Tuesday, April 10, 2012

J is for Journals: Getting to the psychological heart of your characters

I have a Major Degree in Psychology. It's a pretty piece of paper that is framed in glass, collecting dust in my basement. Don't get me wrong . . . psychology, the study of how the mind and brain works, fascinates me, it's just that after I graduated I wondered what would I ever do with my knowledge of psychology?

It wasn't like I planned to be a psychotherapist (way more schooling involved), and though I do work in the social services field and often fall back on some of my skills in psychology, that type of work is still not my calling, not like the calling I have when it comes to writing--I'm sure many of you know what that calling feels like, you know the one that nags at you to write, write, write, even when it gets hard or discouraging and it would be much easier to read a book or watch TV?

What does all of this have to do with writing and editing?

Well, I finally realized that my studies in psychology were not in vain. Writing characters has a lot to do with psychology: How does your character's mind work? How do they feel? What motivates them?

Okay, so you don't have to be a psychology major to answer these questions (though it helps) but have you ever pretended to be a psychoanalyst when it comes to digging deeper into your character's head? I came across a good blog article the other day on the Storyfix, which challenged me to ask 3 key questions to my characters:

  1. What is your core need (and what you will do if you can’t get that need met)?
  2. What is your greatest fear?
  3. What is the incident(s) that wounded you early in life that got you believing a lie? (And just what is that lie?)
I asked these questions to my characters and wrote their responses in my journal. It was kind of like therapy for them and for me because they say a part of the writer's psyche is expressed in their characters.

If you're having issues getting to the psychological heart of your characters I encourage you to journal down your thoughts beginning with the 3 questions above.


  1. Conversely, as a writer now I'd love to study psychology, because I love getting into my characters heads. The internal struggle is more important to me when I write.

  2. Even with a biography, I think it's difficult for a writer to be completely objective. There's always a little tinge of something that pops up, often in the oddest places. So, yes, you're so right about psychology and one's characters.

  3. I do love writing in my own journal. I can blather on forever.

    Nice to meet you, and I hope you're enjoying the Challenge!

    A to Z Challenge Host

    1. Thanks, Karen. Hope you're enjoying the challenge too!

  4. Oooo...these are great questions for my characters (and me).

  5. What a great idea to get to know your characters. I'll have to play the part of psychotherapist too. Thanks for the idea.

    Von L
    The Growing Writer