If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Check out our February author interviews: 2/7-debut author Keenan Powell (Alaskan lawyer), 2/14-Leslie Wheeler (Rattlesnake Hill), 2/21-bestselling author Krista Davis, who unveils a new series, 2/28-Diane Vallere answers my questions about Pajama Frame. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our February Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 2/3-Saralyn Richard, 2/10-Kathryn Lane. WWK's Margaret H. Hamilton will blog on 2/17, and Kait Carson on 2/24.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Psychology and the Novelist

As fiction writers, we make up stories or base our stories on real events. Personally, we have stories too, as I wrote last week. Only some of which are true. Occasionally, we are tested and, if we are honest, discover the answer, painful or not. People who don’t challenge themselves can live most of their lives without knowing if their stories are true. Do they lack courage or is it protection? They may lie to themselves, make excuses, or adamantly refuse to acknowledge truth. We all have stories about ourselves.

What story does your main character believe about himself?

Psychology Today contributor, llana Simons, Ph. D. is both a practicing psychologist and a literature professor. In her article, “A Therapist Should be a Good Storyteller,” (Psychology Today 7/21/10) Dr. Simons talks about the stories we tell ourselves. Her patient must deal with true but horrific circumstances of his past, keeping him angry and institutionalized. He’s quite sane. The story he tells about himself is true, but what impedes his advancement is his refusal to believe his story can change. Like a PTSD patient, he repeats the story without breaking the cycle of trauma. Little by little, Simons spins her patient new possibilities, changing the story of his future so he can break free of the past. The method she uses reminds her of how authors create stories.

Not only do characters need history for authenticity, they also need a perspective and a psychological framework through which the reader can understand and judge the character. What values does the character demonstrate? Is she a social climber, a church member, a perfectionist? How did those values become priorities? Finding out that the church member is really a hypocrite attending for appearances tweaks readers’ emotions. Some readers may be sympathetic, but many may be derisive. Answering these questions for your readers requires a little back story, but demonstrating these qualities within the context of your story shows the characters’ psychological makeup.

Simons points out that “…we try to organize the mess of human emotion and motivation into a narrative, telling a story with a believable beginning, middle, and end driven by a character's intention.” Showing characters intentions is crucial in creating a believable plot. Does the end fulfill the character’s intentions or not? Has your character changed, grown or been stunted by the experience of the plot. In a series, the answer to this question provides for the next plot and psychological basis for the next book.

Tennessee Williams is the consummate author of demonstrating character psychology, which also drives his plots. His characters lie to each other and to themselves, but the truth is evident to the reader and in the end, to the characters as well. Williams’ plots test the stories of the characters and in doing so finds the truth.

Many mystery writers create unique psychological aspects of their characters, which enables those characters to solve the mystery. Consider Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple who never believes anyone’s story, enabling her to find out whodunit. Suspense writers often use psychology in itself to unravel the plot. For example, psychological game playing is the basis of the plot in Edgar winning playwright Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, one of my favorites. (Find a copy of the 1972 movie starring Michael Caine and Sir Lawrence Olivier. Watch it devolve.)

Including characters’ psychological framework builds identities so that readers understand their intentions, motivations, and development. These characters are unique and memorable, every author’s goal.

Who are your favorite characters, and why are they memorable?


Kathy said...

"People who don’t challenge themselves can live most of their lives without knowing if their stories are true." Wonderful observation. Thank you.

One of my favorite characters is Jon Hassler's Agatha McGee. She's always been rigid in adherence to principle, convinced of the rightness of her positions, but at sixty-seven years of age she begins to admit her vulnerability and to demonstrate the ability to change. At nearly ninety, a "new woman," still willing to accept a challenge.

to write is to write is to write

E. B. Davis said...

I'm not familiar with this character. She sounds wonderful. I assume this is a series? It covers 25 years or more of her life? I've never read a series that stretched over that many years of a character's life. It must be fascinating. I'll look for that series. My new MC is only 32 years old, so maybe Abby has a few more books in her!

Sandy Cody said...

An interesting post - certainly something to keep in mind as my character makes her way through future books.

E. B. Davis said...

I'm trying to keep it in mind too as I write. My character used to be quite courageous, but now that she's dealing with supernatural beings, she doesn't know the rules and she has always relied on logic to gain control and win.

Kathy said...

Agatha McGee is a recurring character, a minor character in Hassler's first novel and then the main character in several later ones. They form more of a community than a series. One is classed as a mystery, but Hassler is always expert at hiding things in plain sight--such as the reason Agatha's new Irish friend refuses to attend church with her.
to write is to write is to write

E. B. Davis said...

I just order one of his books. I'll let you know if I like it.