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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Eric and Ann Maisel on Fiction as Experimental Psychology

Monday, August 17, 2015

Excerpt from What Would Your Character Do?: Personality Quizzes for Analyzing Your Characters by Eric and Ann Maisel:

What Would Your Character Do

A writer gets inside his sleepless, blue character and discovers that she is blue because she has contrived a loveless marriage that made sense from one point of view, the security angle, but was a horrible mistake from the purely human angle, since her husband is a cipher. A clinician says it’s a major depression. A writer says, “Hmm. Given this inner conflict, given that she really does love her walk-in closet but hates her husband, what is she going to do? What if I bring in, not a handsome stranger, but someone she’d never look at twice under ordinary circumstances but who, by virtue of the fact that she is so conflicted, begins to attract her in an obsessional way? Wouldn’t that be interesting?”

A writer sets up his own amazing experiment: his work of fiction. He says to himself, “How would a guilty conscience play itself out in a character who thinks that he is entitled to murder but discovers he doesn’t feel all that entitled?” The writer runs his experiment: He writes Crime and Punishment. He may think that he knows how his novel must end, but he must still write the novel—run the experiment, as it were—to know for sure. Until he inhabits the landscape he has decided to investigate, he can’t be certain his characters are going to do what, at the moment of inception, he supposes that they must do. . . . The psychological legitimacy of the journey is the writer’s paramount concern.

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Work Cited:

Maisel, Eric, and Ann Maisel. What Would Your Character Do?: Personality Quizzes for Analyzing Your Characters (Elements of Fiction Writing). Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2006. 7. Print.

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