Write what you know. Advice authors have received for who knows how long. But, what is that?
Those three sentences got me thinking about that. Then, a couple discussions online about flat characters, difficult dialogue, or struggles with character interactions, got me to connect a few dots. Why am I not using more of my background in psychology in my writing? I have a Master’s degree in Psychology after all. So, I am starting a series of posts on writing advice integrating my knowledge of psychology with the art of writing. Remember, characters are people, fictional people.
So, this time we will explore one of my favorite developmental theories—Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory. Now, please keep in mind that this is not a psychology lesson, so the psychology piece is limited to how it applies to writing.
Erikson, who was a student of Sigmund Freud, said we develop as people in part through our social interactions. Thus, he argued we go through stages where we need to learn different developmental tasks to support ongoing positive development. The stages are:
The psychosocial crisis is better understood as a task or job. If we succeed, or learn the first concept, we will learn the basic virtue as well. We also successfully move on to the next stage. If we do not learn the first concept, we end up with the second and, practically speaking, get stuck at that stage until we learn it.
So, for example, if a child does not learn to trust, the child will not learn hope exists. Thus, the child cannot go on to the next stage.
On the other hand, if a child learns trust, the child will understand hope exists and can work on autonomy next.
How can we use this in our writing? Think about how we can create conflict. If we want to create a situation where one character has trust issues, root the trust issues back to something in early childhood. Co-dependency as a problem to overcome? Maybe something happened when the character was a toddler, or it could be from identity issues as a teenager. By using the basics of this theory, you should be able to create a bit more of a dynamic character whom readers may relate to more.
By the way, if you are interested in learning more about this theory, follow the link to a good summary of the theory.