Let Your Characters “Say Everything” – Writers & Analysts

August 27, 2013 § 3 Comments

Writers & analysts? What do they have in common?

One of the interesting aspects of being involved in multiple areas & disciplines is the way that one topic & area informs another. I began a study on the similarities between writers and analysts with a mentor/professor/writing partner/student/friend of mine a number of years ago.

At the age of 92, Dr. Muriel Sackler was a scientist, psychoanalyst and writer. She was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met & no matter what she’d gone through in her life, she kept going. Succeeding, studying, learning, teaching, writing and loving. She had lived the most amazing life and we were discussing writing her memoir. She decided against it because “my story isn’t that interesting.”

Believe me, it was more than interesting. Way more than just “interesting”.

Fascinating & riveting are only a few of the words that come to mind. To her, the stories she heard from students & patients were far more interesting. She focused on those and her scientific and psychoanalytic papers.

During our “Wednesdays With Muriel” we talked and worked on many things. One of the topics was about writing and psychoanalysis and the connections between the two, and I wrote a paper with some beginning thoughts on the topic for a class I took with her. I’ve often thought of her since she died a few years ago. During the last few months of study, writing and new experiences & projects, I realized a number of things I wish I could share with her now. So, I’m going to write them here and hope that the thoughts are helpful to others out there somewhere. Who knows? Maybe somewhere out there in the universe she’s reading & nodding.

A great analyst and a great writer of characters have much in common when it comes to their patients & characters. Great analysts can “hold” and accept their patients feelings and thoughts. ALL of them. The good, the bad the ugly, the terrifying, the revolting, repugnant, hateful, murderous, loving, sexual, erotic, happy, euphoric, sad, suicidal, dangerous, destructive, enraged, fun and funny.

A great analyst can hear them, know them, feel them, accept them and tolerate their discomfort of being with the feelings, as well as her own. They can have all their own feelings and tolerate all of their patients’ feelings.

To write great characters you must be able to do the same. Your characters can’t keep any secrets from you. You must know them better than you know yourself (counter intuitive perhaps, but true.) You must be able to know your characters deepest, darkest secrets and fears – and not recoil from them.

You must accept your characters,  along with their thoughts and feelings, so they may truly live. Only then will they be real, on the page, in the imagination, on the screen.

Those characters that leave you cold? Indifferent? Who fade from memory as soon as you close the book, the device, leave the theater? They had secrets from themselves and from the people who created them. Their secrets render them invisible in your psyche and memory.

“Say everything” is what an analyst will tell you in your sessions, from the very beginning. Allow and assist your characters to say everything to you. Know them. Only then will your audience know them.

The truth will set them free. Be able to accept, and tolerate, their truth. In return,  the process can, and often will, set you free.

Enjoy the day your way,


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