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Freudian Personality Theory for Writers Explained!

Sometimes developing your characters takes a lot of effort and thinking power. Other times, they emerge practically fully formed. Have you ever watched your character’s own internal forces duke it out for control over the story and wondered how to dig even deeper into their psychology? You might want to think about developing characters with Freudian Personality Theory.

As you’ll learn below, Freudian Personality Theory gives writers some great tools to psychoanalyze characters. Plottr has a template for bringing the concepts to life, so keep reading to learn how it works and how to apply it to your own fiction.

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What is Freudian Personality Theory?

Freudian Personality Theory is based on (you guessed it) the research of Sigmund Freud, who published The Ego and the Id in 1923. Freud’s work shares his model of how the human mind works.

Among other things, Freudian Personality Theory includes three core concepts for writers: the Id, the Ego, and the Superego.

  1. The Id is the most primitive component of a character’s personality. It’s basically their instinct — the unconscious part of their mind from which all impulses and urges arise. In other words, the id is the generalized sexual energy of a character, or how this person responds to the pleasure principle of (‘if it feels good, do it.’) A newborn is all id, for example, but the id remains infantile throughout a person’s life and is not impacted by life experience, logic, or reality. The id is, at its core, selfish and impulsive.
  2. The Ego develops in direct response to the influence of the external world, and is part of the conscious personality. It’s what the character knows about themselves and what they want others to know about them. Freud likened the id to a horse and the ego to its rider. The ego makes decisions and ideally uses reason and logic to come to those decisions, while considering social norms and rules. Sometimes, difficult childhoods can lead to a weakened ego. How do your characters’ backstories affect their egos?
  3. The Superego learns the morals and values of society from parents and others, developing between the ages of three and five. It’s the voice of a character’s conscience and a source of self-criticism (including feelings of shame and guilt). The superego has two systems: the ideal self and the conscience (inner voice). The ideal self is the imaginary picture of how our characters see themselves.

In short, Sigmund Freud viewed the mind like an iceberg, with the hidden unconscious submerged (and having more impact on thought patterns and behaviors than most of us realize).

For writers, his ideas are goldmine of opportunity to craft characters who fail to understand why they do the things they do. We, as their creators, can hint toward the moments in their childhoods or pasts where the roots of their behaviors lie.

How Can Writers Use Freud’s Personality Theory to Develop Characters?

Who doesn’t love a character with a neurosis? Some of our favorite heroes and heroines (Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’s Diary and Adrian Monk from the television show Monk, for example) are characters who come with baggage any psychoanalyst would give their eye teeth to analyze.

Here are a couple ways to use Freudian Personality Theory when developing characters:

  1. Id, Ego, and Superego within a single character: One approach is to create a dynamic, multifaceted main character who can showcase the ongoing internal battle between these three aspects. This has the potential for a rich, internal conflict and can make your character highly relatable, as real humans constantly grapple with these inner forces. For example, your character might often talk to themselves (whether in inner monologue or aloud), reflecting the debate between their primal desires (Id), rational thoughts (Ego), and moral concerns (Superego).
  2. Id, Ego, and Superego across multiple characters: Another approach is to create a cast of characters representing each of these aspects of the psyche individually. For instance, one character might act primarily on primal instincts (the Id). Another might operate on reason and reality (the Ego), while a third could be more concerned with morality and societal judgment (the Superego). The balance of these aspects’ dominance could lead to clear character roles and dynamic conflicts, with readers eagerly anticipating how particular interactions might play out.

Overall, applying Freudian Personality Theory to your writing can provide you with a deeper understanding of your characters’ unspoken backstories — the underlying traumas and attachments that make them tick (especially the ones they’re unaware of). It’s great for creating memorable heroines and flawed heroes who compel your readers with their unique ways of being.

Using the Freudian Personality Theory Character Template in Plottr

The Freudian Personality Theory character template in Plottr helps you flesh out the inner lives of your characters (though they might not lie on the couch for you while you conduct your writing sessions). It includes the following attributes to consider and fill in:

The Id: The unconscious drivers of basic urges and desires, including sexuality and aggression, the Id seeks pleasure and avoids pain. How is this aspect of the character’s psyche represented?

The Ego: The practical mediator of personality, the Ego uses reason to negotiate the demands of the Id and Superego and avoid negative societal consequences. How is this aspect of the character’s psyche represented?

The Superego: The moral conscience of personality, the Superego aims to control the impulses of the Id; it is the internalized voice and values of society (or family) encouraging perfection and punishing failure. How is this aspect of the character’s psyche represented?

Example of the Freudian Personality Theory Character Template in Fiction: Bridget Jones’s Diary

Using the character template in Plottr, let’s example Bridget Jones, the title character from the Bridget Jones’s Diary novel series by Helen Fielding, and see how Freudian theory sheds light on Bridget’s personality and behaviors.

Create Freudian Characters in Plottr Step 4

Id: Bridget obsesses about her love life, career, smoking, and alcohol consumption. She also has an ongoing fear of dying alone and being eaten by dogs before her body is discovered. Her entire life is about avoiding pain (but she’s not quite able to seek pleasure either).

Ego: Bridget becomes involved with two men: her handsome boss (Daniel), who two-times her with a younger, sexier woman; and then a former childhood playmate (Mark), who’s more reserved. Her ego hasn’t evolved enough to guide her, via sound use of reason, toward avoiding some of the pain she encounters during her relationship with Daniel or Mark. She misses cues and misinterprets situations regularly.

Superego: Bridget uses her friends as her moral conscience rather than her own underdeveloped superego. Her friends offer her advice and support during her relationships, but by the end of the book, Bridget has strengthened her own superego and is able to hear — and heed — her own conscience.

How to Use the Freudian Personality Theory Character Template in Plottr

Find a comfortable chair and let’s start analyzing your characters using the Freudian Personality Theory Character Template in Plottr. First things first: you’ll need to purchase Plottr or sign up for a free trial.

Once you have Plottr set up on your computer, follow these simple steps to add the template to your Freudian characters:

  • Step 1: Open Plottr and create a new project, or select an existing one.

Create Freudian Characters in Plottr Step 1

  • Step 2: Click the Characters template to see your existing character profiles or spin up a new one. Then click +Add Template in the editing pane and select Freudian Personality Theory from the template menu.

Create Freudian Characters in Plottr Step 2

  • Step 3: Click the green Choose button at the bottom of the screen to add this template into your character profile.

Create Freudian Characters in Plottr Step 4

  • Step 4: Fill in your details and analyze away!

You can give yourself a (fictional, of course) degree in psychoanalysis once you’ve got this character development tool mastered.

With Plottr, you can add multiple templates to each of your characters as you build well-rounded, memorable personalities. If you’d like to give that a try, the Freudian Personality Theory Character Template would work well with these other character templates in Plottr:

  • Cognitive Distortions
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • Online Dating Profile

Psychoanalyze This!

Now that you’ve seen how you can apply psychoanalysis to your Freudian characters, it’s time to check out the template in Plottr and get to work. But remember — you don’t need a psychology degree to analyze your characters! Just jump in and get started.

Let us know what you think about this template in the comments or in our Facebook group for writers! We’d love to hear how Plottr helps spark your creativity.

Freudian Personality Theory Character Template for Writers
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