Imagining Better Writing

thinkingIt’s always interesting when real life confirms science. A meta-analysis by the University of Toronto does just that. Researchers found that images, primarily paintings, activate specific neurons associated with learning and inner thoughts and emotions.

It also sets up a system that activates the brain’s reward circuit. In a way, it’s like your own classical conditioning experiment. The positive reinforcement from visualizing and creating feeds into this system.

Using Images

Novel writing software often uses images with character and location sketches. Along with the detailed notes of profession, looks, and quirks, you can also select images to represent the main features of your work. I’ve followed this practice with my previous mystery and now with my new work-in-progress.

All of my characters have faces—and homes! A quick search online led me to the perfect houses and furnishings for all of the major scenes in my book. Having this material handy makes writing so much easier.

They don’t have to be online images, though it does keep things tidy. A gardening book from my bookshelf gave me the ideal setting for one of my character’s backyard. It added a new dimension to my writing experience to have a visual. And it’s certainly something you can bring to your own work.

The Science Behind It

With advances in neuroscience, we’re able to peak behind the Oz curtain and see what’s going on. Susan Reynold’s book, Fire Up Your Writing Brain, delves more deeply into the science of writing. Our brains continue to develop and change all through our lives, a concept known as neuroplasticity.

Building habits and routines adds this process, as does a healthy dose of mindfulness and gratitude. Images for elements of your book are one way to start cultivating those good practices.

Here’s my challenge to you: if you are writing a book, visualize it. Collect images to represent the elements of your project. Think on them before you write, and use them as you write. See if your writing doesn’t take on a greater sense of place and vibrancy.

By Chris DR/

photo credit: The Thinker via photopin (license)

Writing Practice to the Rescue!

backhoe interupts writing practiceI have fashioned a new writing practice for myself. Routine are important elements in a writer’s life. I wanted the security and familiarity it could offer. It became especially important when my life turned upside down.

Making Peace Out of Chaos

It began the week after Christmas. I was startled awake by the sound of chainsaws. Then, there was the crashing sounds of limbs breaking and the shaking of the floor and house. Construction of the rain garden and drainage fix on our land had begun.

Through a lack of foresight and bad planning, our lot became the trough for the surface runoff from the main drag, the schools, and the subdivision across the street. The runoff dug an ever larger trench into the land, with flooding and nasty sediment filling the yard every spring. The city had come to fix its wrong.

The first two weeks meant backhoes, semis of boulders, and diggers on the property. The large picture windows of our house, cabin really, meant no privacy as workers walked the length of the trench, laying out guidelines for the trench. It was hell. It was also driving me nuts.

I didn’t want to leave as the workers took down trees close to the house. I didn’t want to come home to a tree trunk through my roof. So, I stayed. But I needed an escape.

Welcoming a New Writing Practice

Usually, I sit at my desk and listen to Focus @Will. This time, I used headphones to take me away. I plugged into the Ambient channel. It was like magic. I am so grateful for noise-cancelling headphones!

Midst the chaos, I found peace. The music negated any sounds of backhoes and back-up lights. I was in my own world. And it was a world occupied by the characters of my working novel, another in my Jack Hunter series of mysteries. This one is titled, Lying at the Door.

I must confess to feeling a bit naughty. I made myself totally inaccessible. I couldn’t hear my phone ring, nor did I want to. I didn’t hear the chiming of my Ship’s Bell app (which I love, BTW). It was just me, the music, and the world of my mystery. I couldn’t have asked for more.

It seemed like such a simple thing, but it empowered me. I faced a problem and found a solution that restored calm in my life. If I could tackle that annoyance, I could handle anything, even outrageous interruptions to my writing practice. My dad’s words, “There’s no such word as can’t,” sounded in my mind.

Yes, Dad, you were right.

By Chris DR/

photo credit: Moved 18 feet west via photopin (license)

Using Psychology to Develop Complex Characters

complex characters brainsIf there’s one thing we can say for certain about people, it’s that they never cease to amaze. We do things for stupid reasons, no reason, and dubious ones too. Moreover, our personal survival factors into our actions more than we realize. We lie and deceive, but not just to others. As Richard Feynman once said,

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Seeing Into the Human Mind

We navigate our world via mental shortcuts or heuristics. They don’t always make our actions logical or reasonable. They offer explanations. And as Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, reminds us,

“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

Wiser words may never have been spoken. It is these very human characteristics that you can use in your writing to create complex characters. Sometimes people don’t make sense. But that’s okay. What a boring world it would be if all our actions followed a straight, logical path!

Biases and Fallacies, Oh, My!

Some of the best sources of human foibles come from our biases and fallacies. They direct our actions sometimes down weird and dark roads. In addition, they provide an explanation for those what-was-he-thinking moments. See if you recognize any of them in yourself.

The Ad Ignorantiam Fallacy

This fallacy often appears in political discussions. You may see it crop up in discussions about the paranormal too. In this case, someone makes the case that if you can’t disprove something, it must be true.

A classic example that you may hear in the news involves GMOs. If you can’t prove they’re 100 percent safe, they must be harmful. It’s the precautionary principle gone wild. I hope you can see the flawed logic and the erroneous displacement of the burden of proof. The latter rests with the ones making claims of harm.

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Poc

The post hoc, ergo propter hoc or after this, therefore because of this error is a bit trickier. In these cases, we look for reasons after the fact. It can appear innocently enough as when a golfer wears a certain color shirt on the last day of the tournament for good luck. It always worked in the past. Of course, it will work now.

In its more serious form, it shows up in popular media. A study comes out that suggests a correlation between A and B. The unwitting—or witting—journalist confuses correlation and causation. Any beginning stats student will tell you that they are not the same thing. And a study is not the same thing as a controlled experiment.

The point of this discussion is show that the many paths that our logic takes. We sometimes use flawed reasoning. Because of this trait, our characters should do likewise. Realistic and complex characters must use the same fallacies and biases to navigate their fictional worlds. When you do, you create a character who is human-like and complex. And it’ll add a lot to your writing. Chris DR

photo credit: “Where is my Mind” les dernières folies de Goin sur la décadence de l’Occident… via photopin (license)