheets allow you to practice what he’s preaching.
He tells us writing itself is a form of psychology, and I agree. I also firmly believe creating believable characters to tell your story is at the core of good writing.
So what does Smith cover as human behavioural patterns and how they play out, not only in social concord and conflict, but also in what motivates a character, whether good or bad, why they act and react as they do or what’s going on when they do something, say something, that is out of character. If readers believe in your characters, they will respond as you want them to as the narrative unfolds, whether theirs is a leading or supporting role.
Here’s a brief summary of his content:
1. Blame the parents. Unfair, but with a germ of truth and logic. According to transactional analysis theory, what we experience in our early years are injunctions and drivers we internalise and take into our adult years. Injunctions – don’t do this or that; drivers – the shoulds and oughts imposed on the child.
2. Flip the script. Does the child grown continue to conform to the parent dictates or does s/he decide what to stay with as a fully developed adult. (See the potential for conflict there?) Smith suggests that in examining the process by which such ‘life scripts’ can be altered, we can do it for ourselves – and that’s ongoing – and for our characters. Challenging, eh?
3. Pieces of me. Here he asks us to explore who the characters are within a family, a community, a nation or a race – the role models adopted, the systems in which they operate. Like us, eternally adjusting and adapting, they will employ different parts of themselves in challenging or intimate situations.
4. All’s fair in love & war. And the question to ask here is, “Should it be?” Communication, miscommunication; soulmates aligned or opposites attracted. Smith offers us Chapman’s Five Love Languages – words, actions, touch, gifts and time together. Adverse communication includes criticism, contempt, stonewalling; present between individuals in relationships of conflict, and also too often the precursors of war between competitors and nations.
5. There’s no place like home. (With the family!) Dodie Smith called the family ‘a dear octopus’ whose tentacles reach out to draw us in however hard we try to escape. Certainly, family dynamics offer a treasure trove of material for the storyteller. It’s been claimed that most first novels are semi-autobiographical, and it’s almost impossible not to transfer our experience with whanau into the world of writing. Darian Smith says, “As a writer, it’s important to think about where your character comes from and what their place is within the community systems in which they reside and, importantly, within their family.”
6. States of being. Ego states, that is; the idea that within each of us is the Parent, the Adult and the Child. When we meet with these states in others, we can be wrong-footed, answering the Parent with the Child, for instance, instead of remaining Adult. Other roles are played out within the Drama Triangle – will our characters be Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer? Such determinations, Smith assures us, will keep the readers on their toes?
7. Conflict of interest. Conflict is certainly a vital part of any story, Smith assures us. Will it be fight or flight and how else will our characters respond – submit, or use logic to refute or anger to control.
8. Personality Plus. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is referred to here, and opposite characteristics can enhance interaction between the actors who perform your drama, e.g. Introvert versus Extrovert; Thinking versus Feeling, and Judging versus Perception. Intriguing depths can be added to our most important characters when we set the one against the other.
9. Giving grief. Not only death, but also loss. Grief is often glossed over in literature, because it can be difficult to represent, depressing to read and potentially slow down the story. Learning how to portray grief is often essential to plot – and understanding the stages of grief will help you not to overload with fulsome descriptions or overwhelm with forced emotion; to stand by and show not tell, how this loss is affecting your character(s.) In other words, to leave space for your reader to contribute something to the understanding of what’s happening on the page.
10. There’s a little bit in all of us. Mental health sometimes gets out of balance, Smith reminds us – or we are all ‘mad in the nor’ nor’ west,’ as Hamlet puts it. We all have tendencies that can morph into the abnormal – OCD, depression, anxiety, mood swings, hypochondria, paranoia, etc. These can remain minor traits of no concern except as they round out our understanding of the character, unless – perhaps through some external incident – they grow uncontrollable and threatening.
11. Me and my shadow. Now the Dark Side beckons…What we don’t like in ourselves sometimes causes us to condemn it too strongly in others.
Definitely, some interesting theories here that make The Psychology Workbook for Writers an important resource that is definitely going to strengthen how novelists present characters by thought, words and deed. A useful and inspiring addition to any writer’s bookshelf.
Reviewed by Jenny Argante
 SMITH, D. The Psychology Workbook for Writers: Tools for Creating Characters & Conflicts in Fiction. New Zealand, Wooden Tiger Press. ISBN 978-0-473-33446-8
Short read roughly 65 pages, not enough pages for 5 stars, but it is on my reread and reference list.
If you are a writer or author (or wannabe) I would recommend you consider purchasing this book.
I have a B.A. in psychology, and use what I learned to flesh out my characters.
Love ALL the chapters, especially the one about the Shadow. So true that what we most hate about ourselves, we hate in others. Being that the Shadow is part of ourselves, it stands to reason that when we write we reveal who we are.
Read this book: You'll understand your characters better and, as a consequence, you'll hear their real voices on your novel's page as you write.
Worth the five stars!