Psychology for Screenwriters by William Indick

From the back cover:

To make their stories come alive, screenwriters must understand human behavior. Using this book, writers can make Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, and Joseph Campbell their writing partners. Psychology for Screenwriters helps scribes craft psychologically resonant characters and conflict. You’ll learn to create convincing motivation, believable identity and development, and archetypes that produce authentic screen moments.

Camy here:

It might be because I majored in Psychology in college, but I thought this book was one of the more fascinating writing books I’ve read this year.

This book was most useful to me to explain the concept of archetypes and dramatic situations—why there only seem to be a limited number of them that are used often in drama and novels, why they’re important, the psychological theories behind them that explain their power over an audience or a reader.

As writers, we’ve read about archetypes and the dramatic situations, we’ve learned about the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey. I never understood exactly why they were important, why they seemed to always work.

This book explains the psychological theories behind them so that I as a writer can better understand and craft my own stories for better emotional impact.

The psychological concepts are written in such a way that they’re easy to understand. The author covers several psychological theories because each tends to build on each other and each emphasizes a different aspect of human behavior. For example, Erikson and Jung’s theories are inspired by but differ from Freud, and the book explains how and why.

The author explains these psychological theories to help the writer better understand why certain archetypes and story structures resonate with the majority of audiences. For example, it was fascinating to me to discover why each character archetype shows up over and over in stories, and why each archetype has a tendency to evoke the kinds of emotions it does.

It was really neat to understand why the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey work successfully in film time and again despite the fact they seem “formulaic” in nature. Both journeys are broken down—not just the hero’s journey. The author explains why each step and why the journey as a whole resonates psychologically with people in general.

I especially liked the presentation of the Hero's Journey. Not having read Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I found that this book gave the Hero's Journey in excellent detail with good examples, so that I was able to apply the Journey to my own novel plotting.

The Heroine's Journey is well done as applied to archetypes and psychological principles, but I prefer the Heroine's Journey as described in detail in Victoria Lynn Schmidt's 45 Master Characters.

I thought the book gave many excellent examples from movies, and at the end of each chapter are very useful summary points and exercises the reader can apply to their own stories.

The book focuses on popular or commercial fiction, because the reason popular fiction is so “popular” is due to the psychological resonance of these archetypes and dramatic situations.

However, several of the concepts can also apply great power to literary fiction. By understanding archetypes, literary authors can turn characters and situations on their heads to evoke the different kind of emotional response they’re looking for. They can find ideas and methods to emphasize the reader’s emotions in more unique ways, which is what literary fiction is known for.

I don’t know if this book would be as useful to a beginning writer, but a higher-intermediate to advanced writer who has read several of the basic books about plot, structure, and character will be able to fully appreciate the different take on writing techniques in this book.

I believe that as writers, we should always be learning new things and understanding our craft in better ways. For me, this book did just that. I now have a much better understanding of characters and situations, and how to manipulate both for certain emotional responses.