Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Psych 101 for writers, readers, and characters

Over a period of time, I will be considering 10 questions that delve into the relationship between psychology and writing the novel, and being a novelist. In other words, what has psychology got to do with imagination and creation--creating whole worlds populated with people out of ink marks on a page? The following questions and answers delve into the psychology of the author himself, and eventually will also ask about the psychology of characters an author creates: This is Psych 101 for Authors and readers interested in the craft and creative impulse.

Q: How does data collection and scientific method play a role in being a mystery\suspense\romance]\western\YA\ or horror writer?

A: Data collection and scientific method drive the construction of a suspense novel if the novel is based on research and a foundation of truth, as is the case in many novels. As with John Sanford, Michael Creighton, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris, my own novels have an information and knowledge base forming the bedrock of the suspense or terror. The research may be in the arena of viruses as in my FleshWar, dealing with a pandemic caused by an East Indian 'mythological' creature (also requiring research). It may be in medicine as in my ME novels, the Instinct Series or in how psychics work and view themselves as in my Psi Blue. It may be in the historical arena as in City for Ransom. The research helps tremendously to mold the characters, giving them a foundation and backbone and an inkling as to who they are. It provides the creation (character) with medical, professional, and career goals, a belief system and a method of coping with the world he or she walks through.

As the author, I am at once involved in scientific inquiry; I must inquire into how things work and how people work or think or behave and why. What a character says, does, and thinks equals who he is both in the real world perception and in perception of ficitonal charactrs--defines him in the mind of the reader. Often the plot as well hinges upon some aspect of science or medicine, profiling techniqes, handwriting analysis, interrogation techniques, or old fashioned police methodology. So the collection of information is essential in novels wherein the backbone of the story hinges on factual matters (truth is stranger than fiction, so I put it to use). To do this accurately, the author must gather and analyze information and pass it along to readers; they in turn learn something new (hopefully), analyze the data for themselves (hopefully), and perhaps feel a sense of enlightenment or fright or are otherwise moved say to laughter or to tears, and to some higher perception brought on by the 'world say of Inspector Alastair Ransom' in City for Ransom set in gaslight Chicago against the backdrop of the Columbian Exposition.

The questions an author seeks information on may be as varied as "At what temperature a body burns 'cleanly' and without leaving a trace?" to "How many pints of blood in the average male as opposed to female body?" to "Precisely what freedom of interrogation and 'power' the average detective had in 1893 and what constituted an autopsy in 1893?"

Psychology 101 asks us to consider research, information gathering, and analysis and the scientific method. Does it play a part in writing? Absolutely, for even if your novel is written without a stitch of research, you are drawing on and collecting memory and detail from the library in your head and imagination vault. Not every author uses research; Stephen King prides himself on doing no research but in using all imagination. However, imagination itself draws on experience and data collection and scientific method.

Next Question we'll take up is: How does sensation and perception center into the realm of writing the novel or short story (whatever category)?

Quick and Dirty Answer: Sensation is the bedrock upon which an author makes you, the reader, believe in the unbelievable.

For the complete answer to #2 on the way to #10 turn in next week.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:26 PM  
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2:26 PM  
Blogger Jonathan E. Quist said...

I find it interesting that Stephen King claims to do no research. He is known as a voracious reader; on that basis alone I would suggest that what he has successfully realized the potential of abstract and general research.

Unfortunately, at least in the U.S., abstract knowlege is not valued as it once was.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many of King's remarks over the years have come back to haunt him. Since he makes the claim, he is fair game. He also called his own work the McDonald's of Literature and "mind snot"...makes it hard not to take a pot shot once in a while.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your hard won knowledge. I hope you continue to do so. The fact that you are willing to share your skills is a true hallmark of greatness. For most, their talent is for them to horde and for others to covet. Again thank you.

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