You Are How You Eat

When writing food scenes, the eating and drinking are seldom central to advancing the plot, so people have coffee and cake or do lunch, and all the plot and character development are carried by the dialogue. Such dismissal of eating/drinking habits is a big opportunity missed.
 
juliet a boghossian
[Source: Twitter]

“Food-ology links FOOD RELATED HABITS to PERSONALITY TRAITS and BEHAVIORAL TENDENCIES. A PORTAL INTO THE LAYERS OF ONE’S CHARACTER. Learn more about yourself and those around you – to support better judgment, improve relationships, increase effectiveness and empower your life. You are HOW you eat.” ~ Juliet A. Boghossian, Founder, Behavioral Food Expert

Juliet Boghossian is a self-styled behavioral food expert. Her research has spanned 20 years. She’s cited all over the place, so here are her major assertions about eating style and personality. Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I admit that I read secondary sources. I couldn’t quickly find Boghossian publications. (Make of that what you will.)

 

you are how you eat
The slow eater. According to Boghossian, slow eaters usually prefer to be in control, and they know how to appreciate life. They’re also likely to be confident and even-keeled.  Perhaps they put themselves and their needs ahead of others, are selfish, and do not give priority to others.
juliet Boghossian
The fast eater. Fast eaters tend to be ambitious, goal-oriented, and open to new experiences. They may tend to be impatient. May come across as overly competitive. Often finish tasks ahead of deadlines. May be considerate, putting others ahead of their own needs.
adventurous eater
The adventurous eater. These people never meet a food they don’t want to try. This person is probably a thrill-seeker and risk-taker in other areas of life, willing to try new things, maybe beyond his/her experience/comfort zone.

 

Picky eater
[Source: Today Show]
The picky eater. Does this really need definition? People who hesitate to try new food, continue childhood food preferences, etc. According to Boghossian, picky eaters are likely to be a little neurotic in general.

 

Julia Hormes, psychologist specializing in food behaviors at SUNY Albany, notes, “Research on ‘food neophobia’—the reluctance to try new foods—shows that it is related to certain personality traits, including sensation seeking, anxiety, and neuroticism. Those high in food neophobia appear to associate many avoided foods with a sense of disgust.”

 

The isolationist. These people eat all of one food before moving on to the next food, and so on around the plate. According to Phil Mutz, author of the LittleThings post, “You are a very detail-oriented person, and you are sure to always think things through thoroughly… You are a very careful person.”

 

Boghossian says, “This behavior conveys a task-oriented personality versus a multi-tasking individual. …Also, it conveys a disciplined and borderline stubborn tendency to complete one task before moving on to another.”

 

you are how you eat
Earlier this year, Tastessence  presented opinions on these and other eating habits. They discussed the personalities of people who adapt their eating speed to match the pace of companions, change eating pace based on schedule, experiment with food combinations, order without looking at the menu, take a long time to order, cut all their meat portion at one time, make noises while eating, ask questions about the menu, refuse to share food, and/or keep foods from touching each other. If any of these variations are of interest to you, look it up.
 
eating
In the meantime, I will turn to findings published in the journal Appetite. This is by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who maintain that personality informs eating habits. This was a serial survey study of nearly 1,000 participants (not college students). They researched what psychologists have put forward as the five basic dimensions of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

 

So, in a reversal of the above, here are the five personality types and what their eating habits are, according to who scored high on a personality dimension.

 

mediterranean diet
[Source: Cooking Light]
Openness: More likely to stick to a healthy, balanced diet, like the Mediterranean diet; not a huge red meat fan; more likely to have a plant-based diet, perhaps including fish; eats lots of fruits and vegetables.

 

Conscientiousness: Likely to seek information, control stress factors, and adopt behaviors with health benefits; less likely to eat meat; more likely to be a restrained eater; does not eat emotionally; prefers fruits and vegetables to sweets.

 

you are how you eat
Extraversion: Social, good at networking; engages in social eating, so more likely to respond to external food cues (like smell); eats more meat, sweet foods, savory foods, and sugar-sweetened drinks.
grocery store
Agreeableness: Less likely to consume meat, but otherwise no significant correlation between this personality dimension and most food choices.

 

comfort food
Neuroticism: Diet only when convenient, eat to cope with emotions; tend to eat “comfort foods,” not so many veggies, and fewer whole grains.

 

Bottom line for writers: Make more of your food scenes! Whether it’s your protagonist or another character, use their eating habits to establish and deepen the portrait of their characters.
ronald reagan
As the great communicator once said, “You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by the way he eats jellybeans.”

Secrets: A Writer’s Dear Friends

secrets writers dear friends
I’m a long time fan of the PostSecret Project.The photo above is one published secret that inspired me to write “Self-Portrait,” a short story published in The Griffin in 2012. In this story, a much-tattooed as well as pierced woman says something like, “People think I do this to get attention. I do it so I won’t be seen.”

secrets writers dear friends
If you don’t know about this project, check it out online. Basically, it started with Frank Warren working on an installation art project for which he dropped self-addressed, stamped postcards in public places, inviting people to anonymously share a secret. For example,

Over time, thousands of people responded, long after the original call went out. The result is five books of postcards with virtually no other text, plus the most recent one, which includes postcards (some from earlier publications) plus commentary on the meaning of the project for the author/editor, Frank Warren, and others.

secrets writers dear friends
I have all the books in hardcover and they are incredibly valuable. For one thing, virtually every secret could start a story. (See above.)

And several themes emerge. Many of the secrets deal with mental health and/or suicide.

secrets writers dear friends

This cover/title made me smile. Who else would have secrets? In any event, like the earlier books, the secrets varied widely by theme. A major theme is love, attraction and sex. People post about everything—not being interested in sex, adultery, masturbation, having been raped, fantasizing about rape, and sexual insecurity.

secrets writers dear friends

Secrets often have to do with faith (or lack thereof) and religion. Often these concerns overlap with others, such as being gay or lesbian—e.g., “I’m a lesbian and I wonder whether I can still go to heaven.”

secrets writers dear friends
Parent/child relationships are a major theme.  Of course, these often overlap with other themes.

The most recent book was copyrighted in 2014. Perhaps the project has run its course. As mentioned earlier, this one contains much more text and is about the project, beyond the publication of secrets themselves. (After writing this bit, I discovered that there is a PostSecret book published in 2008 that I don’t have. I just ordered it!)

secrets writers dear friends
Not surprisingly, yet another theme that emerges is the profound effect of childhood events.
 
Bottom line: These books of secrets are windows into human souls. Some secrets might seem trivial to the reader, some are humorous, some heart-wrenching, many surprising. A writer could only benefit from exposure to these  very human confessions.
 
secrets writers dear friends

Clichés—True But Tired!

Today’s blog is actually less a blog than a rant, a list of true but trite phrases that mark writing as unimaginative. So here goes.

bird hand
A bird in the hand
A piece of cake
Abject terror
Alcoholic haze
Angelic smile
Black as coal
Black as midnight
Black as sin
Bone chilling
Brothers in arms
cliches true tired
Cat-like
Catastrophic
Doe eyed
Drunken frenzy
Dumb as a stump
Easy as pie
Evil through and through
Eyes like saucers
Fighting tooth and nail
Guilty as sin
Hair raising
Heart pounding
heart pounding stopping
Heart stopping
Herd mentality
High as a kite
Honey tongued
Lion-hearted
Moaning and groaning
Need to know
Nubile young thing
Old as dirt
Paralyzed in fear
Pure as the driven snow
pure driven snow
Ran for his/her life
Rich as Croesus
Roaring like a lion
Rock hard
Scared stiff
Scared to death
Smoke and mirrors
Smooth as silk
Soft as butter
Soft as cotton
soft cotton
Strong as Atlas
Stood stock still
Sweet as sugar
The Midas touch
Tight as a tic
Tried and true
Walking on eggshells
Warm as toast
White as snow
Yelling like a banshee

Come up with better options. What are your pet clichés? Help your fellow writers by adding to the list!

When Writers Wait

when writers wait
Writers, like everyone else, can—and often do—use wait-time to read, check Facebook, etc. But writers have so many more options!

 

Things to do during any wait

 
when writers wait
Practice describing: Choose any one person and describe him/her in detail, and as vividly as possible. For the most benefit of this practice, try describing both stand-out characters and those who look as ordinary as possible.

 

when writers wait
Practice judging a book by its cover: Which is to say, consider another waiting person and, on the basis of what s/he is wearing, imagine socio-economic class, education, type of job, personality, and anything else that comes to mind.

 

Practice noticing non-verbals and extrapolating from them: If a man is fidgeting, repeatedly checking the time, etc., maybe his marriage is precarious, and he’s imagining confronting his wife, saying, “I swear! I was standing in the post office line the entire time!”
when writers wait
 
How are the waiters behaving? Is there generally patience, politeness, and/or acceptance? Grumbling, swearing, people leaving? What might contribute to the ambiance? Size of community? Geography? (E.g., Richmond vs. New York City.) Consider what would happen if someone behaved differently from the majority.

 

Practice disrupting the status quo: Do something unexpected, even if minor, and observe the responses around you. For example, sway from side to side, pat the top of your head, march in place, etc., and keep doing it. Don’t make eye contact—and don’t laugh!

 

Practice introspection: When stuck with a long wait—longer than expected—how are you feeling? Check your visceral reactions: breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, stomach. Are you relaxed, tense, bored, impatient, or something else? What are your inclinations—stay, leave, sigh audibly, complain loudly, try to jump the line, seek redress with someone who seems to be a gatekeeper, or something else? Why do you act on those inclinations—or not?

 

Things to do while waiting when noise isn’t an issue

when writers wait
Listen to ring tones: Try to identify them, or at least get the rhythm, and extrapolate from that their personality.

 

Practice eavesdropping—and spin a story from it: A woman says, “I noticed that your wife is wearing orthopedic boots.” Man says, “She has diabetes, and doesn’t have any toes on her left foot. She doesn’t have a big toe on her right foot. The boots are so she can try to balance.”  Listen to mobile phone conversations and proceed as above.

 

Incite responses: This is in line with disrupting the status quo. Say something outrageous! You can say it to someone else in line or you can pretend to have a mobile call and let others in the line “overhear” you saying something outrageous. For example, “I’ve had sex with thirteen men—and, no, I’m not promiscuous!”

 

Opportunities in specific places

when writers wait
Airports: Where is s/he going? Why? What’s in his/her carry-on? Traveling coach or first class? Why was s/he pulled aside for further security screening? Is this person traveling alone or not? Is it a family? Business colleagues? Lovers?

 

doctor waiting room
Doctor’s/dentist’s office: What’s his/her condition? Is it terminal? Does that bald person have cancer? Does that person have reason to be nervous or is it just “white coat syndrome”? If the former, what reasons? If the latter, what is the origin?

 

grocery store cart
Grocery store: Check out the carts around you. Is this person shopping for one or a family? Is this a health-food nut or a snack food junkie? Omnivore or vegan? What does it say if the other shopper brought bags, asks for paper, or goes plastic?

 

waiting in line
BOTTOM LINE: Use your waits to build your writing arsenal!

Writing Roundup: Toxic Relationships

writing roundup toxic relationships

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

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

How Not to Cry

how not cry

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

 

It turns out, there’s advice for that.

 

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

 

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

Writing Roundup: Psychology for Writers

writing roundup psychology writers

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

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

Writers on Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing 101: Psychology of Uncertainty

psychology uncertainty

Better the devil you know. . .

. . .than the devil you don’t.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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