Tag Archives: story

Why Humans Love Story

So, following on from last week, in our 4 post series which will be part of Harness Your Reader’s Psychology, we’re delving deeper into why readers read. This week, we’re exploring exactly why we are so drawn to narrative…and it may not be the reason you think!

If you were to ask a fellow Homo Sapien why they read, they’ll give you a variety of answers. In fact, I polled my readers, asking them this very same question, and here are some of the answers I received:

‘If I’m having a bad day or I’m stressed, I block everything out and pick up a book. I feel much better after I’ve spent a few hours reading.’

‘I read because I love stories! As a mom of five kids it is a stress reliever to be able to pick up a book and let my imagination take over for an hour or so. ‘

What’s not to love about a good book!! They offer adventure, romance, thrills, chills, and mystery!! A book offers escape from our daily grind!! You can escape between the pages for awhile!! Travel to new cities, foreign lands or briefly experience life in the past. There is no limit to what you can see or experience through the pages of a book!! I love to read!! There is nothing that can compare to a well written book!!

‘As an escape. Life isn’t easy and escaping into someone else’s “life” gives me a break from my own.’

Psychologists like to look for themes, overarching principles, so that they can understand general trends in human thoughts or behaviours. Looking at the responses above, some say it explicitly, others allude to it, but they all say ‘escapism’ in one form or the other, and they all point to reading feeling good. If you asked me that question a few years ago, I would have said the same thing. Losing yourself in a world not my own is exactly why I read. It feels good to disappear into those imaginary places.

But if you think about it, reading for escapism is actually counterintuitive.

To start with, when we dive into a story, we’re usually diving into situations that are more stressful, angst-filled, and emotional than the ones we experience in real life. Books walk us through journeys defined by heart-ache, loss, zombies, and pain. Why we don’t like to lose ourselves in stories of happy families and the mundane is something we’ll cover later. For now, appreciating that the good stories which draw us in and don’t let go are founded on struggle and stress raises a valid point.

How can that be escapism?

Secondly, losing yourself to the point where reality dissolves into the peripheral (how many of us have had toast or pasta burn because we got lost in a book?), isn’t smart. Evolutionary speaking, it’s deadly. That’s when predators pounce, thief’s see a window of opportunity, or rivals drag your partner into the night.

Evolution but doesn’t have the time or the energy to carry useless, frivolous, potentially dangerous traits through the generations. And if you think about it, getting lost in a story isn’t obviously useful: from centuries ago, when keeping an eye out for sabre tooth tigers was pretty essential for survival, through to modern times, where keeping down a job means food in your fridge.

And yet story has been so pervasive and universal that it’s survived the ruthless mill of evolution, that unrelenting process that screens out anything that doesn’t ensure our species will be here to produce future generations. If it’s not securing our survival, then its cut. Gone.

Extinct.

Why then? Why is story still around? Why is it woven so tightly into the layers of our life?

Is it possible, that story actually serves a function in human survival?

Essentially, story was, and continues to be, our first virtual reality. Just like it’s much safer for pilots to learn to fly in simulators, we get to learn the complicated lessons of life through the experience of others. In the same way pilots prefer to make their mistakes much closer to the ground, we get to see what could happen if our baby sitter didn’t turn out to be who we thought they were, how to take down a zombie, what a serial killer is capable of, or how to navigate a dystopian world, what the ripple effect of having an affair with your neighbour is. In real life, mistakes can be devastating for pilots and us alike. With story, we get to do all of this and more, all without the deadly crash landing.

In fact, readers in my poll captured it beautifully:

‘To travel, fly, love, cry and live without moving from my seat. Books are my precious friends.’

‘To live multiple lives in multiple different shoes.’

‘Reading takes me to places I haven’t been, both real and imaginary. I experience emotions that I may not have had or can empathise with. I can remember the intensity of falling in love, giving birth, loving children, the excitement of seeing wondrous places, and experience the fear and dread of experiences I hope I shall never have.’

It’s the last words that really capture that reading is about far more than escapism: ‘experience the fear and dread of experiences I hope I shall never have.’ And yet, she chooses to immerse herself in it.

When I learnt all this, as a reader I felt validated. I finally figured out why I turn up to work gritty eyed and wishing I drank coffee because ‘just one more chapter’ turned into ‘there’s only a hundred pages to go’ (and obviously, there’s no point in stopping). It’s not about poor self-control, an addictive personality or a belief I can function on three hours sleep. My brain is wired to want this! (Okay, fine…maybe self-control got skipped in my DNA…)

But as a writer I was fascinated.

Readers are unconsciously drawn to our words for more than just escapism. There are certain elements their subconscious brain is looking for, and once we know what that is…

We can give it to them.

As for what that is? That will be next week’s post 🙂

By Tamar Sloan

Source: psychwriter.com.au

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Making a Living as a Life Story Writer

A business card left at a coffee shop that garners a $50,000+ writing gig. Same card, different coffee shop, that results in a feature story in a local publication.

No, it’s not the card that’s magic, but the profession it advertises: life story writer. Those were only two of the many strokes of good luck I’ve had since I started my career as a life story and family history writer nearly ten years ago. The genre, also known as personal history, serves a population of mostly older adults eager to preserve their stories without having to do the writing themselves. The books are intended for family and friends, not the wider public, so there’s no need for queries, book proposals, agents, or publishers—just a client willing to invest the time and money to record their cherished memories

Here’s how it works: I sit down with a client for a series of interviews in which we talk about their growing-up years, their parents and siblings and relatives, their first loves, their war experiences, their careers, their challenges and joys, their reflections on what it all means—in other words, anything they feel moved to talk about. In between interviews, I’m at my desk, shaping our transcripts into a compelling narrative that will, if I’m doing my job right, give future generations a glimpse of family members they may or may not have ever met.

This kind of writing does more than reveal the character of the narrator; it also brings to life long-ago eras. Think about it: The fifty years or so that separates the generation of grandparents from their grandchildren means that they will each spend the bulk of their life in two vastly different worlds—even if they live in the same town. It’s the difference between a horse-drawn plow and an air-conditioned combine, between a one-room schoolhouse and a middle school with a thousand kids, between an outhouse and a heated toilet seat. The world is changing fast; people who hire me want their descendants to know what the world used to look like.

Why has it been so easy to find clients and publicity? Two reasons. The first is a swell in interest in life stories. With genealogy the second most searched topic on the internet (I’ll leave you to imagine the first), with DNA kits topping the list of holiday gifts and shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” topping the charts, it’s clear that people are curious about their roots. And because we’re storytelling creatures, it’s only natural that the focus should swing from data—birthdates, death dates, cemetery plot numbers—to what we really love: the stories that bring it all to life.

And the second reason I’ve been able to make a living as a life story writer? Supply and demand. There may be loads of clients wanting to hire someone to write their story, but there aren’t loads of writers to do so. I’m guessing that’s because most writers have never heard of this niche. What a shame. Not only is it a way to earn your keep by writing, but it allows you to connect with people on a level we seldom reach with any but our closest friends. All while helping to create something your clients will love.

By Amy Woods Butler

Source: fundsforwriters.com

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100 Story Ideas

Here are 100 story ideas you can steal right now. And if that’s not enough, generate your own with the Idea Engine, or peruse these lists of scene ideas, flash fiction prompts, and writing prompts.

Story Ideas

Write a story about…

  1. A character with an addiction who discovers that they’re someone else’s addiction.
  2. A historical character who travels to the present day and causes chaos when they steal back something that originally belonged to them.
  3. An alien species that lands on earth but is only detectable through literature.
  4. A world where every other person is born with wings and the history of how this came about.
  5. A magical object that teleports into the hand of anyone who thinks about it, and the difficulties this causes for its owner.
  6. A character who’s seeking justice for a murder they committed but can’t prove.
  7. A faustian musician who’s trying to resurrect a dead musician so they can jam together.
  8. A character who’s trying to win back their partner who ran away with their best friend.
  9. A spirit animal’s quest to choose their human.
  10. A mythical drug that’s at the root of someone’s family tree.
  11. A fountain pen collector who’s found murdered, and the murder weapon is a fountain pen that was rumoured to have belonged to a famous historical figure.
  12. A teenage boy who dreams of marrying a(n alien) princess.
  13. A wedding planner who bears a secret grudge against happily married (or engaged) couples.
  14. The history of a family who are committed to resurrecting an ancient art.
  15. A character whose obsession with entomology threatens to unleash a plague of biblical proportions.
  16. A group of archeologists who discover the ruins of Atlantis on a newly-formed volcanic island.
  17. A knight who spends five years trying to break a spell cast on him by a witch, only to slowly fall in love with her.
  18. A character whose family and friends believe that they are a mythological figure resurrected, even though they don’t believe it themselves.
  19. A sailor who is shipwrecked on an artificial island-kingdom owned by an eccentric billionaire who has been presumed dead for ten years.
  20. A character making friends while waiting for a hurricane to hit the hotel where they’re staying.
  21. A graveyard that’s besieged by the souls of those who were buried outside its walls.
  22. A bookshop that’s the last refuge of a group of fans of an unusual (and very specific) genre.
  23. An occultist who develops a sudden interest in science.
  24. A vintner who mans an interplanetary expedition to solve the mystery of a grape blight.
  25. A dragon who’s in love with a rain deity and wants to find them the perfect gift.
  26. A guest who begins to suspect that they’re not the only guest.
  27. The founders of a town where the average IQ of the residents is abnormally high.
  28. A warrior who discovers that their clan has been at war for centuries because of a typographical error that may have ben deliberate.
  29. A magical world where all of the magic turns out to be an elaborate illusion.
  30. A teacher who takes attendance and finds that there’s an extra student in their class.
  31. An innkeeper who hires a magus, a troll, and an elf to guard their secret recipe, but finds they’ve put their trust in the wrong people.
  32. A blind date that’s interrupted by a guardian angel.
  33. A psychic tour guide who organises tours that help people turn their lives around.
  34. A painter who travels to another planet in search of a rare pigment.
  35. A character who discovers a strange calendar which appears to prophecy important events in their life.
  36. A teenager who has to choose between two very different schools.
  37. A builder who specialises in magical doors, extensions, and passages.
  38. A character who gets trapped in their memory palace and has to find a way out in order to save someone else.
  39. A character who accidentally discovers the world’s best pencil and spends the rest of their life trying to keep it secret at all cost.
  40. A goddess who wakes up and finds that her religion has been abandoned, and sets out to seek the cause, and convert people back.
  41. A miner who hits a vein of a strange new rock and becomes a target for a government agency that wants to keep the discovery a secret.
  42. A florist who sends flowers to a wrong address and initiates a chain of events that leads to two people meeting and falling in love.
  43. A country where citizens vote AI into leadership, rather than people.
  44. A character who is obsessed with perfecting their life story by travelling back in time to correct mistakes or flaws.
  45. A character who has to fall in love with someone from an enemy clan in order to lift a curse.
  46. A book critic who is writing their first book but becomes paralysed by the fear of receiving vengeful reviews.
  47. A character whose job is to create treasure hunts, but who finds themselves on someone else’s treasure hunt, and ends up discovering an old coffin.
  48. A knitter who unravels a ball of yarn only to find it stained with blood, and helps the police investigate a possible murder.
  49. A character who is afraid to leave their house, but needs to travel to see a loved one who is critically ill in hospital.
  50. A character who steals what they think are the questions to an exam, and finds that they’re actually an application form for a secret, mythical order of scholars.
  51. A protest that’s staged as cover for a huge heist.
  52. A character who regains their sanity through chess.
  53. The history of the most valuable dress in the world.
  54. A character who discovers a secret message on a bottle of shampoo while showering, and is driven by curiosity to investigate it.
  55. A peace treat that’s signed on board a dirigible over no-man’s-land, and the people who fought for it.
  56. A wealthy character who goes on a daytrip with a poor, homeless person, and switches places with them without realising.
  57. Two people who fall in love but come from planets where time runs very differently.
  58. A character who is the “chosen one” and discovers that they were the one who created the prophecy.
  59. A society that’s organised according to an ancient symbol that they’ve misinterpreted.
  60. A character who learns that the omens in their life are created by beings trying to guide them from another dimension.
  61. A character who finds a baby abandoned in a bus shelter and embarks on a roadtrip with a wet nurse to try to find its parents.
  62. A time-travelling antique dealer who steals their favourite author’s writing desk.
  63. A detective who has to overcome their fear of flying in order to investigate the murder of a flight attendant.
  64. A character who is biologically attracted to danger.
  65. A character who is preparing to go through a rite of passage that involves death but not resurrection.
  66. A character whose lover breaks up with them and then secretly follows them for a decade.
  67. A gamer who has to rescue a real princess.
  68. Two characters who leave to seek their fortunes in order to get married.
  69. A rock band that tours the world and investigates crimes.
  70. A psychologist who’s trying to hide their agoraphobia.
  71. The crew of a spaceship that have been trying to find their way back to their home planet for centuries.
  72. A vampire who gives blood rather than drinking it.
  73. A private letter that falls into the hands of an influential leader and changes their outlook on life.
  74. A character who learns that their parents were guilty of a terrible crime, and sets out to collect evidence against them.
  75. A character who has been living as a recluse for many years, and learns that the people of a nearby settlement regard them as a guru, and have written books and made films about them.
  76. What Romeo and Juliet get up to in the afterlife.
  77. A character who stumbles upon a strange machine that their science teacher has been building in the school basement, and decides to help.
  78. A character who reads their first book at the age of 81.
  79. A character who awakens an ancient mythical beast while scouting for a movie location at a remote monastery.
  80. Another planet’s space race.
  81. A tattoo artist who helps a detective solve murders that involve tattooed victims.
  82. Two lovers who are separated by a bridge that can’t be maintained much longer.
  83. A fortune teller who becomes a suspect in a murder when it’s discovered that they foretold the victim’s death.
  84. A retired hitman who resolves to atone for his work by saving people who are being targeted by their former employer.
  85. A world where the gods of several pantheons join forces to eradicate their worshippers.
  86. A character who is addicted to seeking out experiences of extreme solitude, and their eventual “healing”.
  87. A memoirist whose distinction between their life story and the life they’re living begins to dissolve until their friends stage an intervention for them.
  88. A diplomat to the fairy realm whose task is to negotiate a trade agreement.
  89. A decorator who becomes increasingly convinced that the owner of the house they’re working on is trying to cover up a murder, even as they fall in love with them.
  90. A character who works on a telephone helpline develops a relationship with one of the callers, and arranges to meet them only to be stood up.
  91. A doctor investigating a rare disease that they specialise in who discovers that it’s artificially engineered, just as they begin to show symptoms themselves.
  92. A character whose job is to clean up people’s imaginations.
  93. A world where the people develop space travel in order to communicate with their deities who live on another planet, but find that the gods have vanished mysteriously.
  94. A character living in a nursing home who wakes up one day to find themselves inundated with fan mail.
  95. A character whose commute lasts a lightyear.
  96. A character whose fear of missing out drives them to establish a surveillance network.
  97. A character who has a fascination with all kinds of forgery, and how this interest will eventually lead to their death.
  98. A film star who is actually two film stars.
  99. A society that encourages and rewards mistakes and failure over success.
  100. A writer who’s trying to give up their writing addiction.

Feel free to use any of these story ideas. Transpose them into different genres, and replace words or clauses to generate even more stories.

Source: eadeverell.com

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Writing Scary Stories & Horror for Kids: 4 Lessons from Goosebumps Author R.L. Stine

There is a fine line between scary and funny when it comes to clowns, ventriloquist dummies and other creepy ghouls, but author R.L. Stine heads straight for the dark side. For more than 25 years, Stine has been writing horror for kids around the world with his Goosebumps series, which has sold over 350 million copies in 32 languages.

From the age of nine, Stine knew he wanted to be a writer. Initially, he dreamed of writing humor—not horror—on the old typewriter he found in his attic. While attending Ohio State, he became editor for a humor magazine at the college for three years. When he moved to New York, he fulfilled his dream to write full-time by writing fake celebrity interviews for a fan magazine where he learned to write fast and use his imagination. Soon after he landed a job at Scholastic where he shifted gears to write for younger audiences. For sixteen years he worked as the editor for the kids’ humor magazine, Bananas.

 

 

Stine’s big genre change happened when a friend of his at Scholastic asked him if he ever thought about writing horror for young adults. He hadn’t. She suggested he write a book for this audience with the title Blind Date. Four months later, the book became a bestseller. More books followed, along with a new series, Fear Street. He found some success with this audience, but when it was suggested that he write horror for kids—younger kids, ages 7-12—Goosebumps was born.

The first few books in the series were published without much hype or marketing power behind them. Sales remained flat for 3–4 months before word of mouth kicked in. Stine called it the secret kids’ network. Kids started talking about the books with their friends, sales shot up, and the rest is history. He continues to write and publish for this series, putting out new books each year.

Here are some quotes from Stine along with thoughts and insights in writing horror for young readers as well as writing in general.

“When I write, I try to think back to what I was afraid of or what was scary to me and try to put those feelings into books.” 

Stine grew up a fearful child. He draws on his memories of what scared him to create the stories for Goosebumps. Think back to your childhood. What scared you? Dig deep into the depths of your imagination to find those moments and remember the emotions and feelings associated with those situations and bring them into your writing. 

“My thinking is that these books are entertainment. I’m very careful to keep reality out of it. The real world is much scarier than these books. So, I don’t do divorce, even. I don’t do drugs. I don’t do child abuse. I don’t do all the really serious things that would interfere with the entertainment.”

Adults and kids read horror books for the adrenaline and emotional rush that comes from being scared. When writing for young readers, Stine’s one rule is that it can’t be too realistic. It’s important to him that his readers know his stories are fantasy and can’t really happen. If you are writing scary stories for children, spend time in your creative mind and develop situations and storylines where you take your reader to dark and frightening places, but nothing too close home. Because as Stine says, real life is scary enough. 

“It’s my job, too, to keep up with pop culture and what the kids are into because I don’t want to sound like an old man trying to write for kids. I spend a lot of my time spying on them.” 

Successful children’s authors understand that their young readers are smart. Kids want to read books where the author understands their world and the issues they face. Technology and social media along make life for young people today very different than it was for previous generations. As a writer it is up to you to keep up with current culture and write stories that resonate and connect with kids today. 

“If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block.”

Stine is a prolific writer with hundreds of published books. He has a system that works for him and allows him to put out 4 to 6 new books each year. He is a plotter who creates a complete chapter-by-chapter outline of each book. When it comes time to write the book, he’s already done the important thinking and knows everything that is going to happen. This allows him to relax and enjoy the writing. As writers, we all have our own styles and systems and approaches to the writing process. To be successful and achieve the goals you have set out for yourself, it is essential that you find what works for you. If you consistently miss the mark or your productivity is not what you want it to be, then you should examine how you approach your writing life. Maybe it is time to switch from being a “Panster” to being more of a planner like Stine.

By Kerrie Flanagan
Source: writersdigest.com

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Small Moments Make Your Story Big

“A big story is about a small moment.” ~Matthew Dicks

Think about that for a moment (not a small one).

Every book you have ever read is about a small moment—an epiphany when a character realizes an emotional truth with complete clarity.

Let me provide examples:

THE MONSTORE is not just about a store that sells monsters. It’s about a brother and sister who learn to appreciate one another and cooperate.

 

7 ATE 9 is about number 9 realizing his worth.

 

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD is about not judging someone before you get to know them.

 

Before I read Matthew Dicks’ STORYWORTHY, I used to phrase this “small moment” concept differently. I would explain that a story, especially a picture book, required an emotional core. Now I realize that is an amorphous blob of a statement.

In other words, not very helpful.

Likewise, if I told you my manuscript was about siblings who learn to get along, that doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? Sounds preachy and boring—been there, done that.

However, frame that sibling story in a shop of misbehaving monsters and suddenly it’s a must-read.

Small moments. They are what make your story BIG.

You may ask, do I set out writing about small moments? NEVER. I begin with an appealing, kid-friendly premise about dolphins or aliens or robots or puppies. If I am doing my job correctly, my main dolphin is not going to be the same dolphin by the end of the story. That dolphin has changed. Not from a bottlenose to a pantropical spotted, but from a mean dolphin to a nice one. Or one who doesn’t believe in narwhals to one who does. That small moment of emotional transformation is what makes the journey through the waves (and the story) meaningful. Otherwise, it’s just splashing in the ocean.

Your small moment appears with the story’s organic evolution. Often, if you begin with a small moment you end up sounding like a big know-it-all. Why? Because you can unknowingly force that theme into being. Never do I write in THE MONSTORE, “Zach and Gracie learned to appreciate one another and cooperate.” SNOOZEFEST. Instead, they open another Monstore together. That’s a lot more fun, and the small moment of transformation shines through.

While STORYWORTHY by Matthew Dicks is about crafting personal storytelling narratives, it contains nuggets of writing gold applicable to picture books. I had a small moment myself when I read about small moments.

So examine your manuscript. Does it contain a small moment? If you hear from an editor that your story requires another layer, that emotional epiphany could be the big answer.

Source: taralazar.com

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How Story Affects Us

Continuing in our four post series on the foundation for harnessing your readers’ psychology, today we’re exploring how story affects us. We’ve already explored where story is (essentially, everywhere), and why we love it so much (because it serves a very useful function!), and now we’re going to discover exactly how deeply it’s been wired into our grey matter.

Genes are the building blocks of our DNA. They mutate and blend, creating an myriad of possibilities for survival of the fittest to select from. Each gene is a blueprint for a particular characteristic, and if that particular characteristic helps us survive, it receives a tick of evolutionary approval and is spread throughout the population. Evolution thought opposable thumbs were pretty cool, language was pretty useful, and that being drawn to story was pretty important.

Evolution thought the benefits of narratives were so important that it actually wired us for story. In fact, it thought it was so important that it deeply embedded it into our grey matter in two significant ways. The first is in the chemical communications that happen in our head. Namely dopamine, the little molecule involved in pleasure and reward. Cheesecake, coitus and cocaine all trigger the release of dopamine in our brain.

And so does devouring a good book.

In the case of reading, dopamine is your brain’s way of rewarding curiosity, so you can learn the hard-won lessons the character is enduring (in the safety of the library or your bedroom). Interestingly, the more dopamine is released, the more of a high we get, the more we want to keep doing what we’re doing. Most importantly, if the brain anticipates doing that activity again, like reading, it will release dopamine accordingly.

Think about it, we’ve all been there when our favourite author releases a new book. When that book finally rests in your palms, that happy, heady feeling has you diving into the first page no matter where you are. It’s the brain’s way of encouraging you to go for it because it felt so good last time.

The second has us probing right down at a cellular level. Neurons are the spindly, spidery cells that make up our brain matter. They’re the little suckers that zip information and messages all around our brain and body. A relatively recent discovery was that of mirror neurons, cells that fire both when you do something but also when you see someone else doing it. Oh, like hear a story, watch a movie…or read a book! Mirror neurons are why we get just as excited watching sport as playing it, why we scrunch up in our seats and turn our eyes away from a horror film.

Or why we have a physical, visceral response to a great book. One study scanned participants brains whilst they watched scenes from Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. What the functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI) showed was that viewers’ brains ‘caught’ whatever emotions were being acted out on the screen. When Eastwood was angry, the viewers brain was angry. When the scene was sad, the viewers brain was sad, too.

In a similar study, a team of neuroscientists popped some research subjects in a fMRI scanner while they played a short clip of an actor drinking from a cup and then grimacing in disgust. They also scanned subjects while researchers read a short story, asking participants to imagine walking down the street, accidentally bumping into a retching drunk, and catching some of the vomit in their own mouths (anyone else have an instinctive, visceral reaction to that?!? Actually, that’s our very own mirror neurons working right now!). Finally, the scientists scanned the subjects’ brains while they actually tasted disgusting solutions.

In all three cases, the region of the brain associated with disgust (the anterior insula, in case you were wondering) lit up. It’s fascinating to appreciate that whether we see a movie or read a story, the same thing happens—we activate the sensation of disgust. This is exactly why reading a book can make us feel as if we are literally experiencing what the characters are going through.

Pretty cool, huh?

What’s more, in addition to the evidence that the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, science has also discovered it treats social interactions among fictional characters as real-life. A review of 86 fMRI studies by psychologist Raymond Mar concluded that there is substantial overlap in brain networks used to understand stories and those used to navigate interactions with other individuals. What’s more, this is particularly evident in interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others.

Actually, it’s not surprising that reading fiction can improve a reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes. But what’s really cool for us lovers of the written word is that recent research has discovered that people who read score higher in empathy and understanding others. Readers who frequently read fiction are better able to understand other people, empathise with them and see the world from their perspective. Yes, it literally makes you a better person! And when empathy is linked to prosocial behaviour and health benefits for the individual, it seems everyone wins when you pick up a book.

Are you noticing the overlap of this information with the earlier chapter on why we’re drawn to story? These studies of the ‘brain on fiction’ are consistent with the theory that story functions as a virtual reality, a place for us to safely learn so we can improve our ability to deal with real-life problems, but more specifically, the complexities of social life.

Straddling the unique position of both reader and writer, authors already appreciate that story offers a unique opportunity to engage this capacity—it’s a space where we can identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and vicariously experience encounters with friends and lovers, competitors and enemies. As a reader we’ve felt the heady sensation of immersion, and as a writer we try to capture it.

For you as a writer, this neuro-soup of cells and chemicals is one you want to tap into. When a reader is experiencing that rush of dopamine, they will keep reading. When they are experiencing your story world as if it were their own, they will keep reading. Building on what we’ve learned, there’s one big thing you have into include in your story, and that’s what we’re going to explore next.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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Story in the Human Psyche

After my brief hiatus (life got busy and I got overwhelmed), I’m back and excited to bring you a series of posts that will be part of a book I’m writing. Harness Your Reader’s Psychology is going to all about understanding what draws readers to your story, what fires their psychology, and how we can harness that.

The first part of the book will focus on why readers read. Four chapters will explore where story can be found, why we’re so drawn to it, how story impacts us, and what it is readers are really looking for. So this week, we’re going to discover exactly how pervasive story is.

Most writers can tell you that story lives in other places outside of books. We understand that everyone does story in one form or another, even those that don’t read. I devour books, my husband loves to watch TV, my son absorbs himself in games of breeding dragons or building pixelated forests. In fact, gossiping is story, seeing a psychologist is all about telling your story, marketers know that a good story will invest you in their product.

Story’s roots are so deeply embedded and woven through our humanity, that it is, quite literally, everywhere. Yep, story is everywhere.

The proof that fiction is deeply embedded in humanity’s psyche is simple—story is everywhere. Story was with the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime thousands of years ago, it’s stamped in the hieroglyphics of the pyramids and was carried in the beaded necklaces of the American Indians. And yes, we are reading less than we used to, and oral story telling is an art on the brink of extinction. But that isn’t because we’ve forsaken fiction. Story now thrives in chart-busting love ballads, Call of Duty games, and generates billions of dollars in movies about blue-skinned, long-tailed Avatars.

Many of us understand that most of those examples are stories. But story is deeply embedded in our psyche, as evidenced by the stories we tell ourselves. Whether you aspire to be a writer or not, we are all storytellers in our sleep. Dreams are the places where we fly, commit adultery, witness murders, save lives. We spend hours (some scientists believe we may dream all night) scripting and screening fantastical theatre in our mind. Asleep, everyone of us is a storyteller.

Nor do we stop dreaming when we’re awake. Daydreaming is the mind’s default state. We daydream when driving, when walking, when mopping the floor, when listening to Uncle Joe regal us with the golden years. The reality is, that if our mind isn’t focused on a task, it will skip off to wondering what would happen if you interrupted Uncle Joe and began discussing the joys of cross-dressing.

In fact, our mind can’t help but create stories. This point is beautifully illustrated by an experiment conducted by psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel. It was the mid-1940’s when the researchers made a short film, a simple black and white animation that lasts about a minute and a half. Essentially, there is a big rectangle that is motionless, except for a flap on the side that opens and closes. There’s a big triangle, a small triangle, and a small circle. The animation starts with the big triangle inside the big rectangle. The small triangle and circle then move onto the screen. As the big square’s flap opens, the big triangle moves out. The three shapes move around the screen, in and out of the rectangle. After ninety seconds or so, the little triangle and little circle leave the screen again.

heider-simmel

When I watched the film, I didn’t see basic geometric shapes. Instead I saw a father (the big triangle) inside his home, comfortable that he is lord and master of his domain. His daughter (the small circle) enters the scene with her newfound love, the little triangle. The father exits the house, and is furious to discover who his daughter has chosen. He instantly attacks the boyfriend, using his size to aggressively push and shove the smaller triangle around. He fires insults at the poor fellow, never giving him a chance to defend himself, then orders him to stay away from his daughter. The daughter runs to the house, cowering from behind the door as she watches in horror. But as she sees her love be bullied, the indignation has her approaching them. But her father berates her, being brutish and dominant. The couple try to flee, only to be chased. Eventually, they manage to escape. There’s a possibility the father may never see his daughter again.

It was all very Romeo and Juliet, angst-filled teens fighting for identity and love and independence. In truth, it was a silly story my mind created in the moment from ambiguous stimuli.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. After showing the film to their research subjects, Heider and Simmel gave them a simple task.

Describe what you see.

It’s fascinating (and relieving!) to discover that less than three percent of participants gave a truly subjective answer. The majority were like me; they didn’t see inanimate objects, they saw characters and drama and emotion driven action. (The link to the animation is at the end of this article.)

We can’t help but create story.

What’s more, not only do we think in story, but our interactions are driven by story. When we meet another person, the simple question of ‘how are you?’ sparks a description of our current state; the why we feel like that, and the how of how we got there. Discussing the news, our workmates, the latest reality TV craze is natural and normal. It’s all underscored by story. In fact, some scientists believe that one of the reasons story has stayed with us through the centuries is because of its importance in helping us function as individuals, but also in groups.

So not only is story everywhere, we’re incapable of being without it.

As writers, this is a something we want to harness. Our readers are drawn to our narratives for a reason; an unconscious one, a deeply rooted one. To do that, to grab them by the neutrons and not let go, we need to understand why story has become such a staple of our psyche, the how of what we’re trying to harness, and ultimately, what readers are really looking for.

For that, stay tuned to the upcoming posts in this series.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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9 Quick Fixes For Short Story Writers Who Run Out Of Ideas

It is Short Story Africa Day on 21 June each year! It is the shortest day in the southern hemisphere.

To celebrate, we’re sharing ways to find ideas for your stories. If you are a short story writer and you’re looking for a quick fix, try one of these.

1.  Find Out What Lies Behind The Lyrics

Choose a date. What song was number one on that day? Do some research about the song. Who wrote it? Why did they write it? Who inspired it? Use what you find out as inspiration for your short story.

2.  Use A Writing Prompt

Sign up for a daily writing prompt. Follow people who share them on social media. ‘A prompt can be anything. A word, a line from a poem or a song, a name or even a picture. Anything that gets you writing. Find ones you enjoy.’ (via) Your daily prompt could inspire your short story.

3.  Rewrite A Fairy Tale

Take a fairy take and write it as a modern day story. Change the sexes of the main characters. Choose a random setting. If the tale is too long for a short story, write the beginning or ending as your short story.

4.  Rewrite A Myth

A myth is an ancient story involving supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes. It is used to explain aspects of the natural world or to show the psychology, customs, or ideals of a society. Examples: The Myth of Creation, Arthur and Camelot, The Rain Queen. Write a myth using one of our 20 Myth Prompts as a short story.

5.  Obsess Over Details

Find one thing that interests you. Keep a file and save these items in it. It can be in a photograph or something you’ve heard. Research it and use it as inspiration for a story. Use this random first line generator to start your story.

6.  Hashtags On Instagram

Choose a topic that interests you. Visit Instagram and click on a hashtag related to the topic. Look at the posts and choose an image that inspires a story. Use this ‘What if?’ generator to enhance your scenario.

7.  Ask Your Followers

If you have a social media following, ask your fans what they want you to write about. Create a poll of some of the ideas you get and write about the one that gets the most votes. Use easypolls or pollcode or pollmaker. Use the embed code to share it on your blog or link it to your social media platform.

8.  Use A Holiday

Which public holiday is next on the calendar. Write a short story about someone who is planning for this holiday, or a story that centres around the holiday in some way.

9.  Write About The Day Your Parents Met

Rewrite the story of your parent’s first meeting. Write it from the perspective of a stranger watching them. Change names, swap the sexes of the characters, change locations. Go!

By Amanda Patterson
Source: writerswrite.co.za

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Should Your Story Have a Happy Ending?

Once upon a time my wife and were doing our second-favorite thing, sitting up late at night reading. Suddenly she yelled something like ARRGH or UGH and threw the book across the room, where the poor thing bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. The cat wisely jumped up and took off for parts unknown, while I was thinking, “She’s between me and the kitchen where all the sharp objects are.”

“Uh, honey, is something wrong?”

“At the end, an atomic bomb went off and they all died.”

“Uh, why did the bomb go off?”

”No reason. Just because.”

She wasn’t kidding. The End. And they all died unhappily ever after.

And I know how she felt because when I was in Junior High I read a novel about hot rodders where, at the end, the hero drives off a bridge, his head collides with his girlfriend’s with a “bone-shattering crunch.” The End. I felt cheated. I went back and read the end again. Yep. Dead as can be. Let that be a lesson to you kids — no racing around in souped-up jalopies.

Let’s talk about what most of us do, and that’s genre fiction. Let’s talk about “. . . and they all died.” Maybe indulge in a little compare and contrast between tales that do not end with everybody dying, that say, yes, Virginia, happiness is possible.

  • Popular memes about genre fiction and how to fight them

Meme Number One — grim stories about the futility of modern life are more true-to-life and realistic because the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.

Meme Number Two — stories about miserable characters trapped in meaningless lives who stay miserable and do nothing about it are somehow more important than a series of paranormal romances.

At their dark, bleeding hearts these memes would have you believe that a happy ending is easier to write, and therefore less worthy. “He stood over the heroine’s body, holding the knife, laughed maniacally and went back to the castle.” That Stephanie Plum is less valuable to readers than the woman at the heart of Gone Girl.

Don’t you believe it.

  • The world is going to Hell In a hand basket

If it is, people have been saying that for generations. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955) starring Kevin McCarthy, the hero talks to a psychiatrist about the people in Santa Mira who believe their friends or family members have been replaced by doubles. The shrink replies, “It’s mass hysteria. Worry about what’s going on in the world, probably.” That was 1955 and we’re still here. Remember the kids driving their hot rod off a bridge? First it was juvenile delinquents, then hot rodders, followed by surfers, then hippies and later, slackers, each iteration of youth marking the end of civilization as we know it. If anything, the Jayne Ann Krentz ending, with relatively happy protagonists, is more realistic because we’re still here; Charon is still waiting to take that hand basket across the River Styx.

  • Dark and brooding is more important 

Oh, really? Okay, sales numbers do not always relate to quality — Valley of the Dolls was a huge seller — but you want meaningful numbers? Romance novels account for 29% of all titles sold.1

That’s right, almost one in three books, including e-books, has a lady with cleavage, or a guy on the cover who makes me feel inadequate. Add in thrillers and mysteries and it’s over half of everything sold. That number has held steady for years, and to me that says something. It says that a good story can end happily, and that such stories fill an important need. Note that here I am including a typical Stephen King ending where victory is obtained, but at a cost. This attitude isn’t new, either. Barbara Tuchman’s brilliant The Guns of August was praised, sort of, by scholars as “popular history.”2 It was an instant best seller and continues to sell to this day.

I believe in Story. I believe in laughter. For my money there’s not enough of either one in the world.

First, Story, with a capital S.

The world around us is often chaotic, we humans have a hard time figuring out why things happen and often the answer is simply, “because.” The cliche of the woman holding the body of her husband and shrieking at the heavens, “Why? Why?” is constructed like a flawed pearl around a pebble of wisdom, because often the answer is — just because.

Art, Story, provides a respite from the unrelenting randomness of real life. “Just because” doesn’t work in a novel. How random is life? The chain of causality that led me to writing this essay goes like this: I was in high school, headed for UCLA with my best friend Mark. When he was killed I lost interest in UCLA, went to Cal State Long Beach instead, where I met my wife (the book-thrower) and through her the lady who invited me to contribute to WITS. But is that a story? Of course not. It’s “just because.”

Our job is to layer on structure, to remove the extraneous. (And as a side note, wouldn’t that be a good topic for one of these essays? Do we as storytellers create the structure, or is it always there, waiting for us to reveal it? In a possibly apocryphal story Michelangelo once said the statue was always in the piece of marble; he just had to chip away the part that wasn’t David.) We either make or reveal the structure, and provide a tale to entertain.

Humor, happiness, is hard! You want tragedy? Just open your AP news feed.

Jerry Lewis said in the documentary “No Apologies,” “I see people all over the world desperate for laughter.”3 He was right, and I would add to that they are desperate for simple joy.

He described a plaque given to him by John F. Kennedy that reads:

There are three things which are real:
God, human folly and laughter.
The first two are beyond our comprehension
So we must do what we can with the third.

Here’s the point. It’s important how you feel about your work, and if you’re writing a series about a shape-shifting alien prince, or a detective who indulges in self-deprecating humor, you may feel a nagging sense that literary writers are somehow “better.” Fight it.

In the final analysis, what I’ve always wanted to do is what Don McLean says in, “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie” — “maybe they’d be happy for a while.” What I’ve learned, no, what has been driven home to me recently, is just how important that is.

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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How to Create Convincing Science Fiction Technology

Technology is a vital part of science fiction. Even if your story isn’t about a technological change, differences in technology will define the aesthetic of the setting and the possibilities available to the characters.

So how can you go about imagining convincing science fiction technology?

Why Convincing Technology Matters

Before delving too deeply into this, it’s worth considering why convincing technology matters. After all, other genres get away with making up whatever they like, as happens with fantasy and steampunk. Even some science fiction glosses over the details of technology, apparently treating it as unimportant.

One reason to pay attention to technology is your readers. While there are science fiction readers who don’t care about the details of the science, there are also many who do care. They’re passionate about understanding the underlying principles behind the way a future world works. They have a decent grasp on science and technology, which they will use to critique your work.

You can ignore these readers, but you do so at your peril. They often sit near the heart of fandom and can be among the most vocal advocates or critics of a book. Winning them over will provide you with a valuable support base, and if they don’t like your science then you’ll see it in your reviews,

There are other reasons too, beyond pleasing pedantic readers, reasons that will help you with your writing.

The first is that technology brings the world to life. Think about how much laptops, smartphones, and cars define our modern world. In the same way, the right technology can help to make your imaginary world feel real.

Developing a convincing system of technology can provide great inspiration for your storytelling. The way characters travel can inspire chase scenes. The way they communicate can inspire situations where they become cut off. The way they relate to their technology can shed light on how characters view the world and what inspires them.

Even if the outline of your story is already fully rounded, knowing how the technology works will make it easier for you to tell the story. If you know what makes a spaceship works then you’ll know how it could break down and how the crew might try to fix that. Knowing in advance means that you don’t have to stop the flow of writing to work it out.

How to Create Convincing Technology

The process of creating convincing technology starts with understanding modern technology and science, which means research.

Read up on the state of technology in the area you’re concerned with. What’s out there. How it works. How it’s used. Find out about what’s at the cutting edge, where experts in the field think this technology will go next. Look at how it got to this point, so that you can understand the way it develops over time.

When doing this, it’s important to look at the underlying principles. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s award-winning Children of Time is grounded in the fundamentals of evolution, not just the principle of information being passed on in the genes, but the way that this shapes changes over time. Though the evolution is exaggerated, the changes it creates in an insect population are convincing because they’re detailed and grounded in science. The result is an evolutionary pattern that is fascinatingly different from our world.

For most technology, you’ll need to consider design as well as science. A car’s design is about more than just the way an engine works and what makes an aerodynamic shape. It’s about how many passengers are included, where to seat the driver, where to place controls, how the vehicle provides feedback to the driver on what it’s doing, and a thousnad other factors. The same applies to any piece of technology, from a sword to a smartphone. So think about the design of the technology in your story. What aesthetics have shaped it? What issues of practical use? There are dozens of different ways the same tool could be designed, so look for one that says something about the society it’s used by.

While science fiction technology is mostly grounded in reality, it’s always going to depart from our world in some way – that’s what makes it science fiction rather than science fact. When deciding how to deviate from reality, it’s often good to work from the principle of the one big lie. This is one thing about the science of your setting that you’ve made up, like a form of psychic powers or faster than light travel. Readers will accept one or two big lies better than lots of little ones, as the one big lie and its consequences creat a coherent whole.

Work out the implications of your one big lie, including the different technologies that stem from it. Sell it well enough and your readers will believe.

Technology in Context

The way that technology is used is as important as the technology itself. Understanding how your technology fits into the world is vital to making it convincing.

New technology doesn’t start out as accessible to everyone. The Rocketpunk Manifesto blog has provided a simple, handy model for considering how it spreads and becomes more accessible.

First comes the experimental phase, in which the technology is unusual, unreliable, and only in the hands of a select few – think modern spaceflight. Then comes the government / megacorp stage, when the technology is mature and reliable enough to be replicated but costs so much that only huge organisations such as powerful nations can have it, as is currently the case for submarines. This is followed by a stage in which it’s accessible for commercial purposes and private ownership by the super rich, like owning an airliner. Finally the technology becomes available to private individuals, becoming ubiquitous, as smartphones have done in the past decade.

Understanding where on the spectrum your technology falls will help in understanding how it fits into the world you’ve created, how easy it is to access, and what challenges characters might face in getting hold of it. It’s also a useful way of setting limits on a technology, if making it ubiquitous would spoil your plot.

Once you’ve worked out the maturity level of the technology, think about who has it and why. What do they use it for? Why do they use this technology rather than something else?

Consider the consequences of the technology. For example, railways and the telegraph transformed western society. They made it possible for people, goods, and messages to travel at previously impossible speeds. The world became more connected, news travelled almost instantly, and the difference in power between nations with and without these technologies expanded hugely.

Technology can shape society in all kinds of ways. The need for precious metals for microelectronics has led to pollution and the mistreatment of miners in poor but resource rich countries. Those microelectronics have also allowed the internet, making most of human knowledge availalbe at the touch of a button. This has accelerated the pace of technological change, allowed dispersed social movements, fostered relationship between people on different continents…

You get the idea. The consequences of a technology can transform society on every level, and thinking that through makes your technology more real, as well as adding new story possibilties.

Case Study: Spaceships

Spaceship design, as discussed by Dr Nick Bradbeer in a presentation at Nine Worlds 2017, provides a great example of some of these principles.

Spaceships are currently at the experimental phase of maturity, though recent developments are nudging them into the national / megacorp zone. They’re very hard to make and get hold of, and they’re not entirely reliable.

The principles needed in designing a spaceship are similar to those in designing a ship. You have to take into account the ship’s role, its size, and its layout. The role will define what equipment is needed, such as weapons for a fighting ship or storage for a cargo ship. It will also tell you how many crew are needed. These parts together define its size, as there needs to be space both for specialist equipment and for crew facilities, incluing space for sleeping, eating, and recreation, as well as facilities to deal with waste, to create or make up for gravity, for people to do their jobs, etc. The layout is largely defined by finding the most efficient way to put these pieces together, inlcuding protecting people from the heat of engines and efficiently connecting different systems.

Design-wise, a spaceship can be pretty much any shape you want.  This creates freedom to make something that reflects the setting and culture you’re working with.

The big lie for spaceships is usually a faster-than-light drive. This is needed to connect together different places in an interstellar setting, and is such a common big lie that most readers will just accept it in some form.

So the research for spaceship design is a mixture of ship design and cutting edge space technology, combined with whatever design suits your vision.

Building Better Sci-fi Worlds

Whether you’re writing a vast space opera or a day-after-tomorrow dystopia, convincing technology makes for convincing science fiction. And along the way, it can provide you with the inspiration to make deeper, more interesting stories that engage your audience.

By Andrew Knighton
Source: refiction.com

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