Tagged: Writing Tips

Google Drive as a Tool for Writing

Writing on the go, to me, is just called writing. I am always on the go. I have an active life, and I am busy with many things. Therefore, an important part of any tool for me is portability. I have a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop that I use for writing. I prefer my desktop over everything else, but I have the others because life has other demands for me. One big thing I looked for in my writing tool is the portability, and the ability to work across multiple platforms.

Google works well on my windows desktop and laptop, and also works via apps on my smartphone and tablet. One drawback to the android app is that spell-check does not work. This can be an advantage sometimes, when I need to keep writing and suppress my need to constantly edit as I am writing. As it is, I switch to the desktop or laptop for final edits, and access to the spell-checker.

Another great tool inside the online version of the Google word processor program is the ability to research topics. I can highlight a word, and then go to the tools menu and select research. This will open up a side pane with relevant links. This is nice when I am doing some quick research for a story I am writing. It can be distracting, as I do have a tendency to love research.  The word processor offers all of the basic formatting features I need, and allows for the exporting of documents in commonly used formats, so that I can port it over to Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Word as needed.

The spreadsheet also comes in very handy. I use it to keep a “plot workbook” as I call it, with my notes for each chapter, POV, and character and place notes. This helps me to keep ideas, and to re-orient quickly when I resume working on a particular story.

In the future, I hope to band together with some other authors and publish an anthology.  Google Drive allows me to collaborate easily with others. I believe it is even now possible to track who made what specific changes to a document.

It took me a while to settle on my writing tool. I do not like to post public criticisms, so I will not mention specific software, but I did try many. I tried dedicated writing apps, designed specifically for writing stories. I tried various combinations of software in conjunction with cloud storage, I even tried some popular note-writing apps to see if they would work out for me. Google docs is what I ended up coming back to.

I remember reading a review of an app, and it really resonated with me when the author of the article stated that power users often like more simple app interfaces, whereas newbies usually like “flashier” apps. I am not sure about the power user versus newbie distinction, but I know that I do appreciate a simple interface. Google Docs does provide that simple interface that I appreciate.

One more great thing about using the Google Docs on Google Drive, is that Google Docs do not count toward the space limit. In other words, you can have an unlimited amount of Google formatted documents on Google Drive.

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A Pint with the Professor: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Characterization

Maslow’s Hierarchy Applied to Fictional Characters

Recently, both of my youngest two children have been dealing with croup, which has reminded me just how much sense Maslow’s Hierarchy makes in everyday lives. My youngest was in the hospital briefly, which also explains the lack of posts. Sorry. 🙂

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs  makes sense in real life, and also makes sense when looking at characters in fiction stories. I recall the symphony director that worked with Metallica on their S & M album talking about how the orchestra sometimes worked harmoniously with the band, and other times worked in disharmony with the band, to create something amazing. I think the same is true in great stories. Humanity can be expressed accurately, through the careful adherence to what is known about humans, or it can be a character study of someone who falls well outside the expected norm. Either way, having an understanding of the norm is an important part of work that embodies the use of such knowledge.

The Hierarchy

In Brief

The hierarchy is organized such that each level of the pyramid rests upon the other. So that lower level needs need to be met before higher level needs are able to be met. For example, food is at the bottom, with the idea that someone who is starving is not likely to have the time to spare to worry about whether or not he or she has friends. So physiological needs have to be met before safety and security needs are worried about. Safety and security needs have to be met before social needs are worried about. And so on and so forth.

Physiological Needs

These are basic, biological survival needs. This includes:  Air, Shelter, Water, Food, Sleep, and Sex. Some argue that sex does not belong here, as it is not essential for survival. Maslow argued it is a biological imperative, the drive to procreate.

Safety and Security Needs

The need to feel secure and safe. This includes: Physical Safety, Psychological Safety, Economic Security, and Social Security. Note that this is both physical and psychological. If a tiger is attacking, one is not physically safe. If a tiger may attack at any moment, one does not feel psychologically safe.

Social Needs

This is the need to belong. This includes: Friendship and Family, and the need for Intimacy. As we learn more about the brain, it shows us more and more that we are physically designed within our brain structure to connect with others.

Esteem

This is having self-respect and the respect of others. This includes:  Self-esteem, Confidence, Respect of Others, and Achievement. Notice that we are moving definitely more into the realm of the psychological. The inner world of the person.

Self-Actualization

A person realizing their full and complete potential. This includes: Creativity, Problem Solving, Innovation, and Fulfillment. Maslow saw achievement of self-actualization this as relatively rare. Think of Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Buddha, and Martin Luther King Jr. Maslow saw most people in real life as being in that state of seeking self-actualization. Oftentimes, characters are in this state as well.

Application to Characters

One obvious application to fictional characters is their story as they strive to meet the needs of one of more levels. In dystopian novels, for example, characters are often trying to meet the basic physiological or safety and security needs. Food and a safe place to live can be compelling needs. Application need not be restricted to the lower levels, however, as there are great stories at all levels of the hierarchy. Think of a character that is striving to find a place where they belong, or people that they belong to. Think of a character trying to achieve something important, while also struggling with self-esteem or identity issues. And at the top of the pyramid we have someone finally able to solve a major problem in the story, or fulfilling some purpose or fulfilling a purpose. Perhaps they had to struggle up the pyramid as the story progresses in order to get to that fulfillment.

One thing about fiction is that characters are often larger than life, or unique. So the characters are often an exaggeration or a unique, uncommon, or even rare circumstance. While Maslow saw it being relatively rare for someone to achieve self-actualization, it happens for characters in fiction stories all the time.

Opposites React

Another way that stories can grab the attention of readers is being going against what is expected. Not everyone knows who Maslow is or what his hierarchy states, but it has really become a part of our culture. Let me give you an example: When we are announcing big news or having an important meeting, we often make sure there is food and refreshments. At work and at home, we strive to ensure our environment is safe and secure, and that comes before things like televisions. I did not research it, but I once read that Einstein wrote important papers while he was young, poor, and alone. So he was able to achieve and apply his creative genius, despite being in a circumstance where he had not met his lower level needs. Doesn’t that make a compelling story? In fact, the case can be made that many historical leaders, both malign and benevolent, cast off the traditional routes of meeting lower needs in order to reach for the upper level needs.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a great example of the application of the hierarchy. This is set up right away as the lowest districts are concerned with basic survival, such as food, while those in the Capitol have such abundant food that they are able to focus on other things like politics and fashion. In fact, that is the very control that the government has over the people, that they hold the survival of the lower districts in their hands. The lower districts are stuck in the bottom of the pyramid, while the upper districts (and the President) are free to meet their esteem and creative needs.

Another facet of this in the Hunger Games is the fact that Katniss is asked to consider the top of the pyramid, while she is still trying to get he needs met at the bottom of the pyramid. She sees herself as just surviving the Hunger Games, while everyone else sees her as fighting for freedom. They ask her to join in the rebellion, forcing her to move to the top of the pyrmaid, when really she has been focused only on her survival needs up to that point.

So a good fictional story, driven by characters can work in concert with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, or work in direct conflict with the theory. Either way, it can make for compelling and interesting characters that are fun to read about.

About This Feature: A Pint with the Professor is a (somewhat) bi-weekly feature where I apply the things I know about psychology, sociology and other related disciplines to fiction. I love thoughtful fiction, and I love hearing from authors and writers of speculative fiction when they think deeply about their fictional worlds and the people and cultures in those worlds. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy putting them together. 

A Pint with the Professor: The Psychology of Villainy

The Importance of Fleshing out your Villain

People are complicated. Villains, like any other people, are usually complicated. One hallmark of a great villain, in my estimation, is one that I can empathize with. I may not agree with the decisions that they have made, but I can understand why they made those decisions. I am using the term villain and antagonist in this post, because I am really talking about villains for the most part. Not every antagonist needs to be a villain, though, but the same character traits may apply in varying degrees.

If a character is flat, and one-dimensional, then I will not have respect for that character. In most cases, it is important for the reader to have respect for the antagonist, or they will not be able to see the respect that the protagonist has for the antagonist. This is important, because the antagonist is usually the ultimate obstacle for the protagonist.

Empathy for the Antagonist

Justin Cronin, in The Passage is a great example of this. Throughout the novel, I was able to see a bit into the psyche of the nefarious characters, and I found myself sympathizing with people I would normally not want to be friends with. This too me is great fictional writing. These are characters that are the antagonists in the books, and I would never want to be friends with them in real life, but I can find myself understanding them, and even empathizing with them.

Make Your Villain a Personality

Many things can motivate the villain. One thing that the villain should not be, in my opinion, is a character that is not as well thought out as the protagonist, and by association, just the opposite of the antagonist. By this, I mean that the protagonist is good, and the antagonist is evil. The protagonist is messy, and the antagonist is tidy. The protagonist is a country boy, and the antagonist is a city dweller. Booooorrrrriiiiiiiing.

The antagonist should be multidimensional, meaning that they should not been seen solely in contrast with the protagonist. The antagonist should also be a complete personality in their own right. Certainly, there will be some opposition that includes polar opposites, but that should not be the sum extent of the character.

Some Thoughts on Villains

  • Unfiltered Villain – Freud’s theory is that people have three different aspects to their psyche. One of these aspects is the Id, which is our inner toddler. It has basic carnal desires, based on animalistic impulses toward sex and aggression. The Id is chaotic, unreasonable, and seeks immediate pleasure.  The Ego is the person’s self-identity that tries to moderate the impulses of the Id, and the realities of the real world. The SuperEgo develops to help control the person, and have them meet the expectations of society. This is something that develops as a young child starts to become aware of, and influenced by society in general. So the unfiltered villain is one that has a very active Id, but a relatively inactive SuperEgo and/or Ego.  They are driven by instincts of lust and aggression, with little, or no, filtering. A slight variation on this would be the extremely selfish villain, that is just looking out for him or herself.
  • Doin’ the Right Thing Villain– Hitler, and many other historical figures can be thought of in this category.  They may realize they are being looked upon unfavorably for now, but believe that once they have achieved their dream, then the world will come to understand and respect them more. This villain may have other mental health problems that have them seeing the world from a skewed vantage point. They may even see their actions of that of a parent, doing what is best for the child, even though the child may throw a tantrum.
  • Thrill Seeking Villain – Personality theorists have long theorized that there are some people that have a high threshold for pleasure. Something like playing a board game is fun, but running off to Mexico on a whim, or skydiving finally get their heart pumping a little. The Thrill Seeking villain is just trying to make life interesting. Competition and the thrill of edging out an opponent in a high-stakes game is just the ultimate thrill.
  • Turnabout Villain – “You done me wrong,” is more than just the start of a successful country & western song, it is the motivating factor behind this villain type. A villain who is mistreated and abused turns around to do the same to others. Some people that are exposed to violence become peacemakers, while others go with the flow and become violent in turn. With the proliferation of dark fantasy novels, this type of antagonist has shown up a lot in the form of a child who is abused, and grows up turns that abuse on others. This villain may carry around a lot of pain that they may or may not be aware of.
  • Mentally Ill Villain– This kind of villain has mental health problems.
    • The Sociopath – This character has no connection to those parts of the brain that would lead to empathy or connection and concern for others. Some studies have shown that our brains react in sympathy with what we see others going through. For this mental illness, however, this part of their brain just does not function. From an early age, however, they study others, and usually are quite good at “faking it.” That is why the neighbor on TV news always says, “he was such a nice, quiet man.” They can be quite charming, appear very empathetic, and have great concern for others. Is is all an act, however, as underneath it all, they have no real regard for others as anything more than a means to some end.
    • The Mood Disordered – A range of emotions is a normal part of human functioning. Mood disordered characters, however, have wild mood swings that they cannot control. They can become angry an violent at the drop of a hat, even depressed, irritated, and just as quickly snap out of it. This character is a slight exaggeration of what is usually found in real life, but the basis is in reality.
  • Revenge Villain – Perhaps similar to the turnabout villain, this antagonist is exacting revenge on those who he or she believes wronged him. Those who have wronged him or her can be specific people, a group of people, an entire class or society, or the whole world. The whole world you say? Yes, the villain can see the world as stacked against them, particularly if they have experienced a nasty set of life events. People often say “it was meant to be” or even “if God wills it,” so the idea is there for many people, but these villains see the cosmic influence as being negatively set against them.
  • Power Broker – Someone has to be in charge, and have their every whim attended to, and this type of villain says, “why not me?”
  • Resource Manager – This antagonist, particularly useful in more world-building speculative fiction stories, seeks to control a valuable resource or resources. Think of the spice in Dune, water in The Last Stormlord, and so forth. He (or she) who controls the __________, controls everything.

Ultimately I love a villain that is three-dimensional, and seems real. Hopefully that is enough to get you thinking. Maybe I will add more later, if some more comes to me. I would love to hear your comments on other villain types, or villains you love to hate in stories you have read or written. Happy writing!

A Pint with the Professor is a (somewhat) bi-weekly feature where I apply the things I know about psychology, sociology and other related disciplines to fiction. I love thoughtful fiction, and I love hearing from authors and writers of speculative fiction when they think deeply about their fictional worlds and the people and cultures in those worlds. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy putting them together. 

Why I Don’t Write Every Day, But Should Write More

I have read the advice a million times (that may be a slight exaggeration), writers write, and they must do so every day. I look back at the last year, and I just have not met my writing goals. So I need to re-examine my goals, including how realistic they are, but also whether or not my writing habits are going to be sufficient to meet my goals.

The Argument for Writing Daily

I get the argument for writing every day. It take discipline to be a writer who makes a living by writing, because it is one of those jobs where no one is likely to notice if did not show up one day. So a writer needs to be disciplined and focused in order to get words on the page, make revisions, and generally just make a living. It takes it from being a hobby, to being a career. Since I have not met my writing goals over the last year, I certainly do get that I need to write more often. Writing daily also sets a writer up to be in the habit of writing. I know that is important as well. I can tell you that there have been some weeks where I probably had the time, but decided to do other things.

The Write Time

One thing that is tough for me, and that I see as a flaw in the argument is that writing is not my career. I work a full time job as a therapist, and a part-time job as a college instructor. I am a busy guy. I can tell you that writing is definitively a part of both of my jobs, so I do certainly get a lot of technical writing in. The writing as a therapist is often documentation that includes narratives and descriptions of sessions, so I get plenty of practice there as well. So I do get writing in, but let’s face it, it is very different from creative fiction writing. Since I am not yet making a living as a writer, I still need to make my living in the best way I can, which means that my current jobs come first. Not only do I enjoy them, but they put food on the table. I realize that if I spent more time on writing, it would eventually put food on the table as well, but I am not willing for my kids to starve in the meantime.

One hurdle for me then, is having the time to write fiction. I do think about my stories and my writing every day, but I do not always have the time to write. I do write at work, but it is not the same thing. So fitting in the writing is something I know I need to do more of.

Binge Writing

Joanna Penn discusses her writing style as being more of a binge process. Like me, she has a day job, and does not have the time or energy to write every day. She feels her creative energy builds until she finally finds some release when she has the time. I can really identify with this. She also says that she takes a lot of time to compose her work before she starts writing it. I can also identify with that.

I am not sure I can truly work as a binge writer, as she and other writers fully describe it. I do have those times in my life where I have more time than other times. That is just the truth of my reality. So in that regard, I can certainly identify with that binge writing. However, for me, it is more of a time issue than it is that my creative process is such that I need things to build and then release.

Still I Write

I can’t write fiction every day, I just do not have the time. If that is what it takes, then I would just have to face the fact that I cannot ever be a true author. I refuse to believe that. I am patient and I don’t mind my writing career taking years to develop. I think that patience and diligence is a perfectly acceptable way of breaking into writing, even if I cannot write every single day.

Having said that, I still know I need to write much more often. I am particularly interested in using technology to help make writing easier. I remember reading once that Brandon Sanderson wrote his breakout novel on a smartphone while riding the subway to and from work.  I have no idea how true it is, but it certainly sounds plausible. So I have decided that I need to come up with firmer goals, find more time to write, and test out and use technology tools to help me in doing so. I will try to share what technology I find that works for me in future blog posts, but be patient, because I am not one of those people who writes every day. And I am okay with that!

A Pint with the Professor: The Importance of Economy in Fiction

The Importance of Economy in Fiction

Economy is a social construct. That is something that only has relevance or importance because an entire group of people has made it so. Let’s look at money first. A dollar (or your local counterpart  only has worth because your entire society has given it some agreed upon value. It is really just paper though, with no intrinsic value of its own. It is only worth something because we all agree to let it be worth something. I can trade a dollar for anything at the dollar store, for one of my kids to do a chore, or for a candy bar at the grocery store. This is because we all have agreed to worth of a dollar. We may not have sat and hashed it out, but that is what money is.

As a further example, there are also many things money cannot buy. I cannot buy a car with a dollar. I cannot hire a babysitter for three hours for one dollar. I cannot purchase anything at the jewelry store for one dollar. So our shared agreements dictate both what a dollar is worth, and what it is not worth. Though money may seem mathematical, and certainly we can calculate interest rates and earnings, in the end it really has a worth in the first place because of our shared agreement of worth.

Many societies have a class or caste system based on economics as well. A caste system is very rigid, only rarely allowing movement between castes. A class system is more permeable  allowing movement. The Horatio Alger stories where someone who is born poor is able to claw their way to the top (or at least the middle) through hard work and dedication is an example of how this impacts fiction. Often times, different characters in books are empowered or challenged by the class or caste they are in.

Again, though, this is an agreed upon structuring by society. Your story might take place in a society where wealth of money is treasured above all else, and the class system is rigidly structured, allowing for little movement. Begging may be illegal, with folks born poor being oppressed, jailed, maybe even physically abused, exploited and perhaps even executed. Think about what this would take. Everyone in society would have to agree with this for one reason or another. Police would have to be empowered by their government to jail or abuse the poor. The rich would have to not see at as their responsibility to help the poor and unfortunate. The bystanders would have to stand by, and not intervene. The poor themselves would have to accept this treatment.

This may sound a bit crazy, but think of the Holocaust. Hitler only had power, because people gave it to him. In research experiments conducted later, it was found that people tended to follow authority, especially when the people were absolved of responsibility by that authority. So Hitler just needed to establish himself as an authority, and his insane ideas were taken as truth. Think of it this way, what if every single man woman and child in Germany had said, “no thanks.” That is an overly simplistic solution, but the idea behind it is that Hitler had the power to do what he did, only because a large number of people gave it to him.

This is important, because in fictional worlds, things other than money may have worth too. In a world or time where water is scarce, an economy would develop around water. People need water in order to survive. In a time or place where food is scarce, it might be treated differently. My kids, after eating a meal, often throw some food away that they did not eat. Some of my kids are picky and only like to eat certain things. How would this change if food were to become scarce? Food, water, shelter, warmth, and perhaps some other basic needs, such as sex and procreation might be worth less in a society of abundance, but worth quite a bit more in a society experiencing shortages.

Western society shows they value knowledge by paying people with college degrees more than people without them. We give those people honorary titles, such as “doctor.” Sometimes this gets complex when values intersect. In the United States, we show that we value families by giving people time often when they experience the birth of a child. We show that we value work as well, because we give far less time off than other countries do. So there is a value, enjoy your baby, but don’t take too long before you return to work, or we will stop paying you the money that you can trade for food, clothing and shelter for your family.

We can look at one more example. In the United States, people often complain that teachers get laid off and paid poorly, while athletes and actors make millions or billions of dollars. I can see some of you nodding your head. But why is that? Well, the government pays teachers, and we often vote in spending limits for the governments. Why? Well, there is only so much money to go around. People spend that money on tickets to sporting events, to see movies, and to buy the products that these people advertise. I am sure you are the person that never falls for that, but everyone thinks they are the person that never falls for that, but advertising brings in billions of dollars every year. It would not bring in billions, if it did not work. So what if in your fictional world, teachers were the celebrities? People bought products based on the advertisement and recommendation of teachers. Parents bought passes to get their children in with their favorite teachers, and the most popular teachers made millions as the wealthiest parents paid large sums of money to have their children instructed by such teachers. What would such a society look like? What events would get a society of people in such a condition?

Other things may have an economy too. The value of art, performance, a particular vocation, a powerful resource, knowledge, human contact, children and family, and many other things can vary greatly in your fictional world. Even the value of race, gender, or other psychical features can have some value. They can all have an integral part in your world.

A Pint with the Professor is a (somewhat) weekly feature where I apply the things I know about psychology, sociology and other related disciplines to fiction. I love thoughtful fiction, and I love hearing from authors and writers of speculative fiction when they think deeply about their fictional worlds and the people and cultures in those worlds. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy putting them together. 

Research for Fiction Writers

I love conducting research for my stories. I remember reading a blog post by someone who said they hate doing research for their stories. I love it though.

Bradley P. Beaulieu talks about the intense amount of work that research is. I really get it. It is very consuming. But just so interesting. My problem is that I can so easily get lost in researching, that I don’t get anything else done. Arg.

Randy Ingermanson notes that there are three classes of fiction writers:

    • Writers who love research
    • Writers who hate research
    • Writers who insist on classifying all writers into three classes

Randy goes on to say that those writers who love research need to get out of the library and start writing their damn book. I can so relate. Sometimes I even end up researching things that have no bearing on anything I am currently writing.

What The Vampire Said To The Horseshoe Crab: ‘Your Blood Is Blue?’ So the horseshoe crab, which has been around for 450 million years, has blue blood that is copper based instead of iron based like that of humans. One advantage this affords them is that they are incredibly resilient. They are able to seal off their blood to combat harmful bacteria. Also, 450 million years old makes me feel more secure when I consider that I only turned forty last year. This stuff is fascinating! So what did this have to do with the current story I am writing again? Oh yeah, absolutely nothing!

Sixteenth century fishing? There’s an app for that. Okay, it’s a web page, not an app, but “There’s a web page for that” is not a famous marketing line.

Mind controlling parasite? More parasites? Zombie inducing bug? This stuff is so amazing! There is definitely a story or two in these programs. Well, I have a few more You Tube videos about aliens to check out. It’s a good thing that this was a short blog post, or I might have been too distracted to finish writing i

Why You Should Break Grammar Rules On Purpose

I have always believed, in my writing, that there is a distinction between the science of writing and the art of writing. The science of writing is like math, it is formulaic and calls for rules of grammar and composition. There is also the art side of writing, which calls for free expression.

I do think that there are numerous important times, when going back for the edit, that it is important to rework a sentence or phrase to try and convey the art while maintaining grammatic integrity. I also believe there are times when it is important to ignore convention, and express the word painting in a more artistic manner. Sometimes the things that need to be conveyed in writing are not neat and orderly, like a grammar rule would make it seem. Life is messy. Emotion is messy. And sometimes writing needs to be messy too. (Did you see how I started a sentence with “and” there?)

Visit the following blog for more specifics:

Why You Should Break Grammar Rules On Purpose.