By Janice McCaffrey
I am a huge fan of Michael Lewis, the non-fiction author who wrote Blindside, Moneyball, and The Short Game to name only those that Hollywood made into feature films. His latest book is The Undoing Project a prose which explains how two Israeli psychologists, between defending their country during three fierce wars, figured out how human brains make decisions.
Soon after World War II Amos Tversky, a Russian, and Daniel Kahneman, a German, became citizens of the new State of Israel. They met at the Hebrew University and began asking one another the whys and what ifs of decision making. Their collaboration continued for over twenty-eight years. They co-authored numerous articles published in scientific journals as they lived and worked in Israel, the United States, and Canada.
Their subjects included university, high, and elementary school students; medical doctors; psychologists; and economists. The study questions Tversky and Kahnman utilized are based on common situational decisions. I can add that in turn, these examples are simple, complex, and humorous.
For details I’m studying Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He explains in the introduction that his goal is to “create discussion around the office water cooler.” In other words, he wants everyone, not only academics, to understand how we reach our decisions, and learn steps to help us arrive at better ones. The synopsis says:
Tversky and Kahneman shared their findings with a variety of disciplines: besides psychology, they included medicine, team-sports management, financial investing, and economics. In fact, in 2002, Daniel Kahneman became the first psychologist to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. Sadly, Amos Tversky passed away before he could share the honor.
As a beginner fiction writer, who’s still on the bunny hill, I wondered how I could use this information. Studying and pondering has brought me to the hope that I can practice the mental steps necessary to make better decisions about my writing and to create characters with more depth.
I want to show readers the humanness of people portrayed in my stories as they make their choices–the good ones and the not so good. I want to show why their illogical decisions seemed reasonable to them at the time. And I want to put them through their own undoing projects. I look forward to creating multifaceted characters as I learn from these experts.
Thank you, Michael Lewis for bringing Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnman into my life.
“I want to show readers the humanness of people portrayed in my stories as they make their choices–the good ones and the not so good.” Great post, Janice, and great goal for your fiction. It is a challenge, but one I consider the foundation of writing fiction. Staying true to my characters, showing their beauty and their warts, their internal & external conflicts, and how they rise or fall to meet them is showing the reader the characters’ “humanness.”
“[W]hy their illogical decisions seemed reasonable to them at the time” — as is often said, no one is a villain in their own story. This book was reviewed in the Missoulian Sunday, and it seems like a great, if unlikely, resource for a fiction writer. Thanks for telling us more about it. Good luck on the journey!
I love this. We always have to show what motivates our characters. I hadn’t known about the fast and slow theories, but that’s most interesting. It’s also interesting to see how characters react when they make a decision that doesn’t work out. Thanks for the thoughts and information, Janice. Karen
Wow, Janice. You explained just what I am trying to do with my new character, Corinne Cooper. I will ,check out the book.