Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The emotional life of a character

by Stacey

With a strong interest in psychology combined with a more obvious interest in books, I thought there were some interesting pearls of advice in this piece. It suggests using a well-known psychological concept, "The Five Stages of Grief", to create a character's response to anything they might be going through in a meaningful, believable way. He coins the stages for the purposes of character development "The Five Stages of Misfortune", a clever way of spinning this to apply to fiction. I read so many submissions where I find the characters don't handle their emotional life in a satisfying or realistic way, and it definitely impacts the overall success of a story. Like Jason Black, I'm not convinced that each of these stages of misfortune needs to be followed in every case, since not all misfortunes are created equal and you don't want an overly dramatic reaction to a relatively minor problem, as his example of stubbing a toe illustrates. But I do think it's important to keep reminding yourself as you are writing that all your characters need to be fleshed out in big and small ways depending on what they are going through in their emotional life. Using these guidelines as a reference is a good tool for that.


  1. Great reminder and article. Thanks Stacey.


  2. It's an interesting article. As a clinical psychologist, one thing I'd tell writers to keep in mind is that in real life, people don't always progress through these stages in order. I've seen many skip right to the anger stage and hang out there awhile before jumping to other stages. It's a great reference tool though and should be useful to many. Great post!

  3. Great article! Very reassuring to compare this piece to my plot's outline and see I am on par with my MC's emotional responses. :)

  4. It's true. There is nothing worse than reading a story where the character reacts in a way unlike anything you would expect from them, or any other human for that matter.

  5. Hi all, glad you all enjoyed my article!

    Coincidentally, I just finished a series on my blog that explores the 5 stages in much greater detail (much as I love writing for Author Magazine, there's only so much I can say in under a thousand words).

    It's a six-part series, with one part for each of the stages and a final part on effects you can achieve by _violating_ readers expectations at each stage.

    Part one of that series starts here: