Cognitive Bias Affecting A Writer’s Ability to Maintain Consistent Character Portrayal

OK so here’s something I’ve been thinking about.  For the life of me I cannot find the source study that this post is based off of, but I remember enough of the gist of it to go from here.

You can change your cognitive bias by writing opinions opposite to what you believe.

Let’s say you believe the television show Dr. Who is stupid.  If you write, hand-write on paper, the phrase “Dr. Who might actually be ok.” a bunch (I cannot remember the efficacy of numbers of repetitions), your opinions will drift.  Where you started out hating the show, after you write that phrase, your opinion of it will be measurably boosted.  You will now allow for the possibility that the show might actually be ok.

This is fascinating.  We can change our opinions simply by writing words on paper, even if we do not believe those words, and even when we are aware of this phenomenon.

So, how does this interact with writing?

I theorize that this phenomenon affects writers’ ability to maintain a cohesive portrayal of a character over a long period of time.

Think about it.  You’re writing a character, and part of that is making value judgements of them from the perspectives of other characters.  In effect, writing the opinions of other characters will affect how you perceive and portray your characters.

If you’re constantly expressing opinions about characters, then your own opinions of them are constantly being modified, and will change how you portray them.

!!!

You can see such ‘character portrayal drift’ in TV shows that run for a long time.  If one character is constantly told by others that ‘they don’t know what they’re doing’ for instance, then future portrayals of that character may lean into that judgement.  Over time, said character may become completely inept at everything they do, because they never know what they’re doing.  There is of course the actor’s portrayal of the character, and that can become caricaturish, but they are still working from a script, where writers are furthering the character on the page.

This is how shows become almost caricatures of themselves.  Characters become more of whatever everyone in the show thinks they are.  The stupid ones get stupider, the meticulous ones become more meticulous.

Writing is non linear.  Edits are happening all over the place, and drafts have whole sections cut and added all throughout.  But the flow of time when we write remains constant, and so as we make changes, our biases change the characters.

I’m still trying to figure this one out… this post has been in my ‘drafts’ folder for a few months now.  I wanted to get it out there and percolating through the cultural morphic field.  See what comes back to me.

So there’s something to pay attention to.  What shows do you notice this happening in?  What books?  If you think about it, has this phenomenon effected your writing?  I’d love to hear about it.

And because that was all work and no play, here’s a cool thing for fun.

Cheers.

Heidi out.

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About H.G. Bells

H.G. Bells writes around the intersections of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. She has several short stories in print, and is repped by Beth Campbell for her novel Sleep Over, coming soon from Skyhorse Publishing.
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