The Psychology of Characters

N. K. Jemisin

Lesson time 15:07 min

Nora draws on her education in psychology to help you rethink your ideas about people and human behavior.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Draw From Dreams, Experiences, and Psychology • Understand the Humanities • Reexamine Expectations of Human Behavior • Know Their Background • The Fifth Season: Hoa Case Study


[MUSIC PLAYING] N. K. JEMISIN: You can learn by observing people, by understanding people. You need to understand the limitations of your own understanding of people if you're going to convey people right. [MUSIC PLAYING] So now that you have created a physical world, and you've created a culture to populate that world, and you've decided within this culture what kind of person would be the most interesting person to center on for storytelling purposes-- someone powerful, someone not, someone who's at the center of the society, or someone at its margins-- now that you've decided kind of what kind of person will exist in this kind of world, now you actually need to narrow it down and decide who your viewpoint character is going to be. Now this will not necessarily be your only character and they will not necessarily be your protagonist. Viewpoint character and protagonist are two completely different things. They can be the same, but they don't have to be. Before we get into this too deeply, I want to point out that my own background is not in coming from formal writing training. What I did end up going to school for was psychology. My bachelor's degree is in that. I went on to get a master's degree. And I worked in higher ed for, oh gosh, like 20 years, working with students, late adolescents, young adults who are going through that whole transition into adulthood. And so my understanding of how people develop is rooted in psychology and this is one of the things that I use to develop how I develop character. [MUSIC PLAYING] Some older science fiction novels tended to have not great characterization because in a lot of cases, those novels were written by people who didn't know very much about people. And the values of science fiction back in the golden and silver age were that you centered on getting the science right. It was important to make sure that you got the science right. And not so much with the people. It's no longer acceptable to have spot-on science but characters that read like cartoons. Now it's important that you have characters that feel real. In a lot of cases, characters of mine will come to me in dreams. With the "Inheritance Trilogy," for example, I dreamed up several of the gods that we ended up following as characters throughout the story. And in the dream, they were just images. They were just a visual of a man with stars in his hair. And you knew that, in the dream, that if you reached into his hair, your hand would be in space, and if you fell into his hair, you would fall into space and die. This was a dream that I had. And I dreamed of another character who was the child that stole planets. And he was playing with little planets that he just sort of juggled and made spin around in the air just because he could. But I needed to develop personalities for these people. And I needed to understand their backgrounds. I needed to understand the trauma that they were dealing with. Beca...

About the Instructor

The winner of the Hugo Award for three consecutive years for her Broken Earth Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin has sold millions of books and created new cultures and histories. Now the acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer is teaching you how to create a world from scratch, develop compelling characters, and get published. Build your craft and share your voice with inclusive fiction that reflects your experience.

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N. K. Jemisin

Bestselling sci-fi and fantasy writer N. K. Jemisin teaches you how to create diverse characters, build a world from scratch, and get published.

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