Our favorite characters in the books we love are the ones that we connect with deeply, the ones that feel real. They may be flawed, they may make mistakes, but we connect with them. They have complexity and depth. These are the kinds of characters I endeavor to write. So, I picked up Darian Smith's The Psychology Workbook for Writers.
Workbook is a very accurate descriptor for this book. The chapters are all quite short and much of the information about psychology included is absolutely bare bones, to put it kindly. If you've ever taken a college Psych 101 class, you already know everything contained within this book and then some. Many of psychological concepts are boiled down to a few sentences, so take those descriptions with a grain of salt. However, the value of the book is in its worksheets.
Each chapter contains worksheets to help you build your characters and build your story. Each chapter focuses on different elements of character and backstory, how characters approach relationships, how they deal with conflict, how they deal with grief/ loss, etc. None of this is exactly revolutionary, so why have I found this book to be useful? The questions in the worksheets. Going through these worksheets, not every question has been of vital importance, but there were many questions that made me think more critically about my characters and my story. A few examples include:
- How do the conflicting messages/beliefs of each character cause conflict in their relationship?
- What internal monologue stories are strongest for this character?
- When can an inappropriate part of a character take control of their actions and cause an increase in tension or extra problems?
- How much do they project (qualities) onto other characters and how much is really there?
These questions really forced me to think about the internal workings of my characters, to really think about how they act with other characters and why they act that way. These worksheets are also great for building in additional conflict and tension that is character-driven and has emotional resonance.
I would like to disclaim this review by saying that this book is far from perfect. It is a very thin book, less than 100 pages, which is especially short for a workbook. I've also found a few typos, formatting errors, and the like within the book. While a bit distracting, I don't know that they are enough to outweigh the positive aspects of this workbook. Ultimately, if you are looking for worksheets to help you flesh out your characters and give them more complex and compelling inner lives, this workbook could have real value for you and your writing. Though it is far from perfect, The Psychology Workbook for Writers is a concise book that can help you to examine what makes your characters, and your story, tick.