Horror Week is Here

horror week here
Celebrate it on Goodreads! Here you will find their list of the 50 most popular horror books on Goodreads, “From Mary Shelley to Stephen King.”  You can also read the Ghastly Horror Subgenres (sic), Book-to-Scream Adaptations, 13 True Tales of Terror, and—just for fun—The Nightmare Generator. My worst nightmare is supposed to be an incompetent vampire in the nursery. For my husband, it’s supposed to be a paranoid cannibal in the attic. FIND YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!
complete works edgar allan poe
Edgar Allan Poe is only one proof that well-written horror is well-written literature. It’s timeless. And every set of tips on how to write horror includes the observation that good writing, and all the elements thereof, are the foundation with horror being an add-on. “Horror” means an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.

 

horror week here
Now Novel is a good place to start if you are thinking of dipping your toe into this genre. According to this blog, the 5 common elements of the best horror stories are these:

 

  • They explore malevolent or wicked characters, deeds, or phenomena.
  • They arouse feelings of fear, shock, or disgust as well as the sense of the uncanny.
  • They are intense.
  • They contain scary and/or shocking and scintillating plot twists and story reveals.
  • They immerse readers in the macabre.

 

The blog then goes on to discuss six tips:
  1. How to write horror using a strong, pervasive tone.
  2. The importance of reading widely in your genre.
  3. Giving wicked characters credible motives
  4. Using the core elements of tragedy
  5. Writing scary novels by tapping into common human fears.
  6. The difference between terror and horror.

 

horror week here
If you want even more advice, you can find it at The Ramble. According to Chuck Wendig, horror is best when it’s about tragedy. It contains subversion, admonition, and fear of the unknown. Horror works on our minds, our hearts, and our gut. It can be gross, but that isn’t necessary. What is necessary is for characters you love to make choices you hate. “SEX AND DEATH ALSO PLAY WELL TOGETHER.” You should never tell readers they should be scared. He writes much more than this, of course.

 

horror week here
In my opinion, one of the best sites is Bustle. It includes comments from ten authors, including Stephen King, who discusses gross-out, horror, and terror.

 

horror week here
Advice from others includes:

 

  • Shirley Jackson: Use your own fear.
  • R.I. Stine: Get inside your narrator’s head.
  • Tananarive Due: Don’t worry about being “legitimate.”
  • Ray Bradbury: Take your nonsense seriously.
  • Anne Rice: Go where the pain is.
  • Clive Barker: The scariest thing is feeling out of control.
  • Linda Addison: Just start writing and fix it later.
  • Neil Gaiman: Tell your own story.
  • Helen Oyeyemi: Keep it real (kind of).
horror week here
And the advice goes on. Bottom line: This is the week to read and/or write a little horror!
 
horror week here
goodreads horror week

Is the Quality of Writing Declining? And if So, Why?

mahjong
I recently played mah jong with other women of a certain age who were lamenting the quality of writing today, especially among their grandchildren. The opinion at the table was unanimous. But upon reflection (even after I noticed the poor writing in some recent novels I read), I wondered whether that is true. I searched online and here are the first several articles I found.
quality writing declining
According to Goldstein, “Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th grades lack proficiency in writing… And 40% of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level composition class…”

 

Goldstein says that the root of the problem is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves. According to a 2016 study of teachers across the country in grades three through eight, fewer than half had a college class that devoted significant time to the teaching of writing and fewer than a third had taken a class solely devoted to how children learn to write. The article then goes on to discuss various approaches to teaching writing.

 

In spite of the shortage of high-quality research on the teaching of writing, Goldstein cites a few concrete strategies that help.

 

  1. Children need to learn how to transcribe both by hand and through typing on a computer.
  2. Children need to practice writing great sentences before writing paragraphs.
  3. They need clear feedback on their writing.
  4. Students need a synthesis of freewriting without a focus on transcription or punctuation AND grammar instruction.
quality writing declining
Aalai says she has seen a decline in writing ability even over the last ten years, declines in critical thinking, proper syntax, spelling, grammar, even proper structure like paragraph indentation and how to cite sources. And she asks, “In the digital world where language is reduced down to 120 characters or less, is some essential part of ourselves that needs to be cultivated… also being lost in the shuffle?”

 

quality writing declining
Morrison’s blog post is very thorough. She presents facts on the writing skill gap, as well as “interesting data from The Writing Lives of College Students,” a list of strategies instructors might consider to develop students’ writing skills. “What is surprising is that students view sending text messages as a writing form and consider it to be the most valuable form of writing over all others.” There are also several enlightening responses to her blog.
quality writing declining
Gaille’s blog offers the following reasons for the decline in writing skills.

 

  1. Social Media Displacement of Reading. The basic issue is that students engage in social media rather than serious reading as a leisure activity.
  2. Digital Brains. Cites cognitive neuroscientists’ conclusions that touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text accounts for students’ difficulties with reading the classics.
  3. College is Less Rigorous. (He cites research.)
  4. Writing Skills Are No Longer Graded. I.e., “[c]ontent alone matters, not how well the student expressed it.”
  5. Text Slang. This includes shortcuts, alternative words, or symbols to convey thoughts in an electronic document.
quality writing declining
Ingraham cites data to the effect that in 2015 the percentage of American adults who read literature (novels, short stories, poetry, or plays) fell to at least a three-decade low. The data exclude reading for school or work, so I’d classify this as reading literature for pleasure. Only 43% read at least one work of literature in the previous year, compared to 57% in 1982.

 

Who reads?

 

  • 50% of women, 36% of men
  • 50% of whites, 29% of African-Americans, 27% of Hispanics
  • 68% of people with a graduate degree, 59% with a bachelor’s degree, 30% with a high school education

 

Across the board, there have been drops in literary reading among all ages, races, and educational levels.

 

Does it matter if people are reading fewer works of literature? Yes! “A number of recent studies have demonstrated that fiction—particularly literary fiction—seems to boost the quality of empathy in the people who read it, their ability to see the world from another person’s eyes.” And the world needs more empathy than ever!

 

quality writing declining
This post starts with six quotes about the deterioration of language, then goes on to note that these quotes come from 1785 through 1978! According to Harvey A. Daniels, Famous Last Words: The American Language Crisis Reconsidered, “The earliest language ‘crisis’… that I have been able to discover occurred in ancient Sumeria… It seems that among the first of the clay tablets discovered and deciphered by modern scholars was one which recorded the agonized complaints of a Sumerian teacher about the sudden drop-off in students’ writing ability.”

 

According to this article, Daniels concludes the following:

 

  • our language cannot “die” as long as people speak it
  • language change is a healthy and inevitable process
  • all human languages are rule governed, ordered, and logical
  • variations between different groups of speakers are normal and predictable
  • all speakers employ a variety of speech forms and styles in response to changing social settings
  • most of our attitudes about language are based upon social rather than linguistic judgment
To paraphrase Gaille’s last paragraph: Just as good writing withstood the distractions of dance crazes, automobiling, and magazines, it also will survive social media.

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!

Writing Roundup: Psychology for Writers

writing roundup psychology writers

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

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

Weather for Writers

weather writers
Recently I—along with my plants—have been suffering from the heat. They wilt and wither. I feel lethargic and grumpy. I’m not alone in this. From back in the day when I taught psychology, I’m well aware that weather affects mood and behavior. Indeed, hot summer months are associated with lower mood, and humidity tends to make people more tired and irritable.

 

And it occurs to me, writers might like to know the effects of weather that have been scientifically studied.
 
weather writers
 
SUNSHINE
 
Perhaps one of the best known effects is that people like sunshine—but only if you are able to get out in it. Otherwise, moods likely plummet for people stuck indoors.

 

Pleasant spring weather is associated with higher mood, better memory, and other good cognitive functions.

 

Drivers are more likely to pick up hitchhikers on sunny days than on cloudy days.

 

On sunny days people are more likely to help each other.

 

And Minnesotans tip more generously in restaurants when it’s sunny.

 

College applicants’ non-academic attributes are weighted more heavily on sunny days.

 

On sunny days, a woman is likely to give her phone number to an attractive stranger 22% of the time (compared to 14% of the time on cloudy days).

 

People spend more money when it’s sunny.

 

Being outside during pleasant weather can improve memory and boost creativity.

 

CLOUDS AND RAIN
On the good side, people recall up to seven times more objects when quizzed on cloudy days compared to sunny ones.

 

College applicants’ academic attributes are weighted more heavily on cloudy days. I love the title of this study: Clouds Make Nerds Look Good.

 

On the bad side, as noted above, hitchhikers fare worse on cloudy days.

 

On rainy days, people feel less satisfied with their lives.

 

Changes in barometric pressure can affect mood and cause headaches.

 

Rain can cause you to eat more, especially carbs.

 

Rain can cause pain. Because of the reduction in atmospheric pressure there is an increase in stiffness and a reduction in mobility. Yes, Granny’s knees predicting the weather is supported by science.

 

Some studies have found a relationship between low barometric pressure and suicide.

 

thermometer weather writers
TEMPERATURE
 
The ideal temperature for helping is 68 degrees F. The more the temperature goes above or below that, the lower the rates of helping.

 

Crime rates rise with temperature. During the summer, rates for serious violent crimes, household burglary, and household property damage are significantly higher.

 

Rates of aggression—everything from murders and riots to horn-honking—are higher in hotter years, months, days, and times of day.

 

Baseball pitchers are more likely to hit batters on hot days.

 

Journalists tend to use more negative words on hotter days.

 

Cold temperatures can lead to physical lethargy (much like too much heat).

 

weather writers
WINTER
Lack of sufficient sunshine in winter causes some people to become depressed, a syndrome known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It can be treated with light therapy. SAD is sometimes referred to as winter depression. It typically affects people from October through April.

 

Seasonal depression may be mediated by loss of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin). People suffering anxiety and depression are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency, and seniors with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more likely to be depressed than those with normal levels.

 

Cold temperatures: see above.

 

weather writers
The effects of weather on mood are a combination of biological, psychological, and social. If you need to know why weather is causing your characters to act in specific ways, you can delve into that online!

 

weather writers

Weird is Wonderful

different drummer vivian lawry
Perhaps you already know that I enjoy the odd, unusual, bizarre, and humorous. You surely know that if you’ve read Different Drummer! But it goes beyond my writing. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of weird stuff!

 

weird is wonderful
One really good overview of weird is this book by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, first published in 2004. In it, you can read about The Mutter Museum, part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which is filled with medical oddities. Such exhibits as outdated medical tools (e.g., a brain slicer), a wall of wax reproductions of eye injuries, and actual skeletons abound.

 

Open the book at random and you can read about The Paper House in Massachusetts, built in the 1920s, or The Goat Man of Prince George’s County.  The book is organized by topic, so whatever sort of weird phenomenon fits your story line, you can find several examples here.
weird is wonderful
The main drawback to this collection of weird is that if you want weird-by-location, that info is hard to come by. The index is alphabetical by name with the state location in parentheses, but there are no listings by state, per se. But not to worry! There are dozens of books out there to fill the geographical gap.

 

weird is wonderful
I have the books about the three places where I’ve lived most of my life, but there are tons more out there. In this particular series (in no particular order): Louisiana, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey (2 volumes), Kentucky, Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana, the Carolinas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Washington, Illinois, Oregon, and New England, plus Hollywood, Las Vegas, and England.

 

weird is wonderful
Based on the three I own, I believe all are organized in the same way, so here again, it’s difficult to narrow the geographic location based on the index. Although there are a ton of books out there containing esoteric information, most of these are organized by topic, also. If you go to Amazon you will find whole sets of “strange but true” and “weird but true” books in which the book is devoted to a particular topic, such as sports, animals, the human body, history, etc.

 

But persevere! If geography is what you want, it’s out there.

 

weird is wonderful
These two books by Neil Zurcher and Sharon Cavileer are organized by geographic areas within Ohio and Virginia, respectively. I’m sure there are other states as well.

 

If you’re at all inclined to write and/or read about the offbeat, there’s a book for you!

 

weird is wonderful

Writing 101: Psychology of Uncertainty

psychology uncertainty

Better the devil you know. . .

. . .than the devil you don’t.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Sex: When It’s Good, It’s Very Very Good; But When It’s Bad…

Warning: This blog talks about the incidence, demographics, and aftermath of sexual assault and rape, with comments addressed to writers.

 

sex good good bad
 
Yes, the statistics are appalling. Depending on the study you read, 20-25% of women are raped by the time they turn 44 (as compared to 8% of men). And depending on the questions asked, many behaviors that could be considered sexual assault or rape aren’t included. For example, some studies define rape of women as forced vaginal sex, whereas men are asked whether they‘d been coerced to have vaginal sex with a woman, or anal or oral sex with another man. Countries at war experience higher incidence of rape than countries at peace.

 

For writers, such statistics are a potential indicator of the readers who might identify with a particular scenario. And here again, writers need to know the facts in order to make judicious decisions about going with or against the norms.

 

The less higher education you have, the more likely you are to be raped.This is true for both women and men.

 

Native American women and women in Alaska are more likely to be raped than other women.

 

People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault.

 

People ages 12-34 are at greatest risk for rape and sexual assault.

 

Prostitutes can be raped.

 

Nearly half of all rape victims, male and female, are raped by acquaintances. Of these, about half are intimate partners.

 

55% of rapes and sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home, and 12% occur at or near the home of a friend, relative, or acquaintance.

 

However, rapes and sexual assaults can occur in any setting, among all social strata and ethnic groups—i.e. anyone, anywhere.

 

Physical violence isn’t the most common type of force used to coerce women into sex. Approximately 44% of women said they were pressured into sex “by his words or actions, but without threats of harm.” Women reported being physically held down, pressured by the physical size or age of the rapist; threats to end the relationship or spread rumors about the victim; or insulting the victim’s appearance or sexuality. Although alcohol is often involved, verbal pressure was more important.

 

The Aftermath of Rape and Sexual Assault

 

54% or more of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. The Pentagon estimates that in the military, unreported assaults are 80-90%.

 

Nationwide, tens of thousands of rape kits in police evidence custody go untested.

 

People who have been sexually assaulted will not necessarily be hysterical or crying. Some may laugh, some may cry, some may show no emotion at all.

 

13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.

 

94% of women who are raped exhibit symptoms of PTSD over the following two weeks, and 30% report such symptoms 9 months later.

 

A raped woman is twice as likely to become pregnant compared to one having consensual sex.

 

sexual assault help
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Hanover Safe Place has a handout that outlines possible aftermath of sexual assault for victims that could be a valuable resource for writers wishing to depict realistic aftereffects.
sexual assault
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Last but not least, writers can benefit from tips on  how to support a survivor of sexual assault. Your character(s) can act in the ways advocated if among the good guys, or do the opposite if exacerbating the aftermath of the assault.

 

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: Consider the dark side of relationships as fertile ground for evoking stress, tension, and crises.

The Dark Side of Intimate Relationships

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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