LIES, LIES, AND MORE LIES

Are you sure I can believe you?
When someone says something that isn’t true, it’s a lie—except when it isn’t!  For writers, any untruth can be a tool for building character, plot, tone, etc.  I can think of three situations when an untruth isn’t a lie.

1) The person telling the untruth is incapable of discerning what the truth is.  Very young children will often lie because there is no real difference between fantasy and reality in their mind.  The cardboard box really did become a rocket ship.  A mermaid and a kracken really did come to play in the bathtub.

Depending on the age of the child, this may extend to what seems to adults to be attempts to get out of trouble or deflect blame.  Because a child’s sense of reality is not concrete, what an adult sees as a lie a child may simply see as very effective wishful thinking.

Grandmom said I can play with power tools!

Children may also respond with the first answer to come into their mind that they think an adult wants to hear.  This is true both for extremely young children who simply try to give an answer they think the adult wants to hear and for children who have trouble concentrating or remembering, such as those with ADD or ADHD.

Of course I took a bath!
Dr. Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees lying as an indicator of developmental status.  I’ll skip the research methodology and simply cite the findings.  When asked whether they had peeked behind a screen: of those who had peeked, 30% of two-year-olds, 50% of three-year olds, and about 80% of eight-year-olds lied about it.
I saw everything!

2) The person telling the untruth suffers some form of dementia.  For example, an obvious case would be a woman in a memory care facility who tells visiting relatives that she baked a chocolate cake and everyone at the party said how good it was, and Paul Newman came in through the window and danced with her.

 

Another version, often harder to detect, is the person who has temporal confusion.  For example, a man who says that his son came to see him yesterday and it was actually last week.  (Think false alibi!)
 white text

3) The speaker believes something is true that isn’t. In other words, the speaker is mistaken.  It could be a misunderstanding of something seen, read or heard—but it could also be that the speaker was intentionally deceived so that s/he would spread a lie.

Which brings us to real lies as opposed to untruths: to make an untrue statement with the intention to deceive.  But writers, go beyond the direct lie and use, half-truths, exaggerations, or pertinent omissions.

 

Not a rare behavior for people or characters.  Indeed, Kendra Cherry writing on verywellmind.com pointed out that actual research about lying is relatively recent, and data replications are hard to come by, but some surveys suggest that as many as 96% of people admit to lying at least sometimes.

In 1996, Bella DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, published the results of a study in which 147 people between the ages of 18 and 71 kept a diary of all the falsehoods they told over the course of a week.  She found that most people lie at least once or twice every day!  Over the course of a week, people lied in approximately 20% of social interactions lasting 10 minutes or more.  They deceived about 30% of those they interacted with one-on-one.

 

Although she didn’t find gender differences in number of lies, there were relationship differences.  Parents and teens interactions are often deceitful: “College students lie to their mothers in one out of two conversations.”

Little white lies.  These lies are typically meant to do some good—or at least do no harm.  For example, complimenting a friend’s shirt when you really think it looks dreadful.  Coming late to a meeting and saying you were held up by an accident on the interstate when you really overslept.

 

Although pretty much everyone is told from a young age that it’s always best to tell the truth, the fact is that telling the truth (about oversleeping, for example) may be punished (for example, by a poor performance review).  Thus, society often encourages or even rewards lying.

Illustration by Boyd Wilcox
Some lies may serve as a social lubricant.  DePaulo (above) found that 25% of lies were “fake positives” intending to make the other person feel better about someone or something.  These were 10 to 20 times more common than lies in which people pretend to like someone or something less than they actually do (fake negatives).

 

But beware: according to Wanda Thibodeaux on Inc.com, telling lies to spare someone’s feelings is not good in the long run.  Yes, we do take the liar’s intention into account, but it also raises doubts about whether a person willing to lie to us actually has our best interests at heart.  These lies can cause doubt, uncertainty, suspicion, and trust  issues.

White lies made up to excuse being late, unprepared, unwilling to do something, etc. bring into question a character’s ultimate trustworthiness.

 

Also, telling little white lies can desensitize the liar, making it easier to tell bigger/more serious lies.

 

People lie for the same reason they do everything else: a lie is the best perceived alternative at the time.  Thus, lies are a means to an end, and those ends can be broadly grouped into four overlapping categories; to get what they want, to take the easy way out, to avoid criticism, to build a positive self-image.  The likelihood of lying increases when someone is “pushed into a corner” or needs to react quickly.

 

1) To get what they want.  This could be almost anything.  In relationships, it might be to attract a partner, to hide cheating, to get a partner to agree to sex, to avoid an argument—and these are just a few possibilities.

 

In the workplace, lying to get ahead, discredit the competition, get even with a colleague, take credit for someone else’s work, cover up procrastination, avoid being fired, etc.

Mr. Fluffers does not tolerate tardiness.

In any relationship, people lie for quick financial gain, to avoid taking responsibility or unwanted chores, to be liked/popular, or nearly any other objective that the liar sees as more important (at the moment) than the truth.

2) To take the easy way out.  This overlaps with the good Little White Lies above, not wanting to deal with hurt feelings, for example.  It also includes plagiarizing and making up data in a research project.

 

Fixed it!
3) To avoid criticism.  When people aren’t comfortable with some aspect of their behavior, character, or past they are prone to deceive in any of the ways mentioned above (lie, half-truths, exaggerations, intentional omissions).  Closely related to inflate one’s image, to cover up for a mistake, or to excuse doing something wrong.

 

4) To build a positive self-image.  Basically, this is lying to oneself.  The liar wants something to be true and pretends that it is until eventually s/he believes it.  Making excuses for behavior or thoughts or wishes that at some level are unacceptable to the self.

 

Other reasons people lie
  • One lie has led to another, especially good for writers. (Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.—Walter Scott)
  • To be malicious and hurt other people
  • To take control of a situation
  • To hide a disorder such as an eating disorder, compulsive gambling, alcoholism, etc., which goes beyond avoiding criticism
  • It is integral to certain occupations
Pathological lying.  A person who feels compelled to lie, and will do so with no apparent benefit to self or others is a pathological liar.  This is often part of a diagnosis of a mental health disorder:
  • Antisocial personality/sociopathy (no regard for right or wrong, no remorse, often become criminals)
  • Borderline personality (varying moods and behavior, often impulsive, conducive to unstable relationships)
  • Histrionic personality (exaggerated emotions, demanding attention seeking behavior)
  • Factitious disorders (acting as if s/he has a physical or mental illness but does not)
The severity and frequency of lying, and the reasons for lying are what point to a psychological problem.

 

How to tell when someone is lying.  (As summarized by Kendra Cherry, above.)
 
Folk wisdom is wrong.  It says that liars tend to fidget, squirm, avoid eye contact or have shifty eyes when lying.  Research indicates that these are virtually useless as indicators.  (Looking away, for example, is more likely to indicate the person is trying to access long term memory.)

 

Some of the most accurate (although still weak) indicators of lying:
  • Being vague, offering few details
  • Repeating questions before answering them
  • Speaking in sentence fragments
  • Failing to provide specific details when a story is challenged
  • Grooming behavior, such as playing with hair or pressing fingers to lips
More active ways to uncover lies
  1. Ask the person to tell the story in reverse.  Increasing the mental load makes lying more difficult—although telling a lie is more mentally taxing than telling the truth anyway.
  2. Trust your instincts.  We may have an unconscious, intuitive response to lying that gets drowned out if we spend too much time focusing on the non-verbals stereotypically associated with lying.
Consider an individual’s tells
Successful card players learn to hide when they are bluffing and to identify what the other players do when they have good or bad hands.  The same might be true for your characters.  Does she blush?  Does he stutter?  Does he rub  his chin?  Does she bounce her knee?  Does your character have a poker face?  And if so, is s/he on the side of good or evil (so to speak).

 

If your burger keeps walking away, that could be a sign that it is a liar. And not a burger.
Bonus info about lying
  • The closer the liar is to the deceived, the more likely the lies are to be an altruistic (fake positive) one
  • Women are especially likely to stretch the truth to spare someone’s feelings
  • Men are more prone to lying about themselves: conversations between two guys contain about eight times as many self-oriented lies as they do falsehoods about other people

Bottom line for writers:
  • Lying is rampant, so there ought to be at least a little of it in your story
  • Lying can abet virtually any goal
  • Lies can be of virtually any size or seriousness
  • Pay attention to age, relationship, and gender differences

Language Blogs Round-Up

Canadian science fiction reviewer James Nicoll said, “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

Among the many reasons I love writing is the way it allows me to explore the wonders of the English language. Here are some of the posts I’ve written on this blog that directly concern how language can enhance or destroy writing.

 

Commonly Confused Words

  • Mind Your A’s and The’s
    • Pay attention to what you mean to be saying when you use a or the to designate something. In general, a indicates one of many possibles while the is restrictive to one specific person, place, event, item, etc.
  • The Limits of Spellcheck
    • Spellcheck programs will not generally recognize incorrect word usage if those words are spelled correctly.  Eliminating word confusion is up to you.  This is a writing prompt to practice correct usage of some of the most commonly confused words.
  • Choosing the Pronoun for Your Purpose
    • Know the rules of grammar so you can use them or abuse them to suit your purposes!  Pronouns can be subject (I/ you/ he/ she/ it), object (me/ you/ him/ her/ it), or show possession (my/ your/ his/ her/ its).
  • I’m Not Alone Here
    • The right word vs. the almost right word is the difference between sounding articulate vs. sounding pretentious—and uneducated. Bottom line: only use words you know for sure.

 

Cutting the Flab from Writing

  • Practicing Similes
    • Similes add color and tone to your writing. Don’t overdo. And avoid the worn and weary ones–such as hard as a rock, soft as a cotton ball, etc.
  • Cut the Flab
    • Flabby writing is writing that includes unnecessary words or phrases. I’ll talk about four common types of flab: stating something for which there is no alternative, saying the same thing twice, naming characters or relationships already known, and stating an action that is inherent in another action.
  • Writing that Irritates Readers
    • Here are a few examples of the worst habits of flabby writing
      • Going off-key on tone: This is when something just doesn’t feel right, such period inappropriate slang.
      • Close but no cigar: Using the wrong word, such that for who or imply for infer
      • Redundant verbiage: Using extra words to modify ideas that need no modification
  • Let Your Punctuation Speak for You
    • This is a variation on two themes: show, don’t tell and trust your reader. The point is that the reader will get your meaning without both the punctuation and the accompanying explanation.
  • Bitch Blog
    • A USA Today best-selling author who shall remain nameless has written a series of books that are filled with egregious examples of the flabbiest of flabby writing.
  • Clichés—True But Tired!
    • This is an extensive but not exhaustive list of some of the worst, most over-used, most obnoxious cliches.

 

Close Attention to Detail

  • Getting Up Close With Nature
    • Be specific.   Perhaps the foremost is be specific. Don’t say “a tree,” say, “a willow oak.”
  • Be Specific
    • To avoid wimpy writing, attend to the details. I already talked about avoiding weasel words like some, few, or many in favor of specific numbers or quantities. The same applies to vague nouns: flower, tree, shrub, car. Tell the reader it’s a rose, an elm, an English boxwood, a Ford.
  • The Five Ws
    • You have a vague recollection that sometime in the past–perhaps in high school–someone told you that when writing a newspaper article, you need to cover all five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. That is good advice in general, including fiction–and even memoir.
  • Observe More Closely
    • Nature writing can be add depth, precision, and detailed setting in any genre of writing.  This post provides examples of various genres in which nature writing has been used effectively and some tools to develop your own nature writing skills.

 

Careful Use of Modifiers

  • Choose Modifiers Carefully
    • The same advice on adverbs applies to other modifiers. Make sure they add something to the story. “Very” should be on your hit list, along with all sorts of weasel words and phrases, such as a little, a lot, big, small, somewhat, sort of. . . You get the idea.
  • Use Strong Verbs
    • How do you recognize a weak verb? Look for adverbs! When you find a sentence in which you give the reader a tag telling how an action was performed, chances are you have a lazy verb–one you didn’t really think about as you plugged it in.

 

Period Appropriate Writing for Genre or Setting

  • A Little Dialect Goes a Long Way
    • A touch of dialect helps establish voice, and may lend authenticity to the writing. But for the beginning writer, knowing how much is enough is often difficult. A story studded with apostrophes and phonetically spelled words draws attention to the writing, detracting from the story.
  • Kids Say the Darndest Things!
    • Children’s language development is a very interesting study for psychologists and linguists.  It is important that child characters behave and speak appropriately for their age to be believable.  However, every child is different; outliers on either end of the development scale can add interest but must have believable groundwork laid.
  • Use Slang and Clichés Effectively
    • In my opinion, the best use of slang is setting the time of the story.  Used effectively, it lends authenticity to dialogue. But if writing about any time other than the present, tread carefully. Inappropriate slang can ruin the tone and undermine the credibility of the entire story.
  • Horror Week is Here
    • The blog Now Novel provides excellent advice for techniques that are most effective in various genres, including horror.
  • Historical Fiction
    • Writing historical fiction requires extensive knowledge of the period in which the story takes place, including the slang and speech styles common at the time.  This blog provides several resources and suggestions for writing effectively about the chosen time period.

 

History of the English Language

  • Shades of Professor Henry Higgins!
    • The development of the English language into the distinct dialects used in various English-speaking nations around the world can be mined for examples of characterizations by word choice and syntax.  It is also a fascinating story on its own.
  • Loving Language
    • Our everyday language is full of phrases we use without thinking of how they came to mean what they mean. Delve into the origins of words and phrases. You will find amusement as well as information!
  • Is the Quality of Writing Declining? And if So, Why?
    • Research suggests that writing ability in American students has fallen, combined with (or caused by) a decline in concrete guidelines and principles for those teaching writing.  Reading for pleasure has also been declining over the last few decades.
  • Emojis: Yea or Nay?
    • I approached this blog with the opinion that relying on emoticons—i.e., emojis—is dulling out ability to express emotions with rich language and subtlety. Some have asserted that the emoji is the fastest-growing language in history—for good or ill.  How do you feel about emojis?

 

Editing or Proofreading Yourself

  • Talk to Yourself
    • Longer, more complex sentences are much smoother and more graceful on the page than in the mouth. If you want dialogue to sound real, listen to it–literally. Reading silently, your brain fills in and evens out. So, when you feel your work is in pretty good shape, read it aloud.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
    • Be selective–and restrained–in using exclamation points and italics. More than one of these every few pages probably means you are using these visual markers to shore up weak word choices.
  • When, While, Then
    • Search your work for these words and closely examine each usage. They often contribute to run-on sentences that would be stronger and clearer if they were revised into two or more shorter sentences.  Be especially wary if one sentence contains two or all three of these words.
  • Skip The First Word That Comes To Mind
    • When you are trying to get something on the page, moving quickly and just getting it done is the way to go. But know that isn’t the finished product. Go over your draft and mark commonplace words–particularly forms of the to-be verbs and vague adjectives. Consider at least three alternatives–and consider the value of the least expected.
  • Didn’t Get it Right the First Time?
    • Noah Lukeman is my favorite guru on self-editing. He’s highly readable, clear, and interesting. But if you need some quick-and-dirty guidelines right now, here are a baker’s dozen.
  • Attributing Words to Characters
    • We are often in need of indicating who is speaking and/or how. In doing so, beware of distracting—or irritating—your reader. Here are my personal guidelines for making attributions.
  • Treasure Trash
    • I’d bet nearly everyone who’s written a book has edited out not just words, but paragraphs, scenes, or entire chapters. Don’t delete chunks of text.  Save them in a separate file.
      • It makes it easier to cut the flab (anything that doesn’t fit this piece of work), sometimes known as killing your darlings.
      • Those chunks may come in handy in the future, either as additions to as sparks for something totally new.
  • Verbal Tics— Use and Abuse
    • Everyone has verbal habits, including tics. As a writer, be aware of your favorite words and use them sparingly! In the right context, they can convey education level, social class, and even age.
  • Across Years and Miles
    • This post includes a list of common errors in grammar and syntax, each humorously illustrated by use of the error it advises against.
  • When Less is More
    • “Very” is a word we all should do searches for in our documents—finding and replacing with something stronger. These are not exhaustive lists. The point is examine your writing to make sure every word is necessary, and then trust your words to mean what they mean!

 

Structural Tips for Writing

  • Beware Long Descriptions
    • Whether describing a person, a place, a thing, or a process, long detailed descriptions–unrelieved by action–are likely to be deadly. If very well done, readers will get so involved in the description, in visualizing exactly what the author had in mind, that they are taken out of the story itself. If not well done, those passages are likely to be skipped altogether.
  • Writing Tip for Avoiding Redundancy
    • Redundancy takes many forms and it makes for clunky, dull writing.  This post demonstrates some common examples of punctuation, description, and incorrect word use that often lead to redundancy and can be removed.
  • Matching Tone & Structure
    • Sentence length and structure should be used to echo the tone of the action: short, simple sentences for quick or abrupt action; longer, more complex sentences for slower scenes or poetic description.
  • The Distancing Effect of I
    • Whenever the narrative Point of View is first person, the story is, by definition, about the narrator. In this case, as in any writing, your goal is to draw the reader in. Therefore, if you choose to use “I” as the narrator, you need to present a quest that many readers would care about.
  • Use and Abuse of Passive Voice
    • If you want your words to seem impersonal, indirect, and noncommittal, passive is the choice.  Bryan A. Garner identifies six ways in which the passive voice is acceptable or even preferred.
  • Dialogue Dos and Don’ts
    • Dialogue is essential to every genre of fiction; however, sometimes it’s hard to get it just right. Bad dialogue can trip up a reader, and sometimes doing so will make them want to stop reading altogether. That being said, here are a few dialogue dos and don’ts that can help you with writing speech.
  • How Do You Read Now?
    • Research (and book sales) suggest that modern readers are more interested in story than in style. Many writers appear to focus more on technique and self-awareness, according to an article by Adam Kirsch.  Consider whether you think plot or style is more important.

 

Words and Dictionaries

  • Homonyms
    • This post provides a writing exercise to familiarize writers with the pitfalls and opportunities of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different thing.
  • WHY CONSIDER THE F WORD?
    • Here is a discussion of when to use profanity directly and when to use a euphemism instead, with a brief description of the history and current usage of this particular bit of profanity.
  • Conglomeration
    • This is writing prompt derived from one of the author’s favorite words.  Conglomeration is another of those words I love because it sounds so much itself. Technically, it has to do with a spherical shape, and disparate things brought together in one. But its more common usage, of miscellaneous or even random things brought together (no particular shape) make it a very useful word.
  • Use Uncomfortable Words
    • Uncomfortable words are perfectly correct and not obscene. Nevertheless, they often surprise–or even shock–the reader. Sometimes they make the reader uncomfortable.
  • Beware Beautiful Words
    • Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them. This is a quick list of some interesting words that can add flair and tone to your writing.
  • This Just In!
    • As many of you know, I collect dictionaries. This facsimile edition of the first American Dictionary of the English Language arrived yesterday and I’ve been enjoying it for hours.
  • What Would You Call a Bunch of Bluebirds?
    • Here are some of the most interesting collective nouns for species of birds, with illustrations from the author’s garden.
  • Color Your Writing
    • With so many specifically named colors in the English language, it is important to be specific about which one you mean.  There is a close tie between color and mental or psychological state, which can have a great influence on readers’ perception of a scene, a character, or a work as a whole.
  • Word Wealth
    • There are dictionaries available for nearly every specialty, dialect, and profession.  They can provide a wealth of detail and precision to any setting in any genre.

 

Examples of Other Authors’ Successful Habits

  • What Writers Can Learn From Diana Gabaldon
    • There are many things this author gets absolutely correct, but this post will focus on vivid language. We have all heard or read that we should use fresh, vivid language and strong verbs.  Here are some of my favorite examples of Diana Gabaldon’s sensory and emotional writing.
  • What Writers Can Learn from Political Campaigns
    • Careful word choice, audience appeal, actions or words open to (mis)interpretation, complementary characters, innuendo, denial, and characters revealed by reflected traits of associates are all extremely important in any political campaign.  The 2016 election was full of examples of all of these, which are also used in good writing.
  • Communicating Without Words: Campaign Lessons
    • You’re a writer—so for purposes of this blog, communicating without words means without dialogue. And there are many reasons you want to be able to do this. The 2016 presidential campaign offers several educational examples.
  • The Good and the Bad
    • The 2018 June 18th issue of The New Yorker includes an article titled “High Crimes” by Anthony Lane, a review of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s book The President is Missing.  The article highlights some nuggets of really egregious writing, from mixed metaphors to clichés, offered here for your  amusement.
  • Writers on Writing
    • This post offers writing tips and advice from a few successful authors, including Stephen King and Virginia Woolf.
  • Bradley Harper: The Man Behind the Writer
    • An interview with Bradley Harper reveals some of his most effective writing habits and techniques.
  • Going Long
    • Thanks to Rosemary Shomaker, we have a chance to vicariously experience the struggle of a writer stretching into a new challenge.  She discusses her methods of creating a tight, closely-written short story.

 

WHAT PETS SAY ABOUT THEIR OWNERS

On April 13, 2018, I posted Pets: A Treasure Trove for Writers focusing on how people treat their pets and how pets might fit into plot points and scenes.  Now, I’m turning to the ways pets reflect their owners, and the things an informed character might deduce from simply knowing another character’s pet choice(s).  These are group data, of course, so as a writer you need to decide whether your character reflects the norm or is an outlier.
 

An entry on bakadesuyo.com titled 8 Things Your Pet Says About Your Personality is a good overview.  (Points have been regrouped and edited, so they no longer number eight.)

1) General conclusions about pet owners:

  • Fish owners are happiest.
  • Dog owners are the most fun to be with.
  • Cat owners are the most dependable and emotionally sensitive.
  • Reptile owners are the most independent.

2) Comparing dog people and cat people:
  • Dog people are 15% more extroverted, 13% more agreeable, and 11% more conscientious.
  • Cat people are 12% more neurotic and 11% more emotionally open.
  • Dog owners are healthier: handled stress better, were more relaxed, had higher self-esteem, and were less likely to be diagnosed with depression.

3) Richard Wiseman concluded that people often see their pets’ personality as a reflection of their own.  Maybe a character could ask, “So, what’s your X like?”

4) Younger people who are disagreeable tend to prefer aggressive dogs.

5) Dog owners tend to seek different qualities in their dogs depending on their political leanings:
  • Liberals want dogs that are gentle and relate to their owners as equals.
  • Conservatives want dogs that are loyal and obedient.
6) Likelihood of owners cleaning up after their dogs:
  •  35.3% of males; 58.2% of females.
  • 18.2% of those who are lower income; 68.7% of those with higher income.
  • 72.6% of those who kept their dogs on a leash.

The website medium.com has published at least two articles on this topic: “What Your Pet Says Abut Your Personality and Career” (Mitch Fodstad, 3/6/2017) and  “What Your Pet Says About You” (Dustin Bilyk, 1/10/18).  The Bilyk article was written for humor and is basically an opinion piece, but you might want to read it for inspiration about a character’s opinions.  In addition to personality and career, life stage is addressed.  All of the following points come from these two articles.  Not surprisingly, there is some overlap with the points above.  So, by pet, here are the generalities:

 

Snake people: Owners are unconventional and novelty-seeking, may be bad-ass or wannabe bad-ass, and may have a kinky side.  FYI, male snakes are so focused on reproducing that they don’t even eat during mating season and many of them die.  Snake owners tend to lead unusual lives and make impulsive decisions.  They’re eager for the next move, even when unsure what that move might be.
Common careers: engineer, social worker, marketing/public relations professional, editor/writer, or police officer.

 

Turtle people: They are hard-working and reliable.  Turtle owners harness exceptional commitment, which drives quality performance and bodes well for upward mobility to a higher social class.
Common careers: engineer, social worker, marketing/public relations professional, editor/writer, or police officer.
(VL: Note the  similarities with other reptile people as described above.)

 

Fish people: They are optimistic and not materialistic, unconcerned with possessions.  They prefer low-maintenance pets.  Fish owners are hopeful and confident about the future.
Common career choices: human resources, financial professional, hotel and leisure professional, farming/fishing/forestry professional, or transportation professional.

 

Bird people: These pet owners tend to be outgoing and friendly, expressive, and socially confident.  They communicate effectively and may include some of the most powerful visionaries.
Common careers: advertising professional, sales person, construction worker, or administrative professional.

 

Cat people: Cat owners tend to be adventurous, creative, and anxious.  They enjoy new experiences, often have vivid imaginations, and are likely to be less sociable than dog owners.
Common careers: physician, real estate agent, science/medical technicians, machine operator, or personal caretaker.

 

Dog people: These people tend to be extroverted, confident, and risk-averse.
Common careers: professor, nurse, information technology professional, military professional, or entertainer.

 

Frankly, I find the links between pet, personality, and careers more suggestive than factual.  Writers should still consider the narrative possibilities of such links. 

Scientific American MIND published on-line an overview of the research into what pets say about their owners (Karen Schrock Simring, 9/1/15).  There isn’t much data published in peer-reviewed academic studies, but lots of information is available from huge market surveys within the pet industry and survey responses from pet owners.  Because I don’t want to footnote specific statements, I am not combining info from this article with related statements above.

 

If a character has a dog, he or she is more likely to be in senior management and consider their pet part of the family; live with family members, not have a college degree (although other research suggests dog owners are likely to be a professor, nurse, information professional, military professional, or entertainer); be extroverted, agreeable, and conscientious; have gotten the dog from a shelter or rescue group; live in Arkansas, New Mexico, Kentucky, Missouri, or West Virginia.

 

If the character’s pet is a cat, they are more likely to be divorced, widowed, or separated; live in an apartment; be neurotic and open to new experiences; be college educated; be a physician, real estate agent, science or medical lab technician, machine operator, or personal caregiver; be less socially dominant; live in Vermont, Maine, Oregon, South Dakota, or Washington state.

 

If the character owns a bird, they are more likely to be unemployed, describe themselves as caring and polite, be outgoing and expressive (and socially dominant if female), and live in California, Oregon, Washington state, or Nevada.

 

Horse owners tend to be more assertive and introspective and less warm and nurturing; be aggressive and socially dominant if he is male but non-aggressive and easygoing if she is female; hold an advanced degree; be married and a homeowner; live in a rural area; reside in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Louisiana.  They are most likely to describe themselves as dependable and self-disciplined.

 

Cold-blooded exotic pet owners if female, are more open to new experiences than male owners or female owners of traditional pets; if male, they are much less agreeable than female owners or male owners of traditional pets.

If the pet is a snake, the character may describe themselves as neat and tidy, relaxed and unpredictable; be unconventional and novelty seeking; and consider their pet “part of the family.”

If the character’s pet is a turtle, that character is more likely to be hardworking, reliable, and upwardly mobile, and describe themselves as rational and goal-oriented.

Fish owners are most likely to describe themselves as calm and emotionally stable.

 

Rabbit owners describe themselves as sympathetic, warm, and open to new experiences.

Hamster owners were the most likely to have an advanced degree.

Guinea pig owners were least likely to describe themselves as extroverted.

 

Owners of unusual pets were more likely to have a menagerie. For instance, more than half of ferret owners said they had six or more pets. Dog owners, on the other hand, were the most likely to have only one pet.

More than half of cat owners are fond of both cats and dogs.  More than half of dog owners say they only like canines.

Beyond the most common pets, people make a pet of almost any animal: chickens, exotic insects, possums, pigs, etc.

 

Writers note: For people who have pets, those pets are often integral to how owners see themselves.  For example, some men who want to look tough may get a tough-looking dog.  Some people have rabbits or poodles because that’s the family tradition.  Some people who feel misunderstood may seek “misunderstood” pets such as spiders.  If you give your character a pet, choose it for a reason!

And in spite of it all, keep in mind that although 68% of U.S. households have pets, that leaves 32% pet-less.

Image via Playbuzz

Wednesday’s Child

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe . . .

A Child’s Similes

This was part of a solicitation on behalf of a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence with their children.  The last line is heart-wrenching,and it raises a question: was the bruise on Erica or someone she loved?  All of this led me to explore two topics—child abuse and child bystanders in families experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

Writers, note: it behooves you to know about these things so your writing is realistic.

It turns out that data on child abuse is relatively easy to come by.  From the National Children’s Advocacy Center:

  • 91.6% of victims (all types of abuse) are maltreated by one or both parents.
  • 90% of victims of child sexual abuse know their abuser.  Besides parents, other perpetrators known to the victim included foster parents, other relatives, neighbors, and daycare providers.
  • Rates of physical abuse and neglect are affected by socioeconomic status, being more common for families living near or below the poverty line.
  • Child sexual abuse occurs at all economic levels of society.
  • Most children delay or never disclose child sexual abuse to friends, family, or authorities.
  • Few children falsely report being abused (2-10%).
  • Medical evidence is found in less than 5% of substantiated child sexual abuse cases.
  • Child neglect is the most common type of abuse in the home.
  • At least 20% of substantiated child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by females.
  • Male and female victims of sexual abuse are equally traumatized.
  • Children with disabilities are two to three times more likely than children without disabilities to be abused.

Writers: any one of these statements could be a plot point.

 

The National Children’s Alliance provides additional data:

  • In 2015, an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States.
  • Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually.
  • Children in the first year of life have the highest rate of victimization, 24.2 per 1,000 children.
  • Types of abuse vary, but three elements are most common: neglect, 75%; physical abuse, 17.2%; sexual abuse, 8.4%.
    • NB: some children suffered more than one type of abuse.
  • 90% of alleged abusers are related in some way to the child victim.
  • 40% of abusers were a parent or caregiver.
  • Nearly 25% of abusers were themselves children.

Writers: consider these behaviors for your villains.

Several studies have analyzed the cycle of child sexual abuse, including at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London and the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law in Sydney.   Among 747 males studied, being a perpetrator was correlated with their reports of having been victims of sexual abuse.  The overall rate of having been a victim was 35% for perpetrators and 11% for non-perpetrators.  Of 96 females studied, 43% had been victims but only one became a perpetrator.  Males who were abused in childhood by a female relative or who had lost a parent in childhood were more likely to become a perpetrator.  The bottom line: there is evidence of a victim-to-victimizer cycle for a minority of male perpetrators but not for females.

When someone says “abuse” images of physical abuse are likely to come first to mind.  However, as I learned when I volunteered at Hanover Safe Place (providing services for those suffering sexual assault and/or domestic abuse), there are at least five types of abuse.

  1. Physical abuse: hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc.  This type of abuse may include denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drugs on the victim.
  2. Sexual abuse: coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent, including marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence, or treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner.
  3. Emotional abuse: undermining a person’s sense of self-worth and/or self esteem by constant criticism, denying one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with children.
  4. Economic abuse: making a person financially dependent by taking total control of financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment.
  5. Psychological abuse: including—but not limited to—intimidation; threatening harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets or property; forcing isolation from family, friends, school and/or work.

Writers: if you have a domineering character, consider the last three forms of abuse as tools to use.

DoSomething.org posted 11 facts about child abuse.  Some of those facts not covered in the preceding:

  • Approximately 5 children die every day because of child abuse.
  • 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18.
  • In 2012, 82.2% of child abuse perpetrators were between the ages of 18-44, of whom 39.6% were between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • Victims of child abuse/neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 28% more likely to arrested as adults, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.
  • About 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children meet the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
  • 14% of all men and 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.
  • Those abused as children are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for STDs.
  • They are also 25% more likely to have a teen pregnancy.

Last but not least, according to National Public Radio, through WBUR, the effects of abuse and mistreatment add up over children’s lives.  Abuse and neglect survivors are much more likely to have physical and mental health problems later on, including higher risk of suicide and running afoul of the law.  Summing across years, 12.5% of children overall have experienced at least one episode of abuse or neglect by age 18.  The numbers are worse for minority children: 21% of African-American children, 14.5 percent of Native Americans, and 13% of Hispanic children.

Minority Children Affected by Abuse

 

HOW CHILDREN LIVING WITH DOMESTIC ABUSE ARE HARMED

It turns out that finding data on this topic was more difficult than finding info on abuse of children per se, but there are indices of the harmful effects of witnessing abuse.

Development and Psychopathology (Vol 15, Issue 2) included a research report documenting that children exposed to high levels of domestic violence had IQ’s that were, on average, 8 points lower than unexposed children.  The researchers attribute this to the harmful effects of extreme stress on brain development.

The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol 71(2)) included a meta analysis of 118 studies of the psycho-social outcomes for children exposed to “interparental violence.”  Child witnesses exhibited more child problems, and witnesses’ outcomes were not significantly different from those children who were physically abused themselves.

Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal (Vol 32, (8)) reported that children and adolescents living with domestic violence are at increased risk for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.  They’re more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems, and they’re more vulnerable to other adversities.  The researchers concluded that the impact of living with domestic violence can endure even after the child is safe.

Children exposed to complex trauma (including witnessing domestic violence) often experience lifelong problems that put them at risk for additional trauma and cumulative impairment (e.g., psychiatric and addictive disorders, chronic medical illness, legal, vocational, and family problems).  These may extend from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. (Psychiatric Annals, 35(5).)

Children exposed to maltreatment, family violence, or loss of their caregivers often exhibit depression, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and disorders of anxiety, eating, sleep, communication, separation anxiety, and reactive attachment.

The literature on complex trauma suggest seven primary domains of impairment in exposed children: attachment, physical illness/disease, affect regulation, alterations in consciousness, behavioral regulation, cognition, and self-concept.

Writers: consider the POV of a child witness to domestic abuse.

Emma Katz in Child Abuse Review points out that the forms of domestic abuse beyond the physical are still harmful to children.  Perpetrators’/fathers’ coercive behavior toward women (psychological, emotional, verbal, financial abuse; isolation and monitoring their activities) spills over to children.  They often prevented children spending time with their mothers and/or grandparents, visiting other children’s houses, getting involved in extra-curricular activities at school.  These non-violent acts isolate children, dis-empower them, and create a constrained world that stunts children’s resilience and development and contribute to emotional/behavioral problems.

Bottom Line for Writers: domestic abuse as it affects children is a rich vein for writers to mine.  Consider the complex possibilities: whether a character, whether now a child or adult, was a child also abused, the child’s gender and age, and the time since exposure to the abuse.  Consider whether a child witness would actively support the mother/victim (e.g., urge her to leave her abuser) or identify with the aggressor.  Take it anywhere!

From the Archives: Alcohol for Writers

"alcohol for writers" whisky poured into tumbler

 

In 2016, I wrote Alcohol for Writers: the famous authors infamous for drinking, facts writers should know about alcohol (even if they don’t imbibe), and what to know about your characters’ interactions with drink.

On the subject of alcohol, you can read about its consumption with tobacco in Smokers Drink and Drinkers Smoke. Perhaps not surprisingly, the people who drink the most, as a group, also consume the most tobacco.

Each of these posts explore the dangers of addiction, which I dive into in The Upside of Addiction for Writers. In addition to substance abuse, writers should also consider behavioral addiction, such as gambling, eating, or working. (And don’t forget Workaholics Day.)

Now it’s your turn: how do you treat alcohol in your writing? Let me know in the comments.

 

Kidnapping for Writers

I love word origins—so of course I had to check out a word that has nothing to do with baby goats or sleeping toddlers.

“Kid” meaning “child”  first appeared in the 16th century, but only became popular in the 19th century. 

The “nap” in kidnap has nothing to do with sleep. The “kidnap” kind of “nap” is an obscure and now nearly obsolete English word meaning “to seize or steal,” possibly related to the verb “to nab” (as in “Police nab bank robbers”).

According to The Word Detective online:

“…when ‘kidnap’ first appeared in England in the late 1600s, it not only meant ‘to steal and carry off children,’ but very specifically to snatch children and other young people in order to ship them off to the colonies in North America or the Caribbean to serve as servants or laborers. . . . The word ‘kidnap’ itself is thought to be a grisly souvenir of this practice, invented by the criminals who actually stole children from the slums of England to sell into servitude half a world away.”

Tah-dah! Thus we have a direct historical link between kidnapping and today’s human trafficking on the black market—as discussed in last week’s blog.
dictionary

Abduction vs Kidnapping

According to Merriam-Webster, the current Legal Definition of kidnapping is: an act or instance of the crime of seizing, confining, inveigling, abducting, or carrying away a person by force or fraud often with a demand for ransom or in furtherance of another crime.

 

Although this definition includes abduction, some make a distinction between abduction and kidnapping. For these people, abduction is defined as using deceit or force to take a person (child or adult) away from home or relatives. The victim typically knows the abductor. Abductions are especially likely during separations, divorces, and custody battles. Estimates are that family members abduct 1,230 children each year. Kidnapping usually involves demanding money from the employer, government, family, or  victim in order for the victim to be set free. The kidnapper could be anyone, known or unknown, professional or amateur.

Common Kidnap and Ransom Scenarios

According to Universal Safety & Security Solutions (USSS), kidnapping for ransom is an epidemic on a global scale, and escalating. They report estimates of 15,000 to 20,000 incidents each year, with fewer than 20% of these incidents being reported. Common targets include high net worth people, those who work for large companies in the public domain, or companies with an unpopular product or reputation. USSS identifies six common kidnap and ransom scenarios.

ATM card

1—Express Kidnapping. Someone gets into a taxi, the driver takes the victim a few blocks away and picks up the kidnapers. They force the victim to several different ATM or banking locations and force him/her to withdraw the maximum allowable. Victims are held until the kidnappers believe they have all the funds available. Sometimes the victim is released unharmed; more often they are robbed and assaulted; some are held longer if the kidnappers believe they can get more money from family or an employer.

 

2—High Net Worth Individual Kidnapping. These are carried out by experienced or professional gangs. They are strategically planned, requiring surveillance and intelligence gathering to determine habits, security measures, and prime opportunities. The perpetrators demand ransom from the family or company. After the ransom is paid, the captive is typically released.

 

3—Tiger Kidnapping. It’s strategically planned over time. The victim (or sometimes an object) is taken as leverage to force a third party target to commit an illegal act on behalf of the kidnappers (or their employers). These are rarely reported because the target has also committed a criminal act.

 

4—Political/Terrorist Kidnapping. Terrorist organizations target expatriates, national natives, westerners, oil and gas workers, non-governmental mid-level managers, workers, and journalists.These kidnappings  make political statements, force political concessions, force the release of political prisoners, and/or fund their organizations. Many involve military entities.

 

5—Virtual Kidnapping. This isn’t an actual abduction or kidnapping. It’s a scam that turns panic, fear, and urgency into revenue. The perpetrators could be individuals or groups. They call the target, say that a child or loved one has been kidnapped, demand immediate payment. They use scare tactics, such as someone screaming in the background. The goal is to get payment before the victims can learn that their loved one isn’t actually being held. The average payment for a virtual kidnapping was $1000 to $3000.

 

6—Unlawful Detention. There is no ransom demand. It covers a variety of issues, including child custody, illegal imprisonment, prostitution, slave labor, sexual predation, and forced marriages.

 

money in wallet

 

Political/Terrorist Kidnapping

Political/terrorist kidnapping is extremely important worldwide. As best I could determine, the Taliban and Al Qaeda groups have been preeminent in this area, making hundreds of millions of dollars kidnapping hostages and releasing them for a ransom payment. Indeed, the United Nations Security Council urged countries not to pay ransom in order to cut off this source of funding for Al Qaeda.  Nevertheless, the perpetrators aren’t always terrorist groups. According o a report by researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, thousands of children were kidnapped and held for ransom by senior Eritrea military officers. In Eritrea, all students must serve at a military camp in order to graduate high school. The officers kidnapped students, called their victims’ families, and demanded a ransom of $7,500 to release the victim. If not paid, the military sold the children to Bedouin traffickers. 

 

The top 5 countries for kidnapping for ransom

  • Mexico
  • India
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Venezuela

35% of all global kidnappings reported were in the Asia Pacific region. You can get specifics by country online.

 
globe
 

Statistics on kidnapping in the United States are difficult to pin down because it isn’t separately recorded in the Uniform Crime Report. One can only assume that motivation and tactics are in line with those outlined above. Unlike the five countries listed above, official U.S. policy is to NOT pay ransom.

The Business of Kidnapping

 

Anja Shortland, a Reader in Political Economics at King’s College, London, is prominent in discussing kidnapping as business. She points out that most kidnappings happen in countries with weak governments and disputed territories. But regardless of venue, what is the right price for a loved one’s life? Shortland’s position is that it’s a negotiation like any other.

 

  • The kidnappers want the maximum payout. If the first demand is agreed to, they will revise the demand upward, assuming the family, company, or government can do better—and will continue to up the ante. Therefore, never agree immediately to a kidnapper’s demands.
  • Also, a generous payout makes other members of the family or company or fellow nationals vulnerable to being targeted. It’s morally responsible to try to limit payments.
  • If the kidnappers agree to the first ransom offer they are given, they’re probably amateurs and already desperate to return the hostage.They might let it go with a couple of ATM passes.

 

Three factors make the “business deal” of kidnapping for ransom especially difficult to close.

  • Kidnappers and payers distrust each other. One-time transactions increase the likelihood of cheating.
  • Agreeing to a ransom is difficult, for the reasons outlined above.
  • Swapping the ransom for the hostage is usually complicated: police intervention, rival gangs or other thieves, leaving a potential witness.

Last But Not Least: 

Kidnapping Oneself

Yep, it happens—and there are two general types.

Police have discovered many “fake” cases of kidnapping for ransom in which people hide themselves for some time because of (1) business problems or (2) family disputes or (3) to extort money from their own families. Some 18 fake cases were reported in Lahore alone last year.

And then there are thrill-seekers who get themselves kidnapped for the excitement of the experience. Several companies that provide such a service advertise online, offering a chance to “feel the rush, the thrill and the fear of a real kidnapping; feel and understand the psychological shock of victims; and grow the reality of kidnapping as you wish by integrating into a larger-than-life scenario.”

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS

Working a kidnapping into your plot could pay off, even if you don’t demand ransom!
 
room and chair, kidnapping

 

This Gun for Hire

Information Writers Need About Contract Killers

handgun
I recently blogged about the going rates for body parts on the black market, and for human trafficking. Given how my mind works, that led me to murder for hire. Murder for hire is so much a part of popular culture and fiction—and so much info seems to be out there about illegal activity—that I was surprised to find only sparse and conjectural data about murder for hire. But here’s what I found, starting with the most concrete and mind-blowing.

Cost Per Hit

list of contract killers cost
Although the average payment for a “hit” is $15,000, if the offered rates are anything to go by, it can range from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars. And per the above list, it varies greatly by country.
From what I could find, hitmen are almost always men, between the ages of 25 and 49, unmarried. Murder for hire might stem from revenge, expediency (easier than getting a divorce), or a misplaced wish to spare the victim hurt. But by far the most common reason for murder-for-hire is either insurance policy payouts or a romantic relationship gone wrong. A study in Australia (supported by less rigorous data in the U.S.) indicates that contract killings account for 2%-4% of murders. The most common weapon is a firearm.  In determining a fee, the hitman needs to consider both risk and expected expenses.
Reliable information on the cost of murder for hire is hard to come by for several reasons—most especially that successful contract killers go unpunished and don’t talk about it. But fees depend on a number of factors, including:
  • the difficulty of the hit
  • the prominence of the target
  • the financial standing of the employer
  • the financial needs of the hitman

And from low to high cost:

  • straightforward murder
  • murder that looks like suicide
  • murder that looks like an accident
  • murder that looks like natural causes

HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACT KILLER

  • search online
  • check for references (really)
  • don’t meet the killer in person
  • don’t exchange names
  • don’t give a reason for the hit
  • pay in bitcoin to avoid traceability, use an escrow to pay when job is done
  • other than bitcoin, if you do know the hitman, consider jewelry, barter, etc.
  • don’t pay 50% up front because he might take the money and run
  • if you advertise, don’t accept the first two respondents, who are probably undercover law enforcement
  • to hire anonymously on line, don’t give real name, address, credit card, or phone number, and hide your IP through Tor Browser

WRITERS BEWARE

You can’t just troll around on sites like 18th Street Gan Hitmen on the dark web marketplace. If you try to get info by pretending to be a hitman, you will be asked to prove yourself by hurting a specific person in specific ways.

Why might no one take on your job?

  • You don’t have the deep pockets for an assassin who specializes in political targets, disguising homicide, or disappearances.
  • If you don’t have a reputation within the criminal world, you are a liability: you might be an undercover cop, get cold feet, or brag about it when drunk.
  • You don’t seem to have enough to lose if it fails.
police car with lights illuminated

Reasons for failure.

  • Most people who want someone killed don’t know the criminal underworld, so look to family, acquaintances, neighbors, or others who are inept or inexperienced.
  • Most people won’t do it, and would likely call the police.
  • Talking publicly and widely about wishing someone dead.
  • Mistakenly believing that not actually doing the act means no criminal liability.
Bottom line for writers: Murder for hire could be a powerful part of your story

Wanted, Dead or Alive! Body Parts on the Black Market

silhouette of person pushing against glass
At a family dinner earlier this month, my granddaughter started quoting prices of body parts on the black market. (Don’t ask. Maybe she will grow up to be a writer!) In case you are like me, and this isn’t something you know a lot about, here—for your writing education—are the results of my research. All data cited here are from Havocscope: Global Black Market Information or GIZMODO.
blood in needle

Cost to Buy Body Parts on the Black Market

(All prices in US dollars)
  • blood, pint: $25-$337 depending on country
  • bones and ligaments: up to a few thousand dollars, depending on the exact part
  • bone marrow: $23,000 per gram
  • corneas: $24,400 including implanting them
  • coronary artery: $1,525—even though coronary arteries aren’t transplanted
  • eggs: $12,400
  • eyeballs, pair: $1,525
  • gallbladder: $1,219
  • hand and forearm: $385
  • heart: $119,000
  • kidney: $!5,000-$262,000 depending on country
  • liver: $157,000
  • scalp: $607
  • shoulder: $500
  • skin: $10 per square inch
  • skull with teeth:$1,200
  • small intestine: $2,519
  • spleen: $508
  • stomach: $508

eye

Profits on the Black Market

 

Before you decide to sell a few spare body parts to finance your retirement, be aware of two things: (1) what it costs to buy is not what the seller gets to sell; and (2) where the buying and selling happens makes an enormous difference. For example, consider kidneys and livers.

 

Kidneys: average paid to buyer, $150,000; average paid to seller, $5,000.  Kidney buyers pay $10,000 in Thailand but $300,000 in Singapore. Income to sellers ranges from $650 in Kenya to $200,000 in Ukraine.

 

Livers: liver buyer in China, $21,900; seller gets $3,660.

 

If you do want to sell something you can spare, consider selling half of your healthy liver (which can regenerate a full liver for both donor and recipient). Even more lucrative, have your character sell a gram or two of bone marrow at $23,000 per gram. Properly done, it’s quick, with little to no pain. Although it’s legal to donate, selling isn’t. So, yes, it’s illegal, but the payoff is huge: compare to cocaine, at $150 per gram. If you want to stay legal, consider selling enough eggs for an in vitro fertilization cycle for $8,000.

What Powers the Black Market in Body Parts?

Short answer: demand outpaces legal supply. Less than a third of US patients on the kidney waitlist will get a legal kidney to save their lives. Fifty percent of waitlist patients overall die waiting for an organ. It is estimated that 10% of all organs and tissues used in surgical transplants come from the black market.

 

Writers, in particular, might want to know where these body parts come from. Consider press coverage of organ harvesting from children in Mexico and from prisoners in China. These methods are clearly illegal and/or unethical. Some poor people sell an organ for their own profit. The only country in the world where buying or selling human organs is legal is Iran—and then only if both the buyer and the seller are Iranian citizens.

 

Human Trafficking, No Disassembly Required

 
When people—including writers—think of human trafficking, the first thought is often prostitution. But it also turns out people are sold for labor, marriage, and adoption.

CONCLUSION: The whole is worth less than the sum of its parts!
 

Bottom Lines For Writers

The possibilities are nearly limitless:
 
  • bits of esoteric info to add to the plot
  • benign reasons to buy organs (like transplants)
  • macabre reasons to buy organs (like cannibalism, black magic)
  • a positive/evil character who is a buyer
  • a positive/evil character who is a seller
  • reasons to turn to the black market as either
  • succeeding—or not
  • and on and on and on

hand holding pen to write

This Just In!

American Dictionary of the English Language front cover
American Dictionary of the English Language
As many of you know, I collect dictionaries. This facsimile edition of the first American Dictionary of the English Language arrived yesterday and I’ve been enjoying it for hours. Who would have thought there could be 58 definitions of pass?
Portrait of Noah Webster, creator of Dictionary of American English
Noah Webster
According to the preface, Webster was being urged to compile such a volume as early as 1783. He was too busy to even think about it till 1801. The work became ever more ambitious, as you can see from the title page.
American Dictionary of the English Language title page
American Dictionary of the English Language
And the rest is history. Webster’s became almost synonymous with dictionary. He predated the Oxford English Dictionary (1933) by more than a hundred years, and I would claim his scholarship (including historical roots and literary examples) inspired those involved in the OED.
A Dictionary of South African English, title page
A Dictionary of South African English
According to Webster, new locations and new governments require the standardization of modified English. Hence, you can also find dictionaries of Australian English, Indian English, etc.
We are not using Webster’s 1828 dictionary today because—ta da!—language evolves. You heard it here first—unless you read Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way.
 
The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, book cover
The Mother Tongue
 
The evolution of language comes not only from changing political needs, but also from science, art, technological advances, etc. While some of these changes primarily affect relatively narrow bands of society, others are more pervasive. Based on the sheer variety of offerings, I would argue that slang is one of the most changeable aspects of language, both universal and specialized.
 
two dictionaries
Mob Speak and Knickers in a Twist
 
Slang varies by occupation. I have dictionary of carnival slang, for example, as well as several dealing with war.
War Slang by Paul Dickson, cover of dictionary
War Slang
And of course language varies by time period and sub-culture.
Much as I love them, I’m afraid hard-copy dictionaries are becoming extinct. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary claims to be the best available. Given the rapidity of language evolution, online is probably the only way to keep up.
The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide front cover
The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide
What’s your newest dictionary? And why do you still have it?

Reading History and Geography

I have mixed feelings here. In fourth grade, my geography book was the most exotic, fascinating thing I’d ever seen. In high school, I hated history so much that I vowed never to take a non-mandatory class. And I didn’t, avoiding history all through college. But like so many, I find both topics not just palatable but absolutely fascinating when presented in literature and/or experienced during travel.

 

Virtually any good writing set abroad gives a vivid sense of place, so I’ll put geography aside for a bit, and urge you to consider all the ways you can enjoy history.

 

nervous splendor budapest 1900 norway 1940
Consider historical events or periods of interest to you. Your reading options are myriad. I grew up in a house with few books, but we did have a two-volume pictorial history of World War II that had pictures of concentration camp survivors that are seared in my mind’s eye still.

 

At least as common is to read history by reading about people. Queens, kings, generals, popes—biographies abound. Think Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, Joan of Arc, or Catherine the Great—to name a few women. Often travel sparks an interest. I was unaware of Sisi the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, or Maria Theresa, one of the most outstanding and powerful personalities in the Habsburg dynasty.

 

dean king skeletons zahara
[Photo credit: Amazon]
I won’t belabor the point, but geography can be equally personal. Consider Dean King’s book, Bones in the Zahara. Vivid and personal, immediate and gripping. (Indeed, I recommend any of Dean King’s non-fiction books.)

 

Bottom line: History and geography can be as gripping as fiction. Try it!