Sunday, October 14, 2007

Writing about Psychological Traits

Margo on a windblown hair day

I'm a people person, and curious about us all, I took psychology as an elective in high school and college. Later, I took classes in counseling. So, I did a lot of reading to learn about not only the background for the novel I'm writing, but why people do the things they do.

And yesterday, I shared a lot of information
I had garnered with my writers group, on
writing about psychological traits--

Based on the theme of the book, (click on:)
Shadow Syndromes
, we may all exhibit to some extent, traits of full-blown syndromes. These little traits could add interesting, challenging, even amusing layers to our characters.

Please NOTE: None of this info is meant to diagnose--or make light of--a list of observable traits. I acknowledge that some psychological traits are full-blown disorders that make life very painful for those who have them, and for those who live with the people who suffer them. This is not addressed lightly. If you recognize any in yourself and are troubled by them, please see a health care provider. Thank you.

For those who wish to write about the mild effects of common quirks, or for writing about those full-blown syndromes--and God bless especially those who write from painful experience--these same resources could provide a jumping-off place for ideas and sources of further information:

First, articles and websites about, one would hope, writers! (Okay, doesn't God promise to give some talents to everybody? Yes!)

GT Adults—Gifted and Talented Gifted celebrities

Depression in gifted

Resources for all traits:


Cutting Loose—women and divorce—lots of lying in bed at night, terrified and trembling, but "I made it and I’m glad I did it." (God hates divorce, but doesn't He hate some other things more? Ephesians 5:21—submit to one another….) Ashton Applewhite

Get Out of Your Own Way! Escape from Mind Traps by Tom Rusk, MD

HSPs--highly sensitive persons
Highly Sensitive Person Aron

Highly Sensitive Person in Love Aron

Gifted Grownups, Streznewski*

Gifted Adults
, Jacobsen, Psy.D.*

Psychological Symptoms, Bruno, PhD*

Christian Counseling, Revised Ed., Collins, PhD*

*** Shadow Syndromes—Ratey*

*good to have on hand for understanding self and others.

Double Vision by Randy Ingermanson—Asperger’s Syndrome--and funny

It Had to be You--Linda Windsor-- Depression on a cruise (but funny!)

Moby Dick—Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

There are many my friend, Jane St. Clair, drolly observed:

Just look at the classics like Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, MacBeth, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina -- all the main characters would require counseling today! Modern books like Catcher in the Rye, White Oleander, Great Gatsby - all have characters obsessive and even murderous in their intentions.

When my husband and I go to the opera, we like to talk during intermission about what would a counselor do with the main character? Well, if someone smart got to the lead in Madame Butterfly or Romeo and Juliet -- well, there'd be no story!


A Beautiful Mind

Good Will Hunting
(recommended by my instructors for Robin Williams’ realistic portrayal of a professional counselor, esp at end) awful language

Prince of Tides (Not-entirely-recommended counseling procedure, but good story)

The Aviator Howard Hughes would be different w/ today’s drugs for OCD. So sad.

As Good As It Gets
with Jack Nicholson. OCD

-- book and movie—MPD—Multiple Personality Disorder (popularly confused w/ Schizophrenia which is something else entirely)

Three Faces of Eve—book and movie—MPD

About Schmidt

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Glass Managerie


Silence of the Lambs

What about Bob

Rain Man
—Autistic Savant

Lots more movies
. I can’t vouch for language or content.:

Psychological fiction. Again, I can’t vouch….

OCD in books and film:

Practical help:

Marla Cilley--Flylady at
For housework routines and organization, not of stuff, but of you, giving you more time to write and make life easier. I learned why I was so distractible--I was simply making housework too hard, writing out ambitious, "perfect" schedules, then crashing and burning. You Born-Organizeds out there don't understand that, but a lot of others do! LOL Fascinating. Lots of problems and solutions. ***

More websites--specific disorders--articles discussed, found mostly at States that generic Wellbutrin often does not work as well in depressed people as Wellbutrin brand. The generic may dissolve at wrong rate--too much at first, then gone, bringing back depression. Tested in lab--and on healthy people. Big help, huh?
* would have been a good one but we ran out of time *another good one! Such an attack on women's egos today!

So, to apply these to our writing, let's brainstorm a moment here, take characters we know with extreme traits and turn them upside down, set them in a different world, switch their gender:

For instance, in the movie, As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson, who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: What if he was a woman, instead, and a retired--what? She had to deal with lots of people in her career and made a lot of them angry. (How?) Now, some of them want to find her and?...

Or Moby Dick--Captain Ahab played by Gregory Peck was obsessed about killing Moby Dick, the whale who almost killed him. What if we take Ahab and his obsession off the whaling vessel and put him on Wall Street, and the one who almost killed him was--a woman--a stockbroker? An investor who lied to him about--?

Change the gender of one of your secondary characters and give him/her Narcissistic Personality Disorder--every conversation has to turn around to be all about him/her, she has illusions of grandeur and can do no wrong, she will pursue what she wants because she is entitled....

Or, use today's news--remember The Prize, starring Paul Newman, whose character won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Let your imagination have a field day--lots and lots of fluorescent light bulbs are sold, and everyone ends up with weird billirubin blood counts, a flattering flush, and extra blood vessels in their eyes, leading to seeing in the dark and no one can sleep or, for some, make love. This leads to decline in population which goes unnoticed because of an increase in same due to varying personal tastes--okay, getting carried away here, I know. : )

On a personal note, I obsess about world events. I know God is in control, but shouldn't we be doing more to make the world better? Here are my favorite sources of distracting news sites , when I need an excuse not to write, LOL. Lots of fodder for stories here:,,,,

(A whole section devoted to--labor pains?

And this is funny--the guy in the back seat:)

But I digress. Hope these resources are helpful to someone out there, writing about these traits or living with them.

God bless.


Angela Breidenbach said...

Wow! Margo, I can't believe how indepth your research resource material. This is a treasure trove. I may have to swing back by here to double check things.


Heather said...

great resources! thx for sharing.

Anonymous said...

The signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder over 6.6 million people (one out of every 40 people) suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCS). This disorder often begins at times of emotional stress, major life transitions, health problems, and events representing new levels of responsibility.