Using Psychology to Develop Complex Characters

complex characters brainsIf there’s one thing we can say for certain about people, it’s that they never cease to amaze. We do things for stupid reasons, no reason, and dubious ones too. Moreover, our personal survival factors into our actions more than we realize. We lie and deceive, but not just to others. As Richard Feynman once said,

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Seeing Into the Human Mind

We navigate our world via mental shortcuts or heuristics. They don’t always make our actions logical or reasonable. They offer explanations. And as Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, reminds us,

“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

Wiser words may never have been spoken. It is these very human characteristics that you can use in your writing to create complex characters. Sometimes people don’t make sense. But that’s okay. What a boring world it would be if all our actions followed a straight, logical path!

Biases and Fallacies, Oh, My!

Some of the best sources of human foibles come from our biases and fallacies. They direct our actions sometimes down weird and dark roads. In addition, they provide an explanation for those what-was-he-thinking moments. See if you recognize any of them in yourself.

The Ad Ignorantiam Fallacy

This fallacy often appears in political discussions. You may see it crop up in discussions about the paranormal too. In this case, someone makes the case that if you can’t disprove something, it must be true.

A classic example that you may hear in the news involves GMOs. If you can’t prove they’re 100 percent safe, they must be harmful. It’s the precautionary principle gone wild. I hope you can see the flawed logic and the erroneous displacement of the burden of proof. The latter rests with the ones making claims of harm.

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Poc

The post hoc, ergo propter hoc or after this, therefore because of this error is a bit trickier. In these cases, we look for reasons after the fact. It can appear innocently enough as when a golfer wears a certain color shirt on the last day of the tournament for good luck. It always worked in the past. Of course, it will work now.

In its more serious form, it shows up in popular media. A study comes out that suggests a correlation between A and B. The unwitting—or witting—journalist confuses correlation and causation. Any beginning stats student will tell you that they are not the same thing. And a study is not the same thing as a controlled experiment.

The point of this discussion is show that the many paths that our logic takes. We sometimes use flawed reasoning. Because of this trait, our characters should do likewise. Realistic and complex characters must use the same fallacies and biases to navigate their fictional worlds. When you do, you create a character who is human-like and complex. And it’ll add a lot to your writing. Chris DR

photo credit: “Where is my Mind” les dernières folies de Goin sur la décadence de l’Occident… via photopin (license)

Organizing Projects with Trello

corkboardAfter finally finishing All Plants Are Edible Once, I’m ready to take on some new projects. After scouring the blogs for productivity tips, I’ve settled upon Trello as my go-to site for organizing projects.

What Makes Trello Great

Trello’s strengths are its simplicity and flexibility. The setup works like a corkboard. Writers will appreciate this familiar interface. You can create a separate board for each project for at-a-glance organization.

Then, it’s time to work with your blank canvas. For organizing projects, I like to begin with a general goal checklist. You create these individual bits as cards. You can add text, checklists, images, and more to complete your thought. I like the initial checklist to envision the big picture.

Organizing Projects

For each item on my general checklist, I create another card that delves into the task and breaks it down into doable pieces. A great new feature of Trello is the ability to date these items. You can view a calendar of your upcoming tasks. (As of this writing, it works on the website only, not the mobile apps yet.)

To get the most out of it, you need to spend the time creating your boards and cards. The time you spend here is worth your efforts. The next thing you need is to make it a habit.

I work a Monday through Friday work week like most folks. Part of my daily routine includes several websites that I visit during the week. I organize them through the Fox add-on, Morning Coffee. Trello is one of the sites I visit daily. I like the daily check-in to remind myself of important tasks.

I have several irons in the fire, as it were. I’m working on another mystery to follow up with Murder to Order. I’m also planning another 101 book as well as a more cerebral work based on some of the posts from this blog. What can I say? I love to write.

For a writer, organizing projects and your workload is vital. As the saying goes, you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. With Trello, you at least have a road map.

photo credit: On the Head of a… Tack? (100/365) via photopin (license)

Calling the Muse with Daydreaming

daydreamingAs we writers know, the Muse speaks to us in mysterious ways. One of the most pleasurable occurs while daydreaming. And now there’s some science to back it.

Researchers from Bar-Ilan University studied the effects of external stimulus via low-level electricity. They observed that external stimuli can affect our tendency to daydream or mind-wander, as they called it. They were surprised to learn that daydreaming can improve task performance.

It seems that a mental escape from boring tasks can put you on the right track again. While the researchers concentrated on the physiological implications, the findings suggest that using productivity techniques like the Pomodoro can help you focus.

Your daydreaming engages the larger neural network of your brain. This effect could in turn affect creativity, and hence, task performance. It’s not unlike the difference between focused thought and diffuse thinking.

When you work on a task, you may use a specific part of your brain to get the job done. When you leave it and do something that encourages mind-wandering, you can tap into other neural networks that may help you complete the task at hand. The findings from the Bar-Ilan University study provide the neurological basis for what is occurring in your brain.

Another thing to bear in mind is that daydreaming isn’t a bad thing. Your mind needs downtime to operate at peak efficiency. You probably know about some people who routinely work through their lunch hour. They rarely, if ever, take breaks. They say that they have to keep working to get a project done.

This mindset falls under the same category as multi-tasking. It doesn’t work like they think it does. Sure, they’ll finish the project, but it could have been easier. They may have tapped into some new ideas had they taken time for some mind-wandering.

That’s what makes this study so exciting. There is a better way to do things. And it applies to writing too. Chris DR
photo credit: Wondering via photopin (license)