Using psychology to deepen your writing

I’ve long been fascinated by psychology and what it has to say about the possible variations in human behavior. I considered a double-major in psychology while I was in college but eventually decided to pursue other interests instead. Still, I explored many texts on the subject, and I would often consult those texts when writing short stories and coming up with character ideas. Unlike psychiatry, which seems to use medication to subdue not only seemingly irreversible mental conditions but some types of temporary problems as well, psychology appears to attempt to get at the root of issues through analysis of the human condition.

I used my own observations and personal beliefs regarding human nature when writing some of the stories included in Portraits in the Dark, and I also researched and read texts by various types of psychologists. At times while creating some of these characters, I needed to step outside of of what I thought was a normal course of action in order to figure out what the characters would or would not do. Some were easy–who hasn’t been annoyed at some perceived negative behavior or slight? Who hasn’t thought “what if…”?

But when it came to the decision-making process, I needed to be able to study how far certain decisions can go. Everyone has to make decisions and everyone makes mistakes, but some are more extreme than others.

For instance, in “Fine Print,” the character wavers between accepting an offer that he knows has dire consequences and living a life that he finds difficult to stomach. On the surface it is an easy enough decision but when other factors are included, the “correct” path isn’t the most desirable. Throughout the story there are clues to what type of man he is and why he would do the things he does–his decision is not just based upon a whim or upon what would be my own personal choice in such a situation.

Every day we are confronted with making decisions, how to approach this or that situation. And every day, in the news or in our personal lives, we find unanswered questions. Why did he or she do this, why did something turn out the way it did? How will this turn out, what should be done here? Without the aid of some fortune telling device, it is impossible to know how something will turn out with 100% accuracy. In “Darkened Sky,” the main character is confronted by the decisions that others have made, with deciding if those choices are options for her, or if she should take another route in life. She can’t forsee her future, but she gains some insight by the choices others have made and how she reacts to them. How she chooses is of particular importance being that she is a teenager and the situations in her life contain much danger for someone her age.

There are decisions that need to be made behind everything that goes on in life. Of course, in Portraits in the Dark, the characters and situations are taken to the extreme–bloody deaths, dealing with the supernatural, horrible creatures, surrealism. But there are also the real life quiet horrors of knowing that one decision can possibly have a huge and lasting impact on one’s life and the lives of others, of dealing with situations that one has little control over but must still learn how to navigate.

One reader commented to me that a story he read in Portraits in the Dark, “Fine Print,” changed his outlook on where his life was headed and made him question whether or not he was going in the right direction. I was glad that what I decided to include in the story had such an impact on him, even though he didn’t go into detail about his situation. That is one type of reaction that I think as writers some of us hope for–that our work will connect on some level.

How we view the world, our experiences, how we deal with things, even our genetic make-up can give us some clues as to what we, and others, will do when confronted with such questions. By exploring psychology, we as writers can use our natural abilities to make the characters real. Of course, there is a balance between enhancing the story with psychology and basically creating characters that are straight out of a text-book. Psychology, while helpful, doesn’t cover all of what a human being is capable of; nor does it cover writing style and storytelling ability.

But creating that written world can sometimes allow us to do what we can’t always do in real life–see why others truly act how they act, do what they do. And sometimes what our fictional characters do can leave a lasting, lingering impression on the mind of the reader.

PORTRAITS IN THE DARK ON AMAZON.COM

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Using psychology to deepen your writing

  1. Nancy you left us with a good suggestion here. Physcology has also been a subject of interest to me ever since I was a teenager. Trying to understand myself and others lead me to read a lot of books that I still consult today. One of my goals is to write a fiction book and it’s by reading books like yours that inspire and teach us how to do it effectively that I hope to make it a reality. I’m glad your readers are connecting to your writing, that is truly a blessing. Now I’m terrible curious to read “Fine Print”

  2. Thanks, Clary!
    Fiction is a great way to explore that. Non-fiction is also good, and I think with the kind of subjects you write about can prove helpful in both areas.

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