Inside Fictional Minds by Dr Stephanie Carty. Published by Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021.
Available in UK from Ad Hoc Fiction (UK)
Available in Australia from Amazon
Dr Stephanie Carty is a consultant psychologist working in UK’s NHS and is also the writer of innovative flash fiction of whom I’ve seen many a mention because she keeps winning competitions and being published on flash fiction forums and in anthologies!
When she developed her online course, The Psychology of Character, I booked and found an interesting, fresh approach to writing our fictional characters. The book was developed from the course. It’s a slim volume, just 126 pages, but is packed with useful information.
We’ve all read stories with good and interesting characters who make a decision or do something that jars, without any explanation why they are acting so differently. Stephanie’s aim is to help writers create more realistic characters, still full of individual quirks and traits but whose behaviour and emotions follows a realistic pattern for that particular person.
This isn’t about abnormal psychology but everyday people, their beliefs, their values and how their emotional life
develops. For example, we can all think of times when we might feel anger but how it manifests can vary enormously from person to person depending on aspects of our personality, the values we hold and the behaviours we deem acceptable.
Drawing on well-known psychological theories, such as attachment theory, Stephanie explains them in a straight forward manner. She even uses certain pandemic behaviours, that we all heard about, in the section about characters’ internal rules which illustrates how the same behaviour might arise from very different internal rules or experiences.
Throughout the book Stephanie asks us questions about our characters and invites us to keep looking deeper. Throughout the book there are 123 questions divided into 48 sets of tasks.
For example, in one section we are given these example questions: How does your character view himself? What does it achieve for him to think this way? What would happen if he stopped thinking this about himself? And so on. Some questions ask us how it might affect the readers of our work if they knew more or less about our characters and their motivations.
The final section of the book is the chapter on change. Writers are constantly exhorted to have their characters change some aspect of themselves or their thinking throughout the story to give a satisfactory story arc. Yet in reality, people often resist change and the questions in this section guide us in making this a realistic and believable process.
There is a useful Further Reading section with books and links to various websites with recent quality information if readers wish to find out more on particular subjects.
This is a book that can be read and worked through in sequence or it can be dipped in and out of. Personally, I’d recommend reading it through to get a good overview and then using the sections you feel are most the relevant to your characters. This book could also be the starting point of creating interesting new characters for stories you’ve yet to write.