When Jesse Sheidlower wrote this book, he was the Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary. The book was published by Oxford University Press, one of the most prestigious academic presses in the world. The 49 pages of front matter and the 269 pages in the body of the book deal exclusively with the F word. Seeing this started me thinking. Ultimately, I concluded that the F word is one of the most important words in the English language. And therefore writers should consider its many uses.
One indicator of importance is the number of euphemisms coined to express the F word without tipping into the vulgar or obscene. A woman born and reared in North Carolina once told me that when a Southern Lady wants to say the F word, she says “Fine!”
That one wasn’t familiar to me, but we’ve all heard many others. These are what is sometimes called a “minced oath.” Here are some examples:
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Fark (not to be confused with FARC, which might add unintended political themes to your work!)
I could keep going, but the internet would eventually run out of pixels…
Although listeners know exactly what the euphemism stands for, many feel that the impact of the euphemism loses much of the cathartic value of the original and may come across as tepid, ineffectual, or just plain namby-pamby.
William Shakespeare was one of the most creative users of minced oaths and euphemisms to describe everything from copulation to defecation, writing some of the most vividly imaginative phrases to avoid the censorship of the age. Juliet may have had the sheath to make Romeo’s dagger happy, but no children’s ears had to be covered.
Of course, this still wasn’t clean enough for Dr. Thomas Bowdler and his sister Harriet. In 1818, they announced the publication of a G-rated book of Shakespseare’s work, in which “those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.” The Family Shakespeare didn’t sell particularly well (and was a pretty short book), but “bowdlerise” became a term for overdone, fussy, prissy censorship.
Note to writers: consciously decide whether to use a euphemism or the original. There is a time for vulgarity and a time for bowdlerising.
The F word is so prominent in English that the basic entry for fuck in Slang and Euphemism runs a full half page, followed by 60 entries directly involving the word, and surrounded by acronyms that take the place of actually saying the word. Though the origins are unclear, it dates back at least to 1475.
Basically, it refers to a sexual act, an act of copulation. It’s universally characterized as obscene or at least vulgar. However, over time, much of the resistance to the original word has been diluted by long and frequent use.
And it is arguably the most versatile word around. In modern usage, the F word and its derivatives (such as fucker and fucking) can be used as a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, conjunction, interjection, or adverb.
A sexual act in its most straightforward form, as in “Let’s fuck.”
Transitive: John fucked Mary.
Intransitive: Mary was fucked by John.
To cheat or mistreat someone, as in “She totally fucked me.”
Referring to the act itself, as in a specific event being “ A great fuck.”
Referring to a partner, as in “A great fuck” referring to the other person involved.
Referring to an incentive or strong feeling on any subject.
Note to writers: make sure the context clearly specifies ambiguous meanings.
Used in place of his/her, as in “Tell the fucker at the end of the bar that I buy my own drinks.”
A modifier to a verb as in
2. A modifier to another adverb, as in “The Broncos played fucking well out there.”
3. A modifier to an adjective, as in “Fucking beautiful.”
A modifier to a noun, as in “That was some fucking speech!” or “I had a fucking good time.”
Connecting two parts of a sentence, as in “I left, fuck the boss’s order.”
Exclamation or intensifier: fuck can express innumerable emotions. Most often, as a single word, it expresses joy, despair, surprise, or anger.
But fuck can intensify virtually any emotion, depending on surrounding situation or text.
Ignorance: Fuck if I know.
Trouble: Mary returned and I’m fucked now
Fraud: I got fucked in the real estate deal.
Aggression: Fuck you!
Displeasure: What the fuck do you think you’re doing?
Difficulty: I can’t understand these fucking data!
Incompetence: You fuck-off!
Stupidly or incompetence: You really fucked up that negotiation.
The F word has a long and varied history. Though its origin remains somewhat obscure, it most likely derives from an early Germanic root, such as peuk (to prick), fokken (to thrust), or peig (hostile). Though linguists can’t seem to agree on the etymology, most agree that “fuck” has been a vulgar or taboo word for most of its very long history, which contributes to the difficulty of tracking down its history as it was not officially used or written down often.
It has a Wikipedia entry that runs to 19 pages, which goes into the history and gives examples of modern usage in politics, marketing, and literature. And as the Urban Dictionary says of it, “The only fucking word that can be put everyfuckingwhere and still fucking make fucking sense.”
Bottom line for writers: The F word is useful, versatile, and becoming ever more acceptable. But should you decide to use it, use it sparingly as the narrator, and limit it to one or a few characters. It loses its impact with repetition (see The Wolf of Wall Street).
Nearly 70% of Americans play video games on at least one device, and nearly all play on smartphones. Indeed, if you do an online search for games, best games, or similarly general queries, you will be inundated with info about video games in general as well as individual games. If game playing is one of your character’s activities (and your story is set in the current time or near future) decide whether s/he is part of the majority or the minority here. Consider what the game of choice says about the character of your character. For example,does success depend more on speed or strategy? Does a round end quickly or take a significant time commitment? Can it be interrupted/paused? How violent is it? And is it mechanized violence or hand-to-hand? Does s/he play alone, against the program, or with/against other gamers worldwide?
As I indicated in the opening sentence, most people in the U.S. currently play video games, but these are a relatively new phenomenon. In the remainder of this blog, I shall focus on card games and board games—for three reasons:
They are suitable for current settings as well as throughout history. Just check out what games were around when the story is set.
I believe that the majority of readers are more familiar with them.
I am not a “gamer” and—truly—I always try not to say too much about any vast canyon of ignorance.
Modern playing cards may have originated in China, India, or Persia, but they were commonly used in Europe by the end of the fourteenth century. The number and composition of cards in a deck varied throughout history and from country to country. Some decks had mounted knights, noblemen, peasants, and Church figures. Some countries used bells, hearts, leaves, acorns, swords, cups, or paving stones to differentiate suits. Over the years, the royal figures have been labelled as Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Solomon, Empress Judith, Sir Lancelot, Joan of Arc, Hector of Troy, and various mythological figures, to name a few. As printing became widely available and playing cards were produced cheaply, the modern deck of cards gradually came into being and was eventually standardized to those we use today. (For more details, check out the Snopes article on the topic.)[The history of playing cards is kind of interesting:
Advantages of card games:
Equipment is inexpensive
They are extremely portable
Lots of choices from total luck games to highly skilled strategies
Can be played alone or with others
Can be totally competitive or in partnerships
Suitable for people of almost any age
Games with simple rules can transcend language barriers
If you search for the most popular card game(s), poker is at or near the top of the list. Poker is associated with gambling, whether in a casino, bar, country club, or private home. As the name implies, penny ante poker means minimal stakes. Other associations with poker include alcohol, smoking, and maybe the Wild West. It is still a male-dominated game.
Writers: as always, consider the value of going with the flow or defying the images. Many variations exist, and it can be played online.
Other popular card games in the US:
Spades: created nearly 100 years ago, hit its peak in the 90s
War: one of the easiest games, suitable for children, no skill involved; also good as a mindless activity
Gin: aka gin rummy, is related to rummy (see below); very popular right now, a fun gambling game; started in the U.S in the 1800s and has remained popular ever since; reached its peak in the 1930s and 1940s; faded in favor of canasta in the 1950s
Rummy: popular around the world, especially In India; involves matching and memorization; can be played online
Blackjack (aka twenty-one): largely a gambling game played in clubs and casinos; lots of luck involved; players play against the dealer rather than each other
If a player is able to calculate probabilities and keep track of cards in play, s/he may be able to “count cards” to win nearly every hand. This technique is outlawed by many casinos, but it can be a good way to demonstrate a character’s extreme intelligence or pattern recognition skills.
Crazy Eights: originated in Venezuela; has lots of variations; requires two or more people
Agatha Christie wrote an entire murder mystery, Cards on the Table, that hinges upon who was playing in what rotation at what time during an evening bridge party. Hercule Poirot deduces alibis and personalities entirely by studying the notations people made while keeping score, enabling him to identify the murderer.
Card games and board games have been used as a method of teaching and developing military strategy skills throughout history, including by the American CIA. An online essay The Appeal (and Manliness) of Card Games includes a subsection on 6 Card Games Every Man Should Know. The essay notes that men’s games are often symbolic representations of more violent clashes and war. In my opinion, what this says is that games are a non-violent way of competing to be the alpha male. When only men are involved, there are often jokes and insults to demonstrate the art of clever talk. According to this essay, the essential manly card games are:
Gin Rummy: game scholars think rummy is a card variation on the Chinese game of mah-jong, perhaps dating to the 1700s, much modified since then; generally played to a specified number, often 100
Hearts: a trick-taking game stemming from whist, except the goal is to avoid collecting tricks; the person with the fewest points wins; first appeared in he U.S. in the late 1800s; played online since the 1990s
Poker(specifically, Texas hold ‘em): perhaps originated in 1820s New Orleans on Mississippi River gambling boats; poker really took off in the 1980s when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, legalizing casinos on Native American land
Solitaire: first developed in the mid-1700s; originally played with multiple people, it’s now a game played primarily alone—any of more than 1000 variations; surged in popularity with the advent of personal computers
Cribbage: beloved for centuries, technically involves a board for score keeping, it’s essentially a card game for 2 (possibly 3 or 4); came to the colonies by English settlers; especially popular in New England
Blackjack (aka 21): most widely played casino game; fast and easy to learn; dating to the mid- to late 1500s, became more popular int the U.S. in the late 1950s
The Most Popular & Fun Card Games as posted on ranker.com
Writers: consider the value of a character playing a card game against type, such as a woman playing poker or a man playing bridge. Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon are more commonly played by children, but an adult could play with a child they are caring form. How would a quintessentially honest person behave in a situation requiring bluffing, such as playing poker or Bluff? What might a young person discover by learning to play Hearts as a means of bonding with an older relative?
5 Hardest Games to Master in the World: According to Casino.org, these are the most difficult to master, regardless of how long it takes to learn.
Note: this lists includes 4 board games and only 1 card game
Go is an ancient Chinese game dating back over 5,500 years—making it the oldest board game still played today. It’s also one of the most complex, involving abstract strategy aimed at occupying the most territory on the board.
Go is referenced, played, or used to demonstrate a character’s attitude toward traditional values in lots of Japanese media, including manga and anime. It is so widespread in Japanese culture that there is an entire anime about a schoolboy haunted by the spirit of an ancient Go master: Hikaru No Go.
Chess, arguably dating back to the 6th century in India, but perhaps it originated in China—as many games did. It’s a game of strategical conquest played by two people. The essence of success is forward planning. Historically, chess has been used as a means of teaching battlefield tactics; that is why, in modern chess rules, the king is relatively constrained but holds such strategic importance.
Bridge is the only card game included in this list of hardest games to master. See above.
Diplomacy was released in 1959; as games go, it is still in its infancy. It is a strategic board game for two to seven players, played on a map of 1914 wartime Europe, Middle East, and North Africa, geared toward conquest. There are no dice, but lots of negotiation skills are required.
Diplomacy was one of the first games (other than chess) that could be played by mail, which made it available as a form of connection for people who were not able to play together in person. Writers, consider the possibilities this provides for characters in a historical setting who lived far apart or were shut-ins or prohibited by social taboo from playing together, etc.
Hex, released in 1942, was inspired by Go and has since been tweaked. The goal is to make a connected string of shoes from one side of the board to the other before the other player.
Card Games vs. Board Games
As noted above, card games have many positive qualities, especially portability and ease of set-up. Board games require more complex “equipment,” lengthy set-ups, and can take a long time to complete. Many board games are quite cerebral, chess being the ultimate example. In board games, every player is likely aware of the possible moves of the other player(s).
The Top Ten Board Games of All Time
The website hobbylark.com provides a brief history of board games and ranks the top 10. Many that have been around for literally thousands of years can now be played online. Details of all of these are, of course, available online.
The Settlers of Catan
Ticket to Ride
There is no board game equivalent to solitaire. By their nature, board games require other players, and thus involve social interactions.
Game Considerations for Writers (whether cards or board games)
If you include a game as a character note, consider the general character of players of that game and whether you want to go with the general image or have a character who goes against the grain. Why does your character play that particular game? Where, how, and with whom (if anyone)? Under these circumstances, chances are you establish the preference and make only brief references to it thereafter—unless the character is addicted.
If the game is an element to advance the plot, it will probably involve a more detailed description of the game itself, so that readers will better understand the important people interactions around the game. Did playing the game establish or refute an alibi? Reveal important info through the chat around and over play? Is someone trying to establish dominance? Losing more money than s/he can afford?
In associating a character with a game, be aware of the possible correlations: when in history your story is set, age of the character, region of the country (or country in the world), social class, and possibly ethnic background all are considerations.
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.
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.
Monday’s child is fair of face Tuesday’s child is full of grace Wednesday’s child is full of woe . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Economic abuse: making a person financially dependent by taking total control of financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment.
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.
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!
For me—and I venture to say, for most of you reading this blog—the initial exposure to notebooks—books meant to be written in—came with entering school. During the 14th and 15th centuries, notebooks were made by hand, often at home, by folding pieces of paper in half into bundles that were then bound. Binding involved sewing along the fold or punching holes and lacing with twine or other cord. The pages were blank, and any note keeper who wanted lined pages had to make ruled lines across each page. Making and keeping notebooks was so important to effective household, farm, and business management that children learned how to do it in school.
Currently, besides a stitched binding, a buyer can purchase notebooks that are glue-bound, spiral bound, or loose pages in ring binders. People keep notes on everything—food, physical activity, birds cited, blood pressure. . .
Today, notebooks are almost universally commercially produced. You can find them lined or blank or with printed grids, depending on your intentions. Specialized ones are available for virtually any and all needs. One can shop notebooks for elementary, middle, high school, or college. Additionally, one can find notebooks designed for particular interests.
Specialized notebooks often include related information, advice, etc. The Writer’s Notebook is a good example of this, providing tips and exercises to improve writing and creativity. Of the 207 pages of The Naturalist’s Notebook, the first 95 are pages of how-to. The body of the book is called a 5-year calendar-journal, though it’s set up like a diary.
So, segueing from notebooks to diaries: a diary is a record (originally handwritten) set up for discrete entries arranged by date, reporting on what has happened. Generally, a diary has daily entries. Although it might include anything, a diary is essentially a collection of notes, often brief, focused on “just the facts, ma’am.” A war diary would be a good example: a regularly updated official record of a military unit’s administration and activities, maintained by an officer in the unit.
Pre-printed diaries typically allot the same amount of space or number of lines for each day. This forces the diarist to record only the most important events of each day. The diary shown above is set up for one year, with one week on each double-page spread. N.B.: These are a woman’s diaries, and you will see weather notes in the margin of each entry, which is typical of women’s diaries.
One-year diaries can come in any shape or size, though the entry space is often larger than that of multi-year diaries. Typical of diaries are the inserts and write-overs caused by the relatively small amount of space allowed for each day.
To Myself, known today as Meditations, written in Greek by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second half of the 2nd century CE might be the earliest recorded writing displaying many aspects of a diary. The earliest surviving diary that most resembles a modern diary was that of the Moroccan mathematician and scholar Ibn al-Banna’ al-Marrakushi in the 11th century. Needless to say, these were not pre-printed!
At one point, five-year diaries were very popular. They range in size from 2” x 3” up to 8.5’ x 11” and are still for sale today, priced from $5.59 to $72.00, though the price is not necessarily related to size. The major advantage of a five-year diary, in my opinion, is that it allows easy tracking of events (visits from relatives, weather, flower blooms) across years and seasons. The major disadvantage is the (usually) severely circumscribed space for each entry.
Today one can have a paper diary and/or a digital diary. Digital diaries are often tailored towards shorter-form, in-the-moment writing, similar to what might be posted on social media, but they avoid character limits that have the same effect as the space restrictions noted above.
In its original (French) meaning, the word journal (from the Latin diurnis or diurnalis)refers to a daily record of activities, but the term has evolved to mean any record, regardless of time elapsed between entries. More importantly, it is a record of significant experiences, as well as documenting thoughts, feelings, reflections, emotions, problems, and self-evaluations. In short, a journal is much more personal than a diary. Per Robert Gottlieb, journals have no deliberate shape, they simply accrete.
In writers’ terms, a diary is a fly-on-the-wall POV; a journal is a first person POV, showing everything through the eyes and heart of the writer.
If you want to buy a journal, you are not likely to find books labeled “Journal.” Instead, you buy a blank book. Your first decision is totally blank or lined. It’s a very personal decision. For an artist, this would be totally blank, a sketchbook. But some journal writers also want a totally blank page,feeling freer—unconfined, not squished between lines. Others—somehow more restricted?—prefer lines, perhaps to keep them focused, perhaps to keep their words legible.
Journals can be broad ranging or focused—for example, dream journals, travel journals, gardening journals. In my experience, the more broad ranging, the more likely the writer will choose an aesthetically pleasing blank book.
For the most part, both diaries and journals are presumed to be personal, shared with no one or only a select few. But many of both have been published. Online, international lists of published journals and diaries are readily available.
Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks—numerous, informal, and not terribly organized—have been perused and edited by John Curran. He quotes lavishly from the originals but also comments and relates the notebook entries to Christie’s published works.
Among published diaries, notebooks, and journals, one of my favorites is Hawthorne’s Lost Notebook 1835-1841. I love this book because it has reproductions of the original hand-written notes side-by-side with readable printed versions of his words.
Another favorite is The Journals of John Cheever. Cheever wrote his inner life, day after day, year after year. His writings span a period from the early 1940s to a few days before his death on June 18, 1982, encompassing some three to four million words. The original journals are small, loose-leaf note books, approximately one per year, usually typed but sometimes written out in longhand, undated. The published version of his journals is, necessarily, a selection. Entries are identified by year, and each is reprinted in its entirety.
This printed version of his journals doesn’t draw punches, even when he made negative comments about his children or himself.
And now I would draw your attention to the similarities between the Hawthorne notebook entry and the Cheever journal entries. They are both open-ended and extremely personal.
Bottom line for writers: a rose by any other name! Call it a notebook, a diary, or a journal, record your days.
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.
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
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:
murder that looks like suicide
murder that looks like an accident
murder that looks like natural causes
HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACT KILLER
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
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.
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
In case you didn’t know, MacGyver was a superhero type TV series from 1985 to 1992 starring Richard Dean Anderson. As the series unfolded, Angus “Mac” MacGyver became a wonderfully rich character, a great example of what a well-rounded character looks like on the page as well. Here, to help you flesh out your protagonist are things you need to know—or at least consider. Your readers will love you for it.
Name: A character needs a full name, and (in my opinion) should have a reason to have been named that. Family name? Parent’s favorite from history or fiction?
Personality: MacGyver was portrayed as a non-violent problem solver who always carried a Swiss Army knife and refused to carry a gun. When the plot called for physical violence, his acts were always in self-defense and he strove to subdue or disable rather than kill. He is pretty much the opposite of macho, having a sensitive nature and showing it. He (appropriately) showed grief, pain, fright, guilt, depression and self-blame.
Social awareness: MacGyver was passionate about social causes, with a particular affinity for things related to children and protecting the environment. At some point, he became vegetarian. What is your character’s attitude toward such things as social justice, global warming, etc.?
Intelligence: MacGyver had a genius-level IQ and had a college education in both physics and chemistry.
Skills: MacGyver could speak six languages—plus he could communicate using American Sign Language, Morse code, and International maritime signal flags. He skied and had mastered outdoor survival skills. He possessed superb engineering and applied physics knowledge. Besides his Swiss Army knife, MacGyver usually carried duct tape, an ID card, a Timex Camper watch, strike-anywhere matches, paperclips, chewing gum, and a flashlight—plus whatever was in his Jeep or pickup truck. Thus, he was able to save a man’s life using a paperclip, a wrench, and shoelaces.
His hobbies included dice hockey, racing, guitar, and painting. Although suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) he managed mountain/rock climbing, hang gliding, parachuting, etc.
What skills and/or specialized knowledge can your character draw on? Think education, past job experiences and military service as well as hobbies and sports.
Biography: MacGyver’s biography—which I believe was fleshed out as the series progressed—accounted for all of his special skills, fears, and taboos, from the outdoor survival skills taught by Mrs. Fogarty, his Cub Scout Den Mother, to a fatal accidental shooting that led him to eschew guns. Advice to writers: as soon as you give your character a skill, fear, etc., jot down—if only for your own use—how and when it was acquired.
In 2016 the series was revived starring Lucas Till as a younger Mac MacGyver. Supposedly this is the equivalent of a “prequel.” Thus, this Mac functioned between the original’s birth (January 23, 1951) and the beginning of the original series. And therein lies the rub. This “younger” MacGyver carries through with major characteristics, including intelligence, preference for non-lethal methods, and the ability to use his Swiss Army knife plus anything in his environment to accomplish his mission. In addition, he’s an accomplished field medic and uses modern crime scene techniques—in which he might just have been ahead of his time. But DNA sequencing procedures? That I couldn’t quite accept.
Last advice to writers: Should you ever want to write a prequel, be aware of what your character couldn’t have known or experienced at the time.
And just in case you want some MacGyver type skills for your character, check out these books.
My mantra has long been that whether I end up in heaven or in hell, I want it to be for things I did rather than things I didn’t do. Until I started developing today’s blog, I didn’t actually consider whether I am a risk taker or not.
Yes, I’ve long recognized that I am willing to give all sorts of fun things a try: water skiing for the first time on a Florida river with alligators sunning on the banks, parasailing in the Bahamas, white-water rafting on the Colorado River, zip-lining in Costa Rica, downhill skiing for the first time at night on a lighted intermediate slope, handling an anaconda and fishing for piranha along the Amazon River, riding out a storm on the Chesapeake Bay in a small sailboat, and other fun things I’m not going into.
What about money? I’m invested in the stock market, which some consider to be risky for women. But I’ve never invested in some hot new option, gambled for more than quarters, or bought more than one lottery ticket.
Health risks? I stopped smoking more than twenty years ago. I drive fast. I drink alcohol. But I never drink and drive. I get all the recommended vaccines and health checks. I exercise 5-6 times a week. And I eat vegan almost exclusively.
Professionally? Within limits. Yes, I resigned a tenured full professorship to pursue association management, eventually returned to college administration, and in the process embarked on an eleven-year commuter marriage. But I never totally changed fields, or launched into entrepreneurship or any other career in which my Ph.D. was irrelevant.
So why all this self-disclosure? Because I’m a “real people” and the best characters feel to the reader like real people. Protagonists often take risks and they should take them realistically. By that I mean, someone’s risk-taking is often complicated.
I’m here to help, so HERE ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF WHAT RESEARCH HAS TO SAY ABOUT RISK-TAKING!
Apparently there is a risk gap between the risky behavior we engage in personally and what we recommend to others. For example, virtually no one would recommend texting while driving, impaired driving, not wearing a seatbelt, smoking, etc., and yet many people actually do those things. In the case of texting while driving, 80% of people say they do so at least occasionally. Does your character say one thing and do another?
When it comes to personal risk involving health and safety, we are greatly influenced by knowing that others are engaging in that same risky behavior. For example, this is particularly true of smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse, juvenile delinquency, premarital or extramarital sex, or similar behavior. This might explain dangerous health fads and copycat suicides. Knowing “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t much affect our advice to others. Often our protagonists resist such social influences, but what about other characters?
Recreational risk or financial risk is less likely to lead to a copycat effect. I’m surprised by this, actually. However we advise those we love, what we do has a stronger effect than what we say.
In risk taking, there are gender gaps. Men take more recreational and financial risks. Women take more social risks than men—more likely to change careers later in life or express unpopular opinions in meeting. There’s lots of advice out there to the effect that taking professional risks is a good thing, especially for women. The reasons risk taking is good include the following:
great, otherwise unforeseen opportunities emerge
shows confidence and helps you stand out
lessons learned may lead us on a new path
success must be pursued
you don’t achieve dreams by playing it safe
embracing risk-taking helps you overcome fear of failure
researched and prepared for risk-taking pays off
So, consider whether your character epitomizes or defies the gender expectations.
People take fewer risks as they age and as they settle into stable relationships. But even with age, a change in relationship status (death or divorce) can lead to a spike in risk-taking. What does your character do after a change in relationship status?
Domains of daring; as implied above, people are a complicated blend of risk-taking and risk-averse.This domain-specific likelihood of risk taking includes five domains:
In general, a person’s likelihood of risk-taking in each category is stable over time, but says little about his/her risk-taking in other categories.
Some psychologists claim that risk-taking is a result of a personality known as sensation seeking—pursuit of novel, intense, and complex sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take risks in pursuing novelty, change, and excitement. Subcategories of sensation seeking:
thrill- and adventure-seeking
disinhibition (deviant lifestyles, pursuit of change to stave off boredom)
a means of expressing aggressiveness and hostility
generalized need for activity itself
part of sociability, another personality trait
Overall, for both women and men, high risk-takers score high on three of the five basic personality traits: impulsive sensation seeking, aggression-hostility, and sociability. Heavy drinkingis associated with all three of these personality traits.
Risk-taking is a product of both genes and experience. Studies of identical and fraternal twins, whether raised in the same families or apart, indicate that sensation-seeking is about 60% genetic, which is a high degree of heritability for a personality trait. Genes also influence aggression, agreeableness, and sociability/extroversion. So for your sensation-seeking character, what are the similarities/differences among family members?
BOTTOM LINE: Chances are your protagonist will take risks of some sorts, sometimes. Consider the why and extent of risk taking.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
Consider all the ways that writers look back. Historical fiction, memoir, biography, and essays come immediately to mind. Some sci-fi, fantasy, and time travel stories involve a ton of looking back. My newly released novel, Nettie’s Books, set in 1930-1935, is an example of what is traditionally considered historical fiction.
But think more broadly. Bradley Harper’s murder mystery set in 19th century London is also an historical novel.
Looking back can inform any genre: from romance novels to action/adventure, from “regional” stories set in the west, south, New England, or abroad to nature writing—and let’s not forget creative non-fiction. Even poetry? Yep.
So, it behooves writers to consciously look back, because you never know when doing so will enrich your short story, novel, children’s book, etc. Several ways of doing this are readily available. I’ll not even discuss the internet, because today that is just so obvious. But consider print media, particularly magazines that might come with your membership or donation.
This is well-written, and an excellent source of information specific to Virginia. But the contents also can spur ideas of topics to pursue beyond the borders of the Commonwealth. The publication is a benefit of membership in the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
Smithsonian magazine is a parallel sort of publication but with a broader mission, often reaching beyond the U.S. borders. The Southern Poverty Law Center and ACLU frequently send letters and newsletters that you might want to peruse rather than pitch. Check out historical notes in your local newspaper. Even The New Yorker has articles that “look back” in every issue.
Last but not least, consider things forgotten on your shelves or stumbled upon among used books as a way of looking back at what was, at the time, current. For example, Women’s History Month is ideal.
Bottom line: Look around you and look back because you never know how your writing might be enriched!