Friday 14 October 2011

Characters and Psychology

Whilst developing characters for my book, 'The Grandson', I've struggled mostly with the main character Jessica because she is female and the same age as I was when I lived in Siena. I don't want Jessica to be me but it's difficult not to make her like myself because I am so close to her. When I saw psychologist, Oliver James on TV about eighteen months ago promoting a book, I decided to order it (and ended up getting two others for a special price!). I thought these books would help me develop my characters and they did.  The book 'They F*** you up, How to Survive Family Life' turned out to be useful. There is a chapter 'Scripting our place in the family' which talks about how a person's character can be affected by whether they are first born, lastborn, from a large family etc.
Before I ordered the book, Jessica had an older brother.  I decided to take him out, making her an only child.  This would mean I could instantly give her character more depth.  Her mother, Mary could indulge her by never letting her lift a finger around the house.  Jessica would find leaving home difficult because of this and when taking on an au pair job in Italy, she'd have little idea of how to carry out routine domestic tasks.  This in turn would make it easier for Mary to play the role of antagonist by preventing Jessica from being with the hero, an Italian-American.  Mary could stifle Jessica's independence in an attempt to keep her from leaving their Yorkshire village.
Making Jessica an only child also solved a problem I was having with the plot. Mary wanted her to marry the son of the neighbouring farmer, Tom.  I needed him to have a good reason for waiting until she returned from Italy before she gave him an answer to his proposal of marriage. Being an only child, she was now heir to her parent's land, but a clause in the will would say that she had to be married.
Would love to know your thoughts! Feel free to leave a comment.


  1. Sounds like you've got it sorted! Good luck.

  2. You seem to have worked through this very carefully, and making your main character an only child looks like it's been an excellent decision, from both the plot and character development angle.

    I'm not sure it's possible to avoid putting a bit of yourself into your main character - I think the trick is to cherry-pick traits which will aid your story and feel psychologically consistent - I know exactly where my main character's caffeine habit comes from, for example, but I also recognise the origins of her protectiveness towards her daughter. It suits her personality perfectly and drives the story efficiently, so it earns its keep and gets to stay.