Thursday, April 27, 2017

Psychology Tips for Better Writing (Part 2: Characters Who do Bad Things)

In Part 1 of Psychology Tips for Better Writing I relied on my psychology degree to discuss five tips to help create well rounded characters. In Part 2, I'm going to specifically discuss psychological tips that will help with writing characters who do bad things. This includes writing villains and antagonists, who should be just as developed as your hero.



5 tips to writing more believable bad guys based on Psychology.

1. Authority figures are incredibly powerful: The Milgram Experiment (1963) set out to test whether or not "just following orders" and obedience to authority figures was a justifiable defense for Nazi soldiers who helped commit genocide. The experiment showed that people are likely to follow an authority figure's orders even to the point of killing another person simply because an authority figure told them to do it. The reason for this is because we expect the authority figure to take responsibility for whatever it is they've asked us to do. When people feel like they are responsible for their own actions they're far less likely to listen to other people's suggestions. So, if you have a character that's going to stand up to an authority figure, make sure you take the time to show why.

Example: In Legend by Marie Lu June is a soldier who follow's the Republic's orders without question. She believes that Day is the criminal that the Republic tells her he is and follows their orders to hunt him down. June remains obedient to the Republic for most of the book. It takes a number of events for her to start questioning her authority figures. Lu also sets the scene to show why June is later able to break away from these authority figures by portraying June as a girl willing to break the rules to prove her worth to the Republic. She gives her a fierce independent streak which makes it believable when she later disobeys the Republic. At the end of the book, June learns new information that sheds lights on the Republic and she's reminded that Day is going to die because she turned him in. Feeling responsible for his situation she sets out to rescue him.

2. What we think we're supposed to do plays a big role in how we act: The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) sought to explore the cause of brutality against prisoners by their guards. It tested how quickly regular people would conform to the stereotypical roles of prisoner or guard. This experiment demonstrated that though regular people were randomly assigned the roles of either "prisoner" or "guard" they quickly adapted the characteristics of their roles. Guards for example, began treating the prisoner's as criminals though they had entered the experiment the same as the guards had. The guards became more aggressive and the prisoners more submissive. A clear divide formed between these two groups simply because they were given specific roles. The experiment showed that much of our behavior is a result of conforming to social expectations based on the roles we play in our lives.

Example: In The Hunger Games the people of Panem watch a group of twelve teenagers kill one  another as a source of entertainment. Though this act is barbaric, it's considered normal for the people of Panem. It's expected that these twelve children will participate in the Hunger Games and fight until death.

3. People generally seek instant gratification: When given the option of receiving a reward immediately or waiting to receive it in the future, our instincts push us toward instant gratification. Delayed gratification, or holding out for a better reward is something we learn over time as we gain more self-control. Authors often like to have their villains be a few steps ahead of their lead character. This is, after all, what keeps the plot moving forward. Be careful not to have your villain planning too far ahead or your reader will find them unbelievable.

Example: In Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Amy has a ridiculous amount of self-control and sets up an elaborate (spoiler) ruse to frame her husband for her own murder. Amy is a sociopath and capable of looking ahead and waiting for delayed gratification. Most villains are not true sociopaths, and most people are not capable of planning things out to this degree. And, even Amy changes her plans at the end of the book when she decides she no longer wants to see Nick end up in prison. If your character is motivated by vengeance it will be more believable if they act quickly. The more time it takes your character to get their reward (vengeance) the more likely they are to change their mind before they receive this pay off -- whether that means they give up, come to their senses, or find forgiveness.

4. Villains should have a reason for doing the bad things they do. They need to be motivated by something.
 People justify the things they do. Basically, we want our how we act to be in agreement with what we believe. If we act in a way that disagrees with our beliefs we deal with a type of mental stress called cognitive dissonance. People generally don't like mental stress so, when our action and our beliefs are not in agreement we seek justification to remedy the disagreement. This would be like someone who insists that cigarettes won't harm them because their "grandfather smoked until he was 90 and died of old age." A person who says this probably knows that cigarettes are bad for them, but because they smoke they feed the need to justify it.

Example: In the Lux novels by Jennifer Armentrout Blake betrays Katy, handing her over to Daedalus. Though Blake cares for Katy and knows he's putting her in a position to basically be tortured, he justifies betraying her by believing that it was the only way to rescue his friend, Chris, and later it's shown that he believes it was for the greater good.

5. Discrimination, racism and hate are learned behaviors: The Stanford Prison Experiment does a good job showing how the power that came with being a "guard" affected the actions of the participants and even how the "guards" felt about the "inmates". Jane Elliot's Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise also does a good job of emphasizing this point. Her experiment, where children were told that certain kids in their class were superior to the others based on the color of their eyes, basically showed how discrimination and racism are viewpoints we are taught the believe.

Example: There are many books that explore discrimination, racism, sexism, and class and you can check some of them out here. One novel that particularly demonstrates Jane Elliot's experiment well is The Selection by Kiera Cass. In the Selection not only are people's worth determined by the caste they're born into, but so is their occupation. One's are royalty and eights are "untouchable." The book's main character, America Singer, is a five and as such must choose to work in a profession related to the arts. Like in Jane Elliot's experiment, people look at others differently based on what they're told to think of them.


If you liked this post, check out Psychology Tips for Better Writing (Part 1: Believable Characters)






Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review for Ethereal by Addison Moore

3 Stars. The writing was beautiful and the plot was both interesting and engaging. But, this book left me feeling underwhelmed. Ethereal moves at a fast pace, but at times it’s too fast. Problems develop quickly, but are also solved quickly resulting in a lack of tension. I loved all the ideas in this book, but I wanted the stakes to be higher and the emotions to be better fleshed out.

The secrets kept me reading. I wanted to know more about Skyla’s dad and Chloe. The mystery surrounding Chloe and what happened to her were the best parts of this book. I wished there’d been more flashbacks to Skyla and her father. I wanted to feel her loss more, but what was there I loved.

The mythology was also something I liked. Logan and Skyla’s abilities were interesting and different. [Spoiler] The time-travel idea was interesting at first, but by the time I reached the end of the book I felt like it wasn’t handled well enough. Skyla easily goes back in time twice to retrieve something then a third time to return it, but she doesn’t even attempt to go back to get the one thing that would keep her safe. [Spoiler]

I had some issues with this book with the characters and relationships. Skyla’s romance with Logan is very insta-love, and what’s so disappointing is that it didn’t have to be. I found her initial attraction to him believable. He’s definitely hot. But, they never really get to know one another. I never felt like their relationship developed past looks. If they would have had just a few more “get to know you” scenes at the beginning I could have been really sucked into their relationship. Also, a love triangle develops almost instantly and it’s not really clear why both these guys are so into her.

Logan is a little pushy and at times I felt like all he wanted was to get in Skyla’s pants. Skyla was a little bitchy at times and too trusting. Logan talks her into things, Brielle talks her into things, but then there’s a part where Chloe warns her about something and she completely disregards it and it just irked me. She also came across as selfish. Usually I liked her, but she made a lot of choices that I didn’t completely understand. She’s a little too paranoid in some places and acts out unbelievably, and sometimes she just does dumb stuff.

Overall, I felt like this story had good bones. It had an interesting premise and mystery, but it didn’t feel fleshed out enough. Many of the scenes were underwhelming. The threats against Skyla weren’t very threatening. The people that were after her went about it in a way that confused me. First, they tried scaring her, then they tried to kill her, and then finally abducted her. Why bother abducting her when you already tried to outright kill her? And, the ending was anticlimactic. There were a lot of things I liked about this book, but I don’t think I’ll continue with the series.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Psychology Tips for Better Writing (Part 1: Believable Characters)

The best stories have well developed characters, and being able to write well developed characters involves being able to accurately describe human behavior. Characters need to make realistic decisions and react in ways that your reader can understand and relate to. A basic understanding of Psychology can go a long way to helping writers create believable characters.

There are a lot of things I blog about that are simply my opinion. I don't consider myself an expert in most things. However, I do have a BA in Psychology and currently work in Youth Services. So, this is one subject I'm excited to write about because I do have some knowledge and experience of it.


5 tips to writing more believable characters based on Psychology.

1. All characters need a backstory: Writing backstory for your character will help your reader understand why they make the choices they make. This may include deciding if your character has a skill that comes easy to them, like an artistic ability that runs in their family [Nature]. It might also include mentioning past experiences that affect how your character sees the world [Nurture]. Psychologists have been arguing for years whether Nature or Nurture affects a person more, but what's clear is that people (and characters) are a product of both their DNA and their environment. Your character's DNA, where they grew up, their family dynamics and things they've been through in their life all affect how your character behaves.

For example, look at Harry Potter. Harry grew into a humble young man who learned to live without under the Dursley's neglect and abuse. Once Harry enters the Wizzarding word he discover's he's basically a celebrity. There are people there who idolize him, and others who hate him, but because of his humble roots Harry remains a character the reader can relate to. Both who he is because of his DNA [the one person capable of defeating Voldemort] and who he became because of his childhood [a humble young man] are important to the story. Had Harry grown up in the Wizzarding world he may have turned into a very different person. Think about where your characters came from, and even if their backstory isn't discussed much in your book, it's important for you to know it as the author. [Keep in mind, however, that Harry Potter was a children's book and much of the Dursley's abuse comes across as comical allowing for Harry to become a humble young man. Had Harry Potter been written for an older audience the things the Dursley's did would have easily been considered child abuse and Harry should have turned out to be a far more traumatized young man.]

2. You must understand your character's wants and needs: Abraham Maslow theorized that people have a heirarchy of needs, suggesting that people need to have their most fundamental needs (like water, food, clothing and shelter) met before they will want to focus on higher level needs. So, how does this relate to writing? Well, your story should be fueled by your character's desires. If you're writing a murder mystery that may mean it's fueled by their want to find a killer. A romance is fueled by your character's want to find love. But, if your character is going to focus on say safety [finding a killer] they need to have their physiological [fundamental] needs met first. If your main character is living on the street they will probably be more concerned about where they're getting their next meal or finding shelter than finding a killer. Not to say they can't do both, but you can't ignore those physiological needs.

For Example, there's a reason why street rat, Aladdin is stealing bread in the beginning of the Disney movie. He's meeting his physiological needs, and later his safety needs with having the genie make him a prince, before seeking love and belonging from Princess Jasmine.

Source

3.  What characters think they're supposed to do plays a big role in how they act: Social norms set a huge precedent for how we act. There are things that are expected of people every day. If you have a job, you're expected to show up to work. There are rules of behavior for every area of life. Everything from what we wear, to our greetings, to how we interact with each other is based on a social norm. Do people break social norms? Yes, but not without reason. Your characters should behave in the way that is expected of them in their society, and if they act differently, you need to explain why.

For Example,  In Delirium by Lauren Oliver love is considered a disease and it's expected that at a certain age people have surgery to prevent them from feeling love. The main character, Lena, follows these social norms. She takes the tests she supposed to take. She believes the things everyone else believes. Over the course of the novel, she develops different beliefs about love than what society demands, but that only happens after a series of events that change her opinion. The Hunger Games is another example. Katniss accepted that the Hunger Games were a part of life in the beginning of the book, in fact throughout the story her main goal is to return to her life as it was. She accepted the social norms around her. She only became the face of the rebellion through circumstance.

4. Character's shouldn't always say what they mean: People keep secrets, they tell small lies, they keep things to themselves that they'd be better off sharing, and sometimes they just don't want to talk about things that are bothering them. We do this for different reasons. Sometimes, we hold on to things because of social norms. It's not always appropriate to share certain things. Sometimes, we keep things to ourselves because we fear being judged. Your characters should do the same. They may even display Transference, and take out their emotions on people or things that have nothing to do with how they feel. Secrets and inner thoughts can also add necessary tension to your story.

For Example, In Obsidian by Jennifer Armentrout there's a scene where Katy comes up to Daemon at lunch and he's incredibly rude to her. Katy doesn't know this at the time, but Daemon doesn't actually mean the things he says and only does this to try and calm his ex-girlfriend, Ash, who's on the brink of lashing out at Katy. This secret also adds tension to the plot as Katy's feelings are hurt and she then dumps a bowl of spaghetti over Daemon's head.

5. Characters should justify the things they do: Basically, people want how they act to be in agreement with what they believe, and when our action and our beliefs are not in agreement we seek justification to remedy the disagreement. This is called cognitive dissonance. So, how does this relate to your characters? Well, there may be times that your character does something that disagrees with what they believe. Your hero may need to kill someone when they've fought to save lives, or your love interest may try to convince the person they care about most that they can't be together. In these situations it's important to show how your character justifies these decisions or your reader won't believe that they would make those choices.

For Example, In Sweet Evil (and Sweet Temptation) by Wendy Higgins Kaidan believes that he is damned to hell and has a certain life that he has to lead. As a lust Nephilim, he's been seducing women for so long he believes that he needs it and cannot choose to live another way. When Anna enters his life she suggests that he does have a choice. Kaidan finds himself acting differently because of Anna and deals with cognitive dissonance as his actions disagree with his long held beliefs. This comes to a point when he has the opportunity to have sex with Anna -- something he's been trying to do for basically the entire book -- and instead chooses not to. This causes Kaidan distress, resulting in him leaving Anna at the airport instead of continuing their road trip as he feels like removing her from his life will help him find agreement between his beliefs and actions.