Melissa Burkley received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She has conducted hundreds of scientific studies, her work has been featured in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health, and she has appeared on Oprah Radio and Martha Stewart Radio. Her freelance work has appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine, Hinnom Magazine, Your Tango, and Psychology Today.
Her work often blends her love of fiction with her knowledge of psychological science. For example, her blog The Writer’s Laboratory examines how writers use psychological science to improve their writing and boost their creativity. And because of her dual-expertise in psychology and storytelling, she is frequently sought after by film companies who want a psychological analysis of their movies and characters (e.g., Blood Honey, Lovesick Fool).
Her fiction work includes short-stories and novels that use supernatural elements to examine how everyday people respond when placed in impossible situations.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
About My Blog “The Writer’s Laboratory”
Stephen King is my all-time favorite writer. So when he offers good writing advice, I listen. But of all the advice he has given over the years, my favorite is from a 2003 award acceptance speech. In it, he suggests that writers shouldn’t strive to be good writers or even great writers. They should be honest writers.
What does it mean to be an honest writer? According to Uncle Stevie, honest writers are ones who have “told the truth about the way real people would behave in a similar situation.”
Being an honest writer is important because, ironically, writing fiction is inherently the crafting of a lie. You are creating make-believe characters and placing them in make-believe (and often impossible) situations. But to make the reader truly believe your story, you need to drape these lies on a scaffolding built in reality. And that means knowing how to write characters and create plots that reflect how real people act in the real world.
This means you need to know something about human psychology. For this reason, aspiring writers often take an Intro to Psychology course in college. So they can learn about the way people think, feel, and behave and weave this information into their own writing. But what if you didn’t take psych in college? Or what if you did but it was so long ago you don’t remember what you learned? No worries. That is what this blog is for.
As a psychologist, I’ve spent two decades studying what people do and why they do it. I’ve conducted laboratory experiments that explore how people react when placed in unusual or undesirable situations. I’ve read thousands of scientific articles on human behavior. What I’ve learned from all this is that humans are predictable but, depending on the context, they don’t always behave the way you would expect. Human behavior can be logical or irrational, selfish or altruistic, kind or hurtful, consciously controlled or automatic.
So how can we anticipate how a person will actually respond? Often, the deciding factor is something small. The person’s personality, the situation, or any of a whole host of factors. To unpack this Pandora’s box of knowledge, you need to learn the factors and processes that affect people’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. And unless you’re well-versed in psychological science, you need a guide. Because the more you know about the discoveries made in psychological science, the more equipped you will be to write honestly.
I designed my blog, entitled “The Writer’s Laboratory,” to combine my two passions—psychological science and fiction writing—in a way that teaches others how to become more honest writers (and as a result, better writers). In each post, I will pick a fascinating psychological concept, briefly discuss the research behind it, then offer suggestions on how to use this information to improve your own writing. When possible, I will pull examples of the concept we’re exploring from common works of fiction—novels, movies, TV shows—to vividly demonstrate how other writers have tapped into human psychology for their own work.
About My Other Blogs
I also write a blog entitled Red Brain, Blue Brain that explores the psychological causes of political differences. If you want a refreshingly even-handed view of politics, I encourage you to check it out!
And for those interested in psychology more generally, you can check out my Psychology Today blog entitled The Social Thinker.