Using Psychology to Create and Develop Complex and Compelling Characters
Written By Danica Cornell
Hi Everyone! Before I get started, I feel as though I owe all of you an apology for taking so long to submit this follow-on article. As some of you might have guessed, I had intended to post this some time ago, however, a number of things related to my nanotechnology work have come up over the last few weeks. While all of this prevented me from sticking to my original schedule, these were positive developments. With any luck, I’ll be able to share some of these details with you in the not-too-distant future. 🙂
Okay, now on to the good stuff…
In looking back to my previous GIMME MORE! post, you may recall my discussion on how good character development is considered by many to be the hallmark of truly great storytelling. I can honestly say that as a reader, writer, and television/film viewer, I too share this viewpoint – which is why when it came to constructing my own book series, I decided to tap into psychology. After all, what better way to create and develop compelling and complicated characters? Of course, when it comes to science fiction, one must be able to imagine story worlds which are out-of-this-world! This is where my work in nanotechnology comes into play.
Tapping Into Nanotechnology and Psychology to Create Science Fiction
I realize a number of you may be unaware, (or vaguely aware) of my history in both the behavioral sciences and nanotechnology business development. Without a doubt, these two diverse areas have proven quite handy when it comes to penning a sci-fi series! Specifically, owning a high-tech start-up has captured my imagination when it comes to the future directions of technology and society, while holding a BA in psychology has enabled me to better understand myself and others. The latter has also allowed me to recognize certain behavioral patterns, thus helping set the stage for the development of my DARK STAR series characters. Please know, I’m not suggesting all novelists need to run out and get a psychology degree. Rather, I’m making the point that for new writers, learning about the inner workings of the human mind, (along with observable behaviors) could prove helpful in the areas of character creation and development.
Characterizing Character Development
Character development. How many of you have noticed just how often this term is used today? Sometimes it seems as though this term is mentioned without any regard for non-writers or those new to the literary field. Since not everyone reading this may fully understand what character development is, whenever I discuss this in the context of my own book series, I’m really describing a character’s:
- Physical appearance;
- The things they say/don’t say;
- The behaviors they exhibit;
- The choices they make as they move forward in my DARK STAR series.
To be honest, the way I envision my characters is the same way I see people in the real world; both can grow in surprising and unexpected ways! They can also remain stuck in the same place, (emotionally, spiritually, and physically) depending on the situation.
So, just how I was able to get started with all this? In other words, what steps did I use in creating DARK STAR‘s three-dimensional characters?
Looking to a Character’s Past, Present and Future
To answer this, let me begin by saying, I recognized early on that each of my characters has a past—one which I know intimately, even if my readers do not. Of course they also have a present and a future, (even if that future sometimes ends in an untimely death). In fact, I’ve discovered, the only way for a character to truly come to life in my mind’s eye, is by knowing their past and present, while also having a good idea about their future. All of my characters, (no matter how minor they may be), have histories which have helped to shape them into the people they are today. They also have their own perceptions, motivations, present-day realities, and futures which will be impacted by the situations they face and the choices they make.
But here’s the best part. I’ve found that things get really interesting once I’ve factored Free Will into the writing equation. After all, the possibility that a particular character might break away from their past and move toward a future that’s not easily predicted, is what helps to add an element of surprise for readers. And let’s face it. We all enjoy stories with twists and turns and endings we don’t see coming!
Saying No to Stereotypes
Once I started getting my feet wet with generating DARK STAR’s characters, it quickly occurred to me that I’d be doing them, (and my readers) a disservice if I allowed them to come off as overly stereotypical. After all, what could be more boring than a character who is average in every conceivable way? In the real world, the people I know are anything but stereotypical. They are flawed, complicated, and not easily labeled. Why should my characters be any different?
Of course just like real people, characters have their own gender identities, religious backgrounds, ethnicities, and political affiliations. But in order to avoid the Snooze Factor, I’ve learned that not everything about them should be predictable. This is why even though my characters are typical in many ways (this helps them to be believable), they are also unusual in a few ways. For example, imagine a tall and handsome CIA agent – an assassin, who just so happens to love kids. What will he do when his nuclear device-toting target runs smack into the middle of a busy playground? Will he pull the trigger? By adding an atypical element to this character – along with free will, I’ve set the stage for an interesting scene. I’ve also provided the potential for this character’s continued development.
In my next installment of the GIMME MORE! blog series, I’ll be shining a spotlight on character motivation and conflicting values. It’s been a pleasure spending this time with you. Thanks so much for stopping by!
Until we meet again…
Happy reading and writing,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
DANICA CORNELL, holds a BA in Psychology and is the visionary President of Mano Nanotechnologies, Inc. She’s also a dog lover, a self-confessed chocoholic, and a UNICEF supporter who is busily penning the DARK STAR science fiction/fantasy series, soon to be published by Cool Geek Books. To learn more, please visit Danica’s Website. You may also follow Danica on Twitter, where she’s been known to tweet about aliens and hybrid humans, among other things.
Danica is a proud member of RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB.