A Writer’s Guide to Understanding People

Understanding People

There’s always worthwhile reading over at K.M. Weiland’s writing blog, but her latest post is a real find. In it, she argues that the key to creating and describing believable characters is to understand what makes real people tick. And the first step in understanding others is to understand oneself.

That path begins by coming to grips with what Weiland calls recognizing and examining the “four corners” of one’s personality, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components that define us. I agree that the physical should come first. Writing can be a cerebral activity, but language, the medium of writing, is grounded in the body. In fact, the science of Embodied Cognition tells us that all language is metaphor, and the building blocks of metaphor are physical sensations. Magnetic resonance imaging scanners reveal that when we read about a physical action, we activate the same areas of our brains as when we actually perform those actions.

Awareness and sensitivity enable us to detect vital details, and physical activity, especially activity spiced with a little danger, sharpens our powers of perception.

Weiland also outlines a lifelong path of study that includes literature, drama, history, and philosophy as a program for enhancing our understanding of human motivation. But she also argues that the very act of writing offers the best means of learning about ourselves, which in turn opens us to better comprehending others. Yes — writing and learning create a continuous feedback loop. As Flannery O’Connor put it, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

9 thoughts on “A Writer’s Guide to Understanding People”

  1. Yes to that. Spent time with a good friend last week – we always have the best discussions – she does not like to read, only self help books sometimes, but she manages a restaurant and obtains her knowledge about people and their behavior through her work. Also, she’s had a ton of relationships in her life and she likes to say that she learns through experiences, through the bodily Living.
    I am the one who learn about myself and other people through reading and writing. Had I not had my liberal arts education, I would still be the naive girl living my parents’ life the way they taught me.

    Liked by 1 person

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