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!

Off-Beat Character Building

I recently wrote about the advantages of giving your characters secrets and of considering the effects of birth order. But how else do you really know your characters and make them richer?
 
Finding books with titles like Building Better Characters is easy. Some such books include pages of questions to answer about your protagonist, everything from physical appearance to favorite foods to religion.

My advice is to go beyond the usual. Here are six off-beat approaches to knowing your characters better.
off beat character building best dear abby abigail van buren
1) Write a letter from your character to an advice columnist of your choice. Make the advice requested relevant to your story.

other peoples love letters
2) Write a love letter from your character to a real or ideal romantic interest.

off beat character building not proud smorgasbord shame
3) Imagine your character’s most shameful act or experience. If it’s out of character, create a believable context or circumstance.

4) Create a personals ad for your character. Strive for originality. Include a picture.

off beat character building six drown saving chicken
5) Find a News-of-the-Weird story and write your character into it.

six word memoirs
6) Write one or more six-word memoirs capturing the essentials of your character’s life.
Last but not least: Write one or more of these bits into your actual story.

Consider Sibs

sibling age tees
The importance of birth order is so widely recognized, there are even T-shirts about it! And every good novel that involves family relationships takes birth order into account, either directly or indirectly.

 

jane austen pride and prejudice
[Source: The Atlantic]
You probably know Jane Austen is one of my all-time favorite authors. Her books are rife with sibling relationships. Partly, that reflects the period in which her novels are set. In the 19th century, at least among the gentry, birth order determined everything from how one was addressed (Miss Bennett vs. Miss Elizabeth) to who inherited titles and estates.

 

But birth order goes much beyond the social niceties. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, birth order of the five Bennett daughters is a recurring theme, with much being made of Lydia’s position as the spoiled baby of the family. The dour Mr. Darcy’s personality reflects his position as the only son charged at a young age with the care of his estate, tenants, and a much younger sister. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s position as a second son determined everything from his career choice to his marital prospects. Charles Bingley is manipulated by his sisters.

 

More recently, you have four sisters who thrive as individuals (Little Women) but also a family falling apart (Sound and the Fury). In the latter, Quentin is hypersensitive, aware of sibling issues but unable to act, and considers suicide; Jason is jealous, tries to dominate, and wants to put Benjy in an institution; everyone tries to protect Caddie, who gets pregnant out of wedlock; and Benjy, the youngest, is feeble-minded and pure.

 

Perhaps my brain just isn’t functioning well this morning, but as best I can recall, among mystery writers, sibling relationships’ primary role relates to the victim and the suspects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But what about the sleuth—whether professional or amateur?

 

Consciously giving your main characters siblings—or not—makes for a richer, more realistic portrayal. This is true whether they are present on the page or only in the thoughts or awareness of the character. This is especially true for series characters.
 
Reams of psychological research exists to determine the effects of birth order and explain how those effects come about. But here’s a quick-and-dirty crib sheet to get you started.
 
First borns are high achieving, conscientious, approval-seeking, risk-averse, anxious, emotionally intense, defensive, and prone to jealousy.

 

Latter borns are more competitive (especially second-born, same sex), rebellious, liberal, agreeable, flexible, sociable, able to compromise, build coalitions, negotiate, and adopt peacemaker roles.

 

Last born children are more likely to question rules, develop a revolutionary personality, and expect others to serve them; they’re also less likely to volunteer or take responsibility.

 

Only children share many characteristics with first-borns; they may feel like outsiders, are extremely mature, aloof, and expect special standing.

 

Things to keep in mind: 1) the generalizations are based on group data, so there are wide individual variations; 2) effects are moderated based on the sex of each child and the age gap between them; family patterns often transfer to the workplace or social relationships.

 

Bottom line: Consider your character’s siblings.

 

smart one sibling tees

Characterizing Characters

characterizing characters building believable characters
This is a great book—especially for the the obsessive and/or anxious writer. It has a 14-page questionnaire intended to help you to really understand your character, so thoroughly that you just know how s/he would behave in any given scene. Then there are chapters on everything from Face and Body to names from around the world.

 

So why not just stop with an endorsement? What more is there to say? Just a few things about making characters vivid and memorable.

 

Actually, I can’t quite imagine eyes like butterflies. Nevertheless, this book highlights two methods of ramping up characterizations: similes and metaphors. Essentially, saying a character is like something, it’s a simile. E.g., “Her smile was like sunshine.” Saying a character is/was something is a metaphor. “He was a rock when Mother died.” As in all writing, avoid the clichés. “She is a diamond in the rough” is a tired example.
 
So where does one look for fresh ideas? Consciously visualizing a character in non-human terms might help. 
 
What animal would X be? Consider the differing implications of spider, rat, rabbit, toy poodle, wren, cow, mule, pig, chicken, etc., etc., etc. Various animals are associated with specific personalities and actions, and labeling a character that way can convey a lot of meaning. Think lap dog.

 

What is X’s astrological sign? Whether one believes in astrology or not, various signs carry lots of implications. The title Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus works on many levels: Mars is the god of war, Venus is the goddess of love, and the planets are millions of miles apart. The Chinese sign one was born under has similar implications. I was born in the year of the Cock, and apart from the personality implications, this should be a very good year for me!
characterizing characters book stones
What stone would X be? Again, some stones carry a lot of weight already. For example, diamonds are hard, bright, glittery, and expensive. What characteristics do you associate with pearls, emeralds, jasper, agate? What about abalone? Quartz? Cubic zirconia? And what about metals? Is X gold, silver, platinum, aluminum, iron, brass, bronze—or maybe mixed metals?

 

What plant would X be? What are the associations with oak tree vs. lily? Rose vs. dandelion? Wheat vs. redwood? I won’t belabor the point. You get the idea.

 

Bottom line: Characterize characters in unexpected ways. You could come up with this sort of writing.

 

attributing words characters

More Writing Lessons from the Campaigns

In Wednesday night’s debate, Clinton said something to the effect that when things are going badly for Trump, he blames others—party leaders, the media, those rigging the election. If I remember correctly—and for the purposes of this blog, that doesn’t really matter—she said that he never takes responsibility for his problems. The point for writers is that she was purporting to identify a pattern of behavior—and patterns of behavior are crucial for your characters.

 

In this blog, I will focus on behaviors people use to protect themselves when things are going badly. These are what psychologists call defense mechanisms. Not to put too fine a point on it, defense mechanisms allow us to hide from ourselves. Most of us don’t realize when we’re using them.
person hiding defense mechanisms political campaign
If you look online, you can find the 7-9 most frequently used defense mechanisms, the 31 Freudian defense mechanisms, etc. I am going with the 15 defense mechanisms Dr. John M. Grohol classified according to how primitive they are.

 

Primitive Defense Mechanisms

Primitive Defense Mechanisms are often effective over the short term but less so over the long term: Denial, Regression, Acting Out, Dissociation, Compartmentalization, Projection, Reaction Formation.
 

Denial

Denial: refusing to accept reality or fact, acting as if a panful event, thought, or feeling doesn’t exist. E.g., “I’m not an alcoholic. See how well I’m functioning?”

 

Regression

Regression: going back to an earlier stage of development. E.g., becoming weepy, clinging, maybe reverting to nail-biting or bed-wetting.

 

Acting Out

child acting out defense mechanisms political campaign
Acting Out: behaving in an extreme way when unable to express thoughts or feelings otherwise. E.g., not able to express anger without throwing things, punching things, etc. Includes temper tantrums and self-injury.

 

Dissociation

Dissociation: the person disconnects from the real world for a time, to an interior world free of thoughts, feelings, or memories that are too painful to bear.

 

Compartmentalization

Compartmentalization: the person keeps different parts of the self in separate cognitive or emotional compartments to avoid feeling conflict. E.g., a person who beats and tortures prisoners as part of a job but remains a loving spouse and parent at home.

 

Projection

Projection: unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or impulses are “projected” onto someone else, often the object of those thoughts, feelings or impulses. E.g., someone who is uncomfortable around people of a different ethnic group may justify avoiding those people by deciding that they don’t welcome outsiders.

 

Reaction Formation

Reaction Formation: changing unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or impulses into their opposite behaviors. For example, a man who is really unhappy in his marriage might make a point of publicly “worshiping” the mother of his children, bringing her presents for no reason, etc.

 

More Mature Defense Mechanisms

More Mature Defense Mechanisms are common among adults, and may be all a person needs, even if not ideal: Repression, Displacement, Intellectualization, Rationalization, Undoing.

 

Repression

 
Repression is when one unconsciously drops unacceptable thoughts, feelings, impulses, or events from memory. It’s done unawares, unlike suppression, when one consciously puts such things aside and refuses to think about them.

 

Displacement

Displacement is when thoughts, feelings, or impulses triggered by an off-limits target are addressed toward another, more acceptable one. E.g., a child who cannot show anger toward a parent may take it out on a sibling, pet, or toy.

 

Intellectualization

intellectualization defense mechanisms political campaign
Intellectualization is dealing with issues by keeping emotions at a distance and focusing on the rational argument or information gathering. For example, someone who is diagnosed with cancer to keeps fear and anxiety at bay by learning every possible thing about treatments, prognosis, etc.

 

Rationalization

Rationalization is, essentially,espousing a reasonable explanation rather than the real explanation. For example, a man is dumped by a woman he really, really likes and decides he probably just wasn’t rich enough for her.

 

Undoing

Undoing is trying to make up for past behavior. For example, if you hurt someone’s feelings and then try to be extra nice, complimentary, generous, etc.

 

Mature Defense Mechanisms

Mature Defense Mechanisms are the most constructive and helpful, but more difficult to achieve: Sublimation, Compensation, Assertiveness.

 

Sublimation

 
Sublimation is redirecting unacceptable impulses, thoughts, or impulses into more acceptable channels. Examples would include releasing sexual impulses through non-sexual exercise, redirecting anger into humor or fantasy.

 

Compensation

Compensation is counterbalancing perceived weaknesses with strength in other areas. Done well, it can reinforce positive self-esteem.

 

Assertiveness

assertiveness defense mechanisms political campaign
Assertiveness is fulfilling your needs in a manner that is respectful, direct, firm—and appropriate. Assertive people strike a balance between speaking up for themselves and listening to other people.

 

What defense mechanisms seem to be exhibited by each of the political candidates?

 

white house defense mechanisms political campaign

Most people have more than one means of defense, but tend to rely on a few more often than others. In the extreme, for an addict, the drug of choice is the answer to every problem. As a writer, you need to understand how your characters cope. What are their patterns of behavior? And how effective are they?

Writing Cruelty

Some of us—dare I say most of us?—are not inherently cruel or sadistic. Therefore, when our plots require a scene that involves such behavior, there is a great temptation to fall back on the stereotypes of many TV shows and movies. Don’t. If you need really gruesome, vivid, compelling cruelty, look to reality!

 

historical torture
As you may know, I recently toured northern Italy. In San Gimignano (“of the beautiful towers”) I visited the earliest of the city’s torture museums.
And of course I bought a book.

 

tortura inquisizione
The implements on display were truly horrifying—and thought-provoking!

 

stretching rack
Not long ago, I had a medical procedure that required me to lie absolutely motionless, face-down, arms stretched above my head for 45 minutes. By the end of the procedure, my shoulders ached and muscles twitched, and I wondered how long those condemned to the rack might last before at least passing out.

 

head crusher
My point here is that although many types of torture are intended to cause death eventually, this doesn’t happen immediately. Might writers use a less-than-lethal version? For example, using an implement like a head crusher only to the point of cracking the skull bones.

 

Some mechanisms that I would label instruments of torture had other purposes—at least ostensibly. But besides ensuring a woman’s virtue, consider the discomfort of long-term use, and the humiliation of such an item at all.

 

Immobilizing someone in any way becomes painful after a time.

 

flaying
And many body parts, from skin to fingers and toes, tongues and scalps, can be removed without causing death. Ditto broken bones.

 

It is possible to force someone to drink so much water—or other liquid—that the stomach actually explodes. But short of that? What about a parent pinching a child’s nose shut and forcing her/him to drink milk?

 

punishment necklace
Forcing someone to wear a heavy weight around the neck is tiring, humiliating, and eventually very painful. What about a modern version, that required the wearing of a loaded backpack without relief?

 

My point is that if you need inspiration for a truly cruel and haunting scene, you really don’t need to be able to create it out of thin air. Start with what people are known to have done!

Beware Head-Hopping

head-hopping-writing-vivian-lawry
We all know about Point of View. It’s the narrator’s position in relation to the story being told.

 

With the objective POV, the writer tells the story entirely with action and dialogue. S/he never discloses anything about thoughts or feelings, leaving it for the reader to infer these from the dialogue and action.
head-hopping-writing-vivian-lawry
In my experience, writers more often choose to get inside the head and heart of one or more characters.

 

The closest POV is when the narrator is “I.” I struggled to speak around the lump in my throat. My heart thundered painfully in my chest. I planned the meal carefully, including all of Dad’s favorite dishes.

 

A step more distant is the third person POV—he, she, or it felt, thought, planned, reacted…

 

And then there are stories with multiple POVs—not that there’s anything wrong with that! But it is risky. Authors who do it well clearly lead the reader from one head to the next. One good exemplar is Diana Gabaldon. When she’s writing from Claire’s POV, it is first person. Everyone else is third person, and these shifts are typically by chapter.

 

The danger is changing POV within scenes. For example, a couple argues intensely and the writer tells the reader what each is thinking and feeling. Why is this a problem?

 

The challenge is to be consistent when two POV characters are in the same scene. It’s incredibly easy to accidentally give the non-POV character fleeting thoughts or feelings.

 

Head-hopping is jumping from one POV to another quickly, with no warning to the reader. It makes the story feel choppy and can be confusing.

 

Doing it right means signaling the changes to the reader by chapter breaks or the ubiquitous *** that signals something is changing. The writer sticks with  any given POV for the duration of the chapter or scene.

 

And one last consideration: Readers typically identify with the POV character—whether “I” or a third person “s/he.”  With multiple points of view, the reader may have difficulty deciding who to root for. And the more POVs included, the greater the difficulty.

 

head-hopping-writing-vivian-lawry
Bottom line: handling multiple POVs effectively is a challenge, and avoid head-hopping, always!

Writers Love Toxic Men!

And you needn’t be a female writer to succumb!

 

Lillian Glass Toxic Men
Toxic Men by Lillian Glass, PhD.
Lillian Glass defines a “Toxic Man” as one who elicits negative emotions from you, behaves badly toward you or doesn’t treat you right, or makes you feel bad about yourself (thus affecting your behavior and lowering your self-esteem). Substitute “your character” for “you” and voila! You have the makings of a great deal of tension in scene after scene and a lot of sympathy for your character.

 

Glass’s book includes questionnaires to identify specific ways in which the Toxic Man elicits negative emotions.

 

Under the heading “How Does He Behave Toward You?” there are several subheadings: sadistic behavior, manipulative behavior, dishonest behavior, selfish behavior, non-communicative behavior, critical and judgmental behavior, angry behavior, embarrassing or shaming behavior, controlling behavior, and jealous behavior.

 

And under the heading “How Does He Make You Feel about Yourself?” the subcategories are: feeling emotional changes (feeling depressed, hopeless, frustrated, anxious or panicky, angry, empty, etc.); feeling afraid or fearful; feelings of self-doubt; physical changes (such as sickness, headache, weight gain or loss); feelings of guilt and shame; or just not feeling like your old self.

 

The Eleven Toxic Types of Men:

  1. The jealous competitor
  2. The sneaky passive-aggressive silent-but-deadly erupting volcano
  3. The arrogant self-righteous know-it-all
  4. The seductive manipulative cheating liar
  5. The angry bullying control freak
  6. The instigating backstabbing meddler
  7. The self-destructive gloom-and-doom victim
  8. The wishy-washy spineless wimp
  9. The selfish me-myself-and-I narcissist
  10. The emotional refrigerator
  11. The socio-psychopath
Glass’s book is accessible, gripping, and a great read. I recommend it to writers in any genre!
Dr. Lillian Glass
Dr. Lillian Glass
AND REMEMBER: role-reversal is always a great alternative! For every toxic man, there’s a toxic woman!

Guest Post on Thrill Writing: The Company You Keep

Thrill Writers, The Company You Keep - Does Your Character Act "Out of Character" in a Group Dynamic?

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.

Just sayin’

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.

Read more at Thrill Writing

Thank you, Fiona!

Friday the 13th: Is This Your Lucky Day?

Friday the 13th, superstition, calendar, 13
©phodopus via Canva.com

Friday the 13th and superstitions

According to Gallup polls, over half of Americans say they are at least a little superstitious. Consider the value of superstition for your character(s).

A Brief Dictionary of American Superstitions, book, Friday the 13th
A Brief Dictionary of American Superstitions by Vergilius Ferm

People who are truly not superstitious are nevertheless well aware of what’s associated with Friday the 13th, black cats, broken mirrors, four-leaf clovers, etc. Such people might well make a wish with fingers crossed, or when tossing a coin into a fountain or other water, when blowing out birthday candles, or kissing a horseshoe. If you don’t consider yourself superstitious, you may engage in superstitious thinking or behavior nevertheless, without paying attention—an habitual or non-conscious action. For me, that’s knocking on wood.

8,414 Strange and Fascinating Superstitions, Claudia De Lys, book, superstitions, Friday the 13th
8,414 Strange and Fascinating Superstitions by Claudia De Lys

This collection by Claudia De Lys has an excellent two-page description of this and other wood superstitions, ranging from the balsam needle pillows to wooden rosary beads, traced back to the spirits believed to live in trees that bring on the seasonal changes (life, death, and resurrection) or maintain the evergreen state (immortality). A tree or wood was touched when asking favors and again in appreciation of good fortune received.

Superstitions and characters

Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series, The Fiery Cross
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon’s work is an excellent example of effectively using her characters’ beliefs, superstitions, and ritual acts—everything from beliefs about witches and fairies to making the sign of the cross—to illuminate both the characters and the historical context.

Stuart Vyse, Ph.D., author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, is an authority on magical thinking. He differentiates superstition from obsessive-compulsive behavior or other mental disorders and religious ritual, and discusses the functions each serves. I’ll stick with superstition for the sake of (relative) brevity.

Why are people superstitious?

Anything as nearly universal across time and cultures as superstition must serve some beneficial function! In a 2010 paper by Damisch, Stroberock, and Mussweiler, “Keep Your Fingers Crossed! How Superstition Improves Performance,” the researchers argue that superstitions give people a sense of control in chaotic situations. The major outcome of this research was that people who were allowed to solve problems with their lucky charms at hand performed better than when those charms were absent.

But the important point is that it is performance based. So wearing mismatched socks when playing baseball or tennis—or mah jongg jewelry when deep into that game—might improve performance.

Necklace and earrings of mah jongg pieces, worn for superstitions

But lucky charms have no impact on outcome when the results are due to chance. So skip the lucky dice—unless you just like the look.

necklace and earrings of dice, worn due to superstitions, Friday the 13th

These researchers point out the ways in which this phenomenon may be wide-spread and important, for example in alcoholism. Many if not most members of AA attribute their abstinence to the higher power in their lives giving them strength. If they believe, they are more likely to stay sober.

AA - Medal,
Photo: Jonn Leffmann [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Who is superstitious?

Some people are more superstitious than others—athletes and actors are notoriously so—and superstitions run in families. One example is a Virginia friend who says, “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,” first thing in the morning on the first day of each month to ensure a good month. Her daughter in Texas does the same thing. And now they text each other to see who says it first!

And, incidentally, women are more superstitious than men. Vyse relates this to locus of control. People who have an internal locus of control (I am master of my fate) are less superstitious than those with an external locus of control (life happens to me). Compared to men, women still feel that they have less control in their own lives. So maybe they wear special earrings for dominoes, euchre, and bridge for a reason!

necklaces and earrings that look like playing cards and dominoes, worn due to superstitions

Vyse also makes a connection between performance improvements and effort. He says that lucky charms don’t significantly reduce anxiety, but they do increase persistence. So maybe that’s what’s going on with a friend who happens to be a lapsed Catholic. When she loses something, she still says what she calls “the kid’s version of the prayer to St. Anthony”: Tony, Tony, come around. Something’s lost and must be found. She swears it works.

Truly magical thinking is taking an action that has no logical way to affect the outcome but may bring comfort anyway. A third friend who grew up in a Navy family won’t watch people leave because that means they won’t come back. She attributes this to her life on base, when families would see their husbands/fathers off at the dock but turn away as soon as the ship was underway.

When pressed, many non-superstitious people will admit that they prefer not to walk under ladders, step on graves, or open umbrellas indoors. They prefer to leave a building by the same door through which they entered, and they want to round an object in the path on the same side as their companion. Do you always include money when you give a purse or wallet? Does the recipient of a gift knife have to “pay” the giver at least a penny? Superstitions are everywhere, everyday, not just on Friday the 13th!

Takeaway for writers

Give your characters superstitions and/or rituals. It can add interest, tell something about the person’s ethnic or family background, and illustrate her/his anxieties and feelings of control.