Psychology for Screenwriters, Building Conflict in Your Script by William Indick, PH.D.
Review by Beverly Nault
“A thorough understanding of the unconscious mind – the birthplace of fantasy, dreams, and imagination – is a fundamental point of departure for creating psychologically resonant scripts and films.” William Indick
Perhaps you’ve received the note that your characters are one-dimensional, lack motivation, or seem flat. Or worse, that there’s not enough tension and conflict between characters. How can we show our characters bumping up against each other in very real ways that will make the story resonate and add interest and tension? Conflicts among personality types can make a story more interesting and believable with surprising and complicated characters. The understanding of human psychology can be a valuable tool for writers seeking to dig deep, and Indick’s book targets screenwriters specifically.
Writing about a real or fictional character requires at least a superficial understanding of human psychology and what motivates and drives functional and dysfunctional personalities. The author applies research theories from six pillars; Freud, Erikson, Jung, Campbell, Adler, and May to help writers define and refine a character’s deepest needs, wants, and motivations based on personality types.
First published in 2004 and revised with new chapters in 2022, the book has become a popular resource for researching and forming realistic characters with dimensions, actions, and reactions that reflect human behavior along various spectrums. All are building blocks to aid a writer in creating or understanding backstory, cause and effect, motive, drives, and desires.
Written in a formal yet accessible style, with easily understood terms, Indick illustrates behaviors and conflict between personalities through examples from classic and popular films. Psychology for Screenwriters can be read straight through or by topic.
Each chapter concludes with a list of summary points, exercises, a section devoted to applying the concepts to your project, and a graphic chart called “at a glance.” The book could be useful for a college-level writing course or personal study to inspire and fine-tune characters in any genre. The updated version includes three new chapters: Writing the Western, Writing Sci-Fi, and Writing Fantasy.
I found many gems that introduced new ideas and concepts or reinforced what I’d observed elsewhere. I highlighted and took many notes. In the Hero’s Journey chapter, I constructed a chart for my current project and made some course corrections that helped an important character become less cliché, more complex, and believable.
The main value I found is that Dr. Indick not only teaches about human psychology, but he demonstrates how to apply the principles to screenwriting. Also, I recommend searching for and listening to interviews with Dr. Indick on several screenwriting podcasts.
BIO: William Indick is an Associate Professor of Psychology, joining the full-time faculty of the William Paterson University Psychology Department in 2017. He is the program coordinator for the B.A. in Psychology program at the WPU @ Mercer CC campus. Dr. Indick received his B.A. in Psychology and his M.A. in Music Therapy from New York University, and he earned his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University. He has written six books and created five classes in media psychology, the psychological study of fantasy and science fiction, and the application of psychoanalysis to film. Recently, Dr. Indick contributed a solicited chapter for an upcoming book on the psychology of the HBO TV series Westworld. The chapter is entitled: “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Westworld,” and it is about the show’s creators’ use of Julian Jaynes’ theory of “bicameral” consciousness as a model for the conscious awakening of the androids in Westworld. Dr. Indick is also working on another book project entitled The Forest of Mirrors: The Effects of Media on Mental Illness.
About Beverly Nault: Beverly Nault was a technical writer for an aerospace software company before she began writing creatively for publication. In 2011, her first novel, Fresh Start Summer, and memoir Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton, written with actor Mary McDonough, both released. Since then, Bev’s had ten novels and several short stories published. She’s been a freelance editor for fiction and non-fiction writers, a first reader for a literary agency, and staff acquisitions editor for the literary journal, Eastern Iowa Review. Bev lives in Mesa with her husband Gary where she dabbles in tennis, and excels at spoiling their three grandchildren.