Hello, beautiful writers! Welcome to another installment of the Creative Round Table, a gathering of wisdom, advice, and inspirational stories from some amazing creative souls. Today, we're talking to Faye Kirwin from Writerology about the impact of psychology on character development, reconnecting with your creative passions, and a healthy dose of encouragement!
Victoria: Your love of digging into the inner workings of your characters led you to study psychology at university. Did your perspective on character development change throughout your years at university and, if so, how?
Faye: Oh, most definitely. If there’s one thing studying psychology made me appreciate, it’s how complex and nuanced the human mind is. The more I learnt about personality, about social influence, about relationships and discourse and mental health, the more I realised that I only understood a fraction of who my characters were. If I wanted them to reflect all the different aspects that make up a real person, I needed to go deeper and get to grips with parts of their psyches that I’d never heard mentioned by other writers before—parts like locus of control and attachment styles and cognitive biases. With each year that passed, I was able to build more and more layers into my characters, discovering new ways for them to grow and new twists to add to their journeys.
Victoria: What's the most valuable thing your studies in psychology have shown you about creativity?
Faye: That creativity isn’t something some people are born with and some people aren’t. Anyone can be creative and anyone can become more creative, which I think is very encouraging for all of us, whatever our calling.
Developing your mental flexibility can lead to so many possibilities: more imaginative solutions, a more persistent and energetic work style, an increased receptivity to inspiration, and that’s to name just a few!
Trying something that requires you to adopt a different mindset to normal and forces you to consider things from a different perspective is a great way to exercise those creative muscles. For me, that was writing 140-character microfiction. Telling a story in 2-3 lines, rather than over a whole novel, pushed me out of my comfort zone and tightened my storytelling. Whatever your passion, turn your expectations on their head and try doing things a different way. It really can expand the mind.
Victoria: Do you ever find yourself so entrenched in character development that it's hard to move on to the actual drafting process? How do you recognize the signs, and what would you do in a case like this?
Faye: This was such a problem for me a few years ago. I’d spend more time developing characters than writing about them and, when I finally did start writing, they changed so much over the first draft that they were almost unrecognisable. All that time spent on character development down the drain.
While it was frustrating, I learnt an important lesson from all that: having a solid idea of who your characters are before you start the story is valuable, but things will change as you write. The more you discover about the plot and the characters, the more your initial beliefs about them change, so be flexible with your character development and don’t spend more than a few weeks on it before you start writing. Remember: you can always revisit those character notes later, when you have a better idea of who your cast are.
Victoria: What's the most telling question you can ask a character who's only just begun to make themselves known to you?
Faye: ‘Is the glass half empty or is it half full?’
The first thing I try to get a feel of when writing a character is their worldview. Is their perception of the world around them tinted by optimism or pessimism? Both optimists and pessimists see the same glass, but their interpretation of it differs. That raises an important point for writers: your characters’ narratives are not objective. They’re subjective, tinted by their individual worldviews, coloured by their personalities, thought patterns and experiences.
No two people (or characters) see the world in the same way, and something as simple as an optimistic or pessimistic streak can have a significant impact on that. If you think about it that way, how your character interprets the glass half empty or half full question can be very telling.
Victoria: Other than writing, what forms of creativity are present in your everyday life?
Faye: I spend most of my time writing and reading, but when I need a break from the written word, I like to break out my sketchbook and draw. Translating what I see in my mind on to the page in a way that doesn’t involve words is a fun way to shake things up and try something new. And, as an added bonus, it gives me a break from the computer screen (which I should probably do more often).
Victoria: Do these different creative passions play well in the sandbox, or do they start to compete for time and attention?
Faye: I’ve always loved how writing and drawing fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Both involve telling stories, but where writing does that with words, over a certain number of pages, drawing does it in a single image. When I’m worn out by working on a narrative that stretches across thousands of words, drawing lets me focus on that one frozen moment of a story.
Balancing the two isn’t that easy for me, though. Drawing takes me a lot longer than writing, and with writing being my greatest passion, I’ll often feel guilty for spending time with my sketchpad. In the future, I’d love to balance the two more, so that I can give both sides of my storytelling muse the attention they deserve.
Victoria: On days where you're feeling drained of energy and inspiration, how do you deal with it? Do you march yourself to the blank page regardless? Do you settle in with a book and a cup of tea?
Faye: I’m a huge proponent of writing regularly—every day, if possible—and feeling drained of energy and inspiration are some of the greatest obstacles to doing that. It’s not easy, but I’ve researched and experimented over the years and found specific triggers that motivate and energise me enough to get the words down, each day, every day.
A big one for me is reminding myself why I write and what I love about my current project. It’s easy to lose sight of that when I’m tired or uninspired, but remembering what I love most about it (and looking back at the encouragement I’ve received from other writers) really helps me to get started. Once I’m past the first few warm-up paragraphs, I’m off and away.
I also make time each day to consume fiction of one kind or another. Losing myself in a story motivates me to tell my own and teaches me how to do it. In the words of Stephen King, “If you don't have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Oh, and tea helps too. Lots of it.
Victoria: In your recipe for living a creative life, what would be the top three ingredients?
Faye: Ingredient 1: Make time for what you love.
This one, to me, is the most crucial of all. Whatever your passion, make time for it every day, even if it’s only five minutes. It’s incredible how much progress you can make when you change your mentality from ‘I need to do lots for it to be worth it’ to ‘if I do a little and often, it all adds up’.
Ingredient 2: Keep why you do what you do close to your heart.
In the midst of your creative projects, with obstacles looming and your resolve to continue sorely tested, it can be all too easy to forget why you started in the first place. Don’t let that happen. Remember your Why. Why do you do what you do? Why do you love it? Why do you keep coming back to it? Why is it part of who you are?
Write those reasons down, put them somewhere visible, and when you feel lost in self-doubt or sapped of your will to create, look at them again. Remind yourself why you do what you do.
Ingredient 3: Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for pursuing your passions.
This can be a killer for us creatives. With friends, family, work and life all jockeying for our attention, putting time aside for creative pursuits can make us feel horribly guilty. But that’s the wrong way to look at it.
Here’s how I see it. You can make the world a better place by embracing your creativity. Whether you share what you’ve created with others or not, by doing something that makes you happy, you create ripples. Those ripples spread outwards, changing the lives of those they touch.
Do what you love boldly and unapologetically, and please don’t ever feel guilty about making time for your creative side. It’s part of who you are, an integral part of your soul, and the world is a better place because of it. So here’s a request from me: keep nurturing that creative spark, okay?
Victoria: Bonus Question: If the Doctor wandered into the pages of your latest work-in-progress, who would he choose as a companion and what would their first reaction be upon stepping inside the TARDIS?
Faye: If the TARDIS materialised within the pages of Her Clockwork Heart, my protagonist, Pippa Adeney, would definitely be the first knocking on the door. Pippa’s a mechanician who loves nothing more than travelling the world and building clockwork counterparts to the incredible things she sees. And if she stepped inside the TARDIS? I think her first response would be to ask how it works. Then she’d try to build one herself. (Good luck with that, Pippa.)
Faye Kirwin is a writer with a passion for words, minds and tea. She blogs over at Writerology, where she applies the science of psychology to the art of storytelling and teaches authors how to make writing a part of their everyday lives. When she’s not blogging or running the Writember Workshop, she writes fiction chock-full of magic, clockwork and tea. (Mm, tea.)