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The Backward OX
06-29-2011, 05:18 AM
Elsewhere, another poster had this to say:




*And it's my own personal prejudice that I don't believe anyone can be a good author unless they understand human nature. How else can you tell the truth of things on the page? But that's a whole other discussion. :)

What do you think?

blacbird
06-29-2011, 10:09 AM
How can you possibly think otherwise? This is like asking if you need to understand math to write about nuclear physics.

caw

Maxinquaye
06-29-2011, 10:44 AM
Um, writing stories - whether they're novels or short-stories - is about mapping the human heart and mind. So yeah. It is necessary to understand human nature. IMO.

dpaterso
06-29-2011, 10:54 AM
Heck yes, but maybe you can fake it if you're not the naturally sympathetic type.

-Derek

IceCreamEmpress
06-29-2011, 10:57 AM
Wow, I hope not. One of the reasons I am a novelist is because I generally find other people's motivations confusing...

shaldna
06-29-2011, 11:20 AM
You know, this is actually a really good question. My intial response was the same as those above 'of course!'

But then I thought about it some more, and you know what, I'm not sure now.

I mean, what about protags and narrators who DON'T understand people at all? I think that confusion and lack of understanding of human nature can create an environment that is foreign and frightening, so I'm a little torn now to be honest.

areteus
06-29-2011, 11:23 AM
I think it is a little too focused because I think it is not just that you need to understand human nature but have an opinion on a vast swathe of philosophical topics.

And it is an opinon... not necessarily understanding. Understanding implies there is no mystery, you understand everything, whereas an opinion means you know what particular aspect of human nature you wish to discuss and you highlight that, presenting your ideas as fiction. Another author is free to have a completely different opinion to you about the same issue of human nature.

I agree that a writer needs to have some level of knowledge of philosophy and psychology in order to present characters with an adequete amount of depth.I would not say that they need to understand human nature because no one can claim that.

Maxinquaye
06-29-2011, 11:24 AM
The protags and the antags can be as thick as logs and have the social skills of stink toads in a swamp, but IMO the writer needs to understand what drives the protag and the antag. So, the writer needs to understand human nature.

blacbird
06-29-2011, 11:25 AM
I generally find other people's motivations confusing...

Ahhhhh, Grasshopper, so then you understand human nature very well.

caw

gothicangel
06-29-2011, 12:08 PM
The protags and the antags can be as thick as logs and have the social skills of stink toads in a swamp, but IMO the writer needs to understand what drives the protag and the antag. So, the writer needs to understand human nature.

Just what I was going to say.

I think all writers to an extent are amateur psychologists, some of us professionals. ;)

That's probably the most fascinating thing I find writing in the Roman period, they have a completely different psychology to us. I was reading last night how a man who loved his wife too much was deemed 'effeminate,' which poses a problem for my MC because he has to balance his love for his wife with being a military man.

gothicangel
06-29-2011, 12:12 PM
Wow, I hope not. One of the reasons I am a novelist is because I generally find other people's motivations confusing...

I agree, and by writing we are trying to understand confusing behaviour. I'm never going to be able empathise with how it feels to be a psychopath or sociopath, but fiction is a way to gain a level of understanding.

The Backward OX
06-29-2011, 12:36 PM
I'm never going to be able empathise with how it feels to be a psychopath or sociopath
Does a psychopath (and to a lesser degree, a sociopath) even have feelings?

And could such a person write a novel?

Anne Lyle
06-29-2011, 12:38 PM
You obviously don't have to know everything there is to know about people, but you need to possess some level of empathy and insight if you're going to create a range of believable characters. Otherwise your PoV characters in particular are all going to be clones of the author.

Anninyn
06-29-2011, 01:24 PM
Yes, but you don't have to have a psychology degree, or even be intellectually aware that you know human nature. You just have to have empathy, to be able to consider how the world might look to a person who isn't you, and go from there.

Anninyn
06-29-2011, 01:28 PM
Does a psychopath (and to a lesser degree, a sociopath) even have feelings?

And could such a person write a novel?

Now that's complex and interesting. Disclaimer: I am not an expert, nor a qualified psychologist, but in my psychology studies my understanding was that sociopaths and psychopaths have feelings- grief, anger, etc- but no empathy. They simply can't comprehend that other people may feel things too.They also don't see other people as people, they see them as things there to get the sociopath the things the sociopath wants- whether that's sex, power, or a new T.V.

Obviously, if I'm wrong, please correct me. It's an area of study that fascinates me and I'd like to learn as much as possible.

gothicangel
06-29-2011, 01:30 PM
Does a psychopath (and to a lesser degree, a sociopath) even have feelings?

And could such a person write a novel?

Just because a person suffers from psychopathia doesn't make them a robot. They are unable to empathize with other people, society. That doesn't mean they have feelings. They still have hopes, dreams and ambitions.

A good example is American Psycho, particularly in the 'business card scene.'

Fiona
06-29-2011, 01:44 PM
We have an understanding of human nature from our very own existance, and our experiences of interacting with other people, over our lifetime - no matter what background we come from, surely? Add to that a writer's capacity to rely on a vivid imagination, to bring a good story to life.

^ I actually tend to agree with what Anne Lyle and Anninyn said, further up this page: I think the real issue is how much we are able to empathise and have insight that can give true depth to the characters we create in our stories.

JimmyB27
06-29-2011, 02:57 PM
I don't think anyone really understands human nature.

KTC
06-29-2011, 03:01 PM
Writing, for me, is about unravelling the mystery. I don't ever assume to know human nature. I do, however, announce my love for it...and my need to whittle away at the perplexity of it.

KTC
06-29-2011, 03:02 PM
I don't think anyone really understands human nature.

what he said.

Bubastes
06-29-2011, 03:36 PM
I don't think you need to understand human nature, but you do need to be curious about it.

folkchick
06-29-2011, 03:46 PM
I don't think anyone can understand human nature in a complete sense. There's always some element of motivation that eludes most of society. Personally, I think writing (and reading) helps to uncover more of those hidden corners of the human psyche.

Alpha Echo
06-29-2011, 04:00 PM
I think the real issue is how much we are able to empathise and have insight that can give true depth to the characters we create in our stories.


Writing, for me, is about unravelling the mystery. I don't ever assume to know human nature. I do, however, announce my love for it...and my need to whittle away at the perplexity of it.

I agree with both of these and think this is actually a really good question.

I am a pretty sympathetic/empathetic person, and there's a lot I "get" about human nature. But there is a lot more I don't know until I sort it all out through my writing.

I definitely believe that the writer has to understand his own characters' natures and motivations. You can't write a story about someone whose head you can't get inside...at least not a story that a reader will get lost in. And that's what we all want, right?

The Backward OX
06-29-2011, 04:09 PM
I definitely believe that the writer has to understand his own characters' natures and motivations. You can't write a story about someone whose head you can't get inside...at least not a story that a reader will get lost in. And that's what we all want, right?

So would you say that a person who lacks the ability to empathise would make a poor writer (of fiction)?

Libbie
06-29-2011, 04:12 PM
So would you say that a person who lacks the ability to empathise would make a poor writer (of fiction)?

Totally lacked the ability to empathize? Yes, I'd say they would make a poor writer of fiction.

Has difficulty empathizing? I think they could do it, but it would be harder for such a person than for somebody with more empathy.

gothicangel
06-29-2011, 04:27 PM
So would you say that a person who lacks the ability to empathise would make a poor writer (of fiction)?

I think it would be incredibly difficult for such a writer to develop anything more than cardboard characters.

Anne Lyle
06-29-2011, 04:29 PM
So would you say that a person who lacks the ability to empathise would make a poor writer (of fiction)?

I think that the fiction they wrote would have less appeal to the general reader, for whom much of the pleasure of reading is in vicariously living the lives of other people. But there are many kinds of fiction, and many kinds of reader.

It really depends on the book - I don't think one can give a definite yes or no answer.

quicklime
06-29-2011, 05:02 PM
So would you say that a person who lacks the ability to empathise would make a poor writer (of fiction)?


If you (they) can't understand what makes others tick, how are they going to be able to portray realistic characters?

JimmyB27
06-29-2011, 05:08 PM
I think that the fiction they wrote would have less appeal to the general reader, for whom much of the pleasure of reading is in vicariously living the lives of other people.
*cough*Davincicode*cough*

scarletpeaches
06-29-2011, 05:18 PM
My goodness; there are people out there who think you need a working knowledge of your subject matter?

Whatever next?

The Backward OX
06-29-2011, 05:24 PM
So would you say that a person who lacks the ability to empathise would make a poor writer (of fiction)?


If you (they) can't understand what makes others tick, how are they going to be able to portray realistic characters?
Do I see some redundancy here? :tongue

Toothpaste
06-29-2011, 05:25 PM
What are your thoughts on the subject, Backward Ox?

The Backward OX
06-29-2011, 05:35 PM
Anne Lyle's comments are worth considering.

RemusShepherd
06-29-2011, 05:44 PM
It isn't necessary to write realistic human characters in a story. You can have a story without characters, or with only non-human ones. You can have characters act in wildly inhuman ways and still tell a great story.

The only human nature you must understand is that of your readers: You must know how to entertain them. That's it. Any other knowledge you do or do not possess may be helpful, but it is not required.

muravyets
06-29-2011, 06:44 PM
It isn't necessary to write realistic human characters in a story. You can have a story without characters, or with only non-human ones. You can have characters act in wildly inhuman ways and still tell a great story.

The only human nature you must understand is that of your readers: You must know how to entertain them. That's it. Any other knowledge you do or do not possess may be helpful, but it is not required.
But doesn't understanding your reader so you can write a story that will entertain them mean you have to understand something about human nature in order to be a good fiction writer?

After all, you have to have some idea of what humans find engaging, interesting, emotionally and mentally stimulating, realistic, and meaningful to keep them reading your story, don't you?

Unless your readership are non-human (and trust me, there are few more frustrating exercises than trying to get a cat to read a book), writers are going to need some awareness of and insight into what makes human beings tick. Some ability to observe themselves and others with some measure of objectivity or personal distance so they can externalize those feelings to the characters. If you are writing for humans readers, there's no way around it. It's the same for all entertainers in any art form.

quicklime
06-29-2011, 06:53 PM
Do I see some redundancy here? :tongue

intentional...unless you're going to make good guys who "are just good, dammit, 'cause they are, and 'cause I need them to be" and bad guys who are similarly compelling, you need some ability to relate to what would motivate a person to do good or bad versus nothing at all.

Anne Lyle
06-29-2011, 07:15 PM
Anne Lyle's comments are worth considering.

:thankyou:

Goldenleaves
06-29-2011, 07:21 PM
I love a good story. A really really good story can carry cardboard characters IMO.

If you have to totally understand the subject to write about something nothing would ever get written. No one understands anything totally, not even their own self.

Psychopaths and sociopaths - I don't understand the difference. A relative of mine used to show all the unpleasant signs of one or the other I think. Cruel to animals and those weaker than him as a child. Extremely charming and magnetic personality. Very manipulative. No conscience.

He died a while ago at the age of fifty one. He definitely did have feelings and I did love him but never felt able to trust him. It wouldn't have been fair to him to trust him. He was always interesting, but pretty dangerous because he was so ruthless. He wasn't, however, ruthless on purpose, if you know what I mean.

Jamesaritchie
06-29-2011, 07:36 PM
Elsewhere, another poster had this to say:



What do you think?

Well, if you don't have a good understanding of human nature, you'd better be able to make readers think you do. Characters make fiction, and human nature makes characters.

I think this is one reason why so few really young writers are successful. They haven't lived enough to understand human nature.

Cardboard characters may be one or two dimensional, but the one or two dimensions they do have had better be right.

I agree that fiction comes in all flavors, and so does human nature, but a writer who doesn't understand human nature, and/or who can't get it down on the page, is, at best, severely handicapped.

RemusShepherd
06-29-2011, 07:42 PM
But doesn't understanding your reader so you can write a story that will entertain them mean you have to understand something about human nature in order to be a good fiction writer?

Yep, you need some knowledge of how to press your readers' buttons. But you don't need an in-depth knowledge of human behavior to do that, nor do you need empathy. All you need is to be entertaining. If you can do that by instinct, great. If you do it by rote or by formula and pull it off successfully, just as good.

A sadist or a psychopath could write a compelling story. They might use shock and horror as their chosen form of entertainment, but those work fine. Similarly one could find readers who are entertained by inhuman weirdness, boring train schedules, or mathematical equations (e.g. Thomas Pynchon.)

Know your audience; know how to entertain them. That's all you need to do. (Well, that and finish the damn book, of course.)

Toothpaste
06-29-2011, 07:51 PM
I guess the right answer to this question is, no. According to how some people in this thread are defining "understanding of human nature".

For me personally, yes. And it's the reason I have been finding a lot of books lately, well, crap. I read characters that I know I'm supposed to find compelling, or relateable or whatever, and yet I don't actually as I am reading them. They feel flat, unrealistic, and "too stupid to live" - that rather harsh saying that people use to describe characters who take 100 more pages than the reader to figure out some pretty obvious stuff. The more I read, the more I write, the less tolerant I am for being told things about characters and not being shown them. It might be why I prefer unlikable narrators as it seems to me authors of such characters have taken the time to figure out why their characters are the way they are - as opposed to certain main characters I'm supposed to root for for it seems no other reason than they are main characters.

I think there are a lot of writers out there who do think as some in this thread think, that characters are secondary to plot. And why shouldn't they? Look at some of the bestselling books out there, clearly my opinion is in the minority.

Still, personally, yes to the question. I suppose pragmatically though, no.

kaitie
06-29-2011, 08:10 PM
If you (they) can't understand what makes others tick, how are they going to be able to portray realistic characters?

Not being able to empathize oddly doesn't necessarily correlate with not understanding what makes people tick. Empathy is the ability to recognize feelings, yes, but it goes along with the idea that you are sharing those feelings. It's like you recognize and respond appropriately. A socoiopath lacks the connection. They might not understand why, but they understand how, etc. They might even understand why but just not care.

One of the traits of being a sociopath is that they tend to be highly manipulative, even likeable. Ted Bundy was highly charismatic. There was also a study done in which a group of sociopaths were given group therapy to teach them how to empathize. The therapists thought the study was a remarkable success, but when the subjects were released they had a higher recidivism rate than normal parolees. They were shocked, until they realized that the subjects had essentially been using the group sessions as a way to understand how to manipulate others better.

In other words, it might be difficult to write someone who would be a hundred percent convincing, but a sociopath could potentially have a good enough understanding of a person's motivations to write about them. I think conveying why the reader should care and giving the reader emotional connection might be more difficult, but it's really the reader you're manipulating most, so...

Autism-spectrum disorders would make writing difficult for many, but that isn't quite the same as a lack of empathy. While one of the traits is an inability to understand emotion and a tendency toward concrete rather than abstract thought, this is a case where I think a person's view of the world is just different than most people's. I've read some writing by people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders that was just amazing and fascinating. I think some aspects might be more difficult, but I think they might have other advantages that allow them to have a different viewpoint on life, and one of the points of a novel is to get into someone else's mind and see the world through their perspective.

As for the question at hand, I think it depends on the reader more than the writer. For instance, I've read a couple of very famous authors who, IMO, display very little understanding of human nature. The characters act out-of-character all the time and the plots strike me as contrived with characters forced to fit the story rather than the story being created by the characters. These authors sell millions of books, though. I might have no tolerance for it, but many people don't mind as long as they get a good story.

I do think it helps, though. Empathy is probably my strongest point, which is why character has always come easily for me. I can put myself into another person's shoes and follow them around. I personally can't imagine trying to put together a story without that, but I don't doubt that it can be done. It's much like anything else in writing. Any weakness can be overcome by a strong enough strength in other areas.

quicklime
06-29-2011, 08:20 PM
aaah, kaitie lawyered me..... :tongue

she is correct; I revise to say you may not need to empathize, but you do need to be able to understand, on some level, what makes folks tick. I certainly don't empathize with my current governor, who I believe is a ginormous douchebag or literally word-defying proportions, but I also understand his motives.....he believes in what he's doing, he is playing to his base, etc. etc.

you are still dead to me though, Kaitie :cry:

gothicangel
06-29-2011, 08:23 PM
One of the traits of being a sociopath is that they tend to be highly manipulative, even likeable. Ted Bundy was highly charismatic. There was also a study done in which a group of sociopaths were given group therapy to teach them how to empathize. The therapists thought the study was a remarkable success, but when the subjects were released they had a higher recidivism rate than normal parolees. They were shocked, until they realized that the subjects had essentially been using the group sessions as a way to understand how to manipulate others better.

In other words, it might be difficult to write someone who would be a hundred percent convincing, but a sociopath could potentially have a good enough understanding of a person's motivations to write about them. I think conveying why the reader should care and giving the reader emotional connection might be more difficult, but it's really the reader you're manipulating most, so...



This is interesting, my antagonist is hyper manipulative, I never considered that he may be a sociopath. This bares thinking about, thanks. :)

kaitie
06-29-2011, 08:25 PM
Psychopaths and sociopaths - I don't understand the difference. A relative of mine used to show all the unpleasant signs of one or the other I think. Cruel to animals and those weaker than him as a child. Extremely charming and magnetic personality. Very manipulative. No conscience.

They're not exactly true psychological terms (though they're working on that), but they're more used in the field to describe certain types of people. Kind of like how insanity in the courtroom isn't a psychological condition?

For the DSM-4, there is a personality disorder called anti-social personality disorder that is generally what a sociopath would fall under. This requires a long history of disorder and would need a diagnosis of conduct disorder before age 15 to be diagnosed (or evidence that it existed).

It's a weird situation, though, because being diagnosed antisocial isn't exactly the same thing as being a sociopath. I guess the best way to say it is there's lots of overlap? It's hard for me to explain.

As for your relative, it's entirely possible. In my classes we learned that an estimated 1% of the population fall into the category. Most of them don't grow up to be serial killers like they do on TV, mind you. Most just grow up to be used car salesmen. ;) I'm just joking, but there is some truth to that. I mean, think of the ruthless businessman who doesn't give a damn about his competition and is willing to use shady practices to get his way. There are sociopath in all kinds of professions using their manipulations for their own gain. I think everyone knows at least one person who would fit the criteria. Statistics alone mean it's almost guaranteed.

Narcissistic personality disorder mimics some of the traits, though, so that's something else to consider.

kaitie
06-29-2011, 08:28 PM
This is interesting, my antagonist is hyper manipulative, I never considered that he may be a sociopath. This bares thinking about, thanks. :)

It requires a lot more than just being highly manipulative. In order to be diagnosed with just about anything you need to have more than one trait. I used to be good friends with someone (I based a character off this aspect of her once lol) who was highly manipulative, but very far from a sociopath.

I mean, a person who is narcissistic is also typically manipulative and takes advantage of others to get what he wants. You would have to go down a checklist and see if your antagonist was really a sociopath. He might be, but the one trait alone doesn't necessarily mean that he is, either.

TCnKC
06-29-2011, 08:55 PM
Not being able to empathize oddly doesn't necessarily correlate with not understanding what makes people tick. Empathy is the ability to recognize feelings, yes, but it goes along with the idea that you are sharing those feelings. It's like you recognize and respond appropriately. A socoiopath lacks the connection. They might not understand why, but they understand how, etc. They might even understand why but just not care.

I would argue that a lot of people, if not most, have met socoiopaths and don't even know it. I know I've met quite a few(some of them professors, among other things.)



I guess the right answer to this question is, no. According to how some people in this thread are defining "understanding of human nature".

For me personally, yes. And it's the reason I have been finding a lot of books lately, well, crap. I read characters that I know I'm supposed to find compelling, or relateable or whatever, and yet I don't actually as I am reading them. They feel flat, unrealistic, and "too stupid to live" - that rather harsh saying that people use to describe characters who take 100 more pages than the reader to figure out some pretty obvious stuff. The more I read, the more I write, the less tolerant I am for being told things about characters and not being shown them. It might be why I prefer unlikable narrators as it seems to me authors of such characters have taken the time to figure out why their characters are the way they are - as opposed to certain main characters I'm supposed to root for for it seems no other reason than they are main characters.

I think there are a lot of writers out there who do think as some in this thread think, that characters are secondary to plot. And why shouldn't they? Look at some of the bestselling books out there, clearly my opinion is in the minority.

Still, personally, yes to the question. I suppose pragmatically though, no.


I agree. I can enjoy a story where the characters aren't the main source of enjoyment but the stories that have great characters to go along with the plot/story/premise are usually my favorites.

When it comes to understanding human nature I don't think any writer truly understands it 100%. Obviously, some have a better grasp on it than others and it can definitely show in their characters(Hannibel Lector anyone?)

Writers thrive on TRYING to understand it though. "What if this happened?" "How would my character react?" "What would she do and why?" These are some of the basic questions that every writer goes through(some easier than others.)

Then again, I'm a newbie to the writing scene so maybe I don't know jack.

kaitie
06-29-2011, 08:58 PM
I would argue that a lot of people, if not most, have met socoiopaths and don't even know it. I know I've met quite a few(some of them professors, among other things.)





Without a doubt. I can think of a few people I think qualify, too. Terrifying, isn't it?

Phaeal
06-29-2011, 09:31 PM
Absolute knowledge of human nature, if such a thing is possible, is unnecessary. However, I think a writer who is incurious about people and their inner workings will have an uphill battle.

Or, at least, most of his readers will.

Little Ming
06-29-2011, 09:34 PM
Question: Is a good understanding of human nature necessary in order to write about people?

Short Answer: No. Only an understanding of your characters.

Long answer: I have major problems with the term "human nature." First, what the hell is it? Are we talking about psychology, sociology, criminology, religion, logic, biology, chemistry, physics, math (because everything can be reduced to math, right? :tongue )?

And second, to tie all this back to writing, even if we define what we mean by "human nature," whatever that definition may be, there are always exceptions. As mentioned above, there are the sociopaths, the psychopaths, the autistic (from whatever end of the spectrum), the antisocial, the mentally retarded, the eccentric, the weird, the strange, the "WTF?!?!" So why not just write a character that is the exception? If "human nature" is X, then just write a character that is Not X. They're typical the more interesting characters anyway. :evil

And now to return to my original short answer: No. You do not need to understand "human nature" to write about people. You only need to understand your characters.

scarletpeaches
06-29-2011, 09:36 PM
If you don't understand human nature, your characters will be laughable. And yes, I'm speaking as an author of erotic romance who laughs at some writers' attempts to be sexy and/or 'realistic'.

gothicangel
06-29-2011, 09:59 PM
It requires a lot more than just being highly manipulative. In order to be diagnosed with just about anything you need to have more than one trait. I used to be good friends with someone (I based a character off this aspect of her once lol) who was highly manipulative, but very far from a sociopath.

I mean, a person who is narcissistic is also typically manipulative and takes advantage of others to get what he wants. You would have to go down a checklist and see if your antagonist was really a sociopath. He might be, but the one trait alone doesn't necessarily mean that he is, either.

I'm going to read into this this further, thanks. :)

shadowwalker
06-29-2011, 10:20 PM
I don't know if knowing human nature is necessary, really. Being able to empathize, no. But I do think effective writers need to be observant, and curious. They'll observe that, in a given situation, some people will act one way, others another. Then they'll question why did this happen. Because people don't always act predictably - and if they were acting according to human nature, they would. "Of course, A will act this way - it's human nature!... So why didn't B act like that?"

kaitie
06-29-2011, 10:25 PM
I think that's a good point, shadowwalker. For instance, I can remember a case years ago where a family's child had been kidnapped. The family gave a press conference and the father spoke, but he was composed. The family was chastised and destroyed in the media and immediately suspected because they didn't respond in a way that they were expected to respond. They had nothing to do with the crime, but had a horrible time getting attention focused elsewhere. It finally came out that they weren't involved.

Every individual responds his/her own way to different circumstances. I think the most important thing isn't to just go with the human nature side and say "well this is what people do," but to recognize that personality traits and backgrounds influence things. It's understanding those links and creating a credible chain between traits and backgrounds and actions that make a character believable, IMO. Not necessarily that they respond in the socially expected manner.

scarletpeaches
06-29-2011, 10:26 PM
It's true that you have to know your characters inside out, and some will do A, while others will do B.

However, there are books out there which make me wonder if the author has any knowledge of human nature at all.

The trick isn't, I've realised, saying, "A person of Type X will go about things this way or that," because such writing leads to stereotypes.

The trick is in explaining why your characters do what they do. Authors fail when they come up with no explanation, or a half-hearted explanation for their characters' actions. If you don't communicate this properly to the reader, you've failed, because that's what storytelling is all about - communicating across a divide, with your reader. Maybe that divide is made up of time or distance or both, but cross it you must.

kaitie
06-29-2011, 10:28 PM
That's what I was trying to say. ;)

MJNL
06-29-2011, 10:29 PM
Yes, I think it's necessary. Otherwise you aren't going to write people who behave like real people. Their actions will probably end up forced and illogical at best, completely unrealistic at worst.

Now, do you have to be an expert? No, I wouldn't say so. But I can name at least one author who pretty much gets by on his ability to make realistic characters alone. I read a book of his in which essentially nothing happens until the last 150 pages of a 500+ page book (it’s just a family sitting around because they’re snowed in until---whamo! Rep points to anyone who knows what I’m talking about ;) ), but he wrote people so well I was hooked and read the thing in two sittings.

I don't see how you can possible write people if you don't understand people.

scarletpeaches
06-29-2011, 10:34 PM
That's what I was trying to say. ;)We cross-posted, and accidentally agreed. :)

areteus
06-29-2011, 10:45 PM
The trick isn't, I've realised, saying, "A person of Type X will go about things this way or that," because such writing leads to stereotypes.


I've always been leery of personality typing for this very reason - for all the police and many businesses base a siginificant portion of thier decisions on it. OK, it can simplify something very complicated to give you a quick and easy answer - why did he do this? Why its because he is a Type A personality, isn't it obvious? But that seems so facile and fails to truly describe the complexity of humanity - including the fact that you will give entirely different answers to those oh so important questions depending on what mood you are in at the time.

I did once have a theory that the signs of the Zodiac were based on an ancient attempt at personality typing (Ah, so you are an aries, this means you are likely to try to punch me in the mouth for making this really annoying statement... :) ). It fits because, if you ignore the whole 'the stars determine your fate' stuff, what you are left with is a series of personality traits that identify each of the signs.

But that is an aside...

The point about understanding your characters is important, I definitely agree with that. I would add to this, however, that to understand your characters you need to understand something of human nature. Of course, because the one human we understand the most is ourselves, we tend to find it easier to write characters that are similar to ourselves...

I did wonder about the concepts of sociopaths since they are not (from what I remember) in the DSM and I always assumed they were an American classification rarely used in the UK. Glad someone sorted that out for me... :)

These Mean Streets
06-29-2011, 10:51 PM
The OP's question is:

Is a good understanding of human nature necessary in order to write about people?

Not stories, but stories about people. The answer is Yes.

(I also noticed the OP has displayed trollish behavior by throwing a bomb yet not participating in the discussion. The OP also has a history of starting (and restarting) 'hot' threads. Interesting.)

gothicangel
06-30-2011, 12:32 AM
It's true that you have to know your characters inside out, and some will do A, while others will do B.

However, there are books out there which make me wonder if the author has any knowledge of human nature at all.

The trick isn't, I've realised, saying, "A person of Type X will go about things this way or that," because such writing leads to stereotypes.

The trick is in explaining why your characters do what they do. Authors fail when they come up with no explanation, or a half-hearted explanation for their characters' actions. If you don't communicate this properly to the reader, you've failed, because that's what storytelling is all about - communicating across a divide, with your reader. Maybe that divide is made up of time or distance or both, but cross it you must.

I agree with Scarlett [and I know she hates it ;)]

This has been niggling in my head during the WIP. I think many readers are going to think, why is my MC behaving this way? What father would behave like that to his son? But as Scarlett points out, it's my job to explain that this was how the father-son relationship worked in Ancient Rome. If a reader didn't get that, then I've failed.

Lisa von Lempke
06-30-2011, 02:00 AM
Does a psychopath (and to a lesser degree, a sociopath) even have feelings?

And could such a person write a novel?

They certainly have feelings. But they experience fear to a lesser degree than we do, and shame and guilt possibly not at all. They can certainly be frustrated, disappointed, jealous. They can also like things, like people, be in a good mood, and many other more positive stuff.

Their main problem is with empathy. They can have pain and they don't like it, but this does not translate to wanting other people not to have pain. What exactly enables empathy is not yet known - there's a theory that says it has to do with (non-functioning of) mirror neurons.

Can someone without empathy write a novel? Yes. All sorts of things are novels, of course. But without empathy, and the understanding of others (of 'human nature', besides one's own nature) that goes with it, the characters would probably be flat. I imagine a psychopath might like to write a novel about someone who was slighted, and then got back at his slighters in a big way.

How am I able to imagine this, about psychopaths?

Oh well, I'd rather not talk about it.

Lisa von Lempke
06-30-2011, 02:18 AM
In my classes we learned that an estimated 1% of the population fall into the category. Most of them don't grow up to be serial killers like they do on TV, mind you. Most just grow up to be used car salesmen. ;) I'm just joking, but there is some truth to that. I mean, think of the ruthless businessman who doesn't give a damn about his competition and is willing to use shady practices to get his way.

Narcissistic personality disorder mimics some of the traits, though, so that's something else to consider.

My post is a bit on the redundant side. I replied to someone fairly early up in the discussion, only to find that most of what I said has already been said by others. But I guess that's true of life, in general. (A friend of mine struggles obsessively with the question of whether he has ever had a truly 'original thought' in his life.)

From what I understand, all psychopaths (or sociopaths, as they were later called, or people with antisocial personality disorder - though that's a wider category than the original 'psychopath') are narcissists, but not all narcissists are psychopaths.

Wasn't it Robert Hare who said that instead of studying psychopaths in prisons, he might also have gone to the stock market?

He wasn't joking - as katie mentions, they're found in relatively high numbers in business life, often at high positions.

Sadly, many people don't recognize psychopathy in non-violent people.

IceCreamEmpress
06-30-2011, 02:32 AM
Absolute knowledge of human nature, if such a thing is possible, is unnecessary. However, I think a writer who is incurious about people and their inner workings will have an uphill battle.

This is resonant for me. I am constantly mystified by other people's motivations, and thus very curious about them, and think about them more, I would wager, than a lot of people who have better judgment and understanding of the folks around them.

Amadan
06-30-2011, 02:57 AM
Someone with a poor understanding of human nature might be able to write a good pot-boiler, or one of those books with a great plot but cardboard characters, but would not be able to write a story with believable/likeable characters.

If you deny that writers can write well without understanding people, though, consider all the authors who wrote books about people who weren't like them (e.g., women, non-white people) back before it was generally accepted that people not like you are actually people. I mean, I love me some Dickens, but his female characters are so clearly filtered through a myopic Victorian lens in which women are either on a pedestal or fallen into a gutter. More contemporaneously, Isaac Asimov wrote great sci-fi, but his characterization -- especially of women -- sucked. I don't think Dickens understood women at all, and I have doubts that Asimov really understood people. Note that this in no way means either of them were sociopaths -- they certainly were not. But neither of them had a good grasp on the POV of people who weren't like them. Sympathy, yes. Empathy, no.


Unless your readership are non-human (and trust me, there are few more frustrating exercises than trying to get a cat to read a book)

You've... tried this? :O


One of the traits of being a sociopath is that they tend to be highly manipulative, even likeable. Ted Bundy was highly charismatic. There was also a study done in which a group of sociopaths were given group therapy to teach them how to empathize. The therapists thought the study was a remarkable success, but when the subjects were released they had a higher recidivism rate than normal parolees. They were shocked, until they realized that the subjects had essentially been using the group sessions as a way to understand how to manipulate others better.

I've seen several accounts (anecdotal) that suggest a lot of therapy for abusers has only the effect of teaching the abuser how to abuse in a less identifiably-abusive way. Only someone who really wants to change will be able to change their fundamental behavior, and current evidence seems to be that true sociopaths don't really have that capacity. (Not all abusers are sociopaths, of course, but I'd say the intersection is pretty high.)

scarletpeaches
06-30-2011, 03:00 AM
You want someone who hated women? Try Thomas Hardy.

muravyets
06-30-2011, 04:09 AM
...



You've... tried this? :O


...
It was a good book and a fast read -- don't remember which one it was, maybe some mystery or thriller of some kind -- I thought he'd enjoy it, and he just doesn't read enough, frankly. It's not good for him. But let me put it this way -- we made better progress on teaching him to brew coffee -- even though I still have to make my own every day. ;)

jaksen
06-30-2011, 04:12 AM
Question: Is a good understanding of human nature necessary in order to write about people?

Short Answer: No. Only an understanding of your characters.

Long answer: I have major problems with the term "human nature." First, what the hell is it? Are we talking about psychology, sociology, criminology, religion, logic, biology, chemistry, physics, math (because everything can be reduced to math, right? :tongue )?

And second, to tie all this back to writing, even if we define what we mean by "human nature," whatever that definition may be, there are always exceptions. As mentioned above, there are the sociopaths, the psychopaths, the autistic (from whatever end of the spectrum), the antisocial, the mentally retarded, the eccentric, the weird, the strange, the "WTF?!?!" So why not just write a character that is the exception? If "human nature" is X, then just write a character that is Not X. They're typical the more interesting characters anyway. :evil

And now to return to my original short answer: No. You do not need to understand "human nature" to write about people. You only need to understand your characters.

Understanding my characters? Not all of them and not all the time.

How else might they keep surprising me?

Little Ming
06-30-2011, 05:28 AM
Understanding my characters? Not all of them and not all the time.

How else might they keep surprising me?

I think we all understand our characters to some extend. After all, they are our creations. We made them, we created their setting, their histories, they belong to us. We may not always consciously understand them, but I think we understand just enough to know what happens next. How else would anything ever get written? :tongue

Ludicrum
06-30-2011, 07:09 AM
Because the world of literature has absolutely no reclusive or downright unsociable writers. ...

HelloKiddo
06-30-2011, 08:32 AM
Writers reclusive? Never!

LOL. But you can be the sort who doesn't socialize often and still has a talent for writing characters. Many of history's best writers were that sort.

To be a good writer I think all you really need is to be able to accurately convey human behavior and motivation. And that you only need for the characters you write. Exactly how well you need to understand "human nature" on a deep level--I'm not sure it's necessary.

The Backward OX
06-30-2011, 10:52 AM
Empathy is the ability to recognize feelings, yes, but it goes along with the idea that you are sharing those feelings.

This is by far the most pertinent comment made in all these discussions. So many other people have been underscoring a need for empathy as part of the process of writing believable characters. Kaitie is the only one to zero in on the full meaning of the word. Clearly it is impossible for a writer to share (to participate in the use of) characters’ feelings. Characters don't have feelings, or ingrown toenails, or a nagging spouse, characters are no more than a few words thrown at the page, figments of a writer's imagination; ergo empathy is not needed in order to write good characters. End of.

blacbird
06-30-2011, 11:10 AM
Clearly it is impossible for a writer to share (to participate in the use of) charactersí feelings. Characters don't have feelings, or ingrown toenails, or a nagging spouse, characters are no more than a few words thrown at the page, figments of a writer's imagination; ergo empathy is not needed in order to write good characters. End of.

I don't have a clue what the hell you are talking about here. Characters are based on the observable characteristics of people,on their manners of behavior, responses to situations, reactions to stress and conflict.

So, how about you show us an example of your writing where you pay no attention to aspects of human nature? I'd love to see it.

caw

Anninyn
06-30-2011, 01:05 PM
This is by far the most pertinent comment made in all these discussions. So many other people have been underscoring a need for empathy as part of the process of writing believable characters. Kaitie is the only one to zero in on the full meaning of the word. Clearly it is impossible for a writer to share (to participate in the use of) charactersí feelings. Characters don't have feelings, or ingrown toenails, or a nagging spouse, characters are no more than a few words thrown at the page, figments of a writer's imagination; ergo empathy is not needed in order to write good characters. End of.

You don;t have to have empathy for your characters: But you have to have empathy for real people so your characters can seem like real people.

Some of the best fiction I've read has made me anxious on behalf of the characters: it's made me cry when they suffer, get giddy and excited when things work out. I felt that way because the characters seemed real, and I doubt they would have seemed real if the author hadn't had a good level of empathy for other human beings; or a decent understanding of what makes people tick.

Sure, no-one can understand the entirety of human nature, but you do need to have some understanding, combined with curiosity and fascination about the complexity of the human mind and heart- or your characters will just be collections of personality traits.

The Backward OX
06-30-2011, 01:42 PM
You don;t have to have empathy for your characters: But you have to have empathy for real people so your characters can seem like real people.

With respect, thatís an oversimplification. I can have empathy with my real life neighbour whose loved pet cat died as I know what it feels like to have a loved pet cat die, and if I was to write a fictional account based on this loss I'm sure that that empathy would be manifest in my writing; but if I was to write about a fictional policeman in a confrontation with a fictional armed robber, I would have no idea how either of them would feel as I have no empathy with either of them.

scarletpeaches
06-30-2011, 02:15 PM
You don't have to rob a bank to know how a bank robber feels. Unless you're a robot, you know fear, desperation, anxiety, despair...or whatever drives a man to perform such an act.

Mr Flibble
06-30-2011, 02:23 PM
You don't have to rob a bank to know how a bank robber feels. Unless you're a robot, you know fear, desperation, anxiety, despair...or whatever drives a man to perform such an act.

This. I have never been in half the situations my characters have. That doesn't mean I can't imagine what it feels like to be in those situations, because I have known emotions, or know people who have experienced similar and I can empathise with how they might have felt. I use my knowledge of human behaviour (my own and observing others) to make my characters behave believably. If I did not, they wouldn't be believable.

That said, I don't think you HAVE to have empathy. You don't have to feel other's feelings with them. You do have to observe a lot of people, and try to understand what drives them. I mean it's hard sometimes, but it can really benefit your writing.

ETA: Because it doesn't have to be really specific. To write about the loss of a cat, you don't have to have lost a cat. You don;t have to have been afraid of that man with a knife, just afraid. But if you have experienced loss or fear, or can imagine it, then there you are.

gothicangel
06-30-2011, 03:35 PM
You don;t have to have empathy for your characters: But you have to have empathy for real people so your characters can seem like real people.

Some of the best fiction I've read has made me anxious on behalf of the characters: it's made me cry when they suffer, get giddy and excited when things work out. I felt that way because the characters seemed real, and I doubt they would have seemed real if the author hadn't had a good level of empathy for other human beings; or a decent understanding of what makes people tick.

Sure, no-one can understand the entirety of human nature, but you do need to have some understanding, combined with curiosity and fascination about the complexity of the human mind and heart- or your characters will just be collections of personality traits.

QFT.

Kick-ass plots fade quickly from memory, characters that a reader falls in love with stay with them forever.

jaksen
06-30-2011, 03:53 PM
I think we all understand our characters to some extend. After all, they are our creations. We made them, we created their setting, their histories, they belong to us. We may not always consciously understand them, but I think we understand just enough to know what happens next. How else would anything ever get written? :tongue

But do you always know what will happen next? Well, I think I do, to some extent. But many a time my characters veer off to look at something obscure or unimportant and bang, the book or story is off in a different direction.

So yes, I do 'get' my characters, but about as much as I 'get' my kids or husband. Are they fairly predictable? Yeah, about as much as I am. But then again, they can sometimes surprise me, like omg you DID WHAT? Or when a friend says yes, I saw your daughter at that male strip club, I am like OMG SHE DID WHAT?

My mother, tres conservative, Republican, wonderful lady but very opinionated - if she can't imagine something, then you can't either - anyhow, she goes to a resort island. Takes my nine-year old daughter. I'm okay with it. When they return, daughter tells me that grammy took her to a beach where people wore no clothes.

Now come on, predictable? Did I think I understood my mother? After 40+ years, damn straight I thought I did. But take my daughter to a nude beach? Not in a million years would I think she'd do that.

They kept their swimsuits on, btw.

Point is, I don't always know what my characters are going to do, or why they are going to do certain things. It's part of the joy of writing, I think. Yes, I do understand them, and yes they pretty much obey me and my writing fingers, but sometimes...

Like my mom...

They go off and do things which surprise even me, their creator.

backslashbaby
06-30-2011, 04:17 PM
I know a psychopath who is a great writer. A very smart girl. Charming, funny, can be so enjoyable when she feels like it. She's always been a voracious reader, and she likes a variety of stories.

She liked to be popular and liked discussion and great laughs very much. So she wasn't bound to act the way she really felt about folks very often. Folks don't like that! She also avoided things that could land her in jail, generally speaking. I'm sure that was to avoid jail rather than any moral compass.

She tripped up often enough to be noticeable to everyone who spent significant time with her, though. You can't mimic someone with a conscience all the time, apparently. (An easy example: she stole the coins her father had collected since childhood and framed, stole them for ciggy money, with no qualms whatsoever. And she forgot that she should have kept that a secret. You could see her kick herself when we did react normally to her admission. She could have asked us for ciggy money, easily, but that made her look bad, see?)

AmsterdamAssassin
06-30-2011, 04:35 PM
Now that's complex and interesting. Disclaimer: I am not an expert, nor a qualified psychologist, but in my psychology studies my understanding was that sociopaths and psychopaths have feelings- grief, anger, etc- but no empathy. They simply can't comprehend that other people may feel things too.They also don't see other people as people, they see them as things there to get the sociopath the things the sociopath wants- whether that's sex, power, or a new T.V.

Obviously, if I'm wrong, please correct me. It's an area of study that fascinates me and I'd like to learn as much as possible.

The main difference between ASP and sociopathy is the empathy part - ASP have a limited conscience, but can still muster empathy; sociopaths have no conscience and mimic empathy.


So would you say that a person who lacks the ability to empathise would make a poor writer (of fiction)?

No, because a successful sociopath studies humans to mimic them. By mimicking them, they are often far more knowledgable about human interaction than most normal humans. Plus they study to manipulate, and telling stories revolves upon manipulating the reader.


My goodness; there are people out there who think you need a working knowledge of your subject matter?

Whatever next?

Well, that's why I have so much trouble researching...


It isn't necessary to write realistic human characters in a story. You can have a story without characters, or with only non-human ones. You can have characters act in wildly inhuman ways and still tell a great story.

The rabbits in Watership Down were basically humans in the guise of rabbits.


Psychopaths and sociopaths - I don't understand the difference. A relative of mine used to show all the unpleasant signs of one or the other I think. Cruel to animals and those weaker than him as a child. Extremely charming and magnetic personality. Very manipulative. No conscience.

Although the terms overlap, in general psychopathy and sociopathy are both related to Anti-Social Personality Disorder, where Psychopathy would be considered more hereditary [in the genes] and Sociopathy environmental [societal negative influences]. Psychopaths are supposed to be more influenced by their own volatile temperaments, and sociopaths are supposed to have more even temperaments and are motivated more by external pressures, such as societal ambition [greed, power, status].

Anti-Social Personalities are abundant, it's only a Disorder if the ASP either harms society or themselves by their behavior.

Effectively, while many serial killers are sociopathic, not all sociopaths are serial killer or even criminals.

For more information, check out books by Robert Hare. Especially his book with Paul Babiak, 'Snakes in Suits - When Psychopaths Go to Work', is informative about Psychopaths/Sociopaths hidden within society.


One of the traits of being a sociopath is that they tend to be highly manipulative, even likeable. Ted Bundy was highly charismatic. There was also a study done in which a group of sociopaths were given group therapy to teach them how to empathize. The therapists thought the study was a remarkable success, but when the subjects were released they had a higher recidivism rate than normal parolees. They were shocked, until they realized that the subjects had essentially been using the group sessions as a way to understand how to manipulate others better.

In other words, it might be difficult to write someone who would be a hundred percent convincing, but a sociopath could potentially have a good enough understanding of a person's motivations to write about them. I think conveying why the reader should care and giving the reader emotional connection might be more difficult, but it's really the reader you're manipulating most, so...

Autism-spectrum disorders would make writing difficult for many, but that isn't quite the same as a lack of empathy. While one of the traits is an inability to understand emotion and a tendency toward concrete rather than abstract thought, this is a case where I think a person's view of the world is just different than most people's. I've read some writing by people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders that was just amazing and fascinating. I think some aspects might be more difficult, but I think they might have other advantages that allow them to have a different viewpoint on life, and one of the points of a novel is to get into someone else's mind and see the world through their perspective.

As for the question at hand, I think it depends on the reader more than the writer. For instance, I've read a couple of very famous authors who, IMO, display very little understanding of human nature. The characters act out-of-character all the time and the plots strike me as contrived with characters forced to fit the story rather than the story being created by the characters. These authors sell millions of books, though. I might have no tolerance for it, but many people don't mind as long as they get a good story.

I do think it helps, though. Empathy is probably my strongest point, which is why character has always come easily for me. I can put myself into another person's shoes and follow them around. I personally can't imagine trying to put together a story without that, but I don't doubt that it can be done. It's much like anything else in writing. Any weakness can be overcome by a strong enough strength in other areas.

Very lucid post, Kaitie. You read Hare?


How am I able to imagine this, about psychopaths?

Oh well, I'd rather not talk about it.


Have we met? ;)


You don't have to rob a bank to know how a bank robber feels. Unless you're a robot, you know fear, desperation, anxiety, despair...or whatever drives a man to perform such an act.

However, it does help if you've had a troubled life, it makes the troubled lives of your characters much more believable.

AmsterdamAssassin
06-30-2011, 04:41 PM
I know a psychopath who is a great writer.

Was she actually diagnosed a 'psychopath', because most of what you put here would just qualify her as Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Psychopaths are rare in comparison to ASPDs


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagnostic_and_Statistical_Manual_of_Mental_Disord ers) fourth edition, DSM IV-TR = 301.7, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder), defines antisocial personality disorder (in Axis II Cluster B (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_disorder#Cluster_B_.28dramatic.2C_emot ional_or_erratic_disorders.29)) as:[1] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisocial_personality_disorder#cite_note-DSM-IV-TR-0)
A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:

failure to conform to social norms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_%28sociology%29) with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
deception (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deception), as indicated by repeatedly lying (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie), use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
impulsiveness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impulsiveness) or failure to plan ahead;
irritability (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irritability) and aggressiveness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aggression), as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
lack of remorse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remorse), as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalization_%28making_excuses%29) having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;

B) The individual is at least age 18 years.C) There is evidence of conduct disorder (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conduct_disorder) with onset before age 15 years.D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia) or a manic episode (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manic_episode).

bearilou
06-30-2011, 04:47 PM
You don't have to rob a bank to know how a bank robber feels. Unless you're a robot, you know fear, desperation, anxiety, despair...or whatever drives a man to perform such an act.

What SP said. You don't have to skydive to know what that jolt of adrenaline feels like as you head out of the plane. You don't have to have robbed a bank to know what that desperate fear of not knowing where money will come to feed you or get your next fix or express your outrage at the inconsistencies of the government/life.

You just have had to experienced those types of strong emotions and understand that the reasons that drive a person to desperate acts are not always for nefarious, moustache-twirling reasons. Sometimes it's about situational ethics and what motivates someone to do anything. About what's important to a person/character to send them along those paths.

I think that requires, if not a fundamental understanding of people as a whole, at least one of yourself.

backslashbaby
06-30-2011, 04:51 PM
Was she actually diagnosed a 'psychopath', because most of what you put here would just qualify her as Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Psychopaths are rare in comparison to ASPDs

She's way too smart to be diagnosed as either ;)

I had to guess at psychopath, based on what I've read of the differences. She had a great upbringing (if spoiled), but her real father, who left when she was an infant, was a horrible and scary man. So I'm guessing genetics?

She conjured up a story that got her older brother kicked out of the house (because she felt like it) by the time she was 8, but she's not the fighting sort. Not even argumentative, really. She is utterly manipulative in any aggressive tendencies she may have, with a big tendency toward sneaky and over-the-top revenge. Revenge for things like being the one a guy she likes is interested in, as well as for real slights.

I still love her writing, btw ;) She holds an extremely influential and respectable job, which is a little scary, I think.

(eta)More on the list: she engaged in a lot of criminal behavior, but is too smart to be caught. She was fired frequently (for not-quite-proveable theft, usually), just not arrested. Lying and conning is a given with her. I wouldn't call her impulsive, though.

What is most interesting, imho, is that she tries to seem empathetic and nice, so she's not one who is obvious and lands in jail a lot. She knows better than to screw up the status she craves, usually. Of course her stories are written with a conman's skill. That's what people like to read.

The Backward OX
06-30-2011, 05:10 PM
I don't have a clue what the hell you are talking about here.


Kaitie said empathy includes a sharing of feelings and I said a writer canít share a characterís feelings. Whatís so hard to understand?

bearilou
06-30-2011, 05:47 PM
Kaitie said empathy includes a sharing of feelings and I said a writer canít share a characterís feelings.

Not in a literal sense, no.

However, you're the writer. The character you create comes from within your creative mind. In a figurative sense, yes you do.

Lisa von Lempke
06-30-2011, 05:54 PM
Quote:

Originally Posted by Lisa von Lempke
How am I able to imagine this, about psychopaths?

Oh well, I'd rather not talk about it.


AmsterdamAssassin:

Have we met?

Yes, if we've been in the same Hospital for the Criminally Insane! I was in Block 5, cell 23. You?

scarletpeaches
06-30-2011, 07:02 PM
Kaitie said empathy includes a sharing of feelings and I said a writer canít share a characterís feelings. Whatís so hard to understand?Clearly blacbird has no empathy, which would make him a pretty good writer according to you.

AmsterdamAssassin
06-30-2011, 07:39 PM
Yes, if we've been in the same Hospital for the Criminally Insane! I was in Block 5, cell 23. You?

Nope. I'm even better than Backslashbaby's friend at hiding my nefarious proclivities. And the results... :D

kaitie
06-30-2011, 08:20 PM
This is by far the most pertinent comment made in all these discussions. So many other people have been underscoring a need for empathy as part of the process of writing believable characters. Kaitie is the only one to zero in on the full meaning of the word. Clearly it is impossible for a writer to share (to participate in the use of) charactersí feelings. Characters don't have feelings, or ingrown toenails, or a nagging spouse, characters are no more than a few words thrown at the page, figments of a writer's imagination; ergo empathy is not needed in order to write good characters. End of.

I think this is a personal difference. I've heard some people talk about characters and say similar things, however to me they are practically real people. They live in my head and have full, completely lives before the story begins and after it ends.

More than anything, though, I am able to emotionally put myself in their shoes when crazy things are happening. For me, the most rewarding scenes to write, as well as the ones that turn out best in the book, are those that are highly emotionally charged, be it anger or fear or sadness or happiness. I'm the same way when I read.

I know that the characters aren't real in a literal sense, but they exist in my mind and I am capable of emotionally attaching to them. Not everyone does this, but many writers do. For me those are the best, most powerful moments.

kaitie
06-30-2011, 08:24 PM
But do you always know what will happen next? Well, I think I do, to some extent. But many a time my characters veer off to look at something obscure or unimportant and bang, the book or story is off in a different direction.

So yes, I do 'get' my characters, but about as much as I 'get' my kids or husband. Are they fairly predictable? Yeah, about as much as I am. But then again, they can sometimes surprise me, like omg you DID WHAT? Or when a friend says yes, I saw your daughter at that male strip club, I am like OMG SHE DID WHAT?

My mother, tres conservative, Republican, wonderful lady but very opinionated - if she can't imagine something, then you can't either - anyhow, she goes to a resort island. Takes my nine-year old daughter. I'm okay with it. When they return, daughter tells me that grammy took her to a beach where people wore no clothes.

Now come on, predictable? Did I think I understood my mother? After 40+ years, damn straight I thought I did. But take my daughter to a nude beach? Not in a million years would I think she'd do that.

They kept their swimsuits on, btw.

Point is, I don't always know what my characters are going to do, or why they are going to do certain things. It's part of the joy of writing, I think. Yes, I do understand them, and yes they pretty much obey me and my writing fingers, but sometimes...

Like my mom...

They go off and do things which surprise even me, their creator.

I don't think I responded to this yesterday, but I'm the same way. I'll think I know my characters inside and out, and then they'll turn around and do something that has me going "whaaaat!?" I think for me a lot of times it's that they are put in an extreme situation and I just don't quite know until I get there how they'll respond.

Sometimes it's a simpler thing. Yesterday one of my characters showed up out of nowhere to give my MC a hug. I didn't know she was going to do that, but it just happened.

kaitie
06-30-2011, 08:26 PM
Was she actually diagnosed a 'psychopath', because most of what you put here would just qualify her as Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Psychopaths are rare in comparison to ASPDs

Just to clarify, there is no diagnosis of "psychopath." Antisocial personality disorder is the official diagnosis.

AmsterdamAssassin
06-30-2011, 09:37 PM
Just to clarify, there is no diagnosis of "psychopath." Antisocial personality disorder is the official diagnosis.

Just to clarify even further, there is no official diagnosis for sociopathy/psychopathy in the DSM-IV, because they are supposed to be directly related to ASPD.

However, if one follows Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised [PCL-R]:

Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"


Glibness/superficial charm (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superficial_charm)
Grandiose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandiosity) sense of self-worth
Pathological lying (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudologia_fantastica)
Cunning/manipulative (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation)
Lack of remorse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remorse) or guilt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guilt)
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egocentric))
Callousness; lack of empathy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathy)
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".


Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Parasitic lifestyle
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Impulsivity
Irresponsibility
Juvenile delinquency
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release

Traits not correlated with either factor


Promiscuous sexual behavior
Many short-term marital relationships
Criminal versatility
Acquired behavioural sociopathy/sociological conditioning (Item 21: a newly identified trait i.e. a person relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive)

You can see there are a variety of factors present in psychopaths that are not present in ASPD.

So it depends on the manual for diagnosis... Most psychiatrists consider the DSM-IV the authority*. I've read enough about the research by Hare, et al., to believe in the PCL-R**.

*The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] is trademarked by the American Psychiatrists Association [APA], but has been controversial in the past. For instance, in DSM-I and II, homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder, which was amended only in 1980 when the DSM-III came out.

**Robert Hare studied psychopaths/sociopaths for several decades, both inside and outside prisons, and has compiled his PCL-R in part to aid the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit into building markers to find sociopathic serial killers. He published several highly regarded books on psychopathy.

Lisa von Lempke
06-30-2011, 10:14 PM
I must say, I can't write about psychopaths. I've read a lot about them, but I still don't know too well what their inner world looks like. I think a lot of writing about psychopathic serial killers is a bit on the cardboard side. What really moves these people?

I think most of us here agree that it's useful to have empathy, and to know a little bit about how human beings function, if you want to write about them. Recently saw a movie in which a man suddenly lost his wife and daughter, due to someone's reckless driving. His behavior was absurd. People in grief don't all react in the same way. But the character played by Dean Cain wasn't remotely in shock. Which would have made sense if he were a psychopath, but he obviously wasn't supposed to be. Ah well, that was a matter both of acting and writing.

'Dr.' [don't know if he really is one] Sam Vaknin, with a large internet presence, has recently decided to present himself as psychopath, instead of narcissist, which latter title he has used for years. (Narcissism and psychopathy go together well, of course. He may have decided psychopathy would engender more attention.) There's a movie about him: "I, psychopath". That's probably good learning material, though to me, dr. Vaknin is a bit tedious.

I hope he'll never write a novel. I can't imagine it would be good. A little genuine interest for others is probably a good thing, in the writer's toolbox.

AmsterdamAssassin
06-30-2011, 11:16 PM
You've read his books, I presume: http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/v#a2702

kaitie
06-30-2011, 11:22 PM
They are working to make psychopathy a type of ASPD, though, as far as I know. The next DSM might include it in there.

Lisa von Lempke
06-30-2011, 11:40 PM
You've read his books, I presume: http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/v#a2702

No, I haven't - just his voluminous text on his website, quite some time ago, actually. Years, I think.

Goodness, he's written a lot of books - almost as many as Joseph Stalin, and about as varied a series of subjects. (Stalin was an expert in linguistics as well as gardening, orchestration as well as ballet, biology, etc.)

AmsterdamAssassin
06-30-2011, 11:41 PM
The next DSM might include it in there.

In the DSM-V, DSM-5, you mean?

Lisa von Lempke
06-30-2011, 11:45 PM
In the DSM-V, DSM-5, you mean?

What - they won't use V, but 5? Whatever for?

Little Ming
06-30-2011, 11:47 PM
But do you always know what will happen next? Well, I think I do, to some extent. But many a time my characters veer off to look at something obscure or unimportant and bang, the book or story is off in a different direction.

So yes, I do 'get' my characters, but about as much as I 'get' my kids or husband. Are they fairly predictable? Yeah, about as much as I am. But then again, they can sometimes surprise me, like omg you DID WHAT? Or when a friend says yes, I saw your daughter at that male strip club, I am like OMG SHE DID WHAT?

My mother, tres conservative, Republican, wonderful lady but very opinionated - if she can't imagine something, then you can't either - anyhow, she goes to a resort island. Takes my nine-year old daughter. I'm okay with it. When they return, daughter tells me that grammy took her to a beach where people wore no clothes.

Now come on, predictable? Did I think I understood my mother? After 40+ years, damn straight I thought I did. But take my daughter to a nude beach? Not in a million years would I think she'd do that.

They kept their swimsuits on, btw.

Point is, I don't always know what my characters are going to do, or why they are going to do certain things. It's part of the joy of writing, I think. Yes, I do understand them, and yes they pretty much obey me and my writing fingers, but sometimes...

Like my mom...

They go off and do things which surprise even me, their creator.

I don't think we are disagreeing. I'm just saying we have to understand our characters enough to know what happens next, not necessarily why it happens, just what happens. Otherwise there would be no story if our characters never did anything. :tongue

And I said you own your characters (they are figments of your imagination). I never said you controlled them. ;)



I don't think I responded to this yesterday, but I'm the same way. I'll think I know my characters inside and out, and then they'll turn around and do something that has me going "whaaaat!?" I think for me a lot of times it's that they are put in an extreme situation and I just don't quite know until I get there how they'll respond.

Sometimes it's a simpler thing. Yesterday one of my characters showed up out of nowhere to give my MC a hug. I didn't know she was going to do that, but it just happened.

Heh, my "hero" decided he wanted to be a villain then turned around and killed his brother who turned out to be the real "hero." Massive rewrite ensues. Oh well. I don't know how it happened, I just know it did happen. :tongue



As to the whole empathy discussion/debate/argument, my layman's understanding of empathy is not "I have been in the exact same situation as X, therefore I can understand what X is feeling," but rather "I can imagine being in the same situation as X, therefore I can understand what X is feeling."

AmsterdamAssassin
07-01-2011, 12:03 AM
What - they won't use V, but 5? Whatever for?

The APA doesn't need to explain itself to mere mentals mortals...

Lisa von Lempke
07-01-2011, 12:14 AM
The APA doesn't need to explain itself to mere mentals mortals...

God no...It's probably a sign of a severe personality disorder that I even asked about it...

whimsical rabbit
07-01-2011, 08:57 PM
Elsewhere, another poster had this to say:



What do you think?

I think aadams is right, as usual.

I guess I share the same prejudice.

I also think that many people who think they can't understand the human condition end up producing brilliant ethographies.

I've said it many a time before. Perception is the key. Brainstorming and observing are keys to such perception.

The Backward OX
07-02-2011, 07:28 AM
I also think that many people who think they can't understand the human condition end up producing brilliant ethographies.

I'm sorry, but my dictionary doesn't know this word.

whimsical rabbit
07-02-2011, 09:45 AM
I'm sorry, but my dictionary doesn't know this word.

Sorry. It may very well not exist in English. It's originally a Greek word (the first part is ethos) and linguists are still debating over its meaning. I use it quite a lot because I love it but perhaps I need to be a bit cautious.

Anyhow, I meant end up producing brilliant portraits of human ethos and the human condition.

Cindy
08-31-2011, 11:13 PM
Is a good understanding of human nature necessary in order to write about people?


Yes!! Its very important to know and understand human nature. What if someone was being chased by a scary person, its important to know that humans will do practically anything to survive. Look at the show Survivor.

Cindy
08-31-2011, 11:20 PM
Does a psychopath (and to a lesser degree, a sociopath) even have feelings?

And could such a person write a novel?

[QUOTE=gothicangel;6298731]Just because a person suffers from psychopathia doesn't make them a robot. They are unable to empathize with other people, society. That doesn't mean they have feelings. They still have hopes, dreams and ambitions.

I agree with Gothicangel when they said "just because a person suffers from psychopathia doesnt make them a robot" because it doesnt make a psychopath a robot, but it does something to the mind. Just like depression, it is a certain way of thinking. Yes I do believe that psychopaths do have hopes and dreams but I think they are different then more normal dreams (ex. becoming a doctor, becoming a police officer etc.)

PaulyWally
09-01-2011, 12:15 AM
I'm wondering what exactly is the cognitive basis for "understanding human nature."

I ask because I have a difficult time discerning "human nature." It's a very relative and subjective term. What is "human nature" to me is not "human nature" to my brother (or anyone else in the world for that matter).