5.24.2006

On Writing Psychics

if dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts


Some notes on psychic abilities that should probably be considered if one is going to write about them. Note, while this is inspired by a synopsis I saw today on the Evil Editor blog, it's not aimed specifically at anyone or meant as an attack. There wasn't enough information there to make the assumption that the author of the synopsis made any of these mistakes in that work. So 'inspired by' is it, okay?

Also, I do not believe or disbelieve in psychic powers. This sounds horribly wishy-washy, but I've seen too many odd things (and some of them sober) to declare the paranormal impossible. I usually try to abide by Occam's Razor, and to my mind, 'psychology' is more likely than 'parapsychology', or at least should be checked first.

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Twins are not psychic by default. I am a twin; I am not psychic. I did not just get passed over for the psychic twin gene; it doesn't exist. When you spend every moment from conception onward with someone, essentially being half of another being, you develop an uncanny intuition about what they'll do or say (as well as some really ugly dependancy issues, but that's another story). When you stop associating with that person, the intuition goes away. Eventually.

Would you say I'm psychic because I finish my SO's sentences occasionally, or know that he'd like a cup of tea when he settles in to work? The 'twin psychic connection' boils down to shared experience and coincidence, and that's it.

It can be handled well, I suppose; I liked how Dick Francis portrayed the twin connection in Break In, for example.

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'Psychic' encompasses a huge array of possible abilities. Characters who dowse for water or oil using sticks are psychic. Characters who get impressions from touching objects are psychic. Characters who start fires with their gaze are psychic. Many of these abilities are already defined and have proper names. It's like referring to a monkey as a primate; you're technically accurate, but you could be a lot more precise.

The Skeptic's Dictionary and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural are both great resources for learning more about this.

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Psychic powers aren't a substitute for plotting. If your plot hinges on the airy handwave of 'she used her psychic powers', your plot is as weak as a fantasy novel that relies on 'they used magic'. The best plots dealing with psychics interweave the psychic ability into the plot, and show us how this character deals with her unusual abilities. Try replacing 'psychic ability' with 'broken leg'; if you aren't giving your psychic abilities the same amount of weight and incorporating the ramifications of it into the story to the same extent as you would a broken leg, you're not giving it the depth it deserves.

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Blogging is addictive; I wonder if I should maybe be working instead? Nah... that'd be... productive.

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