Friday, April 20, 2012

5 Psychological Ideas that Will Affect Your Writing

1. Contrast Theory

One of the more important tricks your mind causes, I believe, is the human tendency that when one answer is wrong, the opposite is right. The best example of this is the female character: she starts as an innocent, sweet virgin in the old works, and that is sexist and wrong. Therefore the writer will proceed to contradict that stereotype and make her into a violent, slutty bitch, embracing a new stereotype that has mesmerized movie goers since James Bond met the seventies.

How does this affect you?

Here we come to “thinking out of the box.” Often when an author attempts to be original, unique, and rock the world, he goes as far out of the box as he can. What happens, however, is that every other person trying to be original does the same exact thing, which achieves this sort of effect:

When trying to be novel, artists want to push the boundaries, but they end up doing similar things to each other. Don’t believe me? Ask a group of people to write a story about a wedding, but tell them their goal is to make the main conflict unique from each other and they’re not allowed to talk about it. The results will most likely be a wedding in which the man really wants to get married and the female doesn’t.

The best way to be unique is not by thinking outside of the box, but moving to the corners.

2. The Ugly Duckling Syndrome.

As children, we’re constantly told stories in which uniqueness and individuality are more important than anything else. The Ugly Duckling Syndrome is a story in which the main character is different than all the other people in his culture or situation. An event occurs in which the crowd does something that the reader would find evil and inappropriate, and the main character, being different from everyone else, steps in to prevent it, thereby making himself a hero. This could be when a group of kids are bullying someone and he stops him, or when people are afraid of a monstrous character and she isn’t, or any situation in which no one will do the right thing except for the main character.

How does this affect you?

It’s hard to find an American story that doesn’t have an Ugly Duckling in it. It is not a bad thing, especially because readers appreciate the individual standing above the rest far more than a group of people fighting a wrong individual (though that can come up too.) The appeal of Bella in Twilight is the fact that she’s the only one whose mind can’t be read, that she’s the only one Edward loved in a hundred years, the fact that she’s special. It might be a little unbelievable, but that brings me to my point:

An author has to be very convincing when doing this. Because it is so typical, audiences recognize it immediately, though maybe not consciously. If they feel that the world is formed to fit the main character (the crowd of jerks aren’t motivated in their beating a puppy) then the individual’s strength is diminished by the understanding that “this is a book.” We remember that the author is setting it up for him, aren’t impressed by his actions, and tend to hate the character for receiving such favor.

3. The subconscious wants to make everything normal.

There are a lot of arguments about working by inspiration or planning, which I find to be more about what they assume a person is not doing rather than what they should do, but I won’t go into that.

Working by inspiration means to work through the subconscious. You come up with things on the spot without thinking about it or researching it, and there are many good things that will come of that. (It flows better, it feels more honest, it’s more passionate, etc.) but it is also important to remember that the subconscious’s job is to make everything normal.

The subconscious cannot lie. It can’t change stories to make them more interesting, it wants to tell the events how they are (or should be in some cases.) It can be wrong, sure, but whenever we do something without thinking about it, we are naturally revealing the truth. Hence the term, Freudian Slip.

How does this affect you?

Picture a teenage girl sneaking out of her house. Got that image? Okay, now I am assuming that she is sneaking out of the second floor in a two story home, and that she got free by use of a tree. Where did that house come from? Did you live on a second floor? I did. But it was also a barn, and the one in my mind’s eye is a suburbanite home.

Your conscious self tells your subconscious self what it wants and the subconscious hands it the epitome of the image asked for. We get subconscious definitions of normalcy from different places, so you very well might be one of the people who did have a different image then the one I did, and that can affect you as well.

What this means for you is that we make assumptions without even realizing it, and by recognizing our assumptions, we can suddenly make a unique story out of an old one. By making that girl not live in suburbia, we change the story. By making her live in a barn, we change the story, by having her live on the first floor, we change the story.

It is also important to remember that our assumptions are not necessarily the same as others. This leads to confusion. The subconscious believes that this form of “normalcy” is obvious, and won’t feel the need to explain it. So when your reader is picturing a two story house and you describe her “hopping out the window,” they might be a little disturbed.

4. People in dreams are people you’ve seen

This is a well-known theory in which whenever we dream someone’s face, it’s a face we’ve seen before; the brain cannot make up new images. It might have been someone we’ve only glimpsed for a second, but it’s still real to life.

The idea is that we can’t actually “imagine” anything. Fantasy is a combination of real things in which we put together in order to create something new.

How does this affect you?

This is beneficial knowledge in two ways (if you believe it).

1) The focus on immaculate originality is removed.

Authors constantly struggle with attempts to write what they want to write, but make it new. If you believe that nothing is new because the mind can’t make anything new, it because okay to take inspiration from a character of this book and the basis of this conflict and the setting of this movie and put them together.

2) You understand your assumptions better.

It is hard to recognize assumptions because they are assumptions. We don’t think about them. And though the assumption may be correct and beneficial, it is still often important to notice them just because it teaches you a little about yourself. By realizing that all ideas came from somewhere, when reading your work and just thinking about, “Why did I describe the coffin that way?” you can realize that it was just a vision you had, and then remember where you got it from. If it is a generic mixture of the “epitome” of a coffin, you might consider adding details to change it.


5. Viewer genders.

There are many interesting studies on gender and entertainment. Hollywood, for example, has decided that both men and women will go to see a movie about a man, but pretty much only women will see a movie about a woman. (Their boyfriends don’t count.)

How does this affect you?

Many authors believe in writing for your audience. Personally, I believe when considering a demographic in mind, writers tend to dumb down their work because we usually believe that a crowd of people are fairly stupid, no matter the gender, age, or ethnicity.

 Who can blame us?

But, whatever your personal tastes, choosing whether or not to tell a story from the boy’s point of view or the girl’s point of will change the view of your book.

Make Pirates of the Caribbean strictly about Elizabeth Swan, it becomes a romance far more than an action flick.

Because The Princess Bride is more his story than hers (more things happen to him. She just gets married.) Men and women can enjoy it, despite the title.

Often, by making it about the woman, we cut our potential audience in half. We often half to choose the main character based on who we want watching it, which makes it become more of a political position then a story.

This is not supposed to be a feminist rant. It’s not about the problem itself, but how it affects the author. This psychology often leads to hard decision making—Do I make the main character a girl? Do I need to have a token girl? Can I make her story by telling it through his eyes?—in which we find ourselves switching back and forth from because we don’t want to limit our sales.

But, then again, middle aged women tend to be the book buyers in this country, so, who knows?