Friday, November 17, 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.#2: How do sensation and perception enter into the realm of fiction writing?

A: Sensation and perception are the conduits to creativity, and without these and the detail they arrive at, the author could never make the unbelievable believable. E.B. White crafted through sense and perception detail a full-blown relationship between a spider and a pig in Charlotte's Web, a tale to make grown men and women, including gruff old gramps, weep for the death of a spider. How'd he do that? He paid extreme detail to the senses and perceptions of his characters and to his own as he wrote the story. In the details, White tugs at every sense we own and then some. How things look to the eye, taste to the tonuge, feel to the touch, smell to the nose, sound to the ear, feel to the spirit--our 6th sense. The entire body is wired to the brain, and the hands and other sense organs are the visible extensions of the brain, and we SEE only what the brain sess, and the brain sees through the senses, which make everything metaphorical and visual. Perception and sensation provide images, and even Einstein relied on images to see patterns and when we see patterns we learn, we SEE, we know, and we own the result.

A writer's stock'n'trrade is his tools and one of the largest paint brushes he or she uses is the notions of perception and sensations. It is our job to make the odors rise off the black ink marks on the page, and to make the sound effects create an effect to make you jump, and to make you fear what you're picking up, or to laugh aloud, or to smile at a fond perhaps lost memory. In a horror novel, creating a monster and making readers truly believe in its reality is no less a task than E.B. White's making you cry over Charlotte's demise. It is the same task. Make the reader believe the unbelievable. Every story is a war, a confrontation between or among combatants, and even if there is no violence in the story, every story hinges upon conflict and conflict resolution. No one gets through a war unscathed. Just as White so subtly invovles us in the life of Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider, whose war was with the unfeeling society that had laid out Wilbur's future for him--the slaughter house--Shelley involves us in the life of Frankenstein, Stoker in Dracula's problems, and so forth. The "devil is in the details" means the senses and perception. The author is always working to pull these out of the reader, and in doing so, he must first pull them from himself.

So Sensory impulses and perceptions enter into a story at every level and on every page, even the psychological perceptions as when a smart cop is interrogating a smarter suspect. Each character in a story is sizing up another, and through the various perceptions of said characters does 'characterization' -- busy determining if the other is a threat or an ally. Take the notion to Gone with the Wind....Rhett and Scarlet. Everyone in the book is laboring under right or wrong perceptions and the reader's every sensation is yanked at and tugged on....


Blogger D.S. Dollman said...

Good advice, Rob. As a reader, I always prefer the carefully detailed sensory reactions to stories that move solely on dialogue. DSD

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks DSD for the feedback, and glad you enjoyed the post.


9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Walker.
My mother wrote to you I guess too many times, and would correct some of your mistakes. About the whales schooling, and the rifle being a 243 and not a 234. You sent back her letter to her unread, and she was very hurt. Anyway she misse your writing very much and wanders what new books you have written. Not very good on the computer would not know where to look for new books. Please answer

8:35 PM  

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