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.

 

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: The Persona – Introduction

Introduction

Shadows

Shadows (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

In last week’s blog we discussed the individual unconscious archetypes of anima and animus that exist as part of the collective unconscious.  The anima and animus are a filter between the unconscious and the ego, at the ego level the persona acts as a “mask” between a person’s ego and the real world.  The role of the persona is to create an impression for others, but to also conceal the true nature of the individual.  There are multiple reasons that a person would want to employ a persona: to create an image of self for others, to protect aspects of self from others, or to hide parts of the self that may not be appropriate.  As a person becomes more comfortable with her/his self the persona becomes more of a true reflection of self and less of a rigid mask.

The persona, as with other aspects of self, can be useful or it can be detrimental to the individual.  Jung postulated that the persona, when overly present in an individual’s life could cause difficulty with individuation, the separation of self as a unique identity.  There are five different ways that the persona exists for individuals:

  • Identification, which is an over identification with the persona leading to it being rigid; the individual cannot separate out aspects of her/his self from the persona.
  • Disintegration is when the persona is overly identified with a collective idea that completely masks the individual’s identity and cannot be maintained; as such it is broken down and removed, which then allows for an individual to recognize her/his self as separate from the collective ideals leading to an honest view of the self as individual, but also creating identity confusion as the person asks, “who am I” now that the rigidly held persona is gone.
  • Negative restoration, which involves the loss of the persona and then the attempted restoration of it; the restoration is usually a shadow of the original persona.  A person at this level of persona development can come off as superficial in their presentation of self as s/he attempts to return to the status quo persona after some event damaged it (usually follows disintegration), though the person’s adherence to the former persona cannot be achieved.
  • Absence is when a person is without a persona; her/his approach to the world is as if the is just a playground; the person doesn’t recognize the need to utilize flexible personas to appropriately interact with others in the world.  The person who has an absent persona will view the world as superficial and respond the same regardless of the situation.
  • Restoration is the necessary redevelopment of the persona, but in a new and viable way; individuals need to have some level of flexible persona so that they can recognize the expectations of others and engage appropriately; at restoration the individual will use a persona to fit in with others but does not hide their true self.

 

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: Anima and Animus – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

Anima latina

Anima latina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As anima and animus belong to the unconscious they cannot be directly observed, but there are two ways in which these aspects of the unconscious may manifest in therapy.  One is by the demonstration of their developmental level; the client will show errors in their anima/animus or seek to advance the development of these archetypes towards a higher level of development. Two, the anima or animus may manifest through the invasion of consciousness, whereby the darker aspects of the anima or animus take over the client’s conscious mind.

As we discussed in the therapeutic process on the collective unconscious the unconscious archetypes can be both helpful and harmful; the same holds true for the individual unconscious archetypes.  If a client’s anima or animus does not develop, it can cause thinking errors that can be detrimental to a person.  Each subsequent developmental level adds a layer of richness and understanding to the client’s life and a failure to develop can cause issues, such an excessively rigid set of expectations.  An example would be a male whose feminine anima is stuck at Eve; there is permanence to the feminine object of desire at this level of anima development, any object that fails to confirm to the ideal perception of desire is rejected.  As the perfect object of desire frequently doesn’t exist it is difficult for the individual to sustain relationships at this developmental level. The goal in therapy would be to help the client develop a more nuanced sense of their feminine or masculine qualities.  For a mostly well-functioning individual with a well developed anima/animus the goal of therapy would be to help her/him attain the final level of anima/animus development, which would result in a deeper sense of meaning and a more nuanced view of the world around them.

A more threatening way that that clients’ anima/animus may manifest in a therapeutic setting is through the taking over of the conscious aspects of the individual.  Archetypes have both light and dark sides, and sometimes the shadow aspects of the anima/animus can overcome the ego.  As discussed in the blog on the Id, if the individual does not have methods for managing the shadow aspects of the anima/animus they can become manifest in outer world.  This breach leads to the anima/animus becoming the voice of the ego instead of as a moderator between the unconscious and the ego. The goal of therapy is to find the middle ground between the under and over identification with the anima/animus, instead helping the client regulate it into an intermediate position where it can serve a regulatory function in the unconscious.

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 Collective Unconscious – Introduction

Introduction

Carl Gustav Jung painted portrait P1050156

Carl Gustav Jung painted portrait P1050156 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

In last week’s blog we covered the individual unconscious, which are the unseen aspects of self that can affect behavior.  Carl Jung proposed that in addition to their own unconscious mind all individuals share a collective unconscious.  While the individual unconscious is unique to each individual, the collective unconscious is a shared system that all humans use to organize their personal experiences in a similar way.

The common organizing of ideas in the unconscious leads to universal themes and concepts that occur in distant and unrelated cultures.  Jung postulated that the collective unconscious was not developed across the lifespan by an individual but was inherited.  The common themes of the collective unconscious are referred to as archetypes; like the unconscious mind, individuals do not have ready conscious access to the archetypes, but they are revealed through events and experiences in individuals’ lives.  When an archetype is experience individuals unconsciously recognize it as what it represents and it appears as “mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life and which seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind” (Jung, 1978).

Some of the common archetypes include:

  • The Hero
  • The Mentor
  • The Fool
  • The Seductress
  • The Devil

Expanded writing on archetypal characters, plots, and themes, can be found here, here, and here. (Or you can just do a Google search)

There is some question on whether Jung was speaking biologically or spiritually about the collective unconscious.  Some interpret the collective unconscious as something inherited through a species like a common arm.  This would mean that just as all humans share a similar bone, muscle, skin structure forming an arm, they also share similar unconscious structures in common.  Others interpret the collective unconscious as a tapping into the divine.  That there is a “universal truth” (e.g., the presence of a divine) that all humans are part of and can access through our common truths.  Either way, the collective unconscious has the potential to establish common ground when communicate within and across cultures.

Psychology in Writing: The Unconscious – Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt

Dream girl

Dream girl (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

“Our heart glows, and secret unrest gnaws at the root of our being. Dealing with the unconscious has become a question of life for us.” —Carl Jung

For today’s writing prompt, think about what your character is hiding in her/his unconscious that s/he can’t confront directly.  What is the event/thing/person that your character can’t face?  What happened in the past that contributes to your character’s inability to consciously face the event/thing/person?  How does your character manifest her/his unconscious mind?  Is it through dreams, verbal slips, free association, defense mechanisms?  What leads your character to gain insight into her/his unconscious process?  And now that s/he is aware, what does s/he do?  Confront it?  Suppress it again?

A new addition to the blog going forward–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.

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?