Character Psychology and Its Role in Storytelling

Human Psychology

An important rule to remember, is that characters are not people.

We make upwards of 35,000 choices everyday.

Can you image making that many for a fictional character?

No Way.

Instead, we filter out all of the boring details of their life and focus on the important parts. We create a surface based idea of a real person, and give them enough personality to make their decisions believable.

How do we do that?

Luckily, there are many researchers in psychology that have summed up concepts of what make people do the things they do and why. As an author, we just have to combine that knowledge with our own personal experience and transfer it into what we believe is a dynamic and real feeling character.

Stakes: Anything the character could lose by taking a risk

  • Life
  • Love
  • Health
  • Money
  • Job/Career
  • Respect 
  • Freedom
  • Friendship/Family
  • Sanity
  • Pride
  • Opportunity
Power over others

1. Legitimate: a person has been given formal authority to make demands of and expert obedience from others.  The CEO of your company, for example, has legitimate power.

2. Reward: a person is able to compensate another – financially or otherwise – for complying with his her demands.  A parent has reward power over his children.

3. Expert:  a person has the knowledge and skills to outperform others; her good judgment is respected and relied upon.  A specialist physician has expert power.

4. Referent: a person is strongly liked and admired by others and often exerts a charming influence.  A celebrity has referent power.

5. Coercive: a person achieves compliance from others through the threat of punishment.  A military dictator has coercive power.

Emotions and their opposites:

  • Anger/Calmness
  • Fear/Courage
  • Acceptance/Disgust
  • Kindness/Cruelty
  • Happiness/Sadness
  • Shame/Confidence
  • Love/Hate
  • Pity/Disapproval
  • Surprise/Anticipation
  • Contempt/Envy

Virtues: Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, and Humility

Deadly Sins: Sloth, Lust, Envy, Wrath, Pride, Gluttony, Greed

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