Writing Roundup: Toxic Relationships

writing roundup toxic relationships

Are you an author in need of resources for writing toxic relationships? Look no further! Here is a roundup of some of my posts detailing ways in which you can write such dynamics.

Do you have any suggestions for additional posts or questions about toxic relationships? Let me know!

How Not to Cry

how not cry

I’m a cryer. I cry at weddings and funerals, during the sad parts of good movies or books. In any given situation where it is appropriate to cry, I do. The downside is that I sometimes feel the urge to cry when—at least in my opinion—it is NOT appropriate. The prime example is that I tend to cry when I am furious at something or someone.

 

It turns out, there’s advice for that.

 

how not cry
Yar starts by acknowledging that there are times when people just don’t want to cry—e.g. in public places or at work. As I write, I’ll use “she” and “her” because women are more likely than men to cry. Indeed, 41% of women reported crying at work, compared to 9% for men. So, if you or your character doesn’t want to cry, here’s what Yar recommends.

 

  1. Provide a prop, such as a stress ball or scribble pad. Doing something with her hand might distract her.
  2. Have her pinch the skin between her thumb and pointer finger. Tensing the muscles and doing something may make her feel less helpless. Apparently feeling passive and/or helpless often causes tears.
  3. Have her take deep, cleansing breaths. It facilitates feeling calm.
  4. She can pinch the bridge of her nose, near the tear ducts. Indeed, any self-inflicted pain (within limits) can be distracting.
  5. She can tilt her head back. The tears will literally not overflow for a second or two, providing time to focus on something else.
  6. She should literally step back from the situation and maintain a neutral facial expression while considering why she feels like crying.
  7. She can inform bystanders that she needs a moment to gather her thoughts and has to step away for a bit. She may then cry a bit or get over it, but no one will be watching.
While showing strong emotions is easy when you want to show it, showing efforts to suppress strong emotions is often more difficult. Using the techniques above, your reader will get what’s going on without stating it in the narrative.

Writing Roundup: Psychology for Writers

writing roundup psychology writers

I’ve written quite a few blog posts about psychology for writers. I’ve rounded them all up for you here in one convenient place so that you can browse at your leisure!

Do you have any suggestions for additional posts or questions about psychology for writers? Let me know!

Bitch Blog

I’ve recently read several novels by a U.S.A. Today best selling author, and the quality of the writing/editing drove me nuts. How can someone who does these things be a bestseller? These are Regency Romance novels, if that helps put my complaints in context.

 

What’s wrong with these books?

Across novels, the following happens repeatedly.

 

  • The women step so fast that their skirts flutter about their ankles.
  • A curl is forever falling over her eye (or sometimes his).
  • The male love interest is invariably over six feet tall (in the early 1800s) with a chiseled body to rival Greek statues.
  • Someone is often willing to “trade her [littlest] finger for . . .”
  • Fingerfuls of brandy are splashed into glasses, which are usually then filled to the brim.
  • Oh, so often, something really isn’t well done.
  • Someone (usually male) often rubs a lock of hair between thumb and forefinger.
  • Stray locks are often tucked behind her ear.
  • People turn their heads so fast they wrench the muscles of their necks.
  • Tense characters grip the edge of a table or the arm of a chair hard enough to leave crescent marks. (Sometimes those crescent marks are on palms.)
  • People have thick dark hooded lashes.
  • When angry, characters often grit their teeth or clench their teeth so hard that pain radiates or shoots up their jaws.
And then there are the awkward or erroneous constructions.
 
  • his head reeling to the side
  • eldest vs. elder when there are only two
  • to not get
  • two very entirely different
  • where she was far safer to his senses
  • there, with but the risk of a patron passing by away from ruin, he kissed her
  • most unfavorable of light
  • to their respective box (or chair)
  • there is nothing unordinary
  • little expectations
  • still bore the blunt of his fist
  • as always, entirely, too cheerful
  • I came tonight at the bequest of my sister

So why is this a bestselling author?

 
  • The heroines are NOT universally gorgeous, perfectly proportioned, and virtuous.
  • Heroines are smart, active, resourceful, and brave.
  • Often minor characters in one book become the principles in subsequent books, offering continuity.
  • And there are usually breaches of the class lines of the period.
So maybe this is a case of readers reading for story, not for style. Oh, sigh.

Weather for Writers

weather writers
Recently I—along with my plants—have been suffering from the heat. They wilt and wither. I feel lethargic and grumpy. I’m not alone in this. From back in the day when I taught psychology, I’m well aware that weather affects mood and behavior. Indeed, hot summer months are associated with lower mood, and humidity tends to make people more tired and irritable.

 

And it occurs to me, writers might like to know the effects of weather that have been scientifically studied.
 
weather writers
 
SUNSHINE
 
Perhaps one of the best known effects is that people like sunshine—but only if you are able to get out in it. Otherwise, moods likely plummet for people stuck indoors.

 

Pleasant spring weather is associated with higher mood, better memory, and other good cognitive functions.

 

Drivers are more likely to pick up hitchhikers on sunny days than on cloudy days.

 

On sunny days people are more likely to help each other.

 

And Minnesotans tip more generously in restaurants when it’s sunny.

 

College applicants’ non-academic attributes are weighted more heavily on sunny days.

 

On sunny days, a woman is likely to give her phone number to an attractive stranger 22% of the time (compared to 14% of the time on cloudy days).

 

People spend more money when it’s sunny.

 

Being outside during pleasant weather can improve memory and boost creativity.

 

CLOUDS AND RAIN
On the good side, people recall up to seven times more objects when quizzed on cloudy days compared to sunny ones.

 

College applicants’ academic attributes are weighted more heavily on cloudy days. I love the title of this study: Clouds Make Nerds Look Good.

 

On the bad side, as noted above, hitchhikers fare worse on cloudy days.

 

On rainy days, people feel less satisfied with their lives.

 

Changes in barometric pressure can affect mood and cause headaches.

 

Rain can cause you to eat more, especially carbs.

 

Rain can cause pain. Because of the reduction in atmospheric pressure there is an increase in stiffness and a reduction in mobility. Yes, Granny’s knees predicting the weather is supported by science.

 

Some studies have found a relationship between low barometric pressure and suicide.

 

thermometer weather writers
TEMPERATURE
 
The ideal temperature for helping is 68 degrees F. The more the temperature goes above or below that, the lower the rates of helping.

 

Crime rates rise with temperature. During the summer, rates for serious violent crimes, household burglary, and household property damage are significantly higher.

 

Rates of aggression—everything from murders and riots to horn-honking—are higher in hotter years, months, days, and times of day.

 

Baseball pitchers are more likely to hit batters on hot days.

 

Journalists tend to use more negative words on hotter days.

 

Cold temperatures can lead to physical lethargy (much like too much heat).

 

weather writers
WINTER
Lack of sufficient sunshine in winter causes some people to become depressed, a syndrome known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It can be treated with light therapy. SAD is sometimes referred to as winter depression. It typically affects people from October through April.

 

Seasonal depression may be mediated by loss of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin). People suffering anxiety and depression are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency, and seniors with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more likely to be depressed than those with normal levels.

 

Cold temperatures: see above.

 

weather writers
The effects of weather on mood are a combination of biological, psychological, and social. If you need to know why weather is causing your characters to act in specific ways, you can delve into that online!

 

weather writers

Weird is Wonderful

different drummer vivian lawry
Perhaps you already know that I enjoy the odd, unusual, bizarre, and humorous. You surely know that if you’ve read Different Drummer! But it goes beyond my writing. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of weird stuff!

 

weird is wonderful
One really good overview of weird is this book by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, first published in 2004. In it, you can read about The Mutter Museum, part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which is filled with medical oddities. Such exhibits as outdated medical tools (e.g., a brain slicer), a wall of wax reproductions of eye injuries, and actual skeletons abound.

 

Open the book at random and you can read about The Paper House in Massachusetts, built in the 1920s, or The Goat Man of Prince George’s County.  The book is organized by topic, so whatever sort of weird phenomenon fits your story line, you can find several examples here.
weird is wonderful
The main drawback to this collection of weird is that if you want weird-by-location, that info is hard to come by. The index is alphabetical by name with the state location in parentheses, but there are no listings by state, per se. But not to worry! There are dozens of books out there to fill the geographical gap.

 

weird is wonderful
I have the books about the three places where I’ve lived most of my life, but there are tons more out there. In this particular series (in no particular order): Louisiana, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey (2 volumes), Kentucky, Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana, the Carolinas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Washington, Illinois, Oregon, and New England, plus Hollywood, Las Vegas, and England.

 

weird is wonderful
Based on the three I own, I believe all are organized in the same way, so here again, it’s difficult to narrow the geographic location based on the index. Although there are a ton of books out there containing esoteric information, most of these are organized by topic, also. If you go to Amazon you will find whole sets of “strange but true” and “weird but true” books in which the book is devoted to a particular topic, such as sports, animals, the human body, history, etc.

 

But persevere! If geography is what you want, it’s out there.

 

weird is wonderful
These two books by Neil Zurcher and Sharon Cavileer are organized by geographic areas within Ohio and Virginia, respectively. I’m sure there are other states as well.

 

If you’re at all inclined to write and/or read about the offbeat, there’s a book for you!

 

weird is wonderful

Writers on Writing

Who is more qualified to talk about writing than some of the world’s most beloved authors? Here is some writing advice from the greats, along with some (hopefully) inspirational photos of their writing spaces.

Elmore Leonard is one of many authors who doles out writing advice:

  • “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
  • “You have to listen to your characters.”
  • “Try to get a rhythm.”
  • “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.”

elmore leonard
[Source: Bronx Banter]
I’ve written about Stephen King before, but he always has great words of wisdom, such as:

  • “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
  • “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
  • “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

stephen king writing office
[Source: NPR]
Virginia Woolf had much to say on the subject:

  • “How can you learn to write if you write only about one single person?”
  • “…in literature it is necessary to have some means of bridging the gulf between… the writer and his unknown reader.”
  • “‘The proper stuff of fiction’ does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon, no perception comes amiss.”
  • “For heaven’s sake, publish nothing before you are thirty.”

virginia woolf office
[Source: The Guardian]
What is your favorite piece of writing advice? From which author would you most want to take writing advice?

Writing 101: Psychology of Uncertainty

psychology uncertainty

Better the devil you know. . .

. . .than the devil you don’t.

 

Perhaps you’ve heard this bit of folk wisdom. It reflects the common understanding that people abhor uncertainty. Predictability is a desired state, even if what is being predicted is negative—to the point of being disastrous, dangerous to the point of being life-threatening.

 

Think prisoners/captives: one powerful way to break down their resistance, to garner compliance, is to increase their uncertainty. This can be done handily by having no natural daylight, and artificial light that cycles on randomly, along with an unpredictable eating schedule, unannounced questioning sessions that sometimes include physical abuse and sometimes don’t—anything that is disorienting.

 

Whole books have been written on uncertainty and its management. For example, see Psychology of Uncertainty by J.D. Smith, W.E. Shields, D.P. Britzman, D. Brothers, and K. Gordon; or The Social Psychology of Uncertainty management and System Justification  by K. VandenBos.

 

The takeaway for writers is that to increase tension, increase uncertainty, decrease predictability.

Given the examples above, the application to action/adventure plots is obvious, but this writing rule applies across genres. Will he/won’t he call? Does she love me or not? Will this disease kill my child? Will my boss understand if I miss another staff meeting? Will I miss my plane? Does the murderer suspect that I know he did it? If your story unfolds in a predictable pattern, your reader will lose interest. Why bother to read what you know is going to happen? Perhaps truly fabulous prose will keep some readers going, but why depend only on that?

What About Healthy Relationships?

I’ve been writing about relationships, both in terms of domestic violence and sexual assault/rape. But what about healthy relationships?

Define healthy relationships

healthy relationships
Key parts of relationships (click to enlarge image)

As I’ve written before, the term “healthy relationships” doesn’t necessarily pertain to just romantic partners; it can also include family and friends. A handout I received during an event with Hanover Safe Place (see image above) listed the following characteristics as being part of a healthy relationship:

  1. Self-esteem: Feeling positive about yourself before you’re able to take care of partners, friends, and family
  2. Communication: Talking out problems, feelings, and ideas, but also being a good listener
  3. Agreements: Promising to be respectful and follow “rules of relationships”
  4. Connections: Having more than one relationship so as to not remain isolated
  5. Balance: A give and take between the two people in the relationship

Are you in a healthy relationship?

An article in Psychology Today, written by Alice Boyes, Ph.D., goes a few steps further. It lists 50 characteristics of healthy relationships. By clicking the link, you can read through these characteristics; if you can answer “yes” to most of these statements, it’s likely you’re in a healthy relationship. Remember to be truthful with yourself!

healthy relationships
Relationship questions (click to enlarge image)

There are also questions you can ask yourself about your relationships (see above handout). These questions vary, but include:

  • Do you make decisions together? Give examples.
  • Do you trust and believe them? Do they trust and believe you?
  • Is your relationship built on choices, not pressure?

What to take away

Healthy relationships are built on equality between the partners. One person should not have most of the power in the relationship! Being in communication with one another, giving as well as receiving, and keeping the relationship balanced are all important to maintain a healthy relationship.

Sex: When It’s Good, It’s Very Very Good; But When It’s Bad…

Warning: This blog talks about the incidence, demographics, and aftermath of sexual assault and rape, with comments addressed to writers.

 

sex good good bad
 
Yes, the statistics are appalling. Depending on the study you read, 20-25% of women are raped by the time they turn 44 (as compared to 8% of men). And depending on the questions asked, many behaviors that could be considered sexual assault or rape aren’t included. For example, some studies define rape of women as forced vaginal sex, whereas men are asked whether they‘d been coerced to have vaginal sex with a woman, or anal or oral sex with another man. Countries at war experience higher incidence of rape than countries at peace.

 

For writers, such statistics are a potential indicator of the readers who might identify with a particular scenario. And here again, writers need to know the facts in order to make judicious decisions about going with or against the norms.

 

The less higher education you have, the more likely you are to be raped.This is true for both women and men.

 

Native American women and women in Alaska are more likely to be raped than other women.

 

People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault.

 

People ages 12-34 are at greatest risk for rape and sexual assault.

 

Prostitutes can be raped.

 

Nearly half of all rape victims, male and female, are raped by acquaintances. Of these, about half are intimate partners.

 

55% of rapes and sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home, and 12% occur at or near the home of a friend, relative, or acquaintance.

 

However, rapes and sexual assaults can occur in any setting, among all social strata and ethnic groups—i.e. anyone, anywhere.

 

Physical violence isn’t the most common type of force used to coerce women into sex. Approximately 44% of women said they were pressured into sex “by his words or actions, but without threats of harm.” Women reported being physically held down, pressured by the physical size or age of the rapist; threats to end the relationship or spread rumors about the victim; or insulting the victim’s appearance or sexuality. Although alcohol is often involved, verbal pressure was more important.

 

The Aftermath of Rape and Sexual Assault

 

54% or more of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. The Pentagon estimates that in the military, unreported assaults are 80-90%.

 

Nationwide, tens of thousands of rape kits in police evidence custody go untested.

 

People who have been sexually assaulted will not necessarily be hysterical or crying. Some may laugh, some may cry, some may show no emotion at all.

 

13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.

 

94% of women who are raped exhibit symptoms of PTSD over the following two weeks, and 30% report such symptoms 9 months later.

 

A raped woman is twice as likely to become pregnant compared to one having consensual sex.

 

sexual assault help
Click to enlarge image
Hanover Safe Place has a handout that outlines possible aftermath of sexual assault for victims that could be a valuable resource for writers wishing to depict realistic aftereffects.
sexual assault
Click to enlarge image
Last but not least, writers can benefit from tips on  how to support a survivor of sexual assault. Your character(s) can act in the ways advocated if among the good guys, or do the opposite if exacerbating the aftermath of the assault.

 

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: Consider the dark side of relationships as fertile ground for evoking stress, tension, and crises.