Character Psychology

On Character, part two.

Gained from the insight of Stephen King, Robert McKee, and Brandon Sanderson, here is advice for developing your book character’s psychology.


A deep character is a character that posses dimension. What creates dimension? Is there a formula to use? According to Robert McKee, dimension is contradiction.

No, I don’t mean squabbling characters who contradict everyone. A deep character is someone who is herself and also the opposite of herself.

I as a person am shy, but I am also bubbly and love to be involved in theater. For my sacrificial moments, I have equally selfish, petty ones. I love to drive, and I also hate to drive. Dimension is contradiction.

This is possibly the single most important phrase in character development. Dimension is contradiction.

For your ensemble, beware. Don’t give the police officer with five lines a contradictory character. When he doesn’t show up again, the reader will be bemused. They will expect characters with depth to show up again.

Your ensemble is there to compliment your protagonist, to draw out of her what needs to be drawn out. Secondary characters should not exist entirely on their own: their personality and levels of contradiction should be there to show off your protagonist’s true self.


No matter how evil, how petty, or how wonderful, you must love your characters. All of them. A good actor loves and understands the villain he plays. Love and understand and sympathize with every character, and it will bleed into your words and enter the mind of the reader.

To make characters human, genuinely likable, here is a list of psychologically appealing traits. If combined with a villain, they will add great depth of character, because they will make your antagonist a contradiction.

  • open hearted/compassionate
  • looking out for the underdog
  • encouraging
  • funny
  • a brave victim
  • forgiving
  • finding beauty and joy in life
  • passionate
  • weakness and fears
  • is genuinely sweet to kids
  • cares about other’s opportunities
  • doubts they’re doing the right thing

To make characters more human and relatable, decide/discover the answers to these questions.

  • How do they get attention?
  • In what ways do they suppress their desires?
  • What do they want?
  • What do they need?
  • Where are they most empty?

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