Psychology of Reading


To me storytelling goes deeper into the psychology of “character” than real life can, because real life develops too slowly for us to sit back and see it all unfold in one sitting. A well-written story is always going to be profound in some way because it captures a life and shows us what it contains.


I feel it's very important to understand psychology, to understand what makes people tick and why they do the things they do and feel as they do. Story has shined a light on aspects of human nature not readily available elsewhere.

Because, as I read, I've always been shining that light on myself.

Story lets me see how a human being reacts to life, and how those reactions eventually change who they are and what is happening to them. Real people have little perspective on their own lives, and it's often easier to understand what is happening to others than to understand what is happening to ourselves.

Real life is like standing inches from a stone wall, and not being able to tell that it's part of a mountain five miles high. What story offers us is a chance to get out from under the shadow of the mountain, to travel ten miles away, and see how the mountain looks in its entirety.

Reading a story is like seeing someone's life unfold in a single week (the time it takes to read a book). Whether it's fiction or biography, we have an opportunity to understand another life.

No matter how exotic a story may be, the emotions each character has is being fed by the real emotions and experiences of the author. The best books contain characters readers can relate to, because they can share the rich joy, sadness, anger or fear of the character as she reacts to plot.

This is why writing is so important. This is why reading is so important.

Writers and readers take on the same thing at different ends, but they meet in the middle, where they are able to dance with psychology and understand a little better why the world is the way it is. It's this that attracts me to writing, more than anything else. I want to help people express their real need to understand life.

Their real need to find joy, and to experience their “negative” emotions in a way that can't hurt them. Stories let us feel afraid and feel hurt and angry, but in a way that is safer than experiencing these feelings in real life. Because it's happening to someone else, someone not real, someone who can't be hurt by what happens, we're allowed to freely express what we feel without being subjected to guilt.

We're taught from an early age not to be afraid, not to cry, not to laugh too loudly, not to take risks. It's therapy to read books that scare us, make us cry, snort with laughter, or take risks right along with the characters we're scared, sad, or happy for.

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25 Responses to Psychology of Reading

  1. =D I think you hit the nail on the head here. To look into both ourselves and our characters, to truly explore and get to the heart of things, living without the risks. It's all exhilarating, fascinating and helps us understand ourselves and those all around us. I was an avid reader as a kid, I still do love to read and write, it's an incredible journey no matter how you look at it. Awesome post.

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    1. Awesome comment, Shen! I'm glad you never stopped reading :)

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  2. You're absolutely right!

    I took a lot of psychology courses at the university just for character development.

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    1. Psychology is too much fun. I'd love it even if it wasn't for the characters, but it's really great that it works for both!

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  3. Thanks for this observation - much truth here! Many times, having a window into a character's struggle and growth has become a mirror for some travail I am experiencing - and I find a better way because of it. Great observations!

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    1. Thank you, Russ. Same here. I remember reading "Gone with the Wind" and it just blew me away and put a lot of my life into perspective at the time. Happened again with "The Thorn Birds" and "The Vampire Lestat". Fiction has so much to offer us, not just for a good time, but for life!

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  4. Because we are the main character in our story.
    Great post!

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  5. I couldn't agree with you more. Without exploring the character of people, a story is flat. The reader becomes unable to relate to it and hence, becomes disinterested and may not even finish the book. I've felt that the most inspiring books I've read were those with characters that grew and with whom I could relate to very much.

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    1. Like "Gone with the Wind"...so much depth to it. If characters don't grow, they don't do much else.

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  6. Do I see at least one course in psychology in your future? I did. It's really rather interesting. And that was long before I started writing. Exploring the whys and wherefores within ourselves allows us to show the way to those who haven't learned how yet.

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    1. If I could get over my utter dislike of classrooms...yeah I'd probably opt to be a psychologist ;)

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  7. I loved how you explained this with ease and with clarity! Nicely done!!

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    1. Thank you! That's one of the best compliments I can receive!

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  8. I love books and am in love with the written word. I love it when you said "It's this that attracts me to writing, more than anything else. I want to help people express their real need to understand life."

    Like you, my love for writing is an extension of my desire to understand people, their life and their choices. Ultimately, it also helps me understand myself more.

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    1. Yeah, I think I started writing as a way to understand myself, but I eventually realized that understanding others was an even better way to understand myself...it's all connected.

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  9. I really loved this post. And studying psychology really can help us to create more realistic characters. We have to always remember that characters, like real humans, must have motivation for whatever they choose to do. I like the point you make about how in real life we can't always follow everything because it spans over time, but in stories it is compressed and we get to see these motivations. Great post! Thanks!

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  10. JR, I just tagged you in the 7 Meme Challenge, so please come visit my post for the rules if you don't already know them, and to read my awesome post! Thanks!

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  11. This is an excellent post about why we read, JR. Thank you and keep writing and reading!

    Sincerely,
    Joshua A. Spots

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  12. Great post as always. It is sad that we've learned not to feel and need books in order to free us. Keep up with blogging and challenging our minds.

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    1. Not all of us have learned, and I read that reading is on the rise, so I hope more people will get back into books, but you're right. It shouldn't be something we neglect, imo.

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  13. Couldn't agree more, for true insight we need to be able to peel back the layers and understand what lies beneath, what influences from the past and how characters react in certain situations whether we use them or not.

    I can't imagine not reading, in fact I can't 'not read' before I sleep, its so ingrained in my rest pattern. A writer's necessary medicine.

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    1. Its really a nice article on Psychology of reading.

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