A parental approach to character psychology

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I’ve been thinking recently about how to create characters who are contradictory but convincing. After all, that’s what real human beings are like. We aren’t always consistent. We are filled with a range of impulses pulling us in different directions. Our best and worst moments come when those impulses collide.

Then it occurred to me – one way to achieve this is the same way real psychologies develop – through the parents. So much of our thinking as human beings is founded on the influences our parents bring to bear, yet we seldom use that for characters.

But what makes it work this way?
But what makes it work this way?


I haven’t had a chance to really play with this yet, but next time I try to develop a character I’m going to think about what that character’s parents would have been like. What did each of them contribute to their child’s psychology? Which characteristics did they share, creating consistencies in their kids? In what ways did they contradict each other, and so set up contradictory or problematic influences in the character?

It’s not a flawless approach. Who knows if it’ll create the mix of characteristics that I’m after. But if nothing else I’ll end up with a character with a slightly better thought-out background.

Have you tried anything like this? What do you do to create well-rounded characters? And what characters are you aware of that have visible parental influences? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.


Picture by J E Theriot via Flickr creative commons