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7 Books to Understand Your Character’s Psychology

Characters have to be believable. If not, readers put your book down. If your character is a mathematician, he has

Man thinks wife is a hat

The Man Who Thought His Wife Was a Hat

to think like one, act like one, dress like one. It’s not enough to tell us he works for the NSA analyzing numbers. You have to give him all the quirks that make us believe this guy could save the world with his cerebellum.

If you’re not that guy, how do you convince readers he’s real? Traditional wisdom says two things:

  • interview people
  • watch people

Those are good–especially for your main characters. In fact, you probably can’t create a protagonist and antagonist without interviewing those who have walked in their footsteps.

But what about the dozens of other characters who wander through a scene, playing bit but important parts in your plot? Here are some great books that will allow you to color them with a consistent brush:

  • The Man Who Thought His Wife Was a Hat by Oliver Sachs. Any of his books will give you insight into creative, fascinating psychoses that people live with. Can you imagine looking at a scene and not being able to put it together as a cohesive picture? All you see are bits of red and pieces of animals? A character in the early stages of that psychoses might be a fascinating addition to your story
  • How Mathematicians Think, by William Byers. they don’t think like us. I have a brilliant friend who–I kid you not–hates graphs because they distill the information for him. He’d prefer the raw data so he can see the connections. If you’re including someone like that in your plot, this book will make sure you include ambiguity, paradox and their other brilliance in your character’s thoughts and actions.
  • Anatomy of Motive, by John Douglas. If you write mysteries, this book will help you explore what makes criminals who they are.
  • Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood. She explains how to write compelling fresh emotions for your characters. Much of this lies in the showing-not-telling truism; she explains how to show hostility, hate, etc., rather than saying the words.
  • Please Understand Me I and II by David Keirsey. This is a personality style determinant. Very detailed, but highly relevant for analyzing your main characters’ temperament, character and intelligence.
  • Writers Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein. This includes profiles of human behaviors and personality types. That way, you can keep your character within the required parameters.
  • Body language. There are so many great books and websites on this. I have many posts on descriptors and character traits that will get you started (see the right side of this blog). Don’t miss this detail. If your character doesn’t show those tells that every human on the planet does, s/he won’t be believable. No one speaks only with their mouth.

If you have favorite books on this subject, share with us. I’d love to hear about them!


8 thoughts on “7 Books to Understand Your Character’s Psychology

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  7. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a great book. I like the textbook “Theories of Personality
    ‘ by Schultz as a general reference. My degree is in psychology, so it’s familiar.


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