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What is Psychological Realism in Narratives

When we read a good book or get lost in a movie, we often find ourselves deeply connected to the characters. We laugh with them, cry with them, and sometimes, we even feel like we know them. This connection is often a result of something called psychological realism. But what exactly is psychological realism in narratives, and why does it matter? How can it be connected with Transgressive Fiction and developing a memorable character? Let's break it down in simple terms.

What is Psychological Realism?

Psychological realism is a style of writing or storytelling that focuses on the interior lives of the characters. It's all about the thoughts, feelings, and motivations that drive a character's actions. Instead of just seeing what characters do, we get a glimpse into why they do it. This style aims to make characters in books, movies, or plays feel real, complex, and relatable, just like real people.

Examples of Psychological Realism

  • Literature: Classic novels like "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert or "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger are known for their psychological depth. These books give us a detailed look into the minds of their protagonists.

  • Movies: Films like "Inside Out" by Pixar brilliantly use psychological realism to explore the emotions of a young girl. This movie makes abstract feelings tangible and understandable.

  • Television: TV shows like "Breaking Bad" delve into the psyche of the main character, Walter White, showing his transformation in a psychologically realistic manner.

Diagram about Importance of Psychological Realism

How is Psychological Realism Achieved?

let's see how to better understand how psychological realism is achieved in narratives:

1. Detailed Character Development

  • Backgrounds: Writers create detailed histories for their characters. This might include their upbringing, past experiences, and significant life events that shape who they are.

  • Personalities: Characters are given distinct personality traits, which influence how they react to different situations. This includes their temperament, habits, and quirks.

  • Motivations: Understanding what drives a character is crucial. Are they motivated by love, fear, ambition, or something else?

  • Fears and Desires: Characters have specific fears and desires that guide their actions. For example, a character might fear abandonment, driving them to act clingy or possessive.

  • Internal Conflicts: Often, characters struggle with internal conflicts, such as moral dilemmas or emotional turmoil, which add layers to their personality.


The Stranger by Albert Camus: This novel is a prime example of a character-driven narrative in transgressive fiction. Camus meticulously develops the character of Meursault, an indifferent, emotionally detached individual who defies societal norms and expectations. The novel delves deeply into Meursault's psyche, particularly following a senseless act of violence he commits, which highlights his alienation and existential detachment from society.

2. Internal Monologues

  • Stream-of-Consciousness: This technique mimics the natural flow of a character's thoughts. It can be disjointed, erratic, or deeply introspective, offering a raw look into a character's mind.

  • Reflections and Rationalizations: Characters often reflect on their actions or rationalize their decisions internally, providing insight into their thought processes.


Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Often cited as one of the first existential novels, Dostoevsky's work is a profound exploration of the human condition through the incessant, often contradictory internal monologues of its narrator, an unnamed retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. The narrative is driven by his deep introspection, self-loathing, and philosophical musings, which provide a stark look into his troubled psyche and his rebellion against the rationalism and utopianism of his time.

3. Realistic Dialogue

  • Natural Speech Patterns: Dialogue mirrors how people speak in real life, including colloquial language, dialects, and individual speech quirks.

  • Emotional Subtext: Often, what a character doesn't say is as important as what they do say. Pauses, hesitations, and tone can convey hidden emotions or thoughts.

  • Character-Specific Dialogue: Each character has a unique way of speaking that reflects their background and personality.


Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis: This novel captures the disaffected youth of 1980s Los Angeles. Ellis employs dialogue that starkly reflects the emptiness and detachment of the characters. Their conversations, often shallow and disjointed, mirror the moral vacuity and aimlessness of their lives, making the dialogue not just realistic but also a critical commentary on the characters' social milieu.

4. Complex Storylines

  • Character Evolution: The plot allows for the growth and change of characters over time, often influenced by their interactions and experiences.

  • Impact of Internal World: The story shows how a character's internal struggles impact their decisions and relationships, adding depth to the plot.


Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.: This novel presents a complex and harrowing narrative of different characters who are all dealing with addiction. The storyline intricately explores how their addictions and dreams shape their decisions, leading to devastating consequences.

5. Use of Symbolism

  • Objects as Symbols: An object in the story might represent a character's emotional state or a key aspect of their personality. For example, a broken watch could symbolize a character's feeling of being stuck in the past.

  • Symbolic Events: Events in the story can have symbolic meanings, reflecting deeper psychological or emotional themes. For instance, a storm might represent internal turmoil.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: While not always classified strictly as transgressive fiction, "The Bell Jar" is a profound example of psychological realism and symbolism. The bell jar itself is a powerful symbol representing the protagonist's mental suffocation and her struggle with societal expectations and her own identity.

Psychological Realism in Transgressive Fiction

Psychological realism plays a pivotal role in transgressive fiction, a genre that often delves into the darker and more rebellious aspects of human nature. In transgressive narratives, authors typically construct deeply flawed, complex characters who defy societal norms and expectations. For instance, in Albert Camus's "The Stranger," the protagonist Meursault is portrayed with striking emotional detachment and indifference, challenging conventional moral standards. Similarly, Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground" presents a narrator whose incessant and contradictory internal monologues reveal a profound existential crisis and a disdain for the rationalist and utopian ideals of his society.

These narratives are driven by the detailed exploration of their protagonists' psyches, showcasing their inner conflicts, moral ambiguities, and often, their sense of alienation. This focus on the psychological dimensions of characters not only provides depth to their personalities but also offers a critique of the societal structures that they rebel against. Transgressive fiction, through its use of psychological realism, thus becomes a powerful medium for exploring and questioning the human condition, morality, and the societal norms that govern behavior.


Psychological realism is a powerful tool in storytelling. It turns characters from mere figures in a story into real, complex individuals with whom we can empathize and connect. In my point of view, through the inner lives of characters, narratives become more than just a series of events; they become reflections of the human experience. What do you think?

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