Today JRW welcomes Dr. Carolyn Kaufman. Carolyn has a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) in clinical psychology, and teaches full time at the college level. She also works with journalists who are writing nonfiction articles and books, so gets quoted in magazines, newspapers, and books fairly often — that's fun! She's been writing since the age of 11. She's had some short fiction published in magazines, and is currently seeking representation for a contemporary fantasy novel, and working hard on a nonfiction project for Quill Driver Books. The working title is Nervous Breakdowns and Psychotic Killers: The Writer's Guide to Psychology.
ROBERTA: Welcome Carolyn! Love the title! That's quite a list of projects--where do we start?? You're a psychologist who writes and teaches about creating characters in fiction. We'd love to hear your tips about creating characters that come alive on the page.
CAROLYN: I think villains are too often neglected when we talk about characters, partly because some people find them uncomfortable to write. I believe the best villains are the ones we can relate to a little bit. So rather than describing your villain's actions with one of the old standbys — he was abused as a child, she was just born evil, he's a madman — try to figure out what it would take to drive someone to act the way your villain does. Your goal is not necessarily to make the character sympathetic; your goal is more to get the reader thinking "Would I really be any different in the same circumstances?"
ROBERTA: Tell us about the new book project from Quill Driver Books. In a nutshell, you'll be teaching fiction writers how to use psychology accurately in their books. Can you give us some tips in advance?
CAROLYN: One of the most important tips I can give is this — don't trust what you think you know about psychology. I've found that some of the most persistent myths are passed from storyteller to storyteller, because each new writer believes that the last one did her research!
Fortunately, some of the old misconceptions are starting to get cleared up; unfortunately, writers don't have easy access to information that will help them fill in the gaps. For example, more writers are realizing that schizophrenia is not the same thing as multiple personalities. The problem is, they still don't know exactly how they're different, and they let assumptions creep in to fill the gaps.
ROBERTA: And as if that wasn't enough, you blog regularly for QueryTracker.net. Tell us how that came about and what it offers aspiring writers.
CAROLYN: QueryTracker.net is a website that a guy named Pat McDonald created a couple of years ago. Pat decided that writers needed a database where they could 1) keep track of information about agents they were interested in approaching and 2) keep track of their submissions to those agents. The site also gathers statistics so that users can see just how long, on average, it takes Agent X to respond. Or how often Agent Y requests partials and fulls.
I discovered the site about a year ago and was just head over heels with everything it could do. I became a regular contributor to the QueryTracker.net forum, and together with a small group of other contributors, decided to take over responsibility for the QueryTracker.net blog. The blog had languished while Pat was busy developing a new social networking site, RallyStorm. Our mission has been to help and educate serious writers who hope to find an agent and get published themselves; we also keep people abreast of what's going on in the publishing industry from week to week. We've had an incredible response from readers so far!
ROBERTA: And just for fun (because this is one of my pet peeves too), who is the worst fictional shrink you've come across so far?
CAROLYN: I've seen a lot of useless and elitist therapists in written fiction, but the ones who bother me the most are the ones who could care less about helping their clients — they're just there to get rich. (I have no idea which Alternate Universe these therapists live in, but it's sure not one I want to visit.)
If we expand into television and movie shrinks, there are some real doozies out there, but my current favorite is Dr. Vance from the horror/action movie Blade Trinity. Not only does he ooze self-importance and openly mock the main character (not very therapist-like behaviors), he makes a series of disjointed, completely useless interpretations. Then he asks about Blade's mother out of nowhere, to the point that the line is a non sequitur. He's an ugly hodgepodge of clichés. I can never decide whether to laugh or cry about that character.
My fantasy is that writers — and that includes screenwriters! — will be able to use the information in my book to create therapists that look and act more like real therapists.
ROBERTA: Okay gang, pile on with questions and comments! And you can read more about Carolyn at Archetypewriting.com. And by the way, my nominee for dreadful fictional shrink is Dr. Molly Griswold in TIN CUP:
“Meet Dr. Griswold,” golfer Roy McAvoy says to his friends in the movie, Tin Cup. “This is Molly. She’s my shrink.”
“Ex-shrink,” Dr. Molly Griswold corrects him. “We’re sleeping together now so I can’t be his therapist.”
'Nuff said Carolyn??