Psychiatrist Dr. Raj Persaud is both an accomplished and entertaining speaker and also knows an intriguing amount about writers. For instance, he tells us that while on average, actors who win an Oscar live four years longer than those who were only nominated for an Oscar, writers who win an Oscar on average live four years less than writers who were only nominated. Not only is this evidence that winning an Oscar is a poison chalice to a screenwriter but that there’s a certain psychology to writers that makes them different to other creatives in the way they deal with things.
Writers in particular tend to have unhappier childhoods, are only children, there are parental problems (such as alcoholism) in the family, and they tend to strongly dislike school. They tended to retreat into an imaginary world from childhood and in adulthood a large percentage had been diagnosed with clinical depression. This information collated from the biographies of writers who have at least two biographies written about them (ie. Successful ones). As he described my own situation to a perfect tee I caught my breath and couldn’t help feeling like success was just around the corner! But how could knowing all this psychological stuff help me make it.
Dr. Raj believes that all stories are about stress in that they, in order to be good stories, deal with high stakes. Therefore in writing stories we are writing about characters that go through a huge amount of stress during their transformational journey so it’s useful to know when writing characters the different ways people deal with stresses and what their behavioural traits might be or betray about them. In addition the screenwriter’s work involves many stresses, deadlines, pitching, making things work and generally being self involved people, because if they weren’t the world would be more interesting than the stories they immerse themselves in for months on end. Coping skills for stress are helpful to know as they make it possible for the writer to survive their own stress and to give their characters the coping skills too. When it comes to changing then it’s very useful to understand how someone, in a moment of deep crisis can make that turnaround that takes them to the end of the film.
Decision and Discovery are key to change. What people believe controls their destiny. Personality types that are external act very differently to types that are internal and the ratio of externals to internals is changing as each generation becomes proportionately more external in their thinking as society changes. Being aware of this also can help a writer understand better the mindset of their audience depending on the generation their work is aimed at.
Aside from this the psychology of seduction is something Dr. Raj is very clued up about too. Not only did he entertain us in a very compelling way throughout his talk, he has done research and written a book about the psychology of seduction, not only important to, again, character and plot but also to writers when they have to pitch their work or fill the unmet need of a producer or commissioner in order to get their work made.
It’s fascinating stuff, indeed to someone like myself who’s actually made films about psychology sessions it’s positively enthralling to delve into the human psyche. I almost wanted to put Dr. Raj Persaud into a box and take him home where he could answer all my questions about human behaviour whenever I needed (usually daily). If that makes me quite mad, then according to the studies that have been done, I’m exactly in the mental zone I’m supposed to be!