Purple Prose + Writing

On My Writerly Bookshelf

The premise behind The Writer’s Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman is brilliant. I don’t know about you, but my psychology background consists of three university courses: introduction to psychology, abnormal psychology, and social psychology. And when I took them, it wasn’t because I wanted to be a writer. I might have taken better notes had I know I’d eventually be one.

As the second part of the super long title indicates (How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior), this book is perfect for anyone who’s writing a novel. Okay, maybe the title doesn’t actually show that, but it’s true. In chapter two (Why People Do What They Do), Carolyn discusses the different therapist stereotypes portrayed in films and novels. She then goes into the five different therapy orientations (e.g. psychodynamic therapy) and describes how each would be used to help a client overcome whatever issues he’s dealing with. But she takes it one step further by explaining how each therapy can help you understand your character (even if your character doesn’t require therapy).

Another benefit of the book is that Carolyn explains the realities of therapy, and helps you create realistic scenes in which your main character is either receiving therapy or conducting a therapy session. Again, novels, TV shows, and movies often misrepresent this, so it’s not a good idea to use them as a guide when you write your story.

Carolyn also describes the difference between someone who needs therapy to help them deal with some aspect of their life verses someone who has a diagnosable disorder. A large chunk of the book then covers the different disorders, including:

• Mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders
• Childhood disorders (autistic spectrum disorder, ADHD, conduct disorder)
• Dementia
• Eating disorders
• Post traumatic stress disorder
• Dissociation
• Personality disorders

And let’s not forget the chapter on psychopaths and villains. Here you get insights into what makes a psychopath and how to makes yours believable. This also includes the corporate psychopath, the individual who’s hungry for power. And finally, there’s a chapter on drugs and treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy, and one on emergencies in psychotherapy (suicidality, homicidality, and hospitalization).

The idea behind the book is to help you avoid making the same mistakes so many lay writers make when writing a novel that requires some insight into psychology or therapy. Throughout the book, there are little tidbits called “Don’t Let This Happen To You” that will help you avoid the mistakes that will weaken the credibility of your writing. Plus, Carolyn has a great suggestion in chapter one for coming up with plot ideas. I’m not going to tell you what it is, though. You have to read the book.

Overall, I’m thrilled that I bought the book. It’s open me to a huge range of plot ideas for future projects. You’ve got to love a book that can do that.


I’m blogging today on the Query Tracker blog on Deepening Your Character’s Needs

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On My Writerly Bookshelf + Writing