Psychology in Writing: The Persona – Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt

O'Keefe center, Toronto 02/28/1976

O’Keefe center, Toronto 02/28/1976 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.” – Carl Jung

Today’s writing prompt will help you think about how the persona manifests in your writing and offer some questions to help guide your exploration of your character’s persona:

  • What mask does your character wear?
  • What is so core to her/his identity that if something conflicted with or challenged that identity the character would be thrown into disarray?
  • What happens when your character’s rigorously adhered to persona does break how does s/he respond?
  • What would help the character reclaim her/his identity/persona?
  • Who can help her/him or what task would s/he have to achieve or event occur to reestablish the persona?
  • After restoring the persona how does your character deal with conflict/challenges differently to demonstrate her/his growth?

Want your writing to be seen by thousands of people?

Write a 500 – 1000 word story incorporating ideas and themes from this week’s blog and send it to me at W.T.Jowett@outlook.com.  If your story is selected it will be spotlighted on Friday’s blog.  In addition to posting your story, you can provide any websites, twitter accounts, links to books, Facebook pages that you would like to be included following your story so that readers of the blog can follow and support you.  I’ll also promote the story on my own twitter and Facebook feeds.  The only thing I ask is that I have permission to publish the story on the blog and include it in a free Wattpad eBook (that will also contain all the aforementioned promotions still attached) so that readers of the blog can go back and easily find previous stories.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me.

 

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Psychology in Writing: The Persona – Writing Process

Writing Process

Masks

Masks (Photo credit: Macknal)

The persona can feature very heavily in our writing process, and when well utilized can help us shape our story into something familiar to the reader.  The evolving masks that characters wear is a well know aspect of writing.  As we’ve noted before, we don’t want our heroes to be perfect, we want them to be flawed like us (and the reader).  Understanding the different manifestations of the persona and their impact on the character can help us write the changes our characters go through in a more universal manner that will be easy for our readers to connect with.

Often times a character, frequently the protagonist, will have a strong identification of a part of her/himself (i.e., her/his persona).  S/he may view the self as the protector of a town, as a caring figure, etc.  Regardless of what this identification with the persona is, it is often rigid and defines the character (note, the persona defines the character, the persona is not an aspect of the character at this point, it is the character).  Then, in the course of events, something will occur that will damage the character’s identification with her/his persona. Examples may be someone destroying the city s/he protects or the person harming someone s/he cares for.  From this damage to the persona the character moves into disintegration, which will often be beginning point of the quest where the character sets out to figure out who s/he is.

After the disintegration of the persona, our characters may move into negative restoration of the persona.  Having failed initially to maintain her/his persona the character may try to reclaim it but due to the position in the story the character cannot claim it (e.g., the city is destroyed/conquered and the character hasn’t developed enough to save it, or the relationship has been ended by another character and despite the protagonist trying to re-demonstrate her/his ability to be a caregiver).  This movement can lead the character into having an absence of her/his persona.

Being unable to reclaim her/his original persona the character may completely abandon her/his identity, lacking a core sense of self.  This may be the moment in our writing where our protagonist stands on the cusp of abandoning the quest, relationship, etc.  This stage of development could be framed by the phrase, “If I’m not X, then I am nothing.”

At this point something occurs that helps our character either reaffirm her/his identity or begin developing a new one, such as a minor victory or the development of a new relationship where the character tries out a new persona.  Usually the restoration of the persona will carry our story through until conclusion.  At each step as the character begins the restoration process s/he demonstrates the new found flexibility of her/his persona.  S/he is able to encounter setbacks and damage to self-identity, but is now able to adapt, integrate, and keep moving.  This restored persona is what allows our character to eventually achieve success.

As is always our goal for understanding and incorporating psychology into our writing is to hold a mirror up to our readers.  The evolution/development of the persona is so core to the human experience that the majority of our readers will immediately identify with this process and with our character(s).  Our readers may see the rigidness of their own persona and begin a personal exploration that starts with walking with our characters in the shoes we’ve laid out for them.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions! mailto:W.T.Jowett@outlook.com

Psychology in Writing: Anima and Animus – Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt

Carl Jung

Carl Jung (Photo credit: Bruno Amaral™)

“It belongs to him, this perilous image of Woman; she stands for the loyalty which in the interests of life he must sometimes forego; she is the much needed compensation for the risks, struggles, sacrifices that all end in disappointment; she is the solace for all the bitterness of life.

And, at the same time, she is the great illusionist, the seductress, who draws him into life with her Maya-and not only into life’s reasonable and useful aspects, but into its frightful paradoxes and ambivalences where good and evil, success and ruin, hope and despair, counterbalance one another.

Because she is his greatest danger she demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him she will receive it.” –Carl Jung

I know that’s a long quote to introduce today’s writing prompt, but the anima and animus are a complex topic so it seemed fitting.  For today’s writing prompt think about your character’s anima/animus development.  What are the strengths your character has at her/his current level of development?  Even at lower levels of development there is clarity in thought and vision that may be useful to our characters.  What is the character’s boundary?  What occurs that s/he cannot overcome/move past because s/he has reached the threshold of her/his current anima/animus developmental level?  What occurs to help your character move to the next level of development?  How does your male character manifest his “feminine” traits or your female demonstrate her “masculine” traits at this level of development?  What about other characters—how do they react to your character’s anima/animus development level?  Do they do anything to help or hinder further development?

Want your writing to be seen by thousands of people?

Write a 500 – 1000 word story incorporating ideas and themes from this week’s blog and send it to me at W.T.Jowett@outlook.com.  If your story is selected it will be spotlighted on Friday’s blog.  In addition to posting your story, you can provide any websites, twitter accounts, links to books, Facebook pages that you would like to be included following your story so that readers of the blog can follow and support you.  I’ll also promote the story on my own twitter and Facebook feeds.  The only thing I ask is that I have permission to publish the story on the blog and include it in a free Wattpad eBook (that will also contain all the aforementioned promotions still attached) so that readers of the blog can go back and easily find previous stories.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me.

 

Psychology in Writing: Anima and Animus – Writing Process

Writing Process

The Web Planet

The Web Planet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve frequently discussed the development of characters and that the change related to this development across our writing process is something to be strived for.  The same holds true when thinking about how to incorporate the anima and animus in writing. These archetypes of the individual character’s unconscious provide both the opportunity to demonstrate character development in our writing and to write to the individual archetypes that our readers possess.

The anima and animus represent a character’s internal growth process as related to accepting and integrating the counter-gender aspects of her/his self.  For our male characters, their relationship with the anima represents their growth of “feminine” traits such as sensitivity and empathy.  The more developed anima helps our male characters better understand others and their multifaceted nature, whereas the underdeveloped anima sets our male characters up for disappointment due to rigid expectations of ideal objects (re: others) through a lack of empathy.  For our female characters, their relationship with the animus represents a development of “masculine” traits such as strength, independence, and understanding.  As our female characters’ animus develops, they gain a better understanding of the world at large and a better understanding of self.  Underdeveloped animus represent a simplified view of strength and independence, e.g., the use of “masculinity” as a tool instead of a way of being.  It is through failing by applying underdeveloped anima/animus aspects or through external guidance or experience that our characters’ unconscious more fully develop.

Another way that anima/animus can manifest is as a breach between the unconscious and the ego.  As we covered in the blog on the Id, if a character is not tending to her/his unconscious needs there is the chance that the unconscious will override the ego in order to get needs met.  The anima/animus can function in the same way, if the individual pays too little attention to these aspects of the unconscious they can manifest independent of the conscious filters our characters have in place.  This can be demonstrated through a character that may overly suppress her masculine side, and because of the suppression of the animus may become overly aggressive and not sensitive to the needs of others.  A male character may suppress his anima, which then may manifest in feelings of hopelessness, becoming so emotionally vulnerable that he cannot take action (versus being aware of an honest with his emotions and allowing them out in a moderated way).

As I caveated in the introduction blog, this theory is a product of the time it was written and relies heavily on gender stereotypes.  In writing this blog, I struggle to strike a balance between the academic presentation of the information and presenting it in a light that inspires writing.  That all is to say, while I presented the material in its time and gender specific context, we as writers do not need to hold the ideas with such rigor.  We should add the information to our toolbox and use it how we see fit, we are not psychologists we are writers, and as is usually the case for writers, our goal is to synthesize information from multiple sources to create something new.  I hope you take this information and use it to inspire yourself and not limit yourself.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions! mailto:W.T.Jowett@outlook.com

 

Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Writing Prompt

archetype

archetype (Photo credit: Eddi van W.)

Writing Prompt

“My thesis, then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.”  —Carl Jung

Using the links to example archetypes from the introduction to the collective unconscious explore how your character aligns with an archetype.  If the character is a loyal companion archetype for example, some things to write about:

  • What lengths would this character go to in order to protect the protagonist?  What is the ultimate sacrifice s/he could/would make?
  • What is it that s/he believes in that leads her/him to be willing to make an ultimate sacrifice?
  • Is your loyal companion and reflection or contrast to the protagonist, and how?

Once you’ve answered these questions write about how the character would manifest these aspects in a story without you actually saying this is what this character is representing.  Write in a way that gives cues about the archetype of this character to tap into readers’ expectations from their own collective unconscious.

Want your writing to be seen by thousands of people?

Write a 500 – 1000 word story incorporating ideas and themes from this week’s blog and send it to me at W.T.Jowett@outlook.com.  If your story is selected it will be spotlighted on Friday’s blog.  In addition to posting your story, you can provide any websites, twitter accounts, links to books, Facebook pages that you would like to be included following your story so that readers of the blog can follow and support you.  I’ll also promote the story on my own twitter and Facebook feeds.  The only thing I ask is that I have permission to publish the story on the blog and include it in a free Wattpad eBook (that will also contain all the aforementioned promotions still attached) so that readers of the blog can go back and easily find previous stories.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me.

Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Writing Process

English: Universal archetype expression of the...

English: Universal archetype expression of the ancient legend Green Man. One of many modern renditions of the Green Man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing Process

There are plenty of resources out there for writers on archetypes, I included some in the introduction blog.  As writers we should not only be aware of archetypes, but aware of them at a meta-level.  It’s easy to identify the hero or the mentor archetypes in our writing, that’s writing 101, but there are several ways to incorporate archetypes at a deeper level in our writing.

At the meta-level, the first step for us as writers is an understanding of what makes up an archetype.  A generic hero will fit plot needs, but will not help tap into our reader’s sense of the collective unconscious.  We need to identify what are the common threads that make up the archetype of the hero, mentor, etc., so identifiable that readers across cultures would be able to identify with our characters.  As an example, for the hero we need to recognize that the hero as an archetype represents a return of balance for the community, has a sense of good, and because of these traits others will follow the hero.  Another example is the archetype of the fool who is represented by blind hope and frivolousness.  It’s at this level of understanding that we as writers can make our stories really resonate with our readers by tapping into the unconscious categories that our readers possess.

At the story level, a way for incorporating archetypes is having characters explore their archetypes, and encounter and challenge potentially faulty ones.  As I mentioned in the post on therapeutic presentation, our character may have an error in identifying healthy or helpful archetypes and may align with or get into relationships with the wrong people.  We can incorporate our characters’ working through, resolving, and developing new archetypes as part of their journey.  Another way to incorporate archetypes into our writing is by having characters change archetypes; like defense mechanisms, our characters are not locked into a single method of operating.  Our protagonist can move from a fool, to a hero, and depending on the length of the story, potentially to a mentor.  Along the way, our protagonist can represent an archetype without becoming the archetype, such as representing the outcast or rebel to advance the story or a particular story arch.

The basic reason to understand the collective unconscious is to gain an appreciation of the commonalities that all individuals share.  Through understanding these commonalities we can create characters and stories that resonate with our readers and lighten our writing load.  If readers at an unconscious level recognize our characters or themes then we can save effort in exposition and keep focused on the parts of our writing that make our stories move.  Both readers and writers want to be part of something bigger than their self, and nothing is bigger than being part of a shared cultural experience than connecting with the collective unconscious.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions! mailto:W.T.Jowett@outlook.com

Psychology in Writing: The Unconscious – Writing Process

Writing Process

English: sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912...

English: sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912), Unconscious Rivals, 1893. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery Oil on panel Credit line: Bequest of Jessie and Robert bromhead, 1935 Accession number: K1248 Nederlands: sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912), Unconscious Rivals, 1893, in het Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do we write about the unseen?  We’re probably not going to submit our characters to psychoanalysis during our writing (though it’s been done, and done well, so don’t completely count it out), so we have to be more creative about how we reveal our character’s unconscious mind.  For us as writers, knowing that the unconscious exists serves two purposes, it will help us better understand our characters and also help demonstrate growth in our characters.

In the previous blog post about incorporating mature defense mechanisms into our writing, we discussed how we want to see our characters move from lower level defenses to higher level defenses, and the way to do this is through our characters gaining insight into their unconscious mind so they can resolve underlying issues.  Understanding how the unconscious bleeds into the conscious mind can also serve to help advance plot points.  There are four ways that our characters can reveal their unconscious to both other characters and the readers.

The first is through what is called a Freudian slip.  When a character demonstrates a Freudian slip, they say one thing when they mean another (the classic joke is, when you say one thing and mean your mother).  An example of a Freudian slip in writing would be a character accidently calling another character, by a third character’s name (e.g., calling a current lover, by an old lover’s name).  Freudian slips can also be demonstrated through actions, such as the misplacing of an important object, e.g., the character misplaces a quest critical item as a manifestation of her/his unconscious fear or desire to avoid conflict.

The second manifestation is through an outburst.  This would come at a point of conflict with another character (usually a friendly character, not an antagonist), where because of the passion of the argument the character slips up and tells the person how they actually feel.  This is different from a Freudian slip, which is a processing error; an outburst is more in line with free association.  The character is so impassioned and going that s/he is not able to maintain her/his internal filter and s/he is saying the first thing that comes to her/him.

The third method of revealing the unconscious is through dreams.  When dreams are a plot point in writing it may be a guide instead of a psychoanalyst that reveals the underlying content of the dream.  There are many classic examples in literature of a dream providing the protagonist clarity of purpose and a deeper understanding of self.  The plus side of using dreams as a method for showing a character’s unconscious mind, is that, for us as writers, we can have dreams mean anything we want as a means to further our plot.

The last method of revealing the unconscious in our writing I’ve covered in the posts on incorporating defense mechanisms into our writing here, here, here, and here.  The lower level defense mechanisms especially reveal something about our characters unconscious process, such as their hopes and fears.  By showing our characters using defense mechanism we can give some insight into their unconscious processes.

One thing to keep in mind about incorporating the unconscious mind in our writing is to remember that it is unconscious.  Love and respect it.  We shouldn’t come out and say Bob (our protagonist) suffers from crippling repression of his feelings because of his conflictual relationship with his father as a child.  As we discussed in the introduction, the unconscious should reveal itself by its effects not by overt exposition.  The unconscious is an area of mystery, help preserve it for our reader; it’ll make for a better story and keep them around as they try to understand the why of our characters.

 

Psychology in Writing: Mature Defense Mechanisms – Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt

Nash Latjke, the game's protagonist

Nash Latjke, the game’s protagonist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.” – Virginia Satir

For today’s writing prompt, think about what events would prevent your protagonist from using mature defenses, and defense mechanism your protagonist could use that would lead to the most growth or help her/him be successful.  What would cause your protagonist to fail at using mature defenses?  What is the tipping point where s/he would not be able to continue coping and would need to employ one of the lower level defenses?  Which defense would further/help/repair her/his relationships with others?  Or which one could s/he use to get back on the path to successfully completing a quest?

Psychology in Writing: Mature Defense Mechanisms – Writing Process

Writing Process

English: Large Snow Lions protect the entrance...

English: Large Snow Lions protect the entrance to the Potala Palace in Tibet. (Chinese stone lions, imitating 15th century, constructed in the 1990’s) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mature defense mechanisms are what we hope our protagonists are using (at least by the end of the story).  As I noted in the first post on mature defenses, defense mechanisms are not static; it’s not as if once an individual starts using a particular defense mechanism s/he will always use that defense mechanism.  Some stable people occasionally use lower level defenses if they are lacking the emotional strength to use mature defenses.  Also, as I discussed in the previous posts on therapeutic presentation (here, here, and here), the goal of therapy is to help individuals move from lower level defenses to higher level defenses.  Change is possible and change is what we want to have in our writing.

We want to make sure our protagonists grow over their time with us between the pages.  If a protagonists starts out with no challenges and no room to grow, they become the superman, that is to say boring because they won’t fail.  The mature defenses can be used in two different ways in our writing to help keep our writing exciting and dynamic.

The first and most straightforward way to incorporate mature defense mechanisms is as a point of beginning.  Our protagonist may start her/his journey as a form of sublimation; an inability to continue to tolerate a perceived injustice may spur our protagonist into action.  In the same way, a protagonist may use anticipation to prepare for a negative life event or change that begins her/him on a journey; think about a final road trip with a friend who has a terminal disease, instead of grieving while the person is still alive, the protagonist and friend take a long desired trip.  Gratitude and forgiveness may also be starting points.  If gratitude is the motivator, the person may be seeking out someone that s/he feels s/he owes a thank you or token appreciation.  Conversely, the quest to forgive someone who has harmed the protagonist may be the genesis of action; s/he may seek out someone who harmed her/him for a sense of closure.

The second way we might infuse mature defense mechanisms into our writing is as a point of growth and maturing for our characters.  In earlier stages of our writing, our protagonists may struggle by using lower level defenses, such as the neurotic defense mechanisms.  As they grow, in order to advance in her/his quest the protagonist has to use more mature defense mechanisms.  Some examples would be moving from repressing emotions to thought suppression, from withdraw and isolation to forgiveness or mercy, disassociation to mindfulness or acceptance, reaction formation to tolerance, or regression to emotional regulation.  There are numerous combinations that the lower level defenses can be resolved with higher level defenses, it’s only limited by our creativity.  Just as in our own lives, there is rarely one singular solution or way to approach a situation.  In the same way, our characters’ way of dealing with issues may bring an ah-ha moment to our readers that builds their relationship with our characters and bestows upon us appreciate for our ability to be creative and surprise them.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions! mailto:W.T.Jowett@outlook.com

 

Psychology in Writing: Neurotic Defense Mechanisms – Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt

Sigmund Freud diskutiert am 18. Juli 1929 mit ...

Sigmund Freud diskutiert am 18. Juli 1929 mit Gustav Klimt im Café Landtmann den Gegensatz zwischen Eros und Todestrieb, Kultur und Triebregung (Photo credit: Christiaan Tonnis)

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”  –Sigmund Freud

Think about how your protagonist protects her/himself?  How does s/he react when a situation is too overwhelming?  Does s/he withdraw? Distance her/himself from the situation?  Take it out on someone else?  Repress her/his feelings? What are the consequences of using a defense mechanism to cope with a situation?  How does it impact the protagonist?  How do others around her/him react?  And what is the protagonist’s response to the reactions of others?  Does s/he use the defense mechanism more?  Use a different one?  Or acknowledge it?