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Using Psychology to Create Deep Characters

A PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH TO DEVELOPING GRIP-YOUR-HEART CHARACTERS

By J.A. Marx

How do we write a poignant story that’s realistic, emotionally satisfying yet not watered down? After you’ve given your character a personality, a vocation, a purpose for living, and a setting contemplate the following.

1) Reality

Pick an offense more exciting than stepping on toes or cutting someone off in traffic. Pick an affliction that disturbs the masses:
• Betrayal
• Abandonment
• Disloyalty
• Abuse … etc.

Pick something you’d never expect could happen to you. But if it did happen:
• Your world flips upside down
• Your soul suffers violent spasms
• And your heart crashes to the floor
You Are Shattered!

Light shines brightest in the thickest darkness.

DON’T SOFTEN THE STORY’S DARKNESS.
DEEPEN IT.

2) Weave in Expectations

There’s no virtue in expecting another human being to behave as though he/she possesses unflawed talent and perfect character. But we expect that anyway.

• Expectations ruin any relationship
• Raise your character’s expectations and those placed upon them. Then amplify them
• Let expectations set them up for disappointment. Discontent. Disillusionment…and transformation!

WITHIN THE TRANSFORMATION LIES AN AUTHENTICALLY REDEMPTIVE STORY

3) Emotional/Behavioral Responses

We operate out of subconscious thoughts & beliefs. When your protagonist’s expectations go unmet:

-What is her emotional response?
• Anger?
• Vengeance?
• Malice?
• Withdrawal?
• Despair?

-What is his behavioral reaction?
• Speaks his hate
• Shames the other person
• Excludes his wife
• Leaves the company
• Punches his brother
• Takes vengeance into his own hands

PAIN HITS→ EMOTIONS ARE STABBED→ BELIEFS KICK IN→ PHYSICAL REACTION

4) The Choice

“To dump or not to dump?” is the cardinal question for anyone who experiences emotional wounding. Let your character struggle emotionally.

-Your protagonist has collected all the expectations placed on her or those she has placed on others. Will she:
• Hurl those expectations to Heaven and unburden herself?
• Bury the festering collection in her heart?

PAIN EVENTUALLY FINDS A VOICE

5) Theme & Moral Premise

A moral premise** gives a story cohesiveness. Let the same internal motivation drive all your characters. This also helps create character arcs.

Moral Premise (example):
Virtue: Casting your expectations (of people) upon God leads to inner peace
Vice: Imposing your expectations upon others leads to inner unrest
(Readers may not consciously detect this internal motivation)

Theme (example):
The effects of betrayal
(Readers clearly see your theme played out in the story)

UNDILUTED LIFE EXPERIENCES PROVIDE
BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS WITH DEPTH

6) Weave in the Truth/Message

When you interview with agents & editors, they’ll ask, “What is the reader’s take-away?” What clear message are you offering readers? Does your story illustrate a kingdom reality? Create the reader take-away on purpose.

The all-knowing, all-powerful God sees every aspect of a person’s life and causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28-29

Now that you’ve illustrated the darkness in your character’s soul, what Kingdom reality He would show this character if you could listen in.

I can fully trust God:
To come through
To provide
To heal
To comfort
To take action on my behalf
To be my avenger
To meet my deepest, deepest needs … etc.

If the depth of your story’s darkness stands in direct proportion to the characters’ redemptive transformation, you’ve created a powerful take-away for your readers.
Good job!

J.A recommends reading:
“The Moral Premise,” by Stanley Williams http://www.moralpremise.com/
“The Emotion Thesaurus” and “The Negative Trait Thesaurus” http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/p/the-emotion-thesaurus.html

JA MarxJ.A. Marx, the Vice President of ACFW DFW (the Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter of ACFW), loves illustrating spiritual warfare through speculative suspense. Find “The Destiny Series” on Amazon. She has also published several articles and edits for a healthcare e-zine. Her hobbies are fitness & nutrition, and painting. She writes from Texas. Contact her at http://jamarx.net/

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One Response to Using Psychology to Create Deep Characters

  1. DiAnn Mills says:

    Hi Julie, very well done – informative.