Happy half-hour was typically celebrated with our workshop group, followed by dinner during which we dispersed among the other writers present. Then we adjourn to the renovated Rec Hall for 8:00 readings. On Sunday night, Cathy Hankla and Sheri Reynolds read and Charlotte Morgan gave us our marching orders about the week’s structure.
I’m honored to be interviewed on Fiona Quinn’s Thrill Writing, a blog helping thriller writers write it right.
We talk about why a character might act “out of character,” group mentality, behavior matching, why people might be more passive in groups or more likely to riot, and more.
Excerpt from “The Company You Keep – Does Your Character Act ‘Out of Character’ in a Group Dynamic?”
In this article, we’re talking about what happens to a character when they get into a group where a character might act “out of character”, which is a fun way to develop the plot.
Can you first give us a working definition for “group”
Vivian – We usually think three or more, but some “group” effects are present even with only two. Also, the “group” needn’t be physically present to exert influence.
Fiona – Can you explain that last sentence?
Vivian – Some group memberships are literal memberships–for example, a church congregation, sorority, bridge club, etc. such groups are often in our thoughts, and serve as a reference or standard for behavior even when the member is alone.
Fiona – Does “group mentality” work both ways? For example, people in a riot become riotous, but people in a disaster, where they see all hands on deck, become heroes?
People in a religious forum feel more religious. . .sort of like a magnifier?
Vivian – Absolutely. I just mentioned formal groups–which are the ones having the strongest influence at a distance– but crowds, mobs, any physical gathering of people, shapes our behavior to act or remain passive.
Fiona – Can you give us a short tutorial on what we need to know about group dynamics to help write our characters right?
Vivian – Well, there is a phenomenon known as behavior matching, a tendency to do what others around us are doing. This is reflected in everything from eating to body language. Even a person who has eaten his or her fill will eat more if someone else comes in and starts eating. If others are slouching, your character isn’t likely to remain formal.
Fiona – Yes, it’s hard to pass up a piece of chocolate cake when everyone else is moaning about how delicious it tastes.
Vivian – A related phenomenon–I suppose it could be a subset of behavior matching– has the label diffusion of responsibility. This is the tendency for people to stand passively by when others are present. There was a classic case, decades ago, in which a NYC woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered in the courtyard of her apartment. The murder took approximately half an hour, and dozens of her neighbors watched from their windows. No one came to help or even called the police. The more people who could help, the less likely anyone will take responsibility for doing so.
And then there is group disinhibition. This is sort of the opposite. It is that people are more likely to take risks, break the law, be violent when others are doing so. Think looting, or harassing a homeless person. Disinhibition is even more powerful when alcohol is involved. I recently posted a blog on alcohol for writers that goes into that a bit.
But the bottom line is that we behave differently with others present than when alone.
Thank you, Fiona!
What’s new at Nimrod Hall?
For many years I’ve traveled to Nimrod Hall in Millboro, Virginia, for their annual writing retreat. Nimrod has inspired several of my stories and given me hours of valuable writing time.
Last year I kept a travel log of my two weeks at Nimrod. I shared everything from packing my bags…
…to the wild women writers I met there.
As I prepare to depart, I look forward to my misty morning walks,
and family-style meals with writer friends,
and uninterrupted writing time.
This year I will share my travel log on my Facebook page. I hope you’ll join me there.
Nimrod Hall, established in 1783, has been providing summer respite from everyday stress since 1906. It has been operating as an artist and writer colony for over 25 years. The Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program is a non-competitive, inspirational environment for artists to create without the distractions of everyday life.
Addict: a person who has a compulsion toward some activity. Because these compulsions are often injurious, the label of addict has negative connotations. So one might instead choose alternative labels, such as aficionado, buff, devotee, enthusiast, fan, fanatic, junkie, etc.
Symptoms of book addiction:
- carrying a book (or e-reader) everywhere
- reading on subways, trains, planes, and when a passenger in a car
- reading in doctors’ waiting rooms or exam rooms, or when waiting for anything
- reading before the play or movie starts, and during intermissions
- reading during lunch or coffee breaks at work
- having stacks of unread books at home but still buying/borrowing more
- consistently preferring the book to the movie or TV series
- becoming anxious, uncomfortable, or irritable when no book is at hand
Dangers of book addiction:
- it can lead to further frustration when waiting for the next book by your favorite author(s)
- it often annoys family or friends
- limits exposure to other pop culture alternatives
- it can become costly, especially if you are at the book-a-day level of addiction.
As Erasmus once said, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”
And, beware, this addiction is often passed on to one’s children and grandchildren, ad infinitum.
Advantages of book addiction:
Takeaway for book addicts:
Keep it on the page!
- Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers
- Drinking Habits of Famous Authors
- Top 10 Drunk American Writers
- 99 Writers who Were Alcoholics, Drunks, Addicted To Booze, Etc.
- 25 Great Writers Who Battled Drug Addiction and Alcoholism
- All The Drunk Dudes: The Parodic Manliness Of The Alcoholic Writer
- ‘Every hour a glass of wine’—the female writers who drank
- What drives writers to drink?
Alcohol for Writers: The Facts
- In general, bigger people, more muscular people, and males get drunk slower than smaller people, less-muscular people, and females.
- Even controlling for height and weight, women absorb alcohol faster and metabolize it slower than men. In other words, they get drunk faster and stay drunk longer.
- In general, the health-related problems for women drinkers come on faster and are more devastating than for men.
- People get drunk faster on an empty stomach than after a full meal. I’ve read that ancient Romans drank olive oil to coat the stomach before their binges, because that slows-down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
- People who drink regularly and heavily have a greater capacity (tolerance) than those who drink less.
- People are more likely to blackout from fast drinking than from slow drinking of the same amount of alcohol.
- A standard drink is defined as 1.5 oz.shot of liquor, 5 oz. of wine, or 12 oz. of beer. Most wine coolers are the equivalent of one standard drink. FYI, heavy drinking = anything more than two drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women.
- Having 2-3 drinks can cause a loss of motor control 12 to 18 hours after drinking. Name your accidental injury—falls, drownings, automobile accidents, etc.—and the incidence goes up with alcohol consumption. Name your intentional injuries—shooting, stabbing, physical violence, rape—it’s more likely to happen with alcohol.
- There’s a reason athletes don’t drink before big events. Two to three drinks can deplete aerobic capacity and decrease endurance up to 48 hours after consumption.
- Alcohol impairs both learning new information and recalling previously learned information.
- Alcohol is a depressant for the central nervous system. People initially get “high” because the first thing to get depressed is inhibitions, creating a willingness to party and live dangerously. But beyond the buzz is the risk of seriously depressing metabolic functioning. A pulse rate below 40 or a breathing rate slower than 8-10 per minute is a medical emergency!
- The website brad21.org is a great resource for writers! B.R.A.D. stands for Be Responsible About Drinking. It’s a series of bullet facts, well-footnoted for further reading.
Other Things Writers Should Know
-Vodka sodas are for people who want to lose weight—or want people to think so—but not enough to quit drinking.-Jager bombs and vodka Red Bull are for basic bros.-Blue Moon is for craft beer posers.-Real craft beer drinkers are actually pretty cool.-Annoying people act like they invented picklebacks. (Apparently a shot of whisky followed by a shot of pickle juice—really.)-Buttery Chardonnays are for soccer moms.-Only rookies drink Appletinis.-Bud Light is for sporting events and day drinking, not Saturday night.-Martinis are a classic, classy drink.-Shots should be taken with a beer or a celebration. (Otherwise they’re for alcoholics.)
Takeaway for Writers
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
Finish what you start.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
Failing is nothing to be ashamed of, but not trying your best is.
Go as far as you can, as fast as you can.
Education is the union card to a better life.
Your word is your bond.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Always be there for family.
It’s better to be the one giving help than the one receiving it.
When all is said and done, be prepared to take care of yourself and yours.
Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Out To Get You.
- Don’t Let Your Doctor Kill You by Dr. Erika Schwartz with M.J. Peltier
- The Survivalist’s Handbook: How to Thrive When Things Fall Apart by Rainer Stahlberg
- Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It’s Too Late by Scott B. Williams
- Build The Perfect Bug Out Vehicle: The Disaster Survival Vehicle Guide by Creek Stewart
- Someone’s Watching You by Forest Lee
- Dangerous Instincts: Use an FBI Profiler’s Tactics to Avoid Unsafe Situations by M.E. O’Toole and A. Bowman
- How To Be Safe: Protecting Yourself, Your Home, Your Family, and Your Business from Crime
- Dangerous Personalities: An FBI Profiler Shows You How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People
Takeaway for Writers
- Rotten Ideas: Friedrich Schiller
- By the Cup: Honoré de Balzac
- Feeling Blue: Alexandre Dumas, père
- House Arrest: Victor Hugo
- A Mysterious Tail: Edgar Allan Poe
- The Traveling Desk: Charles Dickens
- Paper Topography: Edith Wharton
- The Cork Shield: Marcel Proust
- Flea Circus: Colette
- Traffic Jamming: Gertrude Stein
- Tunneling by the Thousands: Jack London
- A Writer’s Easel: Virginia Woolf
- Crayon, Scissors, and Paste: James Joyce
- Leafing Through the Pages; D.H.Lawrence
- Puzzling Assembly: Vladimir Nabokov
- Outstanding Prose: Ernest Hemingway
- Sound Writing: John Steinbeck’Pin It Down: Eudora Welty
- Don’t Get Up: Truman Capote
- Early to Write: Flannery O’Connor
Why We Write is a must read for writers!
- Isabel Allende
- David Baldacci
- Jennifer Egan
- James Frey
- Sue Grafton
- Sara Gruen
- Kathryn Harrison
- Gish Jen
- Sebastian Junger
- Mary Karr
- Michael Lewis
- Armistead Maupin
- Terry McMillan
- Rick Moody
- Walter Mosley
- Susan Orlean
- Ann Patchett
- Jodi Picoult
- Jane Smiley
- Meg Wolitzer