The Psychology of Psychological Realism

Psychological Realism is a narrative genre that explores the internal thought processes and motivations of its characters.  The method of narration in the story explores the characters, both protagonists and antagonists, spiritual, emotional and mental lives in order to put meaning to their behavior.  At THE DARK SIRE we hold the works of Fydor Dostoevsky to be the pinnacle of this genre; however, authors like Henry James, Stendhal, and Knut Hamsun are also to be considered at the top of the list.

The success of a Psychological Realistic novel rests solely on the painstaking detail with which the author describes/examines/dissects the various relationships, desires and struggles of the characters.  Much of it boils down to the whole idea of what is real.  A person’s reality is the product of their individual perception of what is happening around them.  We tend to thing of reality as what we can see, feel, hear or experience in some way.  But in reality, no two people see, feel, hear or experience the same event in the same way.  Each person filters that event through the psychological veil that makes that individual an individual.  It is the classic problem of the accident that is viewed from three different vantage points by three different people.  Each person has seen the event, but that does not necessarily mean that each person will describe the event in the same way.  Kurosawa’s RASHOMON is a perfect example in movie form of this phenomena.

This genre allows authors to explore the gritty underbelly of human nature as a character interacts with their environment whether that environment is the slums of St. Petersburg or the social elite enclaves of the New York 400.  However, one of the most interesting facets of this genre is that it also includes the reader’s response to what he or she is reading.  The author of a psychological piece is also asking for the readers to make an interpretation on the actions, thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story… which leads us to an interesting juxtaposition.

The very nature of a psychological realism story forces the reader to internalize that which they are reading.  Is the character correct in what they are doing?  Or is that character mistaken because of their internal thought process is in error?  Like the witness to the accident in the example above, each reader must decide, based on their own psychological make up, whether or not the character in the story is reacting properly to the basic situation at the story’s core.  Which leads us to the interesting conundrum that readers from different generations will interpret the same story differently.  One generation might find a story amusing and the following generation might take offense at it.  Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN is a prime example of this.

So, what we have in Psychological Realism is a confrontation between the character’s social and environmental realities interpreted by a reader’s social and environmental realities.  Maybe that’s what makes Psychological Realism so fascinating: the author forcing the reader to confront the characters’ psyches through the veil of their own.

Fyodor Dostoevsky is known for delving into the psychology of humanity and wrote that psychology into his work. And that’s what we at THE DARK SIRE love about the psychological realism we publish. The tales delve into the psyche of the characters – their motivation, emotions, reasoning. A good psychological tale – and some would say a crossover from Gothic Literature – conveys the the torment of the character itself, through world building, mood, and tone.

We’re always looking for those stories that examine the psyche of its characters, especially those with dark sensibilities. Issue 4 is our favorite for its psychological realism content. But, we need more!

If you write psychological realism, submit at darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

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