Monday, October 17, 2011

The Psychological Thread, Part II by Nancy Rue

Writing is a ministry to our readers, right? Hey everyone, Annette here. This month, Nancy Rue is here on Mixing-It-Up Mondays to share tips on including the psychological aspect of our characters to better minister to our readers. I'm enjoying all the nuggets in her posts. Read on!

The Psychological Thread: Part II
by Nancy Rue

Last week we talked about finding the thread—the hidden need—you’ll want to follow in writing a novel where you’d dealing with your characters’ psychology, which is every novel except a Nancy Drew mystery (because we all know Nancy is perfect, so what’s to deal with, right?). Figuring out how your unique protagonist responds to that hidden need is today’s topic. In scholarly terms, how the Sam Hill do you do that?

Because the Sullivan Crisp novels (Healing Stones, Healing Waters, and Healing Sands) are centered around a psychotherapist and his one-client-per-book (a therapist’s dream, I’m told!), I had to get it right, but the approaches I’m offering you can be applied to any novel.

• Consult a professional. Once I had a basic outline, I reviewed it in depth with psychotherapist Dr. Dale McElhinney. He not only told me when I had Sully crossing some kind of professional boundary (“He can’t hug the client, Nancy. Sorry.”); he explained how a person such as Lucia (using Healing Waters as an example) would react to what was happening in her life and how Sully would guide her accordingly. I then sent chunks of the first draft to Dr. Dale, who gave me invaluable feedback. Even if you don’t have access to a therapist who can give you this kind of time, most are willing to at least answer specific questions. I’ve never known an expert at anything who didn’t love to talk about his or her passion.

• Go to the source. Once I have a basic story skeleton, I concentrate on the protagonist—the only who has the inside scoop. She and I go to a book store and select just the right journal to fit her personality. Lucia and I looked at several registered-nurse looking ones until she finally owned her beautiful side and picked out one with a pre-Raphelite painting on the cover. Over the next few weeks, I asked Lucia questions, such as, “What was your childhood like?” Though hesitant at first, she became very good at giving me answers from her soul which I wrote in her journal. I know you’re thinking, “There’s medication for this kind of thing.” But what artist doesn’t live in her imagination a great deal of the time? This approach takes you all the way into your right brain, where the character already lives.

• Keep God in the loop. When I’m working on a novel, I pose questions to God during my quiet time, as if I’m praying for my character. I’m really praying for the readers who will go on the journey with Lucia or Demitria or Ryan or Sully and perhaps understand themselves and their God a little better. My note card box is jammed with notes I’ve scribbled out while reading Job or Luke or Lamentations (don’t dismiss any possibility!). The Bible is rife with psychological insights, and I have found that God is eager to point them out to me.

As you become intentional about discovering your characters’ psychology, you’ll probably discover needed information oozing from every pore of life, whether it’s a song lyric, a commercial, or a line from your own diary. God wants you to get it right too. With some deep focus, I know you will.


Nancy Rue is the author of one hundred and ten books, including nine novels for adults, seventeen for teens, and sixty for tween readers, as well as two parenting books, thirty-two non-fiction books for tweens and teens, and the features for the FaithGirlz Bible. Her Lily Series, published by Zondervan, has sold well over one million copies. Her ability to relate to a wide audience has made her a popular radio and television guest and an in-demand speaker and teacher for writer’s conferences across the country. Her latest titles include The Reluctant Prophet and Unexpected Dismounts for adult readers (David C. Cook) Limos, Lattes, and My Life On the Fringe (Zondervan) for teens, and That Is SO Me (Zondervan), a year-long devotional for tweens, in addition to a book written with her husband entitled What Happened To My Little Girl: A Dad’s Guide to His Tween Daughter. A student of the Academy for Spiritual Formation, sponsored by the Upper Room, Nancy continues her own spiritual journey even as she writes and speaks for mothers, daughters, and would-be writers about theirs. For more information, visit her website at

1 comment:

  1. I think having something "out of whack" with a character has about the same importance as a kid asking, "Where we going?" and a parent neglecting to say that a long list of fun stuff included a dentist appointment. Readers who agree to go along with our stories start out with a ready-made degree of trust that we will end up where we promised. So, it is very disturbing (and often puts the squash on reading the rest of the book) if a character does not come through in the original ways perceived.

    However, as an author, it's easier to see our characters more as vehicles of plot, or message (if it's getting boring, bring in a man with a gun), rather than true-to-life personalities that readers actually trust and relate to. I forget that sometimes. Which is why I think your ideas for putting that extra time into "fleshing out" your characters with real motivations and past experiences that effected who they are, is a major secret to having any character "ring true." So, thank you for this post, Nancy (and Annette!).

    It comes on the heels of having just met Jeannie Campbell, a true-life therapist who has a fun site ( where she does analysis on fictional characters. Hmmm…. I think the Lord is trying to tell me something, here. And I agree with you. He has the best ideas of all for bringing someone to life… if only we will listen!


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