NOTE: A&E has just started showing reruns of PSYCHIC KIDS: CHILDREN OF THE PARANORMAL (2 PM Eastern Time, Saturday) so I thought I'd rerun this article. The BIO channel also runs these programs.
Are you psychic? Do you see ghosts?
Me neither. But I write these characters.
One of the ways I try to get into the head of characters like this is research.
Right now, I'm watching a nonfiction series on A&E called PSYCHIC KIDS. Real life kids with psychic abilities are brought together with an adult psychic and a child psychologist who specializes in psychic kids, and they are helped to come to terms with their gifts.
The parents are also helped.
Most of the kids are terrified by spirits who have harassed them for years, and they are afraid to sleep. Some are physically ill from anxiety and stress. Yet they have nowhere to turn except for parents. They are afraid to talk to friends because they will be ostracized, and parents warn them not to talk to other adults. They tend to be loners.
The parents are terrified, as well. They are unable to protect their kids from the ghosts, and the normal routes to help -- doctors, teachers, and ministers -- are closed to them because they fear their children will be labeled as mentally ill and medicated into zombies. They fear that their children could be taken from them by social services who won't believe the child's true problem.
The psychic helps the kids come to terms with their gifts and teaches them to take away the fear, and the psychologist teaches the parents how to cope with their psychic children. The children also develop relationships with the other psychic kids so they no longer feel alone or like freaks.
How would I use this information? A child character is easy enough to create after watching these children. So would a parent of a psychic child.
Now let's extrapolate from this information and imagine an adult who had a childhood like this. Fear of discovery would often be a major influence on an adult. She wouldn't trust easily because most people who find out about her gift consider her a freak. Authority figures would automatically be distrusted. Trust and the need to be accepted for what she is would be the central emotional issues in a romantic relationship.
But what if the child grew up being totally open about her gift or if she "came out" as a psychic as an adult?
This character would be very comfortable in her own skin. She'd know herself very well. Her sense of being apart from others would manifest itself in a certain flamboyance -- a look at me I'm different and I don't care what you think attitude.
She would probably see her abilities as a gift rather than a curse, and she would use that gift to help others.
In a romance, she would have problems thinking of changing to help the relationship work because she's worked so hard to be who she is. "Me" has always been more important than "us."
This extrapolation isn't the only way to see adult psychic characters, but it does give you a start on writing a character different from yourself.
If you have no reality source for your character's background, you will have to find a real world analogy.
For example, a child who knows he's gay at an early age would be an analogy of a psychic character. Many in society view both with alarm, and secrecy is often the choice made. A writer would research the problems and emotional toll of being a gay child then use that information to understand a psychic child.
No matter how unusual or magical a character is, the author must use her knowledge of what makes a certain kind of person tick to make that character believable to the reader.