Check a thesaurusfor words related to inertia. You’ll find plenty of alternatives, from attitude to Newtonian physics.
Indeed, the first dictionary definition (n) is a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.
If you ask a physicist (or any one in a beginning physics class) you get a less one-sided view:
In life in general, including one’s writing life, the remaining-at-rest side of inertia is typically a hurdle to overcome. In its simplest form, the longer one goes without writing (or scheduling a doctor’s appointment, sending condolences, making an apology, weeding the garden, etc.) the more effort it takes to make it happen.
Procrastination is a bear of not getting off the mark. Researchers suggest that it takes approximately 18 to 250 days to train yourself to a new habit. The first 21 days are said to be the most difficult, especially for a physical habit (regular exercise, quitting smoking, etc.).
This holds true for habits of thought, too. It’s a little more difficult to get precise numbers in this area, but studies show that you can train yourself to meditate, think positively, stop apologizing to everyone, even improve your memory. The brain, like the body, wants to remain at rest.
For humans, the continuing movement side of inertia, it seems to me, is both rarer and more beneficial. I think of it as being on a roll.
If you are on a roll, you may be having a run of good luck. (This expression, which alludes to success rolling dice, dates from the second half of the 1900s.) Enjoy it while it lasts, but the nature of luck is that it’s beyond one’s control.
Alternatively, being on a roll can mean enjoying a success that seems likely to continue. Continuing in the same habits will likely lead to a series of successes. This is true of everything from an athletic success to the first book in a popular series.
Being on a roll also means a period of intense activity. This building momentum side of inertia comes to the fore when meeting deadlines, whether work or social (like Halloween preparations).
The outside force part of the physicist’s law of inertia is where a writer’s free will comes into play. There are all sorts of things you can do to overcome inertia in your life. Identify and remove triggers for a behavior you want to change. Set reminders on a timer or a note taped to your wall.
Those outside forces can be the basis for a character’s motivation in your writing as well. Perhaps an overheard comment sparks a character’s curiosity to begin a massive research survey. Perhaps a health scare inspires a character to change jobs and move to the opposite side of the globe. Perhaps new of impending alien invasion encourages an entire planet to move all habitations below ground.
BOTTOM LINE: If you understand both sides of inertia, you can make it work for you!
In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8th), check for biases in your life, in your thought patterns, even in your writing. At its core, bias is often just mental inertia.
I’ve accepted that a Nobel Prize, a Pulitzer—even a New York Times bestseller—just isn’t in my future.
Fortunately, I am not writing to put food on the table; I write to feed my soul.
That said, here goes.
The Upside: There’s So Much Of It!
Good conversation: I’ve never met a boring writer. Some have boring spouses—or occasionally obnoxious ones—but writers themselves are consistently good company.
Because writers tend to turn up in the same places, over time we get to know each other, and often acquaintances turn into friends.
They’re interesting and varied, and generally we are like-minded.
Then, too, fellow writers are likely to listen actively when I talk about writing.
Writers value my short story strengths. I’ve published more than 60 short works in literary journals and anthologies. Writers celebrate these short story publications! They get what it means. Other friends, even family, are likely to offer a polite, “That’s nice,” or, “Congratulations,” without asking so much as the title of the work or the publication! For the general public, “writer” means novels, or other books.
Simultaneously, other writers commiserate with my struggles, setbacks, rejections, etc.
Writing boosts my emotional intelligence: motivation, empathy, self-regulation, self-awareness, and social skills.
I’m organized, think clearly, and process things efficiently and analytically. This includes being able to handle negative events/feelings. No, I can’t measure how much difference writing makes for me personally, but psychological research says that these things are true of writers overall.
In general, writing keeps my brain alive. Focusing only on gardening, cooking, TV, hobbies, etc., doesn’t challenge me to think, reason, or explore.
I’m a researcher by inclination and professional training, so I make sure the facts in my fiction are right. In the process, I’m always learning.
These are self-assessments. Such results would not guaranteed for others!
Staves off depression by spending time on something I believe is worth doing
Precludes boredom because the options are endless
Boosts self-esteem by getting positive responses from peers and journal editors
I’m very happy and content! Maybe I’m just lucky, but research indicates that being an author is one of the happiest careers in the U.S.
The Downside: There Isn’t Much For Me
Since I started writing, I’ve become a more critical reader. Now I notice that New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton gives nearly all her women characters ponytails and that her favorite adjective is “simple.” Prolific writer L. T. Ryan consistently uses “sat” when it should be “set.” Such things don’t keep me from enjoying these particular authors’ work, but I do notice.
I’m especially irritated by the language burps of “professionals”: newscasters, columnists, politicians… Oh, sigh.
My Writing Habits
I’m a writing class/workshop junkie! I’m perennially enrolled. Why?
Creative stimulation, taking me places I wouldn’t have gone otherwise
Structure, deadlines, and accountability make me actually produce
Appreciation for the work of others, well-published and/or fellow students
I’ve been in critique groups for years. Whereas classes and workshops are great for generating new ideas, they aren’t usually conducive to developing those ideas, or polishing them for submission.
I learn what’s working (or not)
I find out whether what is on the page is what I intended
I’ve heard horror stories about the destruction wrought by competitive writing groups. Fortunately, I’ve avoided those. The criticism is intended to make the work better, not to belittle me
I submit something at least every two months If I get more than six per year, great, but six is the minimum.
Although I do write brief diary entries daily, my creative writing is most, not all, days.
Reading fees of any sort turn me off. Therefore, contests do not draw me in. For one thing, there are almost always submission fees. Also, I’m content if my writing is “good enough” for publication. It doesn’t have to be “the best.”
I listen for fresh language. For example, I recently came across a FaceBook post that included “the I.Q. of a crayon.”
FYI, my writing time is the late hours of the night, wee hours of the morning. And my writing area is a shambles.
BOTTOM LINE: I’m convinced writing is good for me. I’ll keep on keeping on!
L. T. Ryan burst onto the publishing scene in 2012 with the first two books in the best selling Jack Noble series (now numbering 16). With his skills in marketing and technology, he was able to self-publish successfully through Amazon books. Ryan’s writing skills landed him spots on the best-seller lists for Amazon and USA Today.
The following year was even more productive. Ryan published nine more books in 2013, including five volumes in the Jack Noble series. Because he was able to control every step of the publication process, Ryan was able to ensure that all of his works are made available simultaneously in audiobook, eBook, and Kindle format as well as in print.
The Depth of Darkness is my focus here because it is a great example of good and (in my opinion) bad writing—and thus could serve as a writing lesson to us all!
RELAX: No spoiler alerts needed here. Indeed, I hope you will read L.T. Ryan’s works and let me know what you think.
“L.T.” Ryan has lived in various points in the Appalachians, including Georgia and Virginia, with his wife, three daughters, and one slightly psychologically unbalanced, but lovable dog. He enjoys writing fast paced suspense thrillers. When not staring out the window while pretending to write, he enjoys reading, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and spending time with the ladies in his life.
There’s a lot of it.
His plot here is complicated, with lots of threads that weave together in a believable pattern at the end. It revolves around two elementary school children kidnapped from the playground during recess.
His characters are interesting, well-drawn, and consistent, including the relatively minor ones (for example, Mitch Tanner’s mother).
The two children, a really smart white girl and a black boy who suffers from asthma are best friends, perhaps initially based on both being outcasts. This cross-racial friendship is taken for granted/not a focal point for anyone, which I like. In addition, they are caring and protective of each other.
He avoids the stereotypes of the clingy, dependent female.
By and large, Ryan has created realistic children (even though occasionally the kidnapped girl seems resourceful beyond eight years old).
The interpersonal relationships appeal to me.
I like the balance between Tanner (who tends to be hot-headed and impulsive) and his partner, Sam (who supports Tanner while also providing a voice of reason/practicality.
Tanner and his pre-school daughter have a close, loving relationship—which is fresher than such a relationship between a father and a young son.
The sex scenes are handled well. I like that the sex is left to the reader’s imagination rather than being explicit to the point of causing one to wonder, “Could two people really do that?”
Although the issues described below distracted me from the reading experience, I greatly enjoyed the book. In fact, I liked The Depth of Darkness so much that I read the entire Mitch Tanner series!
The specific one I noticed most was using “at” unnecessarily, as in, “Where are you at?” If it were only one character, it could be a character note. When multiple characters say it, it’s an author note.
The other thing that made me grimace was telling things implicit in the action. For example, when Tanner took his sunglasses off his head and dropped them in front of his eyes “to keep the sun out of his eyes.” Sunglasses blocking bright sunlight is assumed. A reason to don sunglasses only needs to be mentioned when it’s something else, like hiding the emotion that might be revealed.
Other examples would be unlocking the door and then opening it, or describing how he kicked the door open, then reversed the action to kick it shut again.
Mitch Tanner sweats—copiously and often. The reader gets many descriptions of how and with what he wipes the sweat from his brow. Also described often is the following relief of a blast of AC or cool air from the open refrigerator.
Tanner drinks beer and eats pizza so often one would think they are two of the basic food groups. So, okay. But everyone else seems to pick-up, order, make, or have pizza on hand, too. Why not cold chicken or leftover tuna salad sometimes?
Work calls in the night all seem to come at 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning.
I recommend L. T. Ryan, because of the “good” stuff mentioned above. Also, I’m a series junkie, and he has a lot of those out there. AND, I didn’t notice the “bad” stuff cited above in all his books (for example, the Rachel Hatch series).
In 2013, Ryan was a (relatively) inexperienced writer, and one would expect improvement with experience.
Bottom line: Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth reading, so keep at it.
People have speech patterns, habitual gestures, familiar facial expressions, and characteristic ways of walking. Writers also have writing habits–favorite words or expressions that often seem apt. Maybe you like voices that rumble like thunder. Perhaps you are partial to jettison for flummoxed. Take care that you don’t over-use these darlings. Once in any short story is sufficient, unless their repetition is part of the story. Think twice before repeating them even in a book-length manuscript.
Other words aren’t necessarily favorites, just so common – so universal – that they slip in unnoticed. Probably your readers won’t notice, either. But they are so insipid that they deaden your writing. I’m talking about words like smile, frown, scowl, laugh, sigh. I’m talking about faces that flush, eyes that fill with tears.
Make a list of words that you use a lot – that you suspect that you use too often. Use the edit function of your word processing program to find each instance of each of these words. Consider which can be replaced with more precise and/or more vivid alternatives.
To take an example familiar to most people reading this blog: if you have a child narrator/POV for telling the Biblical story of Noah’s ark, stop when the child is out of the story. Do not then add an authorial note about global warming, animal evolution, or anything else that is modern. If you have a mother narrating the loss of three children in a natural disaster, don’t add an authorial note after the mother’s death that tells how the one remaining daughter became a nun and devoted her life to working with children following natural disasters.
These examples are blatant, but beware of more subtle wrap-ups as well. If you have a wrap-up at all, as opposed to an ending, ask yourself whether it takes the reader out of the story itself, whether it adds anything relevant, whether you can do without it.
Keep a notebook/journal/folder – whatever suits your style – in which you record your especially vivid or disturbing subconscious ramblings. Record the dream as soon after the event as you reasonably can, and include as many details as you remember, however bizarre, disjointed, or impossible they may be. You can make use of these dream records in at least two ways.
The most obvious way to use these dream records is when you need your character to have a dream. You can either lift it in total or use it as a starting point. Much easier than creating a dream out of whole cloth.
Because dreams often contain odd juxtapositions, they also are useful when you are writing something that calls for a supernatural, mysterious, or merely unexpected series of events.
Once you are in the habit of collecting your dreams – and maybe the dreams told to you by family or friends – you may find yourself using them in surprising ways.
Uncomfortable words are perfectly correct and not obscene. Nevertheless, they often surprise – or even shock – the reader. Sometimes they make the reader uncomfortable. These latter words can simply be highly personal. My high school English teacher was bothered by the word “bother.” She said it made her think of dirty old men. One of my personal preferences is to use “it isn’t” rather than “it’s not,” the latter sounding too much like “snot”–which is an uncomfortable word for a lot of people.
Consider succulent, flaccid, penal, ovoid, horehound, hump, abreast, coldcock, excretion, floppy, fondle, globule, goiter, lipid, niggardly, onus, rectify, and more.
Choose uncomfortable words for effect. Use them sparingly.
Pay attention to the sounds around you – speech and non. Think of how to describe that bird call – or the rainfall, or the traffic, or the crowd at the game – really sounds, and write it down. But also listen to what people are saying. Pick up on strong phrases such as “plucking my last nerve” or anecdotes containing disturbing images, such as a man on a bus with a dead rabbit in a paper bag. Jot these things into your writing journal for later inspiration.
You probably have a vague recollection that sometime in the past – perhaps in high school – someone told you that when writing a newspaper article, you need to cover all five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. That is good advice in general, including fiction–and even memoir.
The Who covers both the character(s) and the Point of View.
What is generally what the POV character is striving for – anything from making the team to becoming the richest person in the world.
When can be as specific as April 19, 1945 or a vague as once upon a time…
Where is, of course, setting.
And Why is motivation – what is driving the character. Much depends on Why, and within the context of your story it must be both believable and sufficient to justify the act. If your character kills someone to secure a spot on the team, the stakes for making/not making the team must be very high indeed, and fully developed in the story.
Characters who are either too good or too evil are too flat! Settings – whether rooms, cars, or countrysides – that are unmitigated beauty are likely to be unbelievable. Pick and choose the good and the bad, especially for your protagonist.
Bottom line for writers: Good tips for good writing will never grow old!
Fear of being buried alive is called taphephobia. Also known as live burial, premature burial, and vivisepulture, it’s been around forever—and is with us still! Those buried alive often die of asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation, or hypothermia. If fresh air is available, the buried person can last days.
Fear of being buried alive reached a peak in 19th century England. More than 120 books in at least five languages were written about it, as well as methods to distinguish life from death. (See below.)
The Sullen in Level 5 are kept just below the waters of the River Styx, forever near drowning.
The Heretics in Level 6 are trapped in flaming tombs.
Murderers in Level 7 are covered by a river of boiling blood.
In Level 8 (where all types of fraud are punished)
Flatterers are encased in human excrement.
Simonists are buried head-first while flames burn their feet.
Fraudulent Counselors are encased in flames.
The Treacherous in Level 9 are buried in ice of varying levels depending on their sin.
Accidental or Unintentional Burial
Reports of being buried alive date back to the fourteenth century. In spite of hype and hysteria, as late as the 1890s patients have been documented as being declared dead and accidentally sent to a morgue or encased in a steel box, only to “come back to life” when the coffin is dropped, the grave is opened by grave robbers, or embalming or dissection has begun.
During centuries when embalming wasn’t common practice, coffins were mostly for the rich, and rapid burial was the norm especially during major pestilences such as cholera, bubonic plague, and smallpox. In these cases, rapid burial was an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.
Several medical conditions can contribute to the presumption of death: catalepsy, coma, and hypothermia.
How to Know When Someone Is Really Dead
Jan Bondeson, author of Buried Alive, identified methods of verifying death used by 18th and 19th century physicians. (Personal reaction: shudder!) The methods were any acts the physician thought would rouse the unconscious patient, virtually all imaginatively painful.
Soles of the feet sliced with razors
Needles jammed under toenails
Bugle fanfares and “hideous Shrieks and excessive Noises”
Red hot poke up the rectum
Application of nipple pincers
A bagpipe type invention to administer tobacco enemas
Boiling Spanish wax poured on patients’ foreheads and warm urine poured into the mouth
A crawling insect inserted into patient’s ear
A sharp pencil up the presumed cadaver’s nose
Tongue pulling (manual or mechanical) for at least three hours
The traditional Irish wake was (and is) an occasion for family and friends to celebrate the life of the deceased while watching the body for signs of movement.
Most agreed that the most reliable way to be sure someone was dead was to keep an eye on the body for a while. To that end, waiting at least 72 hours from apparent death to burial was mandated. In the mid-1800s, Munich had ten “waiting mortuaries” where bodies were stored awaiting putrefaction. Each body was rigged to bells to summon an attendant should the corpse come back to life.
We presume that modern science has surpassed this sort of mistake, defining death as brain death. Even so, earthquakes and other natural disasters often result in people being accidentally buried alive.
But Wait: Sometimes People Are Buried Alive on Purpose!
Sometimes live burial is a method of execution. Documented cases exist for China, German tribes, Persia, Rome, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Russia, Netherlands, Ukraine, and Brazil.
When death was not enough, often a spike was driven through the body of the person executed by live burial, perhaps as a way to prevent the person from becoming an avenging, undead Wiedergänger.
In some parts of the world, live burial is still practiced as a means of execution. Often, the victim is buried upright with only their head above ground. In these cases, death is very slow and painful, often the result of dehydration or wounds caused by animal scavengers.
And sometimes live burials are another horrific act of war.
There are accounts of Khmer Rouge using live burials in the Killing Fields.
Live burial was a form of execution during Mao Zedong’s regime, particularly during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution..
Very rarelypeople willingly arrange to be buried alive, for any number of reasons. Sometimes it is to demonstrate their ability to survive it. The Indian government has made voluntary live burials illegal because the people who try it so often die. In 2010, a Russian man was buried to try to overcome his fear of death, but was crushed to death by the weight of the earth over him.
There are even performances in which people have an opportunity to be buried alive for fifteen or twenty minutes. As a publicity stunt for the opening of the 2010 film Buried, a lottery was held for a few fans to have a very unique viewing experience. Four winners were blindfolded, driven to the middle of nowhere, and buried alive in special coffins equips with screens on which they could watch the film. (A 2003 episode of “Mythbusters” demonstrated that, even if a person buried alive was able to break out of a coffin, they would be crushed or asphyxiated by the resulting dirt fall.)
Irish barman Mick Meaney remained buried under Kilburne Street in London for 61 days in 1968, mostly to win a bet. Tubes to the surface allowed air and food to reach him in his temporary, underground prison.
Bottom line for writers: consider a character being buried alive—or being threatened with it—as a way to up the tension.
Live burial isn’t the only attention-worthy aspect of dead bodies. For more, check out books such as these.
Satan, also known as the Devil, is an entity in the Abrahamic religions that seduces humans into sin or falsehood. In Christianity and Islam, he is usually seen as either a fallen angel or a jinn who used to possess great piety and beauty but rebelled against God.
In Judaism, Satan is typically regarded as a metaphor for the yetzer hara, the evil inclination (or as an agent subservient to God).
The Christian figure of Satan is viewed as a horned, red, demonic human figure with a pointy tail and sometimes hooves. Sinners are sent to the domain of Satan after death—to hell, an underground world of fire and sadistic demons under Satan’s command.
Other versions of Satan appear as a Zoroastrian Devil and Jewish Kabbalism, but the name “Satan” first appeared in the Book of Numbers in the Bible, used as a term describing defiance. In the Book of Job, Satan is an accusing angel. In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (written in the first century B.C.) Satan is a member of the Watchers, a group of fallen angels.
Early on, satan was simply a word meaning adversary. In the Book of Samuel, David is depicted as the satan of the Philistines. In the Book of Numbers, it is used as a verb, when God sent an angel to satan (oppose) Balaam.
In the New Testament, Satan is established as a nemesis of Jesus Christ and the final book of the Bible, Revelations, he is the ultimate evil.
The words “Satanism” and “Satanist” appeared in English and French during the 1500s, when the words were used by Christian groups to attack other, rival Christian groups. For example, a Roman Catholic tract in 1565 condemned the “heresies, blasphemies, and sathanismes [sic]” of Protestants. Anyone who didn’t follow one’s own “pure” Christian views was condemned.
Gradually, it morphed into meaning anyone leading an immoral lifestyle. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that it was applied to those suspected of consciously and deliberately venerating Satan.
According to online sources, during the early modern period, fear of Satanists took the form of witch trials (1400s to 1700s, which doesn’t seem all that modern to me, but hey, witch hysterias, and the inquisition). Across both Protestant and Catholic regions, witch trials emerged. Between 30,000 and 50,000 people were executed as Satanic witches.
Skipping lightly past offshoots and variations, prior to the 20th Century, Satanism did not exist as a real, organized religion. Satanism is a modern, largely non-theistic religion based on literary, artistic, and philosophical interpretations of the central figure of evil. It wasn’t until April 30, 1966 that the Church of Satan was formalized.
Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible was published in 1969. His teachings promoted indulgence, vital existence, undefiled wisdom, kindness to those who deserve it, responsibility to the responsible, and an eye for an eye code of ethics. In his view, a Satanist is carnal, physical and pragmatic, enjoying a physical existence, propagating a naturalistic worldview that seems human as animals dieting in an amoral universe. The ideal Satanist should be individualistic and noon-conformist. He encouraged an individual’s pride, self-respect, and self-realization by satisfying the ego’s desires. Self-indulgence is a good thing. He said hate and aggression are necessary and advantageous for survival. Bottom line: he praised the seven deadly sins as virtues.
By the 1970s, groups were splintering off to form alternative churches. In 1978, the U.S. Army included the faith in its manual for chaplains, “Religious Requirements and Practices.”
The most successful of the church divisions is The Satanic Temple, opened in Houston in 2015. The Temple calls itself a non-theistic religion embracing the Devil as a symbolic form of rebellion in the tradition of Milton. It devotes itself to political action focused on the separation of church and state, religious equality, and reproductive rights.
It was recognized as a religion of the U.S. government in 2016, receiving tax-exempt status.
Note: Practitioners of LeVey’s version of Satanism do not believe that Satan literally exists and do not worship him. For them, Satan is an archetype for adversary, who represents pride, carnality, and enlightenment. The Devil is a symbol of defiance against the Abrahamic faiths that “suppress humanity’s natural instincts.”
However, Theistic Satanism (Spiritual Satanism or Devi worship) holds the primary belief that Satan is an actual deity to revere and worship. They believe in magic and ritual, often focusing solely on devotion.
Bottom line for writers: Satanism isn’t a unitary thing. If Satanism figures into your plot or character characteristics, do your homework, particularly for any historical setting.
A friend recently told me that the horror villains we fear are subconscious stand-ins for things we’re afraid of in real life. Vampires stand for a fear of change; zombies for a fear of crowds or strangers. Fear of clowns is a sign you’re a normal, well-adjusted, perfectly rational person.
Inquiring minds want to know! I started with vampires—and I never got past vampires!
When I went online to learn what it means if we fear vampires, what popped up was an article by Ralph Blumenthal, “A Fear of Vampires Can Mask a Fear of Something Much Worse.” He was writing in 2002 about villagers in Malawi believing that the government was colluding with vampires to collect human blood in exchange for food.
At the time, Malawi was in the grip of starvation, a severe AIDS epidemic, and political upheaval. He cited Nina Auerbach, author of Our Vampires, Ourselves, to the effect that stories of the undead embody power ”and our fears of power.”
In nearly every culture in the world, there is a legend of some variation of vampire-like creatures—the dead who reanimate and come back to feed on the living. And there is general agreement that the roots of vampire legends are in the misunderstanding of how bodies decompose and of how certain diseases spread.
In an October 26, 2016 article in National Geographic titled The Bloody Truth About Vampires, Becky Little wrote, “As a corpse’s skin shrinks, its teeth and fingernails can appear to have grown longer. And as internal organs break down, a dark ‘purge fluid’ can leak out of the nose and mouth. People unfamiliar with this process would interpret this fluid to be blood and suspect that the corpse had been drinking it from the living.”
Modern images of vampires are pretty stereotyped: fangs that bite the necks of victims; drinking human blood; can’t see themselves in mirrors; can be warded off with garlic, killed with a stake (or silver nail) through the heart; are aristocrats who live in castles and may be sexy. This image was popularized by Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 film adaptation of the Broadway show of the same name. Unlike Bram Stoker’s description of the monster in the 1897 novel Dracula as a repulsive old man with huge eyebrows and bat-like ears, Lugosi showed audiences a mysteriously elegant gentleman in evening dress.
In European folklore, vampires typically wore shrouds, and were often described as bloated, with a ruddy or dark countenance. Specific descriptions varied among regions: sometimes male, sometimes female, might have long fingernails, a stubby beard, the mouth and left eye open, a permanently hateful stare, red eyes, no eyes, etc. Fangs were not always a prominent feature, and blood was generally sucked from bites on the chest near the heart rather than the throat.
But perhaps the most important theme of Barber’s book is that, lacking a scientific background in physiology, pathology, or immunization, the common response of ancient societies was to blame death and disease on the dead. To that end, the interpretations they came up with—while wrong from today’s perspective—nevertheless were usually coherent, covered all the data, and provided the rationale for some common practices that seemed to be otherwise inexplicable.
Should you ever be pursued by a vampire, fling a handful of rice, millet, or other small grain in its path. The vampire will be compelled to stop to count every grain, giving you time to escape. I found no information on how vampires came to be associated with arithmomania, but it endures: remember The Count von Count on Sesame Street?
At this point, I realize that getting into methods of identifying vampires, protecting against vampires, ways to destroy vampires, and cross-cultural variations on vampirism is way beyond the scope of this blog. Instead, I refer you to books such as this:
Seeing a vampire in your dream symbolizes an aspect of your personality that is parasitic or selfishly feeds off others.
Alternatively, a vampire may reflect feelings about people you believe want to pull you down to their level or convert you to thinking negatively in a way similar to theirs.
To dream of being a vampire represents a selfish need to feed off others.
To dream of being bitten by a vampire represents feelings about other people using you or feeding off you and being unable to stop it.
Vampires may be a sign of dependence, problems with addiction, social pressure, or ambivalence.
A dream vampire might be telling you that you need to start being more independent and relying less on others resources or accomplishments.
To dream of killing vampires represents overcoming dependence on others.
Repeated dreams of vampires hovering over your shoulder and correcting your spelling or suggesting topics for research and expansion is almost certainly a sign that you are writing a blog entry about vampires.
Bottom line for writers:consider whether a vampire is a fit metaphor for your character.
The March 13, 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese led to an entirely new field of research in psychology. Genovese was attacked while walking home from work at 3:20 a.m. in Queens, New York. She was stabbed, sexually assaulted, and murdered over a period of 30 minutes. Subsequent reports said 38 witnesses watched the attack from nearby apartments but neither intervened nor even called the police until the attacker fled. Kitty Genovese died on the way to a hospital.
Two psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, conducted extensive research to examine and try to explain such apparently callous indifference to the suffering of another human being. Over time, these and other researchers teased out several factors that will affect the likelihood of bystander intervention.
Diffusion of responsibility is one of the earliest and most powerful variables identified: the more people who are bystanding, the less likely it is that anyone will intervene. Responsibility is diffused among all.
Contrarily, Philpot et al. just this year published the results examining real-life video recordings from three countries and found that someone intervened in over 90% of cases. Even if the likelihood of any one person responding was infrequent, someone in the crowd intervened.
Emergency vs. non-emergency situations. The following conditions are relevant.
Notice that something is going on.
interpret the situation as an emergency. Others not reacting provides social influence against acting,
Feel responsible: does the victim deserve help, is the bystander competent, what is the bystander’s relationship to victim.
The form of assistance needed (e.g., medical emergency, harassment protection, etc.).
Implement the action choice.
Ambiguity and consequences: ambiguous situations take up to five times as long to respond to, and even then bystanders will often not intervene until after assessing their own safety.
Cohesiveness and group membership: the more cohesive a group, the more likely it is that the norm of social responsibility will lead to helping. Bigger cohesive groups are quickest to react.
Cultural differences affect intervention—both broad/national culture and subculture.
Digital interference is a relatively new phenomenon. With the spread of cell phones and social media, bystanders at a scene are becoming more likely to try to film the incident (whether as “armchair activism” or simply to attract online attention) than they are to intervene or call for help. This has the doubled impact of overloading nearby cell towers so that actual phone calls to emergency services are not connected.
Bystander apathy can be counteracted by raising awareness of bystander effects ad consciously taking steps to overcome it and help; and victims can overcome the diffusion of responsibility in groups by singling out a single member and asking for help from that one person.
Bottom line for writers: make your readers understand why your character does or does not intervene!
Altruism: an individual performing an action that is at a cost to him/herself (e.g., time, effort, pleasure, quality of life, probability of survival or reproduction) that benefits – either directly or indirectly – another individual or group, without the expectation of reciprocity or compensation for that action.
Helping behavior may or may not be altruistic. There are many factors affecting the urge to help, including the following.
1) Kin selection: both animals and humans are more helpful toward close kin that to distant kin or non-kin. Perception of kinship is affected by whether the other looks like the giver, shares a family name (especially if it’s an unusual name), has a familiar scent (in animal groups), etc. Think of kin as the in-group.
2) Vested interests: helping friends, allies, and similar social in-groups (besides avoiding vicarious suffering to the individual) may eventually benefit the altruist. Extreme self-sacrifice may be adaptive if a hostile outgroup threatens to kill the entire group. During the Allied campaign in Italy in the World War II, First Lieutenant John Robert Fox ordered an artillery strike on his position in Sommocolinia, sacrificing his own life to take out invading German forces and allow US troops to retreat safely. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
3) Reciprocal altruism: helping others is more likely if there is a chance that they can and will reciprocate. Therefore, people are more helpful it is likely that they will interact again in the future. If a person sees others being non-cooperative, they are less likely to be helpful. If someone helps first, the recipient of the help is more likely to help in return. Think charities that give small gifts of stickers, notepads, or holiday cards when asking for a contribution.
4) People are more likely to cooperate on a task if they can communicate first.
5) Groups of people cooperate more if they perceive a threat from another group. In the insect world, this frequently happens when a colony or hive finds safety in numbers while moving larvae, a queen, or the entire group. Ants, bees, termites, etc., form large masses and structures to complete the move.
6) People will help more when they know that their helping will be communicated to people they will interact with later, is publicly announced, is discussed, or is simply observed by someone else.
7) Selective investment theory proposes that close social bonds, and associated emotional, cognitive, and neurohormonal mechanisms evolved in order to facilitate long-term, high-cost altruism benefiting those depending on another for group survival and reproductive success. Humans, like many other animals, care for members of the species who cannot care for themselves, ultimately benefiting the species as a whole.
8) Microbiologists are studying whether some strains of microbes might influence the hosts to perform altruistic behaviors that are not immediately obvious as beneficial to the host. There is a possibility, currently being researched, that the bacteria in a person’s gut could affect their behavior and that changes in the bacterial makeup (such as from taking antibiotics) might result in a change in personality.
Psychology has defined psychological altruism as “a motivational state with the goal of increasing another’s welfare. Some definitions specify a lack of external rewards for altruistic behaviors. Even when not immediately obvious, altruism is often rewarded in various ways (see above). When there is no tangible reward, feeling good about oneself can be rewarding. Regardless of whether an act is “true” altruism, there are many psychological studies that document the conditions under which people are more likely to help.
Helping is more likely when the recipient is clearly in need.
Helping is more likely when the giver feels personal responsibility for reducing the other person’s distress.
A person with a high level of empathic concern is likely to help regardless of how many bystanders are around.
The up-side of helping: volunteerism is strongly related to current and future health and well-being.
Older adults who volunteered were higher in life satisfaction and will to live, and lower on measures of depression, anxiety, somatization.
A 30-year study of the physical health of mothers found that 52% of those who did not volunteer experienced a major illness, compared to 36% of those who did.
A 4-year study of people 55 and older found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations had a 63% lower likelihood of dying. Controlling for prior health status indicated that volunteerism accounted for a 44%reduction in mortality.
Research supports the idea that altruistic acts bring out happiness but it also works in the opposite direction: happier people are also kinder.
When too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing:
Although positive effects of helping were still significant, one study of volunteers found that feeling overwhelmed by others’ demands had an even stronger negative effect on mental health.
While generous acts make people feel good about themselves, it is also important for recipients of assistance to appreciate—and show that their appreciation—for kindness and help.
Research indicates that a conscious focus on gratitude led to reductions in negative affect and increases in optimistic appraisals, positive affect, offering emotional support, sleep quality, and well-being for the grateful person.
Volunteer burn-out is especially common in high-stress positions, such as volunteer firefighters and medical providers at refugee camps.
Altruism is an important moral value for virtually all of the world’s religions:
Jews practice tzedakah, righteous behavior, providing support to make the world a more just place
Daya (compassion) and Daan (chairty) are two of the fundamental teachings of Hinduism
As part of aparigraha (non-attachment), Jains give away possessions and harm no living creature
Many Christian churches still practice tithing, donating 10% of all earnings
One of the five primary tenets of Islam is zakat, giving to charity
Sikhs practice seva, which is unselfish and unbiased aid to all
In Friday’s blog, I outlined the factors that influence/promote liking:
Similarity (the more similar two people are on a number of dimensions, the more their liking endures)
Relationships that offer more rewards than costs
Surprise, surprise: these are the underpinnings of love as well! And although liking and loving share roots, people seldom confuse the two. The difference is largely a matter of degree: love is more intense than like. It’s more personal and more important to one’s well-being.
Love comes in many guises.
Love for dearest friends
Love for family, one’s children in particular
We use the word loosely and often. We love chocolate, theater, gardening—whatever we feel strongly about. But no one seriously confuses these feelings with love.
Although beloved friends and family are direct extensions of liking, romantic love is in a category largely by itself.
A key ingredient of romantic love is arousal. According to Psychologist Elaine Hatfield (1988, and not contradicted since), emotions have two ingredients: physical arousal plus cognitive appraisal. Arousal from any source can enhance any emotion, depending on how we interpret the cause of the arousal.
Note for writers: at least part of the arousal from any source (fright, heavy duty workout, viewing erotica, listening to humorous or repulsive readings) will be attributed to a suitable object of affection.
Intense romantic love per se doesn’t last. Romantic love reaches a fever pitch of obsession—infatuation, if you will—early on. This is the period of constant calls, texts, letters (whatever fits the time period), exchanging love poems, giving personally meaningful gifts, etc.. For one thing, it gets exhausting! But a case can be made that continued total focus on one’s partner/mate bodes ill for the well-being of any children they might have.
Men focus more on physical attractiveness. Although interested in appearance, women generally value their potential mate’s status/ financial security over physical beauty. These findings hold cross-culturally and even when someone is seeking a same-sex partner.
Age also matters: men value youth more than women do.
Men are much more willing to engage in casual sex than women are, and their standards for sex partners are lower.
Gender differences in mate preferences may be accounted for by social norms and expectations. The different socio-economic status of women and the level of gender equality within a society is also a factor in what attributes are prioritized when seeking a mate.
I’ll start with the Mating Gradient. As long ago as the mid-1950s, Margaret Mead wrote about the propensity for couples in which the men were older, taller, smarter, better educated, higher earning, and of higher socio-economic status than the women. Decades later, I conducted an experiment in which I had men and women respond to a hypothetical love relationship with either the traditional pattern (as outlined) or the opposite.
As expected, people in the traditional hypothetical relationships were comfortable and positive.
When men responded to a loved one who was two years older, two inches taller, better educated, higher earning, more intelligent, and higher socio-economic status, they were surprisingly okay with it! A typical response was, “If a babe like that loves me, I must be pretty hot stuff!”
When women responded to a loved one who was lesser on all these dimensions, they were generally negative. A typical response was, “I couldn’t respect a man like that. How could I love him?”
One interpretation of all this is that, traditionally, women are supposed to be taken care of by their mates and men are (perhaps) threatened when of an inferior status. But the upshot of men marrying down and women marrying up is that, overall, the least marriageable men are at the bottom of the heap while the most capable, successful women remain unmarried at the top.
Consider the implications of the traditional relationship. Feeling constantly inferior leads to depression and feelings of inadequacy. Feeling constantly superior leads to lack of respect and perhaps a power grab.
There is research evidence that enduring relationships are based on equality. So how can these things be reconciled? One way would be for the man to be “superior” on at least one dimension while the woman is “superior” in one or more of the other areas.
And speaking of the relationship of respect to liking and loving: Zick Rubin introduced the concept back in the 1970s, published as Measurement of Romantic Love in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Rubin created scales to measure liking, loving, and lusting. Each item was rated on a 5-point scale from “not at all true” to “very much true.” Examples of these statements are below:
Liking scale items: I have great confidence in X’s judgment. X is one of the most likable people I know. I think that X and I are quite similar. I think that X is unusually well-adjusted.
Loving Scale items: I would do almost anything for X. If I could never be with X, I would feel miserable. I feel responsible for X’s well-being. When I am with X, I spend a good deal of time just looking at him/her.
Lust Scale items: I can’t stop thinking about having sex with X. The best thing about X and my relationship is that we let our bodies do all the talking. X’s attitudes and opinions don’t really matter in our relationship. The best part of my relationship with X is the sexual chemistry.
We tend to like people more when we are in a good mood, and we like them less when we are in bad moods. As partners stay together over time, cognition becomes relatively more important than passion. Over time, close relationships are more likely to be based on companionate love than passionate love.
Bottom line for writers: if you’re writing a love relationship, be clear on what kind of love it is!