For the Love of It–Words of Wisdom

Back in 2016 when I was working on the first two novels in the Empowered series and taking a self-study crash course in indie publishing, “writing to market” was the topic d’jour in indie author circles and on self-publishing podcasts. Chris Fox’s Write To Market laid out how to do this. I have indie author friends who were adroit at figuring out the tropes and trends in their particular sub-genre and successfully hit their particular market’ bull’s-eye.

Contrast that with advice I’d read years before, from agents and editors, to be aware of the market, but not chase it, since you’ll always be behind. Instead write the story that you most want to tell, which still seems like very sound advice. Another way of putting it is to know the reader expectations of your particular genre, but first and foremost, write what you love. Finding the place on the publishing Venn diagram where those expectations and what you love intersect can connect you with readers.

Today’s Words of Wisdom looks at the importance of writing “for the love of it.” Rather than the usual trio of excerpts we have a quartet of briefer ones on writing what you love, the different kinds of love you need, how writing what you love can rejuvenate and power your writing, and how love for a project can be a vital factor in your success. Two are from JSB, since they build nicely off each other. Even more than usual, given the short length of the excerpts, it is worth checking out the full versions, which are linked at the bottom of their respective enteries here.

I thought I’d follow on from Jim’s terrific post yesterday about writing with heart, and discuss an issue that is just as important in my view – writing what you love and not what you think the market will love. It drives me crazy when people say “you should write a romance – you’d make more money that way” or (even weirder) “You should write erotica – it’s really hot (no pun intended) right now.” For some reason there always seem to people wanting to make ‘helpful suggestions’ on what you should write – usually by pointing out the ‘hot’ genre on the current bestseller list, as if that is all it takes. Hey, if you just added a paranormal element to your mystery, shazam, you’d have it made.

If only it was that easy…For many wannabe writers the thought of becoming the next J K Rowling or Stephenie Meyers is enticement enough, as is the belief that somehow if you write to what you think the market wants, your future will be secure. Wrong.

Setting aside the obvious (that by the time you’ve written what the market loves now, the market has already shifted to something else) there is something more fundamental at stake. As my agent always says, you must write what you love. Why? Because it shows.

It shows if you are writing a romance when you think it’s ‘easy money’. It shows if you write a YA fantasy when you really want to write contemporary thrillers…If your heart isn’t in it, the readers will know you’re faking it.

Clare Langley-Hawthrone–June 14, 2010

The world is full of entertaining distractions, and many of them would give me more pleasure than writing my novel would, at least in the short term. Yet I convince myself that this isn’t true. I put down my newspaper and tell myself, “You know what? My novel is more interesting than the CIA director’s scandalous affair. So what, the guy fooled around with a fawning younger woman, what’s so interesting about that? Come on, stop searching the Internet for lubricious details. Stop exchanging snarky e-mails with your friends. Get back to work!”

And this brings me to the second lie I tell myself. At some point in the process of writing a novel I become convinced that this book is the best thing I’ve ever written. No — the best thing ever written by anybody. Crazy, right? The lie is so absurd I can’t seriously entertain it for very long. But it’s a useful delusion to have, especially when I’m struggling with the book and the deadline is approaching and I have to devote practically every waking moment to finishing the damn thing. Why put in all the effort if the novel isn’t fantastic?

Then I finish the first draft and stop telling myself the lies. They’ve served their purpose, so I don’t have to believe them anymore. I wait a few weeks, and then I’m ready to look at the manuscript again and confront the truth: the book is a mess. Some parts don’t make sense, other parts are boring. I don’t love the book anymore. But I don’t hate it either. Now it’s time for some tough love. An intervention. I have to whip the manuscript into shape.

And then, after all the revisions are done and the final changes sent to the copy editor and the advance reading copies distributed to the reviewers, then I’m ready to fall in love with the book again. But this time it’s not a blind, self-deluding infatuation. I’ve done my best to fix the novel’s flaws, but I know it’ll never be perfect. I love the book despite its imperfections and infelicities. I’m at this stage now with my next novel, which will be published in February. I’m still collecting blurbs and composing the jacket copy, but I can’t make any major changes to the book. This stage is the literary equivalent of zipping up your lover’s dress and clasping the pearls around her neck, getting her ready for her big night on the town.

Go out there, beautiful. Knock ’em dead.

Mark Alpert—November 17, 2012

 

We have to have that in our writing if we’re going to keep doing this for the long term. You’ve only got so much time. Give that time to the stories you’re burning to tell. Do that first, and the money will follow. How much, no one can say. But joy tips the balance in your favor. For example, in addition to my novels and novellas, I’m writing short stories about a boxer in 1950s Los Angeles. I make some scratch every month on these. But more than that, I love writing them. It’s a different voice and genre than I normally write in, which has the added benefit of keeping my writing chops sharp.

If you love what you do you’ll do more of it, and  you’ll do it better, and that will increase the odds of making a decent buck at this—either through self-publishing or finding a traditional publisher who believes in your voice and vision. Or some combination of the two.

So my question for you today is, do you love what you’re writing? If not, why not?

James Scott Bell—September 29, 2013 

  1. Love

An inner fire to make it as a writer will get you through years of cold reality. I suspect that the majority of writers who make it to full-time status love what they do. Writing is a part of them, a calling as well as a vocation.

It’s certainly possible to write out of sheer business-mindedness (I think, however, that this is much easier when you write non-fiction). Yet there’s a certain something that gets translated to the page by the writer who loves the work. I believe you can write what you love and, if you do so with the other characteristics listed below, earn a fair return.

  1. Discipline

“One of the big lessons of sports for dedicated individuals and teams is that it shows us how hard work, and I mean hard work, does pay dividends.” – John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach

Love is not enough. Ask anyone who’s married.

Work puts legs on the dream.

  1. Perseverance 

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” – Randy Pausch, “The Last Lecture”

The true writer puts this thought in mind: I am going to write and never stop because that’s what I want to do. I will keep learning and growing and producing the words. I’ll keep carving out time to write, even if it means giving some things up. And it will always be too soon to quit. 

James Scott Bell—November 2, 2014

***

  1. Where are you on the spectrum of writing for love – writing to market? Does writing to market work for you?
  2. Do you maintain your love for a project throughout the process of writing it? Any tips?
  3. Has love for a particular story or novel rejuvenated your writing?
  4. How important is it to you to write what you love?

Relaxing Words of Wisdom

Writing can be a joyous activity, but it can also be stressful at times. The same goes double for publishing. There’s so much to juggle, and try to track. Agent queries, markets, edits, publishing schedules, the list is endless, whether you are traditionally published, an indie, or a hybrid author. Finding ways to relax and manage distractions can be enormously helpful. Today’s Words of Wisdom gives tips on doing just that, with Jordan Dane, James Scott Bell and Steve Hooley each providing valuable insights and methods on using everything from meditation to power naps.

As always, the excerpts below are worth reading in full, and are each linked from their respective dates.

Recently I served on a panel at the Romance Writers of America annual conference on the topic of “Care and Feeding of the Writer’s Soul.” Below is only a fraction of the empowering presentation put on to a full house by Ellie JamesTrinity Faegen, and yours truly. I had no idea how important our message would be to the attendees who found us afterwards and hugged us with tears in their eyes. So my message today is to take care of YOU.

1.) Meditation – Meditation isn’t about chanting “Ohms” and contorting your body. ANY repetitive action can be considered meditation—walking, swimming, painting, and knitting—any activity that keeps your attention calmly in the present moment. When your mind is at rest, the brain can be stimulated in a creative fashion.

2.) Visualize Being Relaxed – Imagine a relaxing setting away from your tensions, your perfect dream spot. This could be a vacation spot or a fancy luxury spot where you are pampered. Visualization could also include something you touch to trigger that feeling of calm—a silk robe, warm water, or a cashmere sweater.

3.) Breathe Deeply – Relaxed breathing is deep, not shallow. Get in a comfortable position and let out all the negativity in a deep expelled breath through pursed lips. Drop your shoulders to release the tension and imagine your core as the powerful place of your strength. Keep your mind focused deep into your power spot and consciously expel the stress with each breath. Breathe in the new and expel the negative until you are renewed. Believe it and make it so. Do this TEN TIMES and feel your body relax more with each step.

4.) Take a Look Around You – Something an author should do anyway. Keep your mind focused on one thing. No multi-tasking. Stay in the moment and focus on one thing or activity. Staying in the present can help promote relaxation, without all the clutter the mind can generate. If you are outdoors, focus on a bed of flowers or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a mall, keep your attention to one window, maybe one pair of shoes. Focus on how it was created, examine the details. Tell a story about that one object. As long as you focus on one object in the present, stress will take a backseat.

5.) Drink Hot Tea – Make a moment in your day to have a cup of tea. Go green. Coffee raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, while green tea offers health and beauty. Chamomile tea is a traditional herbal favorite for its calming influence. Any black tea is a stress reliever too.

6.) Show Love – Cuddle your pet or give an unexpected hug to a friend or family member. Giving a hug is like getting one back. Snuggling is good too. Snuggle that spouse who supports your writing. Social interaction helps your brain think better. Ever try a hug or snuggle for writer’s block? Physically showing affection—like stroking your pet—may actually lower your blood pressure. It can’t hurt.

Jordan Dane—August 16, 2012

 

Just as a Molinist theologian can contemplate an infinite number of contingent realities, so you, the writer, have an infinite number of ways you can get distracted, going off in different directions based upon a single pop of a cerebral synapse, one little soft-pawed frolic of a popcorn kitten.

So what’s the cure?

Here is a simple trick that can change your life. All it requires is some paper and a little mental discipline.

I call it Nab, Stab and Tab.

First step is to nab that thought. Recognize it for what it is—a siren’s song to leave whatyou’re focused on and slide into Alice’s rabbit hole. You might even say it out loud. “My crazy mind wants me to go on Google right now!”

Next step, stab. You want to nail the thought to your desk so it doesn’t hop around in your head. You do this by writing it down. That’s all. I have scratch paper nearby for just this purpose. So in the scenario above, if I suddenly remembered I want to explore guest blogging, I’d write guest blogging on the paper.

Then I immediately forget about it and get back on task! This is the key moment, the forgetting. Get back to work on your WIP!

Finally, when I come up for air and have some time, I’ll give each thought a tab—I assign it a level of importance, using the A, B, C method (which I detail in my monograph, How to Manage the Time of Your Life).

A is for highly important, must-do.

B is for what I’d like to do.

C is for items that can wait.

If there is more than one A item, I prioritize these with A1, A2. Same with any Bs and Cs.

Next, I estimate how much time each task will take. I use quarter hour increments. So a task might take me .25 hour or .5 or a full 1 or 2. Whatever.

Finally, I put the A tasks into my weekly schedule in priority order. If there’s enough time, I’ll put in the Bs. The Cs I usually put off.

This may sound complicated, but it takes only a few seconds to nab and stab. And only a few minutes to tab and schedule.

Yet the benefits are profound. Less stress, more focus on you primary work.

James Scott Bell—February 14, 2016

 

Boys in the Basement and the Default Mode Network

The really interesting research has revealed how much the brain goes on working when we are not concentrating, working, or focusing. A “mysterious and complex circuit stirs to life when people are daydreaming.” This is called the Default Mode Network (DMN).

Immordino-Yang, a research scientist at USC, in a review of research on the DMN, argues that “when we are resting, the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes…”

Other research suggests the Default Mode Network is more active in highly creative people.

Power Naps

So, if we need to turn our DMN loose to do creative things for our brain, we should take more naps. Right? Many studies have established that naps “sharpen concentration and improve the performance of both sleep-deprived and the fully rested…”

Here, the interesting data is in the length if naps. One study looked at 5, 10, 20, and 30-minute naps. The five-minute naps barely improved alertness. Ten minutes and higher increased performance, but the 20 and 30-minute naps were associated with half an hour or more of “sleep inertia” (post-nap grogginess). The study concluded that 7-10-minute naps were best.

 Restorative Breaks and Mindfulness Training

Here’s my favorite. Breaks taken in a natural outdoor setting (vs. in a setting full of city noise and chaos) led to a 3-times greater improvement in memory. I wonder how the sound of my chain saw (requiring ear protection) affects the benefit of the “natural outdoor setting.”

And, finally, “mindfulness training” (sustained focus on one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the present moment) is believed to “improve mental health, hone one’s ability to concentrate, and strengthen memory.”

Steve Hooley—December 18, 2021

***

  1. Have you tried any of the techniques Jordan discussed to help you relax? Do you have a technique she didn’t mention that you’d like share?
  2. How do you manage overwhelm and keep your brain focused? Have you tried JSB’s nab, stab and tab?
  3. Have you tried power naps and/or restorative to help with your creativity and recharge? Do you have favorite method of your own to help with your focus?

Red Herrings, Foreshadows and Creating a Mystery

Recently Kay DiBianca and I talked about the elements of a cozy mystery, which you can read here if you missed it the first time.

I thought it would be worthwhile to dive into the TKZ archives to look at mystery elements in general. I love studying story elements and structure, especially with mysteries.

Red Herrings are an important part of mysteries, and Kathryn Lilley has a terrific summation of what makes some good and some stink. Foreshadowing is important in fiction in general, but I’d argue that it’s essential in mystery fiction. Jodie Renner looks at ways to use foreshadowing which can work well in setting up and revealing a mystery. Finally, how do you come up with a mystery? Where do you begin? Cozy mystery author Nancy Cohen shares her methodology, which also does a fine job of giving a rundown of the core elements of a mystery.

As always, the full posts are date-linked at the bottom of their respective excerpts.

What makes some red herrings good, and others stink like yesterday’s…well, red herring?

Camouflage

Red herrings shouldn’t scream, “Hey, I’m a clue!” from the rooftops. Readers are smart, and they’ll be working to solve the mystery as they go. They don’t need you to stomp on ’em. The subtlety rule applies to all clues, not just to red herrings.

A fish before dying

You can plant a red herring before your victim turns up dead, right at the beginning of your story. At that point, your reader doesn’t even know who is going to get killed, much less whodunnit.

Dead fish need not apply

All clues, including red herrings, must serve to move your story forward. Don’t use your red herrings only as a way to throw the reader off. Make them integral to your plot or character-building.

Two-faced fish

In some of my books, I wasn’t sure who the villain was until very near the end of the writing process. I write all the clues so that any of them can be red herrings or valid clues, depending on the ending.

Kathryn Lilley—August 4, 2009

 

Here are some ways you can foreshadow events or revelations in your story:

– Show a pre-scene or mini-example of what happens in a big way later, for example:
The roads are icy and the car starts to skid but the driver manages to get it under control and continues driving, a little shaken and nervous. This initial near-miss plants worry in the reader’s mind. Then later a truck comes barreling toward him and…

– The protagonist overhears snippets of conversation or gossip and tries to piece it all together, but it doesn’t all make sense until later.

– Hint at shameful secrets or painful memories your protagonist has been hiding, trying to forget about.

– Something on the news warns of possible danger – a storm brewing, a convict who’s escaped from prison, a killer on the loose, a series of bank robberies, etc.

– Your main character notices and wonders about other characters’ unusual or suspicious actions, reactions, tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language.Another character is acting evasive or looks preoccupied, nervous, apprehensive, or tense.

– Show us the protagonist’s inner fears or suspicions. Then the readers start worrying that what the character is anxious about may happen.

– Use setting details and word choices to create an ominous mood. A storm is brewing, or fog or a snowstorm makes it impossible to see any distance ahead, or…?

– The protagonist or a loved one has a disturbing dream or premonition.

– A fortune teller or horoscope foretells trouble ahead.

– Make the ordinary seem ominous, or plant something out of place in a scene.Zoom in on an otherwise benign object, like that bicycle lying in the sidewalk, the single child’s shoe in the alley, the half-eaten breakfast, etc., to create a sense of unease.

– Use objects: your character is looking for something in a drawer and pushes aside a loaded gun. Or a knife, scissors, or other dangerous object or poisonous substance is lying around within reach of children or an assailant.

– Use symbolism, like a broken mirror, a dead bird, a lost kitten, or…

Jodie Renner—January 27, 2014

How do you formulate a traditional murder mystery plot? Do you start with the victim? The villain? Or do you select an evocative location or a controversial issue and start there?

I’ll clue you in to my methodology. This might work differently for you and is by no means a comprehensive list. But these are the elements I consider when planning a mystery. It’s part of what I call the Discovery phase of writing.

Book Title
Do you title your story before or after you write the book? I prefer to have a title up front. Sometimes, this dictates what I have to do next. For example, in Murder by Manicure, I had a title and no plot.

This had been part of a three-book contract, and all of a sudden my publisher wanted a synopsis. I had to come up with an idea that incorporated the title. Someone had to die either while getting a manicure or as a result of one. I face this same quandary now. I have the title, and I have to suit the crime to this situation. That brings us to the next element.

The Crime Scene
Do you begin with the victim or the villain? In a psychological suspense story, you might begin with the villain and why he became that way. The focus would be on how he turned to the dark side and what motivates him now. Then in comes your hero who has to figure out a way to stop him while delving into his psyche at the same time.

My plots center around the victim. Who is this person? Where do they die? How do they die? Once I figure out the Howdunit, I’ll move on to the next factor.

The Victim
What made this person a target? Here we might learn about their job and personal relationships. Was this person loved without a single blemish in his past? Or did other people have reason to resent him? What might have happened in his past to lead up to this moment? And what did he do to trigger the killer at this point in time? What could he be involved in that you as a writer might want to research?

The Cause
This is the passionate belief that underlies your story. It’s what gets me excited about a book, because I can learn something new and feel strongly about an issue while weaving it into my tale. In Hanging by a Hair, I deal with condo associations and their strict rules. I also touch upon Preppers and the extremes they go to in their survivalist beliefs. Or perhaps my theme is really about family unity, and how Marla strives to bring peace to the neighborhood so she can resume a normal family life. In my current plot, I finally hit upon The Cause. Now the elements are starting to come together. It’s exciting when this happens. And that brings us to the next factor.

The Suspects
Who has the motive, means and opportunity to have committed the crime? Does every one of your suspects have a viable motive? If so, whodunit? And why now? How can you relate these people to each other? This is the fun part, where the relationships build and the plot begins to coalesce in your mind. Character profiles might help at this stage, so you have a better concept of each person before they step on stage. Seek out photos if necessary and do any research you might need before you get started writing. What does The Cause mean to these people? Is it the reason why the victim had to die? Or is it the glue the sleuth will use to put the pieces together?

Nancy Cohen—August 13, 2014

***

  1. What makes a good red herring for you, both as a writer and a reader? How do you avoid an obvious red herring?
  2. What’s a favorite way you like to foreshadow?
  3. How do you come up with a mystery? What inspires you?

Getting Cozy

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” – Neil Armstrong

* * *

What is a cozy mystery? And how has this popular sub-genre evolved over time? Since fellow TKZ contributor Dale Ivan Smith and I both write cozies, we thought it would be fun to co-write a post on the subject.

WHAT MAKES A MYSTERY “COZY?”

These are the basic “rules” as I understand them:

  1. No explicit violence.
  2. No explicit sexual content.
  3. Usually, no profanity. But if there is any, it’s mild.

Although there are many variations, a cozy mystery often involves a murder that has taken place “off stage” before the story begins. The mystery is usually presented as a puzzle where the reader tries to figure out the solution along with the protagonist.

This quote from an article on novelsuspects.com sums it up nicely:

“Overall, cozy mysteries are the perfect mix of smart, thoughtful stories that challenge you to think as you read while also being a relaxing escape from everyday life.“

HISTORY

Mysteries have been around for a long time. The first mystery novel is usually identified as The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, published in 1859. But Agatha Christie changed the landscape in 20th century.

According to an article on the website of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Mansfield, Ohio:

“Agatha Christie is usually credited with being the (unintentional) mother of the cozy mystery genre with her Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series. The term “cozy” was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.”

* * *

Since its inception, the cozy mystery genre has evolved, and a few new trends have grown up around it. For example, many of today’s cozies have paranormal elements you wouldn’t have found in the mid-20th century. It also isn’t unusual for stories to center around food or pets.

Book covers have also morphed to reflect a more playful approach, and many titles have become something of a pun contest. To the best of my knowledge, the images shown below were the first edition covers. Consider how things have changed from the 20th century …

… to the 21st century:

* * *

Over to Dale to give us background on the cozy narrative:

We’re so often advised to begin with action. However, cozies tend to call for the grounding of the reader in the character’s background and setting right at the start, to help give that cozy feel and connect the reader with our heroine. The heroine is often introduced in a summary of who-the-character is fashion, rather than an in-media-res opening that other mysteries might.

Often we also learn how she arrived at this point in her life—perhaps she just went through a divorce, or lost a job, and moved to the small community, possibly inheriting a business and meeting a character who will be significant in their life. If they are already established, like in Jenn McKinlay’s Books Can Be Deceiving, the first of her Library Lovers series which opens with the Thursday “Crafternoon” group meeting at the library.

The murder can occur in the opening, but often occurs later, and serves as the gateway to Act II. While the opening of a cozy often establishes the world before the murder, the discovery of a body puts the sleuth on a quest to restore order to her little world. The heroine will follow an “arc of suspicion” where she uncovers secrets that may lead to the actual crime, or may be a red herring, and she will be looking for the motive.

The police are on the wrong trail when it comes to finding the murderer, so it is up to the amateur sleuth to find the true culprit. Often a friend, relative or other innocent is arrested. A police arrest of an innocent may occur at the midpoint, and/or the person the sleuth believed was the murderer themselves is killed, or something else that sends our heroine’s investigation on a new course.

She sifts through competing ideas (theories) about what was behind the murder, until she finds a crucial clue or insight which leads her to the revelation and confrontation with the killer. Just before this climax of the book, circumstances and/or choices she makes isolate her from her friends and allies.

As the investigation continues, it is counterbalanced with a cozy subplot, such a baking competition, parade, event at the library etc. which the main character is involved with, until the isolating nature of the investigation pushes her away from that cozy storyline.

There is often also a slow-burn romance. In H.Y. Hanna’s English Cottage Garden series Poppy has a slow-burn mutual attraction, alternating with frustration, for her neighbor, a crime writer, who also helps her at times in solving the mystery. Each book features a moment where the two draw together in attraction other, but another moment or moments were they are pushed apart by a disagreement or other conflict.

Humor in a cozy mystery serves to lighten the mood and up the fun quotient of the story, often surprising the reader right after a plot turn or a revelation, though things get serious as we head into Act III and the confrontation with the murderer. But often comedy returns at the end, when we have a scene or even a short sequence of scenes validating the restoration of order to the community.

So, TKZers: Do you read cozy mysteries? Tell us about your favorite books and authors.

 

 

The Rhetorical Triangle for Writers

rhetorical triangle for writers Photo of a cute donkeyThe rhetorical triangle is a concept that rhetoricians developed from the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s idea that effective persuasive arguments contain three essential elements: logos, ethos, and pathos.

Its purpose? To inform, persuade, entertain — whatever the author wants the audience to believe, know, feel, or do.

All forms of communication use the tools of rhetoric to some degree. Though the rhetorical triangle sounds like it’s geared toward nonfiction writing, novelists can use it as a literary devise.

Logos

Logos establish reliability. We want readers to believe our main character. By using factual information and logic, we’re building connections in the reader’s mind.

An example of logos:

Facts: Mr. Duke owns a tea shop. He talks about his passion for tea.
Logic: Mr. Duke has liquid in a teacup. Because of his passion for tea and the fact that he owns the tea shop…
Conclusion: The liquid in his teacup must be tea.

Are we jumping to conclusions too soon? Maybe. Is any other information available? Does Mr. Duke slur his words? Then maybe there’s alcohol in that teacup. Or he has a medical issue. Given the social constructs and the available information, the reader concludes he’s drinking tea.

Logos do get more complicated, but it always retains these basic parts. And we, as writers, need to recognize the order in which readers draw conclusions. By doing so, we can manipulate the narrative to suit our needs.

Ethos

Ethos boils down to one burning question: Can the reader trust you? If you write nonfiction, citations from reliable sources help build trust. Or you consistently share reliable information, leading your audience to trust what you say is true.

In fiction, ethos may simmer in the background, invisible to the reader. The MC shows the audience they are trustworthy through actions, reactions, and the choices they make.

Pathos

Pathos is the emotional pull. Authors use pathos to evoke certain feelings from the reader. For our purposes, pathos is a literary device rather than a rhetorical one. Pathos establish tone or mood or make the reader feel sympathetic toward a character. By using pathos, we can trigger readers to feel happy, sad, angry, passionate, inspired, or miserable through word choices and plot development.

Pathos is a Greek word meaning “suffering” that has long been used to relay feelings of sadness or strong emotion. Adopted into the English language in the 16th century to describe a quality that stirs emotions, it’s often produced by real-life tragedy or moving language.

Pathos became the foundation for many other English words.

  • Empathy — the ability to understand and feel the emotions of others
  • Pathology — the study of disease, which can cause suffering
  • Pathetic — something that causes others to feel pity
  • Sympathy — the shared feeling of sadness
  • Sociopath — causing harm to society
  • Psychopath — suffering in the mind

Pathos is the basis for the art of persuasion.

Ever watch commercials for pet adoptions? The sad puppy dog eyes plead for a forever home. They rip your heart out, right? That’s pathos at work.

Most readers want to feel something when they crack open a novel. An emotion pull connects the reader to the characters, immerses them in story, and keeps them flipping pages. Pathos also explains why some stories are unforgettable — because we lived it with the characters! We feared for their safety. We cried over their heartbreaks. We cheered over their victories. The characters became our friends, maybe even family, and we miss them as soon as we close the cover.

Since it’s easier to spot pathos in music lyrics…

God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood: “And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me…”

Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor: “It’s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song.” Or “All the flowers that you planted in the backyard, Mama, all died when you left.”

To start your week off on the right foot, I’ll embed Happy by Pharrell Williams. An obvious pathos is: “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”

Anyone who can sit still during this song might be dead inside. 😉

Did you spot other pathos in the video? Have you heard of the rhetorical triangle? What other ways might we use logos, ethos, and pathos?

Can Writing Heal Physical Pain?

Let me preface this post by saying, discussing my personal struggles with pain is my least favorite subject. The only reason I’m even broaching this subject is because I discovered a cool connection between writing and pain management, and I hope it’ll help those who need it.

Last week, New Hampshire got hammered with one snowstorm after another, the totality of which resulted in snowbanks taller than I am. With such unsettled barometric pressure and weather patterns, my RA and psoriatic arthritis kicked into overdrive. For me, writing has always been the best pain medicine. When I’m in the zone, I leave my fractured skeleton in the chair and escape into my fictional world. But something—email, social media, direct messages, marketing, blogging, phone calls, and texts—kept yanking me out of my fictive dreamland when I needed it most, and the moment it did, my body screamed in protest.

And so, for self-preservation, I climbed back into my writing cave, padlocked and soundproofed the door behind me. Hence why you didn’t see me in the comment section last week, or on social media. For once, I put my own wellbeing above everything else. By the time I emerged from the writing cave a week later, I’d added over 30K words to the WIP. Now, I only have one or two chapters left to reach The End of Mayhem Series #7. Yay!

Anywho…

The U.S. Pain Foundation describes chronic pain as the following:

When you try to put your hand over a hot burner on the stove, your brain signals to you that it’s hot and you quickly move your hand away. This acute pain center lights up circuits in the nociceptive area, the acute brain center, alerting you to move away. 

Imagine if you can’t move your hand away from the burner even though you know it’s going to hurt. You get that signal telling you it’s too hot, but you cannot move your hand away. How would you feel? Angry? Enraged? Fearful? Panicked? You can’t stop the pain even though you know it’s coming. These natural emotions set off chemicals and hormones like fight-or-flight adrenaline, cortisol, and histamines which sensitize the nervous system, raise anxiety levels, and amplify our sensation of pain.

Is it any wonder we’d seek an escape?

With chronic pain, the pain travels through the emotional area of the brain or sympathetic nervous system. The emotion and pain pathways are so closely linked that it’s only possible to experience meaningful pain relief when you break this connection. Separating our emotions from our pain pathway is a learned skill, and writing plays an important role.

When we write, our brains release chemicals that calm the nervous system. Daily writing creates new neural circuits in the brain, giving us new ways to respond to old pain triggers. The new, healthy circuits eventually grow stronger than the old pain circuits.

A 1986 study uncovered something extraordinary, something that inspired generations of researchers to conduct several hundred more studies.

The gist is this. Professor Pennebaker asked students to spend 15 minutes writing about the biggest trauma of their lives. Or, if they hadn’t experienced trauma, to write about a difficult time. Meanwhile, a control group spent the same number of sessions (4) writing a description of something neutral like a tree or their dorm room.

For the six months that followed the study, the professor monitored how often students visited the health center. Remarkably, the students who’d written about their trauma and real emotions made significantly fewer trips to the doctor. Ever since, the field of psychoneuroimmunology has been exploring the link between what’s now known as expressive writing, and the functioning of the immune system. Psychoneuroimmunology studies examine the effect of expressive writing on everything from asthma and arthritis to breast cancer and migraines, with surprising beneficial results.

Writing even heals physical wounds faster.

Brave volunteers engaged in expressive writing; a second group did not. Days later, they were all given a local anesthetic and a punch biopsy at the top of their inner arm. Researchers monitored the 4mm wounds. The volunteers who engaged in expressive writing healed faster than the others.

What does the act of committing words to paper do? Initially it was assumed this occurred through catharsis, that people felt better because they’d released pent-up emotions. But then Pennebaker dissected the language used by the two groups.

The fast healer’s point of view changed over the course of the four sessions. They began with 1st person, then moved to deep 3rd, suggesting they were looking at the event from different perspectives. They also used “because” and the like, implying they were making sense of the events and putting them into a narrative. The results proved the simple act of labeling your feelings and putting them into a story boosts the immune system.

Sounds a lot like crafting fiction steeped in real emotion, doesn’t it?

What Pennebaker found curious but makes perfect sense to me (and you, probably) is that simply imagining a traumatic event and writing a story about it also made wounds heal faster, concluding that the writing has less to do with resolving past issues and more to do with finding a way of channeling real emotions.

Despite several decades of research showing that writing works to manage pain, it’s rarely used clinically. Also, the process works better for some people than others, depending on how well they engage with the process.

So, the next time you’re in pain, lock yourself away in your writing cave. Your body and WIP will both thank you. 😉

Do you have any personal experience to share? What do think about these studies? 

How To Adopt a Writing Mindset

The word “success” has various meanings. Some writers stay laser-focused on the end result, but I propose that we step back, slow down, and view success as footprints in the sand. Each footprint represents one day.

Will you step into that print or let it wash away in the tide?

Success is about adopting a growth mindset. Every morning I watch the sunrise. Why? Because it grounds me with a positive mindset for the day. If you roll over and slap the snooze button, dreading the day ahead, you’ll start the day with a negative mindset. Things tend to roll downhill from there.

Have you ever heard a writer complain that they’re just not any good at writing? That’s called a fixed mindset. Their mind is made up. They will never be a good writer. Period. End.

A growth mindset is positivity based. The writer with a growth mindset says, “I may not be the best writer today, but I will be.”

See the difference?

The writer with the growth mindset is stepping into the footprint to see where it leads. The writer with the fixed mindset would rather complain about writing on social media and let the footprint melt away in the tide.

Success is not about how many books you’ve sold, the amount of traffic to your blog, or even an article going viral. Instead, success is about progress, growth, and moving forward. That type of success is sustainable and filled with joy. We often say writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s a reason for that. By celebrating small successes along the way to that big dream, we give ourselves positive reinforcement, we cheer ourselves on, we maintain a positive and joyous mindset.

Embrace your potential.

Understand that good writing is not a natural talent. It’s earned through study and practice and showing up every day.

If you struggle with a negative mindset, flip the script.

  • Where the negative writer sees a problem, the positive writer seizes the opportunity to grow and learn.
  • When the negative writer doesn’t know an answer and gives up, the positive writer researches the problem.
  • Where the negative writer sees criticism, the positive writer appreciates the feedback.
  • Where the negative writer might feel jealously, the positive writer feels admiration.
  • Where the negative writer might find something too hard, the positive writer knows the hard work will be worthwhile in the end.

People in general who believe that their efforts and strategies can lead to success are likely to engage in learning activities and take on challenges with enthusiasm, so they learn more, which reinforces their belief that they can learn to write well. In fact, according to some psychologists, this confidence, or self-efficacy, is central to motivation and learning.

What is a writing mindset?

It’s how we think about writing. Because I start the day with a positive mindset, I can’t wait to get to my keyboard. I know I’m gonna have a great day. Why? Because a writing mindset supports creative work.

How we approach and frame our writing problems lead to positive or negative outcomes. Working on developing a growth mindset will support your writing process.

So, for example, if you believe you can only write on Monday mornings from 8-10 a.m., you’re already making decisions about your ability to write on a Tuesday or a Wednesday or a Saturday, so if you slip behind the keyboard on any other day but Monday, it’ll be harder to write. You’ve handicapped your creativity with a fixed (negative) mindset.

How do we develop a writing mindset?

It’s about thinking that supports creativity, productivity, and persistence within our written work. It’s about reframing negative thought patterns. For example, I am not a poet, but I would never say I couldn’t write a poem. I would never say I couldn’t write anything. That’s not a self-serving statement. It stems from the knowledge that I can learn to write anything I want. And so can you!

A writing mindset challenges negativity and forces us to examine where negative thoughts stem from. Fear? Anxiety? Low self-esteem?

Writers with a growth mindset rarely, if ever, experience writer’s block. Why? Because we’ve harnessed the power of self-belief and positivity.

Benefits of a Writing/Growth Mindset

  • You will feel more in control of your writing.
  • Writing won’t feel so elusive and magical (magical meaning, to the point where you can’t replicate it).
  • You’ll be able to decide when and where you write rather than waiting for motivation or inspiration.
  • You’ll learn to show up and put in the hours.
  • You’ll step into the next footprint to see where it leads.

Okie doke, my beloved TKZers. There’s your Monday morning pep-talk. Now, go seize the day!

Story Structure in Humans

As I tell this story, think back over your life. We’ve all gone through hard times, some worse than others. Humor me, and if you’re struggling with story structure, you’ll at least begin to grasp it by the time you’ve read this post. That’s my hope, anyway.

Humans have structure — flesh, organs, tissue, arteries, veins, water, and muscle all have their place. No matter what race, religion, or creed, we are the same. What braces up our bodies is our skeleton — story structure.

We may look different on the outside — some have big noses, full lips, different skin and eye color — but we all started the same way…

As an egg — story idea.

Once fertilized, the egg grew in the womb, but still hadn’t fully formed yet — concept.

We evolved into a living, breathing human and entered the world — character.

We each grew to think and feel differently, have different world views, religions, heart, and soul — theme.

And we lived our lives, our story — premise.

Some people are more giving, outwardly loving. Some are more reserved. But it’s all because of how our parents raised us, or because a tragedy changed us — backstory.

So, we’ve been born and we’re growing up, maturing or have already matured. Whichever applies to that specific time in your life.

We scored a job. Perhaps married and had children. But we retained our inner demons, our flaws — Act I — 1st quartile: Set Up << which begins character arc, introduces characters, sets up FPP, foreshadows future events, etc. 

And then something happened to throw our lives out of balance. This defining moment demanded that we act. We could not hide from it. It forced us to do something — First Plot Point, at 20-25%.

After this crucial moment occurred, an antagonist force entered our lives, or it was there all along and only now revealed itself — 1st Pinch Point, at 3/8th mark or 37.5%.

We reeled, flailed, resisted, and failed — Act II — 2nd quartile: Response 

We either did something to fix the problem, or the problem worsened. All the while we kept thinking things could not get much worse. Or we believed we’d finally solved the problem. But it was a false victory or a false defeat — Midpoint, at 50%.

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So, we needed to attack the problem head on, because it’s wasn’t going away — Act III — 3rd quartile: Attack << our true character changes again and we become a warrior.

We stopped our pity party because it wasn’t doing us any good. Besides, we’re stronger now than when we started this quest.

And then, the antagonist force emerged again. Only now, it was more terrifying than ever because it too had upped its game — 2nd Pinch Point, at 5/8th mark or 62.5%. Learn more about Pinch Points.

We realized we hadn’t actually solved the problem. We’d only made it worse. Or the victory was short-lived because we didn’t realize X,Y,Z was around the corner, waiting to explode. Things looked bleak. Could this situation get any worse? — All Is Lost Moment.

But how did we really feel about this? What sort of impact did it have on us? — Dark Night of the Soul.

Then something changed. Or we discovered something new that helped us see a glimmer at the end of a dark road — 2nd Plot Point, at 75%.

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In fact, there was a way we could fix our lives — Act IV — 4th quartile: Resolution << this act completes character arc

The only way to defeat the antagonist was to overcome our fears, inner demons, flaws, and meet this force head on. We had to fight this battle (not be a bystander), with everything we’d learned in life thus far, about ourselves and the world around us — Climax.

After which, we lived happily ever after, or as happy as we could be in our new world. We grew as individuals, faced our fears, and had come out stronger for the effort. We’d settled into our new lives — Resolution.

Boom. The end. Obviously, we need a compelling hook first, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Could you think of a time in your life when this applied to you? Hold tight to that memory, and you’ll never forget story structure at its basic level.

“The more Shawnee digs, she ends up with more questions than answers and then add bloody body parts showing up on her doorstep, crows stalking her every move, unreachable friends, a serial killer on her heels, harrowing situations, and she’s just really not sure she’s up to the task at hand. Lines blur with truth and lies, deceptions and facts, and everything about her past will come into question. I loved everything about this book!” — Denise H, book reviewer

On sale for 99c on Amazon

Running and Writing – The Finish Line

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
—John Bingham, running speaker and writer

* * *

No matter how long or short the race or how well or poorly the runner performs, the finish line is always a welcome sight. Crossing the line is a triumph in itself, but once there, it’s time to do more than enjoy the refreshments. Here are a few things to check off the list:

  1. Celebrate the completion of another race.
  2. Congratulate the other runners on their success. (In long road races, you will often see the leaders cross the finish line and then jog back down to course encouraging the slower runners.)
  3. Analyze the results. Did you prepare and train well enough? Did your strategy work? Did you give it your all? The answer is often “no” to one or more of these, but that’s good fodder for #4:
  4. Plan for the next race. Write down your goals and schedule the next competition.
  5. Get to work.

* * *

As we come to the finish line of 2022, it’s time to reflect on what we’ve done, what worked, what didn’t work, and start to plan for 2023.

I’ve mentioned here before that each year I create a list of goals that I tape to the back of my office door. I glance at them now and then throughout the year, and their mere presence seems to keep me from going too far off-track. I took my 2022 list down today and reviewed it. I’ve met most of the goals, some I missed completely, and several I changed during the year. Here are a few I’m celebrating:

  • Contributing a bi-weekly post to the Kill Zone Blog. I loved the challenge of coming up with something new every other week and interacting with all the folks who comment. I particularly enjoyed co-writing A Mystery of History with Dale Ivan Smith and working with BK Jackson, Debbie Burke, Priscilla Bettis, Becky Friedrichs, Patricia Bradley, and Robert Luedeman on the TKZ Handwriting Experiment.
  • It must have been Steve Hooley’s influence that inspired me to try my hand at a fantasy short story, The Clutter Busters, in the Collierville Christian Writers Anthology Stories from the Attic. (Since my story is the first in the anthology, you can read it by using the “Look Inside” link on Amazon.)
  • Created a Box Set of The Watch Mysteries, Books 1-3
  • Although I planned to begin the fourth book in the Watch Series of Mysteries in 2022, I changed that goal and instead worked on the first book of a new romantic suspense series, Lady Pilot-in-Command. I finished the first draft and sent it off to my editor a couple of weeks ago.
  • Continued my monthly Craft of Writing Blog series of interviews on my website. This year the blog featured authors of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels. Most of the guests are regulars on TKZ, and their answers to the interview questions are enlightening.
  • Attended two writers’ conferences: Killer Nashville and the American Christian Fiction Writers conference.

Lest you think everything was sunshine and roses, here are a couple of notable misses:

  • Even though I submitted several times during the year, I was unable to get a Chirp deal for the audio version of Dead Man’s Watch.
  • I didn’t publish a novel in 2022. That wasn’t actually one of my written goals, but maybe it should have been:

Well, that’s a pretty good summary of my writing year. I’ve started jotting down my goals for 2023 (in handwriting, of course), combining realistic expectations with flights of fancy. Walking up to the starting line now …

So TKZers: Congratulations on completing another year of writing!

What are you celebrating as we come to the end of 2022?

What are your plans for 2023?

* * *

 

The Watch Mysteries Boxset: Books 1-3 Kindle edition on sale now.

 

Pumpkin Spice and Writing

Ever wonder why pumpkin spice is so popular? The fascinating part is not only does it taste amazing, but many are obsessed with how it makes them feel on an emotional level.

Dr. John McGann, a sensory neuroscientist at Rutgers Department of Psychology, explains how it all reverts back to the olfactory system — our sense of smell — which is complex to say the least.

“Most of what we refer to colloquially as taste is actually smell,” McGann says. “About 70 percent of our [perception] of taste is retronasal smell and then maybe 25 percent of it is true taste: salty, bitter, sweet. But there also additional components: the feeling of creaminess, which really contributes to a perception of flavor [and] your sense of touch. Then there’s an additional sense of pungency, [as in] the burning feeling of pepper from hot wings. That’s your trigeminal system. So, your brain is putting all of these things together.”

The human brain also assembles memories and emotions. In this way, smell is unique from all other senses, which first passes through the thalamus — a relay station of the brain — and goes straight to the olfactory bulb.

“From there it goes to the amygdala, which controls emotion, and to the hippocampal formation, the entorhinal cortex,” McGann explains. “Smell anatomically has a more direct connection to classical memory regions in the brain.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? A scene becomes more impactful and memorable when we include smell.

  • If your character is in the forest, include the fresh scent of pine.
  • If your character is in the bowling alley, include the stench of bare feet.
  • If your character is in a boat, include the salty ocean air.
  • If your character is at an Italian restaurant, include the signature tomato sauce.
  • If your character is at the gym, include body odor or sweat.
  • If your character is in a sauna, include cedar.
  • If your character is at a pool, include chlorine.
  • If your character is home, include a scented candle, tart warmer, or air freshener.
  • If one character is cradling a toddler, include baby shampoo or talcum powder.

McGann recalls a famous scene in Proust’s masterpiece, “Remembrance Of Things Past”, where the narrator eats a madeleine cookie and feels as if he’s transported back in time. The same thing happens to us when we drink or eat something flavored with pumpkin spice.

What makes the flavor so widely relatable is the inclusion of spices like cinnamon, clove, ground ginger, and nutmeg that are more prevalent during the holidays. The aroma of pumpkin is associated with Thanksgiving and autumnal harvest — historically, a prosperous time of year.

Food chemists hit an olfactory jackpot. Hence why pumpkin spice became more than just a fad. It’s a seasonal staple.

“The pumpkin spice blend… It’s about making people happy and connecting them to moments: the changing of the season, of being warm under the covers, but also the memory of spending enjoyable time with family and friends.” Thierry Muret, executive chef chocolatier at Godiva

Think about how the aroma of hot buttery popcorn triggers memories of movie theaters or how lobster tails remind New Englanders of the beach.

Where does your main character live? Does the area have a signature dish? Tickle the reader’s sense of smell to transport them there.

“Pumpkin spice is a novelty smell because you don’t smell it very often and it’s usually a pleasant smell,” explains Dr. Gabriel Keith Harris, director of Undergraduate Programs in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University. “Combine that with the fact that the part of the brain that processes smell is closely tied to the part of your brain responsible for memories and you have part of the secret to the success of pumpkin spice.”

Makes sense, right?

“Your brain fills in the gaps between the scent of the spices and the memories associated with the smell,” Harris adds. “It takes in everything we’re seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting, and it combines those sensory inputs with what we already know and believe about our environment.”

This helps to explain why scent is such a powerful driver of emotion.

The irony is that pumpkin spice doesn’t smell like pumpkins. Pumpkins are members of the squash family, and don’t smell like spices. On their own their taste ranges from bland to bitter. What we’re actually smelling and/or tasting is a combination of cinnamon, clove, ground ginger, and nutmeg.

The true genius of the pumpkin spice craze is all about timing. Same holds true for writing. Don’t include a scent merely to check off an item on the to-do list. Include smell for a reason.

Examples:

  • To enhance the setting—the MC is hiking up a mountain trail.
  • To transport the reader back in time and/or place—flashing back to a memory.
  • To pack a more emotional punch—a mother loses her son, but she can still smell him on his favorite football jersey or bed pillow.
  • To set the scene—the MC meets a blind date at a restaurant.

“Pumpkin spice plays on what’s known in psychology as reactance theory, which refers to the idea that people will want something more if they are told they cannot have it,” according to Harris. “The seasonality of it is really intentional. If pumpkin spice were available year-round, it wouldn’t trigger such powerful memories and people wouldn’t want it as much.”

Also, when the pumpkin spice craze starts, people don’t want to miss out. They crave being part of a community.

“If you add it all up, the powerful ability of smell to summon up old experiences becomes a mental transportation device, shifting you from summer to fall and it becomes an event people want to be part of.”

Let’s pretend you are the main character. What scents should I expect to smell while reading your life story?

Happy Halloween!