Psychology is a powerful tool to use in fiction. Even if your characters aren’t human, giving them human traits and struggles will allow your readers to connect with them on a much deeper level. In this blog post I’ll discuss the value of using psychology in your writing, the best way to go about researching, and most importantly, what NOT to do when including mental illness in fiction.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. I hold no degrees, wrote no thesis, and have limited life experience with many of the topics I mention here. I have done what any good writer does when confronted with the need to include something in a story that they aren’t familiar with: research.
My interest in using psychology in fiction started when I wrote my first published novel, Woven. Without giving you too many spoilers, one of the characters has a magically-induced form of Dissociative Identity Disorder, known more commonly (but incorrectly) as Multiple Personality Disorder. People with this disorder show dramatic shifts in personality and identity, and every aspect of their being is affected: temperament, dialect, memory, physical ability, intellectual knowledge, and even gender.
Psychologists now believe that DID largely occurs in individuals that were abused as children, and the mind literally splinters, or dissociates, in order to keep from being damaged by living out the memory of the trauma. Re-integration of the personalities allows for the divided individual to acknowledge each split inside them and become one, if they choose, or at very least live more harmoniously. That’s DID in a nutshell. There are a lot of stigmas associated with the illness, plenty of ways to incorrectly portray it, and fortunately for me, plenty of real-life stories to sift through as I wrote this character in my book.
I even found out while writing Woven that a family member was diagnosed with this mental illness. She’s also a writer, and she agreed to read Woven once it was finished. To paraphrase her words, there were parts of the story that were so real they were difficult to read because she identified with the character so completely. In other words, I nailed it. She loved my book, and her response validated all the research and effort I had put into compiling it.
So what does knowing my experience do for you? Let’s start with talking about what adding or deepening the influence of human psychology can do for your story and those that read it.
Cover design by Ashley Literski
The cover for Shattered Snow has finally arrived! Last week, I held a facebook live event on my facebook author page revealing this beautiful piece of art by Ashley Literski. I can't believe that in just a few short weeks I'll be able to hold this book in my hands! Everything comes at me so quickly these days, (pre-sale starts this week) and the learning curve is steeper than ever. Immortal Works has been an amazing publisher, and I've appreciated every step of this journey with them.
Handing over the concept to a graphic designer and seeing her visually interpret my story is amazing. Ashley asked about my characters, common visual themes, preferences, etc. She took everything I gave her and compiled it into this beautiful cover that subtly represents all three of my POV characters. It's the kind of thing I expect people to turn back after the story and go "ooooh! It's even more meaningful now!". She did a wonderful job.
Next, I am working with the illustrator for interior art that is absolutely breathtaking. While I can't show you it yet---I can show you some of her concept art...
I love reading. Unfortunately, I’m an embarrassingly slow reader and I don’t have as much dedicated downtime as I used to. As a result, my to be read pile is dauntingly high. When I do read, though, I come across some beautiful books, and the books I read with my children have really captured my heart the last couple of years.
I love reading with them as part of our bedtime routine, to wind down after a long outing, or simply as a good way to connect with those sweet little hearts. I cannot express my gratitude for the authors that have created such heartfelt stories that allow my kids and me to learn and grow together. Surprisingly, the things I learned while reading with my children also applied to my writing!
In every book marketing article I've ever read, they discuss social media platforms. The number one suggestion is to avoid getting overwhelmed by trying to run your book marketing on ALL the platforms. Pick two or three that come most naturally to you and use those. For me, Facebook is number one. I like words, and Facebook lets me use lots of words. Pinterest is second. I technically have a Twitter and Instagram, but if you want to hear from me those aren't the platforms to follow me on.
Facebook and Pinterest are relatively easy for me to use, I enjoy using them as part of my every day life, and there wasn't a big learning curve for me. I'm still getting used to some of the features for advertising, something you can utilize on both Facebook and Pinterest platforms. In this blog post I'm focusing on using Pinterest to generate ideas, to outline and plot your story, to develop characters, and even to edit and publish books.
Having a Pinterest Board or Section for different stories, characters, and/or topics related to writing helps keep me organized and gives me the perfect place to browse when I'm in need of inspiration specific to my story. It also gives me great images to use (with credit given where known, of course) for promotion, marketing, or just random tid-bits for my biggest fans. It's fun for fans to see what images or bits of lore inspire the stories they love, so definitely take the time to pin things that help you write your novel. You may end up needing it some day!
A Crash-Course on using Pinterest
I'm from the generation of computer-users who learned on a big, clunky box that didn't even have the internet. The very first story I ever wrote was painstakingly typed out in an ancient version of Word and saved to a floppy disk, as there were no such things as USBs or "the cloud". So I get it if social media doesn't come naturally to you as breathing, like it seems to be for the generations that are cutting teeth on Ipads and Smartphones. For those who consider themselves tech-challenged or just like having things explained to them in language a five-year-old could understand, these step-by--steps to using Pinterest are for you:
There is also a search function at the top of the page. Use keywords for topics or images that come to your mind when you think of your story and see what comes up. Pin what you like, scroll past what you don't.
For some of us, writing is a breeze. Our plots practically create themselves, and our characters come to us with clear motivations all on their own. Then after that, the story flows effortlessly onto the page. Frankly, I’m not in that category of writers, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us aren’t. Writing is a hobby, a job, or a passion for each of us, and at some point it’s going to be a struggle.
There are so many ways to get stuck while writing. What can you do if it happens to you? It can be so hard to push through these points, when our ideas stagnate and we can start to feel a loss of our original infatuation with the project. Too often we try to solve our story problems by staring them in the face, hoping if we push against the wall long enough it will eventually turn into a door. But sometimes, it’s better to try a more roundabout approach, looking for solutions in places that aren’t so direct. One of the places we can find those solutions is in our characters. The stronger our characters are, the more they can help us get unstuck in our writing and move forward.
It might not make sense at first to think that having stronger characters can mend a myriad of issues, but let’s look into it a bit: If your character is too flat, they won’t do much for your story, and they might end up being the reason you get stuck a lot of the time. On the other hand, the more you learn and know about your character, they can push many parts of the story forward and give you a solid plot, as well as illuminate information you may not have known you were missing, like setting details or realistic interactions.
So, now that we’re thinking about how knowing our characters better can improve even things that don’t seem to have anything to do with them, how can we get to know them well enough for them to help us out? You can always start by taking personality tests for them on Facebook, but those will only get you so far. You have to dig deeper!
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.