Book Review: The Science of Writing Characters by Kira-Anne Pelican

I found this book really interesting and helpful. I’ve used Myers Briggs Jungian types and Enneagram types in the past to help me shape characters, but this book sets out a framework for writers that I think is definitely simpler and more effective. I guess, each approach that is encountered and absorbed into a writer’s thoughts adds something, like ingredients to a recipe. This book is helping me spice up my characters, making them more vivid.

Ms Pelican is a writer, researcher and scriptwriter with years of experience. Her interest in psychology is clear from the way she introduces the reader to arcane (to me) branches of psychology such as; personality psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, narrative psychology, media psychology and developmental psychology.

The focus of the book stays firmly on writers and the characters they create, but she presents research findings that underpin lessons about forming a believable character that I will forever use now that I’ve had them pointed out.

Separate chapters deal with personality, dialogue, motivation and transformation. There is then a chapter on a character’s emotional journey and another on secondary characters. The final chapter is a brief workshop walk-through as a springboard to implementing the lessons set out in the book.

The fundamental personality model presented has five dimensions/aspects; extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness and open-ness to experience and time is spent understanding each of these Big Five aspects. This gives a framework within which to examine particular character traits to see if the resulting character is believable, and Ms Pelican’s advice is to craft characters that have some extreme characteristics within the Big Five in order to avoid characters that are bland and uninteresting. This approach also allows comparisons with other characters that can be the source of conflict, attraction and motivation. These are basic factors writers handle in their stories.

I found Ms Pelican’s approach held my interest and has given me lots of fertile angles to consider for existing and future characters in my writing. The book is easy to read. It’s not too long, there are 160 pages in my version. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone writing stories who want to fill them with believable, well-rounded characters.

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