It’s time for Cookie Break’s first ever guest post! And it’s an exciting one, too, thanks to Faye Kirwin from Writerology who has agreed to chat about Psychology and its importance to writing.
In case you don’t know her, Faye Kirwin is a writer with a passion for words, minds and tea. She blogs over at Writerology, where she applies the science of psychology to the art of storytelling and teaches authors how to make writing a part of their everyday lives. When she’s not blogging or running the Writember Workshop, she writes fiction chock-full of magic, clockwork and tea. (Mm, tea.)
If you haven’t visited Writerology already, you should – it’s an amazing place full of inspiration!
But let’s dive into the writer’s mind, shall we? 🙂
How Understanding the Mind Can Unlock Your Writing Potential
When you think about it, writing is all about people. Whether it’s the characters that populate the pages, the readers that devour those books, or the writer behind it all, having a firm grasp of people and what makes them tick can take your writing to the next level. And where better to start than at the root of all things human: the mind.
So how can a bit of knowledge about psychology improve your story and unlock your writing potential? Let’s break it down into three categories and explore from there.
Understanding Your Characters
Characters are the soul of a story. They drive the plot forward, they’re who your readers become attached to, and if they’re shallow and two-dimensional, they can cause your novel to fall flat too. That’s why creating an engaging cast is so important and a bit of psychological know-how gives you the power to do that.
How exactly can psychology help your characters? Well…
- It helps you get to the core of your cast.
Filling out a character profile with names, important dates and physical descriptions is useful for keeping your facts straight, but it doesn’t tell you much about who that character really is, and a shaky understanding of your character’s core makes for a shaky character on the page.
By taking the time to dig deeper and explore further, you can create characters who are truly unique, compelling and realistic. You can do that through building a solid foundation for your cast (e.g., by looking at factors like personality traits and worldview) and expanding your knowledge to the network of relationships in your character’s life. How might these foundational factors affect your character’s exchanges with others? How might her past experiences and current environment influence her relationships? A good grasp of your character’s outlook and interactions can strengthen your story and make it stand out in a reader’s mind.
- It gives you the ingredients for some incredible conflict.
It’s all well and good knowing that your protagonist had a mother who never comforted her when she was a child, but how does that affect the story now? Don’t let what you know about your cast go to waste. Put it to work in your story.
In using what you know about your characters’ personalities, relationships, mental health issues and so on, you can create original and engaging conflict throughout your novel. Conflict drives a story and conflict that flows organically from your characters’ thoughts and actions is the most resonant of all.
For example, the protagonist whose mother wasn’t there for her as a child may feel smothered in her relationships as an adult, causing problems for her and her partner. How much more interesting is that character when her internal and external conflict has a basis in who she is rather than being a random idea to create tension?
- It helps you craft meaningful character arcs.
Knowing your characters’ psychological make-up also provides another fantastic opportunity for writers: to craft natural and meaningful character arcs. If it’s part of your protagonist’s emotional journey to forgive another character, for example, knowing how forgiving she is, as well as the psychological process of forgiveness, can add extra weight to her struggle and extra satisfaction if she overcomes it.
Understanding Your Readers
Knowing what makes your characters tick is one part of creating an un-put-down-able book; knowing what’s going on in your readers’ minds is the other. A sprinkle of psychology can open a window into the thoughts of your audience and a dash of neuroscience can show you what parts of a story cause changes within the brain.
How can that help you become a better storyteller? In a couple of important ways:
- It takes some of the guesswork out of writing.
The simplest and most straightforward benefit to the psychology of storytelling is the framework it gives you. Instead of wondering what makes a novel exciting and absorbing, you can see what features make the brain react and then integrate those features into your own writing. Instead of guessing at why readers emotionally connect with one character but not another, you can analyse it and apply it to your own stories. Learning what factors make a book un-put-down-able can only make your job easier, right?
- It helps you to write with direction and intention.
This is actually a pretty important mindset shift. If you have no idea what separates an emotionally engaging story from one that isn’t, it can feel like you’re stumbling around in the dark, hoping what you’re doing is right. That’s not the most pleasant of feelings (as anyone who’s stubbed their toes on the wrong answer will know).
Factor in a bit of science, however, and you can clear up some of that mystery and uncertainty. You don’t have to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing or worry that you’re a fake (and I speak from experience here). Now you can banish some of that crippling uncertainty and write with purpose.
Last but not least, there’s you, the writer, in all of this. Knowing a little something about what’s going on in your head can be the most useful thing of all when writing that novel. Why? Because when psychology’s working its magic:
- It helps you break through blocks.
Of all the people, real or fictional, who will ever have anything to do with your story, you are the single most important. I’m not kidding. Without you, there is no book. That’s why it’s crucial to have a bag of tricks on hand to help you whenever you get stuck in your writing, and bags of tricks that are steeped in genuine research are the most effective of all.
- It helps you unlock your full potential.
Applying general writing advice to your situation can prove beneficial, but why stop there? The secret to unlocking your full potential and making incredible progress isn’t finding what works for most people but what works for you. Embrace the spirit of psychology and experiment with what you find out.
For example, if you learn that eliminating activities that eat up your self-discipline can increase your will to write (and it totally can), you can tailor that specifically to suit your situation. Say you have a yoga class on Wednesdays that takes a significant portion of willpower from you. When you get home, you can’t be bothered to write. By putting your bag of psychological tricks to use, you can set up your writing gear so that it’s ready for you when you get home (less of a drain on your remaining willpower). That doesn’t work? Then you can try removing temptations, like the TV, from the equation and setting up reminders to write (reducing environmental distractions and creating writing cues). Through the process of trial-and-error, you’ll find techniques that work for you and let you progress further than you ever have before.
The Moral of the Story…
No matter what you’re writing about, a little bit of knowledge about the human mind goes a long way towards unlocking your writing potential. So here’s your action step for the day: go out there and dig deeper. Question, research, experiment, and get to the roots of your characters, your readers and yourself.
Oh, and don’t forget to share with Sarina and me in the comments too! Have you dug into psychology, knowingly or by accident, in your writing before?
Thank you so much, Faye, for stopping by!
And now it’s over to you! Have you learned anything, or grown curious about how psychology affects you as a writer? Grab a tea and a cookie, and share your thoughts and questions with us!
For all other guest posts, take a look here.
For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.