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Posts tagged ‘emotional’

Mental and Emotional Byways, Complexes and Hang-Ups in Fictional Characters

Having just read an interesting blog post about depression,  I was led to reflect upon how easy it is  to allow your own “principles” to override compassion, empathy and honesty about the reality of human life. This applies to all of us, but there is a special challenge here for those of us who write stories, and need to create convincing characters.

 We won’t get very far as writers if our fictional characters come over as wooden or contrived or artificial. To guard against that,  authors needs a basic understanding of psychology. That can come either through study, or through personal experience, or through observation. As I’ve mentioned before in posts on this blog, I feel that a knowledge of Jungian psychological concepts is useful. Here for example is Carl Jung’s theory of Complexes.

A complex, as developed in the writings of  Jung, may be defined as “a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions and wishes in the personal unconscious organised around a common theme such as power or status.” The notion of a “complex” may even be misused in common speech: we may too readily hear of someone described as having an inferiority / guilt / martyr complex. But this can be fruitful for a creative writer; though it has to be handled with care.

1. An inferiority complex may lead your character to interpret everything in the light of this set of notions: “I’m not good enough,” “my opinions don’t count”; “I’m afraid to put myself forward”. Take P.G.Wodehouse as an example; see Jeeves and The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy among numerous other stories. Here we often meet shy young men attempting to battle those who are louder, bigger, better-looking, more powerful and more self-confident, to win the girl they love.

2. Often,whether a fictional character displays a certain complex can be a matter of interpretation by the reader. I suggest a martyr complex may be behind the outlook and actions of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Tess behaves like a heroic martyr sacrificing herself. Many readers may feel Tess casts herself in the role of victim.

3. The guilt complex is used extensively in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Many characters experience intense guilt; but the exception to this is Smerdyakov who murders Fyodor yet does not blame himself; though he’s the only character technically guilty, he feels the least liability for it. Thus the author sheds light on some of his own religious questions and doubts.

So there’s plenty of inspiration here for fiction writers, as we  develop characters who will inspire love, pity, fury or even soul-searching in our readers. Our job is to create characters we know and care about as much as ourselves. As crime writer Martin Edwards says in his article on “Developing Characters and Their Relationships”,  “characters in books don’t exist in a vacuum, just as real people don’t. To create characters that seem to live and breathe, taking care over how they relate to other people in the story isn’t just a sensible idea. It’s absolutely vital.”  And if we try to let “principles” stand in the way of compassion & empathy, we can be sure our own stories will find us out!

A Princess Who could Not Live in A Void

The other day I went to the Kenilworth Festival to hear Penny Junor, royal biographer, speak about her new biography of Prince William. Inevitably she was showered with questions about royal scandals of the last three decades, and a good proportion of it related to Princess Diana and all the issues that flowed from her story. Penny Junor handled every question with the patience of long experience. Having then purchased the book, I came away reflecting once again on that dramatic story, the stuff of a truly exciting plot.

So many millions of words have been written about Diana, and yet I still feel free to add my words here.

To my eyes, as a writer, Diana was the perfect main protagonist. Everything she did had high emotional stakes. During the last six weeks of her life she demonstrated prescience. She could not have done better if she had consciously known she had only six weeks to live. She courted publicity on every level, defying royal and government protocol; she threw in her lot with a charity fighting a losing battle on a major humanitarian issues; she risked her life in a high publicity way; she sat at the bed of a dying child who asked if she was an angel; she reacted to the end of a love affair by going on the rebound with a man who would have been mustard gas to both British monarchy and government if she’d married him.

She could have sat at home in Kensington Palace as a recluse, eating chocolate, getting fat and watching daytime TV and sinking into depression. And maybe the public would not have reacted to her death in the way they did.

So my thoughts about Diana led on to reflections on where the monarchy is in this Diamond Jubilee year. I believe Diana’s immense popularity was due to the fact that she reflected the human condition.

Her story was about:

*  mental health problems/vulnerability and naivety;

* the media-induced fever of the public about fairy princess-ography

* the edifice of the monarchy needing to reinvent itself to survive

* Diana’s personal inability to accept a void

* the fact that in the last 6 weeks of her life she chose to fulfil her greatest gift – compassion for the vulnerable and suffering

Prince Charles’s greatest problems were that he took the advice of those he respected and admired instead of searching and trusting his own heart; and he was terrified of promising something he’d regret all his life.

William and Harry’s salvation to a sane balanced grounded life was ironically through the very monarch to whom Diana – and the public at one stage – attributed several of her personal problems.

The Queen’s sense of duty received its greatest challenge, and she met that through her choice to acknowledge and adjust and reinvent herself – to her great credit. And ultimately it has brought her through to her Diamond Jublilee year as loved as Diana was, with a Prince of Wales who eventually managed to win the public’s support to marry the woman he really loved; and with a second & third in line to the throne who are themselves greatly loved and admired and who give every indication of being safe hands in which to leave the monarchy’s future hopes.

What are your views and reflections upon the dramatic few decades in the life of the monarchy since Diana’s entry onto the stage? But perhaps you’re an anti-monarchist? I’d love to receive your comments!

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