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!

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

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?

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.

The Dark Side of Intimate Relationships

dark side intimate relationships
Domestic violence—in its many forms—is so prevalent that all writers should be informedshould make conscious decisions about whether to include this common aspect of intimate relationships in their work, and if so, to represent such relationships accurately. All the statements that follow can easily be verified online.

 

So, just how common is it? 1 in 3 women and (surprising to me) 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused in the United States. Another way of looking at these numbers: if none of your characters suffers physical violence, you probably aren’t writing realistically. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are victims of severe violence by an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

dark side intimate relationships
 
Know the norms and choose when to go against them with your characters/plot. 

 

  • Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical treatment for their injuries.
  • Being the recipient of domestic violence is correlated with a higher incidence of depression and suicidal behavior.
  • 85% of domestic abuse sufferers are women
dark side intimate relationships
  • 40% of gay or bisexual men experience intimate partner violence, compared to 25% of men overall
  • 50% of lesbian women experience domestic violence, but not necessarily intimate partner violence
  • A transgender person is 2.6 times more likely to suffer intimate partner violence than a non-LGBT person
  • 50% of LGBT people murdered by their intimate partners were people of color
domestic violence
Why stay in an abusive relationship? Before I volunteered at Hanover Safe Place, I couldn’t fathom why a woman in an abusive relationship—especially a physically abusive one—would stay in that relationship. At first glance, it seems to fly in the face of a basic tenet of human behavior: people always choose the best perceived alternative. On closer look, staying is often the best perceived alternative.

 

dark side intimate relationships
  • 98% of all domestic violence cases include financial abuse—i.e., the abuser controls the money, leaving the victim with no financial resources to leave. This is the number one reason victims stay or return to abusive relationships. If I am remembering correctly, on average a woman will leave and return seven times before leaving for good.
  • Fear of being killed. Three women are murdered every day by a current or former male partner. A woman is 70 times more likely to be murdered in the few weeks after leaving an abusive partner than at any other time in the relationship.
  • Threats against children or other family members
  • Such low self-esteem that the woman feels she deserves it
Staggering as the figures are, still most of us have not experienced domestic/intimate partner violence. In addition, you might just not want to go there with your writing. But you can still create tension by inserting red flags signaling potentially abusive relationships.
 
dark side intimate relationships
 
For more information or more targeted information, search the web.

 

  • Domestic Violence and Psychological Abuse
  • Domestic Violence and Economic Abuse
  • Domestic Violence and Stalking
  • Dating Violence and Teen Domestic Violence
  • Male Victims of Intimate Partner Violence
  • Domestic Abuse in Later Life
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native Women and Domestic Violence
  • Domestic Violence and Guns

Who’s Got the Power?

whos got power
 
A week ago today, I helped staff a Hanover Safe Place information table at an Ashland event. I was reminded that relationships are crucial to a person’s health and well-being—whether that person is real or fictional. Today I’m starting a series of blogs on relationships. I’ve written about relationships before from various angles, but they are worth revisiting.
whos got power
I’ll start with good two-person relationships. Although much of this is phrased for intimate partner relationships, it applies to other close relationships as well (e.g., family, best friends). 
 
As illustrated in the wheel above, good, healthy relationships are based on equality and nonviolence. They include

 

  • negotiation and fairness
  • non-threatening behavior
  • respect
  • trust and support
  • honesty and accountability
  • economic partnership (regardless of who has the money)
  • shared responsibility
  • responsible parenting

 

Note to writers: Too often fictional characters are presented in idealized (and clichéd) relationships based on physical characteristics and/or sexual appeal. Make your good relationships richer along the above dimensions.
 
whos got power
 
Various elements in the power and control wheel apply across types of domination, whether physical, sexual, or otherwise, and across settings (e.g., in the family, workplace, church, or community). These methods include

 

  • using intimidation
  • using emotional abuse
  • using isolation
  • minimizing, denying, and blaming
  • using coercion and threats
  • using economic abuse
  • using male privilege
  • using children

 

Note to writers: The examples presented in each of these categories are especially helpful in making your villains realistic—and varied!
 
As the historian and moralist Lord Acton said as long ago as 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

 

And one more note: it is a maxim of social psychology that the person who cares the least has the most power. Think about it!

Check Out These Online Literary Magazines

check online literary magazines

Summer is a big season for literary magazines to publish big work. Many publications take submissions in the spring and fall, and post their issues in the summer and winter. That being said, so many great literary magazines have put out new issues this season. Here are just a few:

What are your favorite online literary magazines? If you’re an author, what have been your favorite publications to send submissions?

If you’re interested in submitting to literary magazines, check out The Review Review‘s suggestions for writers working on submissions.