Know Your Psychology

Last week I talked about the three dimensions of characterization. This time I’m going to go a bit deeper and talk about the psychology of characterization. Do you remember anything from psychology class? If not, it may be time to brush up. Psychology deals with how we behave and why. That’s what you need to utilize when you’re building a character. It all works with the dimensions of character we discussed earlier.

You’ll find that a lot of people are driven by resentment. Sounds petty, but it’s true. Someone hurts your feelings. Even if you’ve forgiven him for it, unless you’ve really dealt with it, you may still harbor some resentment, even years later. What do we do with resentment? We resist. If we resent someone or something, we resist it. We won’t use a product associated with someone or some organization we resent. If your best friend from school that stole your boyfriend makes overtures of friendship years later, you may rebuff her because of what happened due to your resentment. Resentment is a powerful motivator.

Resentment can even make us look for ways to get revenge. What happens when one spouse finds out the other has been cheating? The first one often decides they should also have an affair to get even. Is one spending too much on clothes? The other may go out and buy too much of something they like to get back at them. This gives them the feeling of exacting revenge, even though it really doesn’t solve anything.

The consequences of resentment and revenge are third dimension decisions which are motivated by second dimension issues. People usually dress all this up in first dimension fluff that may either try to hide it or flaunt it.

Let’s say you go to the wedding of an old friend. While you’re there, you see an ex who blatantly cheated on you with one of your other friends, flaunting it for all to see. He hurt you badly. He’s there with his wife… the very friend he cheated on you with, and she’s eight months pregnant and glowingly happy. Your heart begins to pound and your blood pressure rises. What do you do? Here is where your third dimension steps up to the plate and reveals your true character. Are you politely cool? Do you ignore them? Give them a piece of your mind and storm out? Embrace them and wish them well, meaning every word?

If you were writing this scene, you would be able to orchestrate exactly how your character would try to appear (first dimension), how her emotions were running amuck (second dimension), and her final decision (third dimension). The second dimension doesn’t make the character’s choice, it only shines the spotlight on their motivation. This is the psychology of what happened: it hurt, it hasn’t healed, it hasn’t been dealt with in any way. In this moment, the character must be pressed to act, amidst her pain, in front of everyone. Without the second dimension’s motivations, the reader wouldn’t be able to understand the meaning behind the character’s third dimension decision.