Psychology For Screenwriters by William Indick (book review).

July 25, 2015 | By | 1 Reply More

Contrary to what you might think, ‘Psychology For Screenwriters’ is not about sending writers to see a shrink but about understanding the motivations of the characters that you or they are playing with. Author, psychologist and scriptwriter William Indick indicates in his introduction that there are things to be learn beyond scriptwriting for characters, so I’m seeing how much I can learn for prose. I have to confess that this is one aspect of my character creation that I don’t really do much research on, mostly because I tend to work out from rounded characters and, at least for a particular story, I don’t need to dig deeper than the needs of the plot. However, it is something I should look at and here we are.


In many respects, Indick points out all things turn on Sigmund Freud, so it’s hardly surprised when he starts off with the Opedipal Complex of the son’s incestuous needs for his mother. Oddly, he doesn’t explain what the daughter does. There are examples from across all the genres but a knowledge of a variety of films doesn’t go amiss here. In many respects, I tend to see Freud having something of a fixation but Indick does explore the idea sufficiently so you can see where he is coming from.

It’s when he moves on to neuroses, that we see the self-interest villain coming to the fore and from which many a movie villain is motivated. His examination of the cowardly side-kick, who is just really a follower, and that of the anti-hero will make you think. Something I hadn’t given much thought of with early films was cigarette smoking used for a delayed beat in a film for the character to contemplate their decisions. Well, maybe a little, but these days, there are other options open to do such things, like watching the sun rise and symbolically thinking it’s time for a new choice. Think the first ‘Men In Black’ film as an example of that, although that’s my example not Indick’s. At the end of each chapter, he does present posers for you to find your own examples, so maybe something is rubbing off on me. In some respects, with some of his select your own examples, I found myself not picking out characters that fit his profiles but whether any chosen at random would have these attributes.

The understanding of internal conflict of choice is more obvious in film than books but, with prose, we don’t have to lay on the selection so much because we show the characters doing them.

The rest of the book tends to give each psychologist two chapters each and covers the likes of Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Alfred Adler and Rollo May. If you’re like me, you’ll only recognise a couple of their names but they all have interesting things to say about motivation and plot and gave me a couple more choices to add to my list of basic plots.

Campbell is the joker in the pack because he isn’t a psychologist but he does apply things from the others here and has influenced many people with his basic character journey plot. If anything, I find it more of a puzzle why people just don’t shuffle and turn elements of his plot to show it doesn’t always have to follow this pattern.

One of the strongest things you’ll walk away from this book with is in how to give soul and motivation to your characters. That is assuming that you don’t use just yourself as the basis for all your characters. Also, don’t think it’s all about characters, as there is a section devoted to plots as well.

The examples come from a variety of genres and our own is frequently noted. I suspect many of you will end up treating this book as a reference to constantly refer to and ensure that you’re ticking all the right boxes for your characters which isn’t a bad thing. It’ll certainly make you more aware of what you can do inside their heads to get conflict of interest and how they handle things. There’s a strong reminder of this with ‘Sibling Rivalry’ which applies to hero versus villain far more than family disputes. His list of archetypes will make you either want to play with them or find a way to do them differently. Such is the nature of writing.

There are some odd things like Indick’s titles occasionally. I can understand why some people writer ‘Spider-man’ instead of ‘Spider-Man’ but to have ‘Laura Croft; Tombraider’ instead of ‘Laura Croft: Tomb Raider’ is just plain careless, although he did correct this in a later reference. I’m only pointing these out before any of you reading this book wonder if I spotted them. From a reviewer’s perspective, it’s a reminder that I thoroughly read this book.

If you’re a writer or just starting out in any format, there is a lot to be learnt here which extends beyond scriptwriters. Saying that, for the latter, where you need to give notes to actors as to the emotional mindset of the parts that they are playing, then you will have a valuable tool here as well.

GF Willmetts

July 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 281 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-941188-87-6)

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Category: Books, MEDIA

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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