A rogue wave overtakes you

Say something enough times, it loses meaning; read it just as much, and it doesn’t. The words stay just as fresh no matter how many times you go back to re-read that passage, telling yourself it can’t be as good the second time, but it is. And then you must sit to revel in the words and the pictures they create, until the lines wisp through your mind like thoughts on the tip of your tongue, until you promise yourself, once more. But by then, a minute has pass, and you’re cursing yourself for reading so slow. But you can’t help it. The book begs you too, and you cannot deny it that pleasure, for it doesn’t deny you yours.

I’m on page 73, which out of 217 doesn’t sound all that impressive, and yet it does to me. I’ve been reading so slow, not out of necessity but want. And, I never read a book slow, well, unless it bores me—but to do that on purpose? The thought’s never occurred to me. Usually, there’s this drive, this need that propels me to read along faster, until I’m no longer racing but being dragged alongside it; my fingers already plucking the page to turn before I’ve finished reading. And yet this time, I’m hovering, re-reading, telling myself how could this book be so amazing? Because it is.

Let’s look inside The Seas by Samantha Hunt.

When I see him walking with women that I don’t know I feel how I am not a part of this town. I feel as though I were floating in the surf and saw him on dry land with another woman but when I swim to shore I realize too late that I don’t have legs but a big tail and then I am beached and suffocating and the people who live in town are poking me with a stick wondering, “What the hell is she?” I can’t breathe. When I see Jude with women I don’t know I feel like my eyes are suffocating me. What I see is choking me. (45)

Why is this writing so good? What begs to me to relive each scene over and over again like a fond memory? Let me examine this from the Action-Reaction-Reflection (ARR) lens. (Please refer to the passage below for color-coordinated references.) Looking at the part in red, I can tell this is an action because of the subject and verb. We have “I see.” What follows afterward in green is the reaction. I know this from the subject and verb “I feel.” This sounds rather obvious and can seem like an immature way to write, but I believe it’s undervalued. In the following passage, Hunt doesn’t rely on direct descriptions of emotions like ‘my heart was breaking in two’ or “I feel how I am not a part of this town,” but she cultivates them with imagery that directly relates to the miss-identification that the character is experiencing throughout the novel. The amount of choices and relevancy to have created this specific paragraph for one specific emotion is overwhelming. It’s beautiful. And, even though the reactions aren’t blatantly obvious in this novel, because of the overwhelming creativity and careful selection that has been put into this book I think that’s what makes it amazing.

When I see him walking with women that I don’t know I feel how I am not a part of this town. I feel as though I were floating in the surf and saw him on dry land with another woman but when I swim to shore I realize too late that I don’t have legs but a big tail and then I am beached and suffocating and the people who live in town are poking me with a stick wondering, “What the hell is she?” I can’t breathe. When I see Jude with women I don’t know I feel like my eyes are suffocating me. What I see is choking me. (45)

That must leave you wondering, well, where is the reflection? There is none present in the paragraph above, which is funny in my perspective because this is only a half clip of the whole paragraph, and it was all directly related to reaction. There is reflection, which I can show you later but I want you to see what makes this novel so strong. We don’t see a word, a phrase, or sentence being dedicated to one of ARR; we see a whole paragraph, a page, a chapter to each step of it. Emotions are big in this book; they’re what drives it. And because of this; I think that’s what propels this book forward.

A rogue wave would stick out like this: Imagine you are reading a book and have arrived at a certain page, but imagine that when you arrived at that page, instead of being five inches wide it is one hundred and ninety-eight feet wide. So wide that when you turn the page it crushes you, pins you underneath it. You would never make it to page 53. (52)

God #%@$! Do you know how unnerving it was (and still is) to be reading this paragraph, reach the end, see page 53, look up and you’re on page 52, and having this book tell you that you’ll never make it to the next page, even though you know that’s a lie because 1) this isn’t a fortune-telling book and 2) a page is not going to be able to crush you? It’s so unnerving! Which is the exact feeling that Hunt wants to create in order to show the kind of unnerving and unexpectedness that comes with a rogue wave.

This author is an expert with emotions. Either that, or she took the time to make sure she portrayed it. So you should take the time out of your day to read it.

Hunt, Samantha. The Seas. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2018. Print.

Time to start reacting

Sticking to the Action, Reaction, Reflection theme (ARR), I’d like to reflect on a previous book I read, How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. At first glance, this book seemed very attractive.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary forty-one-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. (Synopsis)

But, I realized retroactively while re-reading the book that it isn’t the most attractive book. It’s not one of those novels that you pick up, promising yourself to only read a few pages, and then a few hours later, you’ve found yourself halfway through it. In fact, I believe it was a book I put down and came back to a few times. It’s doesn’t have a draw or an allure, and I think I know why. Examining it in respect to ARR, I believe it’s strong in reflection but weak in reaction, and I’d like to present a few examples as to why.

I’ll stop looking at her, and wait for her to go away. Which she does. I feel her anger. And I feel guilty. Actually, no, it isn’t just that. There is something else. A kind of homesickness, a longing for something—a feeling— I haven’t known for a very long time. And when she goes and sits down on the other side of the staff room, she doesn’t smile, or look at me, and I feel like something is over before it has a chance to begin. (108)

If you examine this scene, paying close attention to the items marked in red, this is what I’ve highlighted as a reaction. This is what Tom is feeling as a result of the woman leaving the room, and although it isn’t his kind of reactions that I have a problem with, it’s how they’re described. They’re told, not shown. Notice the types of feelings: guilty, homesickness. The reader isn’t shown this, so we have trouble placing ourselves within the mind of the protagonist, which makes it hard for me to want to keep reading. I’m not attached to the story. This style continues throughout the book, with numerous reaction cliches, like with ‘pounding headache’ or the scene below.

I pulled up my sleeve, took a searing piece of iron, curved into a horse-shoe from the flames, and pushed it against the top of my left forearm. I held it there, as my skin hissed and cooked beneath it, and I clenched my jaw and eyes tight, and contained the scream. (41)

Again, I’ve highlighted the reaction, which is very limited, considering the incredible pain that Tom is going through with this burn, and I’ve heard burns are some of the worst pain you can experience. You’d know if you had a sunburn. For something so superficial, they sure can hurt. And, that isn’t a third degree burn, which is what I imagine this in the book would be. I would’ve liked to see more of this pain, maybe we haven’t seen enough which doesn’t give it enough time to develop. Maybe feeling his revulsion as he smells the scent of cooked flesh, causing his stomach to turn and flip and him to gag, would’ve helped. I’ve heard the scent is disgusting on more than one occasion.

And, I’m sorry to say that there isn’t as much reaction as I would’ve hoped for. It’s more barren than not in here. This isn’t the say again that the book wasn’t good. It does have its strengths. Most of the novel is written with actions and reflections. There is a lot of stream-of-consciousness within this book, and I think that’s what keeps this book afloat. If you need more practice with that, this might be a good book to turn to.

Haig, Matt. How to Stop Time. New York, NY: Viking, 2017. Print.

How do you react?

*Stretches* It’s been so long, and I can feel my language muscles shaking off dust from disuse. But, it’s been good. I guess everyone needs a break from everything eventually, and it’s been well used. But now that I’m feeling refreshed, and not so angry at myself for having a to-do list—even if everything on that list are things I want to do, not need to do—I can finally feel productive again. (In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not good at sitting still.)

The first thing I’d like to focus on is reactions. In case you weren’t here earlier, the big thing I like to talk about with writing is “Action, Reaction, and Reflection.” It’s a nice phrase that shows the procedure of stylistic writing, and is also how a human reacts to any given situation, which is why you want to reflect this in your characters as well. And since I’ve focused so much on reflection earlier, this time, I’d like to look more at reactions. 1) Because my latest writing seems to be missing it. 2) It’s quite difficult to duplicate within writing, but I feel like this is one of the stronger pieces that is necessary. If you can write a good reaction, then your reader will feel it as well, helping them identify with your protagonist. (But remember, that’s only 1/3 of the ARR process.) And, to talk about this piece of the puzzle, I’d like to use a book I read earlier this year:

The Art of Starving. 

That’s not to say I’m anorexic although the character in the book sure is. And, that doesn’t count as a spoiler because, come on. The plot’s basically in the title. And, there’s a huge skeleton on the cover. If that doesn’t give you insight into the book, then you probably shouldn’t be starting with adult books. Try children’s fiction instead.

Hunger rumbled in my belly, and I felt like if I reached out hard enough, I could stretch myself taller than any of the trees. Hunger is funny like that. (3)

What emotion is this?

If you said hungry, then you are correct! And if you didn’t, seriously consider my advice—Children’s fiction; you need to practice with picture books before you should be reading the internet. Anyways, yes, this excerpt was a hunger reaction, specifically, the ‘rumbling in the belly’. Other phrases that signify hunger: growling stomach, cramping stomach, a wisp of nausea from an overly empty stomach, your eyes lingering on any picture of food for longer than necessary…Even now you might be looking down at your stomach, or counting backwards to when was the last time you ate because now that I mention it, now might be a good time for a snack. 😉

But, this is a relatively easy emotion and a relatively common one throughout the book. A more difficult one to delve into is instead of a physical reaction, an emotional one.

It hurt, how much I wanted to smash my face against those perfect lips. I wanted it even though I felt pretty sure Tariq did something terrible to my sister. And the wanting got rolled up with the shame and filled me with a sputtering, stupid animal rage. How could it be, that in spite of everything, I still felt lust when I looked at him? Lust, and hate, in equal measure. (6-7)

Now this is actually a balance between reactions like “I wanted to smash my face against [his]” and reflections like “I wanted it even though I felt pretty sure Tariq did something terrible to my sister.” This, as the character has already said, is an evocation of lust. Now, these emotional responses can be harder to picture because different people evoke different types of reactions. For instance, in elementary school, when you like someone, you’re pulling on their hair, tripping them in the courtyard, sending them handwritten notes that have been folded a countless number of times, just so your friends don’t see the name written inside. This is different from when you’re older, and all the sudden, your eyes linger too long on their neck, tracing the way their hair falls over their shoulder. Or, how you imagine running your hand down their arm, following the path of freckles from their elbow to the tip of their index finger.

But, these are just things I think of. What I’d like to do is practice evoking imagery from these specific reactions, physical or emotional, because by strengthening these within your writing, your increasing the emotional response your reader has with your character, increasing their emotional ties and personal identification with them. And, to do this, I’d recommend a daily dose of writing a paragraph tied with a specific emotion, and if you’d deny this prescription, I would recommend something like The Emotion Thesaurus, which lists external, internal, and mental responses for a given emotional reaction. I, myself, am going to be using this to help edit a small piece that I’ve been working on, because I don’t believe my fear-factor has been touched upon quite right.

For example, listed for desire (or lust) within the book, it mentions external responses like damp hands, mirroring the person’s movements, or moving closer to the person themself. It mentions internal responses like being flooded with warmth or fingers tingling with the need to touch and mental responses like a desire to erase all distance or daydreaming about them. (50) I think this could be a huge tool to aid in writing, but again, I really encourage my earlier prescription since practice makes perfect.

Happy Tuesday. Happy writing.

Miller, Sam J. The Art of Starving. New York, NY: Harper Teen, 2017. Print.

Ackerman, Angela & Becca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. Writers Helping Writers, 2012. Print.

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!

 

Action-Reaction-Reflection

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about this technique, and I found a great example for it within Stross’ Glasshouse, so I thought now would be a good time for a gentle reminder.

ARR: Action-Reaction-Reflection

A technique, or pattern, used to develop a scene, where an action (or event) occurs, the character then reacts, and reflects on either why, how, or what it means. 

“Another drink?” Kay asks. “I’m buying.”

“Yes, please.” A warning bell rings in my head as I sense Blondie heading toward our table. I pretend not to notice, but I can feel a familiar warmth in my stomach, a tension in my back. Ancient reflexes and not a few modern cheat-codes take over and I surreptitiously loosen my sword in its scabbard. I think I know what Blondie wants, and I’m perfectly happy to give it to her. She’s not the only one around here prone to frequent flashes of murderous rage that takes a while to cool. The counselor told me to embrace it and give in, among consenting fellows. It should burn itself out in time. (Stross 5)

Action: Consider the action happening in this scene, when Blondie heads toward their table. Here is a specific event, which is recognizable through motion-type verbs.

Reaction: These are feelings that the character is experiencing, which usually concerns part of the body or types of emotions. Here, the character feels reactions within their stomach and back, reminiscent of excitement and pre-game tension.

Reflection: This is what the character is thinking in terms to what just happened. Here, the character is reflecting on why Blondie is moving, what he’s going to do next, how he feels about it, how others feel. There’s a lot of questions answered here, and this is usually the meat of a scene.

While action is necessary for readers to develop an image of what’s happening, reflection is most important because it help readers identify the reasoning of the story helping them align with the main character’s thoughts, aiding in immersion. Reaction helps a little bit with this, but it’s the mid-way point action and reflection, and helps more with the reader sympathizing with the character.

Each of these is an important step for a scene, and if one is missing, it does create weaker writing. I would know – I’m still struggling to keep plenty of reflection in mine.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Act, 2006. Print.

Breaking expectations

When you’re mom exclaims, ‘Johnny! This is the first night you haven’t wet the bed! I’m so proud of you!!’ There’s good reason for her to be excited. Against all evidence, you’ve broken her expectations! When you’ve been wetting the bed since you were 6 and now you’re 13, she probably expected an ordinary night but instead there’s dry freedom! Congratulations! This situation awards you an accomplishment.

Of course the opposite is also true. You can break expectations in the reverse direction. If we’re following the moral compass…you can break expectations and fail spectacularly! As in, you’ve never crapped your pants before but as soon as you get a stomach bug in the middle of allergy season where you’re sneezing worse than that 27-sneeze girl in class, you do it. Yeah. You shouldn’t be proud.

This book is like that. Well, not the spectacular fail but instead breaking all expectations in a positive, dramatic way.

“Aside to his men [the Earth captain] whispered, “Now we’re getting someplace!” To Mr. Aaa he called, “We traveled sixty million miles. From Earth!” / Mr. Aaa [the alien]  yawned. “That’s only fifty million miles this time of year” (Bradbury 27).

How obnoxious! Here these Earthlings traveled all this distance, and no one gives *excuse my language* a crap. Absolutely none. No one could be bothered with this information.

And I love it!

I feel like the general expectation here is if you’re an ‘alien’ then people would react to you. There’s the War of the Worlds reaction: general dooms day apocalypse. There’s the welcoming with open arms, where the aliens donate their technology and culture, which I’m sure exists in some movie or book but whose name I can’t think of at the moment.

Either way, these all deal with reactions.

And this book has none, except boredom.

I like it.

By breaking all my expectations, there’s originality, creativity, and a disguised comment that I haven’t yet become aware of.

I’m enjoying the book so far.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.

Reacting to “Lexicon”

I was really unsure when I started this book – the back cover sounded interesting, which I guess is a plus for the writers who wrote it – but when I started the book, you know nothing. Just like the character. This poor guy has been assaulted, kidnapped, in all senses of the word – tortured. I still have no idea who he is, what’s going on.

And it somewhat works. I’m still reading, mostly for curiosity at this point although I haven’t been entirely sated with the style. It’s been a lot of dry dialogue at this point, though the bathroom scene was slightly funny. I chuckled inside my head – mostly because people avoid bathrooms for scenes.

But I was truly impressed when I hit this paragraph:

A door opened. On the other side of it was a world of stunted color and muted sound, as if something was stuck in Wil’s ears, and eyes, and possibly brain. He shook his head to clear it, but the world grew dark and angry and would not stay upright. The world did not like to be shaken. He understood that now. He wouldn’t shake it again. He felt his feet sliding away from him on silent roller skates and reached for a wall for support. The wall cursed and dug its fingers into his arm, and was probably not a wall. It was probably a person. (Barry 8)

This is beautiful, mostly because the way it paints a picture – “stunted color and muted sound.” I love how it describes the feeling of being drugged, how he personifies the world with it “did not like to be shaken.” How he personified the wall because it was really a person. I felt like this was one of the most creative descriptions for being drugged, and I would love to see more personification for imagery.

I guess it’s some of my word/poetry love coming through writing.

Barry, Max. Lexicon. New York, NY: Penguin, 2013. Print.

Stream of Consciousness

It’s interesting to think of the components of a scene: dialogue, action, imagery, stream of consciousness… These are all necessary components. You need to see where the characters are at, what they’re doing, what they’re saying, what they’re thinking…Which is what I would like to focus on today!

Thoughts!

Not my thinking because I’ve been told I think in weird tangents even though I feel like my mind is made up a series of 3D venn diagrams – bubbles that merge, un-merge and move thoughts around in circles, that constantly grow and shrink with worry/excitement. But, for the sake of our characters, for the sake of their simplicity, we’ll imagine they think in linear patterns.

Example:

What he’d done was wrong. He knew that. But her tolerating his presence felt like a benediction, a sign he deserved some place among the wealthy and beautiful, and oh God, he’d lied and was going to Hell. (Steinmetz 16)

This would be considered a stream of consciousness – a continuous flow of thoughts/reactions to an event. After the character slept with a woman, convincing her to bed through the use of magic, he felt guilty, and this paragraph reflects on that guilt, that satisfaction, then guilt again.

These kinds of thoughts should be in all scenes, maybe not always as long, maybe longer. Never in humongous chunks that take up most of the page. But, they do a good job of giving the reader the purpose, direction, plot, and help them identify more with the protagonist.

Steinmetz, Ferrett. Flex. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot, 2015.

Repetition

This sounds weird that repetition is a good thing, and maybe this overlaps with foreshadowing, but I was reading “The Ghosts of Christmas” and I found through each repetition, the author was actually reinforcing the character’s wants and needs, strengths and weaknesses. Through repetition, the author helped construct a more believable story. (Spoiler alert!)

1st: “It’s been proved that certain traits formed by a child’s environment do get passed down to its own children…I’m going to be a terrible parent” (Cornell 37)

In this quote, Cornell establishes that his protagonist belief that she is going to be a terrible parent because that is how she believes her parents were. To re-establish this fact, or repeat it, he transitions to a memory.

2nd: Dad watched football and in response to his daughter’s ‘play with me,’ said “You start, and I’ll join in later.” (38)

Another memory.

3rd: “…and in a moment they’d be bound to notice me…But they went to bed without looking in the lounge. I listened to them close the door and talk for a while, and then switch the light off, and then silence, and so it was just me sitting there, watching the greys flicker.” (38)

Her parents always forgot her. And although they weren’t particularly abusive, they were neglectful, never giving her the attention she deserved. In another memory, he drives home the point of her parents’ neglect.

4th: “I was standing in a lay-by, watching the cars go past, wondering if Mummy and Daddy were going to come back for me this time…I was six years old.” (38)

This was all back to back memories, stressing the protagonist’s concerns that she is going to be a terrible parent because that is how her parents were, which is a familiar feeling for most parents – will we grow to be like our parents?

I really liked this technique, this repetition of memories after her fear in order to stress what kind of parent she thinks she’ll be and in order to develop her history, since the reader can tell early on there is a stressful relationship between her and her parents.

It’s backwards of action, reaction. Sort of a reaction, action, used more for internal reflection rather than external response. I think this technique definitely worked rather well, especially in combination of Cornell’s expert weaving in and out of scenes. Just like the last story “Old Paint,” he did a good job combining mini-scenes to establish this character.

Cornell, Paul. “The Ghosts of Christmas.” Year’s Best SF 18. Ed. David G. Hartwell. New York, NY: Tor, 2013. 34-54. 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.