Anyone who has ever tried to write a book can attest to how daunting it can be. Just learning the plethora of tools and skills involved can drive a person to the brink. You find out a lot about yourself when undertaking a book. But what is the main way writing is psychology?
I’m not just talking about what you learn about yourself when writing. Which becomes apparent on the pages—if not at the beginning, at least by the end.
New novelists tend to write characters who are themselves but without seeing it that way. I.e., the blurring of the lines is not as easy for them to identify. Seasoned novelists, on the other hand, will explain that while yes, they make up their characters, they’ll also ‘fess up that their main characters have pieces of themselves as well—and they know it. That’s just sort of the nature of the beast.
Often, the villain is the author’s own shadow side.
We talked last time about how writers often write to make sense of life, to get past traumas, or as Hemingway said, “He had gotten rid of many things by writing them.”
But that’s not exactly the main way writing is psychology either.
I’m using “is” in place of equals. Because when it comes down to it, they are opposite sides of the same writer’s pen.
The funny thing about psychology as a discipline. It’s fairly modern, actually. Although its roots go back to the 1800s, not until Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis later in the century, did the discipline take root (and much of his theories infuse our culture today).
He’s most famous for his theory of the Oedipus Complex. Which even non-students of psychology recognize.
The name is of course based on Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus Rex. You know the one—where a prophecy deems that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Which then comes to pass.
Talk about psychological fodder! And ahhh . . . fodder for fiction writers too.
But it was psychologist Carl Jung, first a disciple of Freud’s (but that went a bit awry, for a few stark reasons), the founder of analytical psychology, who brought the discipline into the mainstream.
And specifically, for our purposes, it was Jung’s understanding of archetypes being universal, archaic patterns and images stemming from the collective unconscious, which brings meaning to writers.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell built on Jung’s concepts, relating them to all world mythologies, and found common threads throughout. His The Hero with a Thousand Faces is one of the most brilliant compilations of heroes from every ancient culture ever written.
And guess who was a student of Campbell’s? George Lucas. He spent much time with Campbell and drew heavily from his work when crafting Star Wars.
Are you starting to see how understanding these archetypes help you unearth the richness of your characters?
Because every one of your fictional characters has an archetype at its core.
And you don’t have to be a psychologist to understand them. In fact, once you start to study these, you’ll find them in your characters already. And as a book editor, I encourage my writers to delve deeper. Doing so helps you to create those rich, multi-sided, real people as well.
The 12 Jungian Archetypes:
You’ll find these literally everywhere, and often, one character comprises many of these. For example, in the Tarot, the Fool (the Innocent) begins his journey, and “becomes” each archetype as he navigates the world.
You’ll find them in your real world as well.
So I can actually make the case that psychology itself derived from fiction—the most ancient of myths.
Early peoples, trying to understand their world, the divine, and their parts in all of it, drew scenes on cave walls of what they faced. Later, they made up stories and told them orally, many of those coming down through the centuries.
As a book editor, this is what I see writers doing every single day—trying to make sense of things.
If mythology is the collective dream of mankind, or “the song of the universe” as Campbell called it, the search for meaning and truth, well, isn’t that the point of both psychology and literature even today?
The root words of psychology break down like this:
Ology or logos=a knowing.
So the discipline itself strives for a knowing of the soul.
And don’t you want to enrich your characters with such a knowing? Even if the one becoming the knower is you, the author, as you carry that onto the page.
So what is the main way writing is psychology?
Once you find the deeper essence, they are one and the same.