Reactions

As I wrote earlier on my blog, when writing, there are three things that are most important: actions, reactions, and reflections, meaning that after you show an action, your character should be reacting. This could include a flinch, a jolt, a motion of some sort, but if you’re like me, you like to focus on the face (although there’s plenty of other places to look). And I’ve noticed, when writing from first-perspective, it’s really important that you focus on your character’s internal reactions. It can jump start your readers’ reactions. Here are a few to start you off:

VISIBLE REACTIONS 

Happy Sad Angry
  • His eyes lit up…
  • His eyes twinkled…
  • His eyes crinkled…
  • He smiled…
  • He grinned…
  • His mouth twitched…
  • He brightened…
  • Her eyes swam with tears…
  • His eyes glistened…
  • He shut his eyes…
  • He sniffled…
  • His lower lip trembled…
  • He glared…
  • His nostrils flared…
  • He ground his jaw…
  • He gritted his teeth…
  • His cheeks turned pink…
  • He scowled…
  • His eyes flashed…
  • He stormed his way…
  • He barged ahead…
  • He jutted his chin…
Surprised Fear Disgust
  • His eyes widened…
  • He gaped…
  • His eyes went bug-eyed…
  • He inhaled a sharp breath…
  • He paled…
  • He blanched…
  • His skin went white…
  • He shrank…
  • He skulked…
  • He forked his fingers through his hair…
  • He stuffed his hands in his pockets…
  • He leered…
  • He sneered…
  • He stuck his nose in the air…
  • His brows knitted together…
  • He curled his lip…
Contempt Remorse Anticipation
  • His eyes narrowed…
  • His forehead puckered (or furrowed)…
  • He pursed his lips…
  • His eyes rolled skyward…
  • His eyes drooped…
  • He grimaced…
  • He winced…
  • He hunched over…
  • He curled into a ball…
  • He slumped his shoulders…
  • His eyes darted…
  • He scrutinized…
  • He nibbled on his lips…
  • He edged closer…
  • He paced…
  • He rocked on his heels…
  • He drummed his fingers…
  • He fiddled with his…
  • He squirmed in his chair…

A few trick phrases include, “His eyes burned with…” in which you can pretty much substitute any emotion, which is kind of hilarious. I guess you can burn with any sort of passion. Or, there’s “He screwed up his face…” Also a freebie.

INTERNAL REACTIONS

Happy Sad Angry
  • A flutter of joy
  • May feel tearful or moody or irritated
  • May feel tired or lethargic
  • May feel a tightness in your chest or throat
  • May feel empty inside
  • May grind teeth
  • May feel flushed or pale
  • May clench fists
  • May feel a temperature change, i.e. blood boiling
  • May feel a prickly sensation
Surprised Fear Disgust
  • Quick breath
  • Heart skips a beat
  • Sudden sweating or heart palpitations (fluttering)
  • Easily startled
  • Heart’s beating faster
  • Taking quick, shallow breaths
  • Inability to focus except on worry
  • Sweating
  • Freezing in place
  • Feeling to fight
  • Cold hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Trembling or tightening of the muscles
  • Frowning
  • Gagging, or pursing the lips
  • Turning stomach
  • Averting your gaze
Contempt Remorse Anticipation
  • Maybe a tightness in the chest?
  • Maybe a burning, like embarrasment?
  • Butterflies in the stomach

Note: Most internal changes register as a change in heart rate, temperature, or muscle tension, though most people only register a heart rate and palm sweating (Nummenmaa, Glerean, Hari, Hietanen; 2013; p. 649).

Finally, I’m not recommending this book—mainly because I haven’t read it, and hence, have no opinion—but it seems like it’d be a good read for studies such as this, and I’d love to hear what people think of it.

Thanks to Bryn Donovan and Sharla Rae for the help with Visible Reactions!

And refer to this poster for even more help!

 

Peregrine

Having just finished All the Birds in the Sky, I feel like this should be a more momentous occasion. Especially—Spoiler Alert—after that last scene.

“You are,” the Tree said, “like me.”

“A distributed consciousness, yes,” Peregrine said. “Although your network is much larger and vastly more chaotic than mine. This may require…a rather ambitious firmware update. Stay tune.” The screen went dark.

Through this ending, Anders draws attention to the similarities between technology and magic. Both having a sort of network, one connected by magic, the other connected by internet. This shows how dissimilar the two societies communicate, and yet, it shows how alike they are, both working in the same way. By understanding how this book crosses genres, using fantasy and scifi elements, you can better understand how scientists can be religious and religiously devoted to their studies, how people can be devoted to explain the explainable and, at the same time, accept the unexplainable.

And yet, it was so slap in your face, so obvious, that I find a hard time being attached to this ending. Imagining a piece of technology attached to a tree? It was practically waving the theme in your face. And I found it hard to accept, especially since this if the first time of technology attaching to nature in the book. I would rather accept Peregrine—the know-it-all tablet and AI baby of witch Patricia and scientist Laurence—as the savior of humanity instead. Maybe since he’s already a cross breed?

I also didn’t really like how the timeline took these awkward jumps forward.

He would be doubting his relationship aloud with Serafina…

“This is weirding me out. I mean, I feel like our communication has sucked for, I don’t know, a month or so…”

“So…I’m not on probation then?”

…”I guess you are now.” (138)

And then all the sudden they’re on the equivalent of a ‘probation.’ How does one follow that logic? Maybe I’m just too easy going, but surely when someone voices their own doubts, you don’t punish them for it? Isn’t that a betrayal of trust and communication?

Then, we would go from Laurence dating Serafina…

But this was someone he’d known half his life, with whom he had this whole labyrinthine history. He could not screw this up. Plus Patricia might be used to crazy magic sex. (218)

To him and Patricia getting down and dirty. Isn’t that third base? They hadn’t even made it to one. And what happened to Laurence dating Serafina? I wanted some closure (or at least explanation) of what happened to the first relationship before he moved with a new one.

Overall, these were only minor hiccups to the story. Still disturbing—jolting you out of the story when you least expect it—but it’s not anything super bad. In this case, it was outweighed by the positives: creating realistic characters.

Truth was, Laurence only half paid attention to the amazing sight of these bright tropical birds devouring flowers, because he kept trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he had nearly erased a human being from existence…Plus when he tried to sleep, his heart did a circus drumroll as he remembered Priya’s mouth opening and closing.

Even now, sitting with Patricia on a rough horse blanket on the grass, Laurence kept bracing himself for her to say something—she knew full well what had happened to Priya, maybe even better than Laurence did, and she hadn’t said one judgmental word about it yet. She was probably just waiting for the right moment. (207).

What I particularly like about these paragraphs is that it shows how guilty Laurence feels for what he did, and yet not once does it say, ‘He felt guilty.’ Instead, Anders shows us how guilty he feels: re-imagining Priya in pain, going over the scene again and again; imagining he’s going to get punished, expecting that punishment. These are all the signs of a child who knows they committed an immoral act. And it was sooo much stronger than saying, ‘He felt guilty.’ I definitely want to practice this skill more because this is what made this book special for me. The emotions are so intense!

Anders, Charlie Jane. All the Birds in the Sky. New York, NY: Tor, 2016. Print.

Writing with emotion

I know a lot of people are going to be astounded when I saw this, but I’ve never read Nineteen Eighty-Four, mainly because when I took in English in High School, I switched constantly between Honors and Regular, meaning I missed out on certain books and re-read ones I had already read before. (Still don’t understand how high schoolers don’t like Shakespeare. Always liked that.) Either way, I just started it now, and I like it so far.

My general impression is not so much happening action wise, but a lot of world and character building. I’m only on page 36, so it may be too soon to make any general comments, but I feel like this book is more on an author exploration of a what-if we lived in a totalitarianism society? The comments are really deep and exploratory, really diving into the character’s conscious and thoughts, and what really brings these pages to life are the parts exploring humans social behavior.

Orwell has really delved into bringing some of the psychology of these governments to life.

In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture… (Orwell 14)

I really liked how this discussed the theory of mob think, Even though I have not taken psychology, I have heard of this before, and in my mind this made sense and sounded like an exact description. Even though the character did not feel like they have to act, because of the feeling of the crowd, he was ‘forced’ to participate. To me, this felt very realistic and truthful, and I loved the character’s reaction to it:

Winston’s entrails seemed to grow cold. In the Two Minutes Hate he could not help sharing in the general delirium, but this subhuman chanting of “B-B!…B-B!” always filled him with horror. Of course he chanted with the rest: it was impossible to do otherwise. (Orwell 17)

This above only stated how Winston feels, and although it doesn’t give us any new information besides this character’s single reaction, and it was a very strong paragraph. And to be fair, even though nothing of particular interest has happened in the book yet (besides writing in a diary), this book has kept me caught just because of the character’s reactions and reflections on his memory and of current society.

I think this is Orwell’s strength so far: Writing about feelings. I don’t know whether he has explored human nature or social behavior, but I feel like what he writes is very truthful and observant and makes some wonderful comments on how we behave.

TLDR: Orwell’s 1984 book is good so far, and his strength is writing about the social behaviors of people in a totalitarian society.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Centennial ed. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.

Baiting the hook

There’s a book I’ve been reading for class, called Brain Rules, and I would highly recommend it. Breaking the scientists-aren’t-good-writers stereotype, John Medina writes about twelve rules to improve your home and school life, things like get enough sleep, stress isn’t good for you, etc. And it all comes with scientific proof!

The chapter I read this week that I would like writers to know about is “Attention.” And this seems more and more important, based on what I’ve heard. People have told me chapters have been shortened so that readers feel like they accomplish more reading in short amounts of time. People have widened the margins so that readers feel like they cover more pages. In all aspects, publishers have made it so readers with short attention spans feel more accomplished when they read a book. And since not everyone will be laying out their own novels or stories, let’s discuss what everyone can do as a writer.

As Medina wrote, our attention is grabbed through a variety of sources, all of which are dependent on the individual. In the case of your memory, “you use your previous experiences to predict where you should pay attention” (107). For writer’s, we can still use this, just as Medina did in the beginning of this chapter.

It was about three o’clock in the morning when I was startled into sudden consciousness by a small spotlight sweeping across the walls of our living room. In the moonlight, I could see the six-foot frame of a young man in a trench coat, clutching a flashlight and examining the contents of our house. (105)

We all learned from an early age that people will have the inclination to rob each other, where, in most cases, they will try to do it when they assume the family isn’t home. This means that seeing someone at 3AM at your house is probably not a good thing. This is something we focus on because of our prior experiences or learning.

Another rule that Medina wrote is that, “If you have an interest in a subject or a person, or something is important to you, you tend to pay more attention to things related to that subject or person.” For authors, this is why it’s important to make a connection between your characters and your readers. If there’s no interest in that character’s life or pursuit, then there will be no press to keep reading.

A good way to keep interest is to charge it with emotion because “emotionally charged events are better remembered – for longer, and with more accuracy-than neutral events” (112). This means that you should be including actions, and reactions within your characters. They should be feeling emotion in order to instigate some reaction within your reader as well. We should be feeling love, hate, at least some emotion for your protagonist!

Medina said it’s common to pay attention to things like a threat, reproduction (sex), and patterns because it’s what our brain has been programmed to focus on, where we mostly have our ancestors to thank (113). To see these rules in action, look at the above example from Medina, and let me continue it.

As my sleepy brain was immediately and violently aroused, it struck me that my home was about to be robbed by someone younger than me, bigger than me, and in possession of a firearm. Heart pounding, knees shaking, I turned on the lights, went to stand guard outside my children’s room, called the police, and prayed. (105)

That should make everyone feel for him. He’s about to be robbed; there’s a guy with a gun; and his children are in danger. This is filled with emotion, weaving in common focuses like threat and reproduction (in this case his children – though you could argue that’s self-interest in his family).

This shows these rules are easily translated to writers. If you want a book to hook your readers, include some form of threat (conflict), some sort of romance (sex), and create patterns within the characters lives. Readers feel brilliant when they notice one between one past and present event, it’s all repeating.

To summarize, the goal of our writing is to capture the reader’s attention, and if we’re not doing that, then we’re technically failing. After all, if they can’t pay attention, they can’t read our story.

Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press, 2014. Print.

Action, Reaction

I was reading this post I found – between my research for scene and summary – and while I was reading it, it’s like this light bulb went off inside my head, glowing with this superb luminescence. But, being distrusting as I am – always requiring proof that technique works – I have to test this theory. Is this really how to write great emotion? Great character voice?

Let me refer to the rule in general. As Swain described (as cited by Ingermanson), smaller parts of scenes are made up of multiple units, called motivation-reactions units (MRUs). These units focus on two parts: a motivation and the reaction of your character. Motivations are extrinsic forces within your story while the reactions are intrinsic and extrinsic responses. Ingermanson breaks the reaction down even further, separating it into 3 parts: feeling, reflex, action, emphasizing this must always be used in this order although each piece may not always appear. With the repetition of these MRUs, you eventually make up a scene. But, let’s test this and see how this theory holds. This is a rather long passage, so I’ll only use a part. This paragraph is about a boar running at the characters.

Nothing about its muzzle or broad, long face looked at all extraordinary, and yet I had the startling impression of some presence in the way its gaze seemed turned inward and its head willfully pulled to the left as if there were an invisible bridle. A kind of electricity sparked in its eyes that I could not credit as real. I thought instead it must be a by-product of my now slightly shaky hands on the binoculars. (Vandermeer 12)

Let’s break this down step by step, and examine each sentence for its purpose. Similar to what I’m doing in class when I define each purpose of the process of discourse.

First sentence:

This sentences shows the character reflecting on the motivation – the boar crashing toward the bushes toward them.

Second sentence:

The second part of the combined sentence shows the character’s feelings on the board, her impression of it.

Third sentence:

This is still feelings. She does not think it’s real.

Last sentence:

Her reaction as she tries to dismiss it – a product of her shaking hands.

Focus on the operative verbs within all these sentences. Reflect, feel, feel, react. There is a reflex we missed in here – her hands shaking – because it’s taken out of order, mentioned as a last thought, so let me go ahead and include it: reflect, reflex, feel, feel, react.

This means I disproved Ingermanson in the sense that these actions have to be in a specific order, but I supported him in his theory that some or all of these verbs may be present. And, I believe this is okay. Writing does not follow a specific rule, even though we try to define it, give it some sense of order even though that’s all it is – conscious feeling. Always a running sense of action and reaction, just like forces. If something happens, we react.

Use this as a simple tool to help refine your writing because I do support Ingermanson in this specific sense: actions and reactions are some of the most important pieces of writing, and without this, your story will fall flat.

Vandermeer, Jeff. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Print.

Designing Covers: Part 2

Yesterday we discussed the different components of covers and how they all have one goal – to attract a reader to buy the book. Hopefully to read it, although we can all admit to letting a book sit too long on our bookshelf. I won’t admit this will be a perfect dissection, but let’s look at an example. I just bought this book, and I really like its cover design.

“Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (New York Times, “The Best Book Covers of 2014”)

What drew me initially to this cover?

It was simplistic. It abandoned the normal conventions that defined a book cover – it got rid of the title, the author. Everything but this one image. I had no idea what it meant besides a cross through a feather.

And, this is one thing I admire about covers. If I got to design all of them, I would choose something simple, either metaphorical or definitive – I would still focus on a few simple constructions, nothing as complex as a drawing or a photograph. Because what I would hope is that through cover design, we can ask the reader to think. And, that’s exactly what this cover did.

What did I think?

Well, if I blur my eyes or zoom out, I see an ‘X’. ‘X’ usually is found on a pirate’s map as buried treasure, and it can also be interpreted as a location that is either unknown or off limits. We usually seen these on road signs that say something along the lines of ‘keep out.’

Orange is usually also connotative of hazardous. Brings you back to think of the x in terms of ‘keep out’ instead of buried treasure. (The vibrancy of the orange would have something to do with it. Remember to keep in mind different hues will evoke different memories or feelings, which is why some colors on cars will always be reminiscent of puke.)

Now, where does the feather come in? Is it a feather? Or, does it resemble a fern more? Initially I thought it was a feather, which would make sense since the main character is a biologist. But, if it’s a fern, this would also make sense since Area X is an off limits area that is described as a mish mash of different ecologys, specifically their habitats.

But then why do the feather fall? Why are the leaves falling off a plant? Whenever we see this in nature, it usually means something is dying. But, who’s dying? I know nothing of the characters yet. All I did was pick of the book!

(If you could look at me now, I’d be smiling. I’m already a few pages in, and I can tell you who died. Spoiler alert: me.)

“Station Eleven” by Emily Mandel

First of all, I would like to say this was a very lovely book. There are four main characters, two boys and two girls, and the story follows their lives before, during, and after the flu epidemic. It’s not an overwhelmingly violent or gruesome book, hardly touching upon the details of people’s deaths. Instead, it focuses more about the characters’ reactions to the epidemic, how it changed them and their lives, and I really appreciated that about it. My favorite character was Miranda, but I won’t tell you anything else about her, lest I give too much away.

This book definitely has an interesting style and a beautiful voice, which I can attribute to Mandel’s writing style. Let me give you a sneak peek from Jeevan’s point of view:

He reached Allan Gardens Park, more or less the halfway point, and this was where he found himself blinded by an unexpected joy. Arthur died, he told himself, you couldn’t save him, there’s nothing to be happy about. But there was, he was exhilarated, because he’d wondered all his life what his profession should be, and now he was certain, absolutely certain that he wanted to be a paramedic. (Mandel 11)

What a beautiful way to describe a character’s perspective. The first sentence shows what the character feels, joy, and how he felt by it: blinded. This does a good job of setting up his initial feelings, and then obstructing his joy within the next sentence. He reminded himself he just witnessed a death. He shouldn’t be feeling happy and yet he still does. This gives the reader more insight to Jeevan as a character, by not only establishing how happy he is but also showing the reader Jeevan’s past struggles in finding his purpose in life.

By giving his happiness an opposite like death, Mandel deepens the emotion and the paragraph. Opposites can do this because humans aren’t naturally feeling one emotion at once. Usually there are multiple conflicts going on in our life, which is why opposites work so well for a story. They make characters more interesting and life more real. It’s one thing to say I’m happy because I found my true living. It’s another to say I’m happy after I saw somebody died.

I’m not saying go ahead and kill someone every time your character feels happiness. But, try saying I’m happy even though I just broke my computer, or I’m sad even though I just won the lottery…opposites like these can definitely strengthen your characterization.

This is a good lesson on how to create emotion within your character:

1. Explain how (s)he feels it

2. Flush out the emotion – use a complexity or opposite reasoning on why the emotion shouldn’t exist

3. Explain why (s)he feels it

With these three reasons, you’re one step closer to creating a human being!

Mandel, Emily. Station Eleven. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.