Beautiful People March 2017

Hello, everyone! I am actually getting around to participating in Beautiful People this month, as you can see. I wanted to do it last month, but unfortunately ran out of time. So here I am this month!

What is Beautiful People, you ask? Well, it is a monthly link-up hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. Each month, they post ten questions for character development, and all those who want to participate can answer them for their characters on their blogs. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Aletra
Aletra Kiavar, age 16, mernevna apprentice.

This month, I have a new-ish character to develop. Aletra Kiavar is a mernevna (enchanter) apprentice in the Windsong storyworld. In her time, enchanters are still frowned upon and not able to use their powers openly, and she eventually gets involved in changing that.

  1. What’s their favorite book/movie/play/etc.?

Aletra loves books and learning in general, though at the beginning of her story, she has yet to see a real library. She especially loves reading about history and the healing arts

2. Is there anything they regret doing?

She is the youngest of fifteen girls and mostly regrets letting her oldest sisters boss her around for so long before she left home for her apprenticeship.

3. If they were sick or wounded, who would take care of them and how?

Her mentor would probably take care of her, since he’s the only person around. She’s also, as I mentioned earlier, interested in healing and takes care of him, and could probably take care of herself if needed.

4. Is there an object they can’t bear to part with and why?

Aletra’s journal is where she records all her thoughts and observations of the world and things that stick out to her in her learning. She would be horrified to lose it, pragmatically since it would set her intellectual career back quite a bit, and personally since she often puts her thoughts and opinions in as well.

5. What are 5 ways to win their heart (or friendship)?

  • Give her a book (or scroll).
  • Learn that she’s a changeling and not report her to the authorities.
  • Teach her about nature.
  • Be friends with her mentor.
  • Take her traveling to a city.

6. Describe a typical outfit for them from top to bottom.

She usually keeps her hair up in a ponytail to keep it out of her face. Then, she wears a white or light brown dress with a sleeveless bodice laced up over the top. She also has a cloak for when it’s raining. More often than not, she goes barefoot; since she’s a changeling and regenerates fairly quickly, small cuts don’t bother her. She has ankle boots for traveling.

7. What’s their favorite type of weather?

She is fascinated by the unexplained: diseases, ocean tides, and thunderstorms. She often goes outside during thunderstorms and watches the lightning from under the eaves of her home.

8. What’s the worst fight they’ve ever been in?

Before her story, just various scraps with her sisters. The real fight comes later in her story (though I don’t know when or how yet).

9. What names or nicknames have they been called throughout their life?

Mostly just “Aletra,” but later on in her story, one of her friends starts calling her “Thunder Watcher.”

10. What makes their heart feel alive?

Learning, exploring, watching thunderstorms, climbing trees, solving mysteries, and making new friends. She loves activity and constantly wants to do new things.

So that’s Aletra! What did you think of her? Did you do a Beautiful People post this month? (If so, drop the link in the comments!) Are you planning to? Have you done it in the past? Tell me in the comments!

Advertisements

Story Starters #6: Starlighter

Blood match. The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy.

Image result for starlighter coverImage result for starlighter cover

Hello, all! It’s the first Saturday of the month (February already!), so as is routine, I am analyzing the first paragraph of a book. Today, I have selected Starlighter by Bryan Davis, which I was delighted to get for Christmas (look for my review next month!). And without further ado, let’s analyze!

  • Blood match. The first sentence of a story always has to hook the reader (you can learn more on this blog), and in this case, it’s done perfectly. It gives us some idea of what’s going on while enticing us to learn more. It’s also a thought, so we know we’re starting with a character right from the get-go, which is not always the case. It leads right into the next sentence.
  • The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Ah, here’s our point-of-view character. Just from this sentence, we can glean a bit about Jason: he’s a warrior of some sort, a swordsman, and the cadence of the words indicates his excitement; he’s probably young. (Given that this is a YA book, we’d probably already know that, but we can pick it up from the sentence, too.) We also learn about our setting and situation from this sentence: Jason is at a tourney, right in the ring, as a competitor, so this world has at least some medieval elements. If we like medieval fantasy, as I do, this encourages us to read on.
  • Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy. Here we learn more about the situation. This must be a pretty important, well-publicized tourney, if there’s a crowd. And “potential for bloodletting” raises the stakes for Jason; what if he gets hurt? It heightens interest for the reader. Finally, as with the previous sentence, we can get some of Jason’s excitement (and nerves) from this; the simile of a beating drum mirrors how Jason’s heart is probably beating faster in this situation. This wraps up the first paragraph with a quick, neat hook, character and setting introductions, and high stakes, making it a great enticement to read the rest of the book.

That’s it for me today! I’ll be back next Saturday with a science post.

What do you think? Did you notice something else about these three sentences that I didn’t cover? Have you read Starlighter? Tell me in the comments!

Beautiful Books: 2017 Writing Goals

Hello, all! Beautiful Books is back, and I’m ready to review the progress of my NaNoWriMo book, plus making some writing goals for this year. What is Beautiful Books, you ask? It’s a spinoff of Beautiful People, a monthly link-up run by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In, in which we bloggers answer ten questions about one of our characters/books. This month, it also incorporates writing goals. So let’s get to the questions!

  1. What were your writing achievements last year? Hmm. Last year was . . . interesting, at least relative to my goal-setting for writing. For the first seven months or so, I was pushing myself really hard to finish editing Windsong, which had been my primary project for eight years. Eventually, it didn’t pan out, and I decided to take a break from Windsong and from setting deadlines for myself in general. This led to my doing NaNoWriMo after taking a year off in 2015, and actually getting close to winning; my first draft of Circle of Fire, a sort of crazy new project, came to about 48,000 words.
  2. What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017? One: try not to stress too much about writing. This one is pretty much unfulfillable for me, since I’m so invested in writing that I can’t help but stress about it, but I’m going to do my best.
    Another rough goal is to finish Circle of Fire this year, or early next year. I’m also planning to work on at least one more project (tentatively titled This Hidden Darkness) so I can have a first draft to work on and keep me sane while editing. When I get to the editing stage of THD, another rough draft of yet another project may pop up, but we’ll see.
  3. Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year! With Windsong on the backburner, all my secondary projects are going to get space to shine. Circle of Fire, my current top priority, is about a young woman who starts fighting against magical terrorists after they kill her parents. (Yes, the one-line pitch is not perfect. You should see the draft. . . . *shudders*) This Hidden Darkness, currently in the outlining/placeholder-title stage, is more or less about two brothers trying to find their place in the world after escaping from slavery. (There’s a lot more to it than just that, but it’s still under wraps, so.)
  4. How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017? God willing, I will have a book finished, properly finished, which is something I’ve never accomplished and would love to have happen. Other than that, just figuring out how to edit would be great.
  5. Describe your general editing process. Er . . . general frustration? Total mayhem? Suffice it to say that I’ve never completed an editing process before. In Scrivener, though, I’m set up for three types of edits: in order, the Character/Plot Edit, Description/Point of View Edit, and the Micro Edit. Then, presumably, I will go over everything one more time and mark it as Done.
  6. On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out? Hmm. Seven? Seven-point-five, maybe. As usual with my rough drafts, a lot of things need to be changed around, but I feel like this one is better than the ones for past projects.
  7. What aspect of your draft needs the most work? The plot. It’s always the plot for me. I need to change the setting for the climactic moment, as well as adding some foreshadowing early on, and there’s probably more that I haven’t figured out yet.
  8. What do you like the most about your draft? Outlining works! It’s so neat and tidy and I have so little work to do compared to the first (or even seventh) draft of Windsong. Also, I love my characters, and the plot twist I put in at the end.
  9. What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever? Somewhere between the Micro Edit and Done, I plan to find some beta readers to help me make more edits. And after that, I guess I’ll venture into the world of querying for the first time. It’s rather exciting, but I have such a long way to go before that happens.
  10. What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?
    Hmm. I guess I’d say learn how to edit without going insane. For me, I’m going to try having another project sitting around to outline/draft when editing inevitably drives me crazy. And if you need to take breaks, do it. There’s no point in rushing editing; I found that out the hard way with Windsong. The book will get done at its own pace.

That’s it for me today!

What about you? Did you do NaNoWriMo in November? How’s the draft looking? What are your 2017 writing goals, if you have any? Did you do Beautiful Books this month? (If so, drop a link in the comments!) What’s your editing process (any help for someone mired in the figuring-out phase)? Share in the comments!

My Life This December: In Which I Wrap Up a Semester and Reflect on the Year

Hello, all! It’s the last Saturday of the month, hence my summary post. Today, it is also the last Saturday (the last day, in fact) of the year. 2016, where have you gone? So today’s post will be partly about my month and partly about the whole year. Since rather a lot happened, let’s dive right in!

The most notable thing that happened to me this month was that I finished my third semester of college. I survived, fortunately, with only a minor, tiny drop in my GPA. I also started working in a new lab, where I am going to be studying rice starting next semester, so I’m very excited about that. Next semester starts in the last week of January, so I’m currently relaxing and enjoying my break, with a  chance to get some reading, writing, and other creative stuff done.

Speaking of writing, as you may recall, last month was NaNoWriMo. I finished out with roughly 48,000 words in the complete first draft of Circle of Fire. I’ve been taking a short break from that project, and am only just starting to think about editing. During that break, I’ve started outlining another project, currently sans title, which has an incomplete draft lying around from NaNo 2013 that I’d like to restart. I still need to fill a lot of plot holes before I can start drafting, but I like how it’s coming so far. I tried to take a look at Windsong again a few weeks ago, but couldn’t stand the sight of it. I love the story, but at this point, it’s a hopeless mess, and I’m not sure how to save it. My plan is to write five or ten books before coming back to it so I can learn the writing and editing process better.

Christmas also happened at the beginning of this week (Merry Christmas, everyone!). My family had an Italian dinner on Christmas Eve, and our grandparents came up on Christmas day for the traditional turkey lunch. For gifts, I was delighted to get the Writer’s Digest Annotated Edition of Jane Eyre, as well as Starlighter by Bryan Davis. I’m really looking forward to reading both of those!

In the yearly roundup, I’ve read a bit this year. Not a lot (I haven’t even made 20 books, according to my Goodreads list), but considering I’ve gone a total of eight months with scarce reading during school, I’m happy with the number. (I’m hoping to get one more book on that list; I haven’t quite finished The Bourne Identity, but I think I can do that by the end of today. . . .) I made a grand total of four five-star ratings: A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin, Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland, and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Most of the others were four-star ratings, with a couple of three-stars thrown in. Apparently I’m generally a positive reviewer; I don’t think I’ve rated any book lower than three stars yet.

In general, 2016 was a good year for me. I did my second and third semesters of college and my first research fellowship in between. I read a lot of good books, and wrote one that will become better with editing. I did get fed up with my primary project, so I’m taking a long-term break from it and letting it percolate for a while. And I started outlining a reboot of a book from three years ago.

And, of course, I started this blog! This is my fifty-third post since I started in March, not counting a little post a couple weeks ago to notify readers about changes to my schedule for December. I’ve written more book reviews, science posts, and “my life this month” posts than I care to count at the moment, as well as a number of book quote and story beginning analyses. And I’ve jumped on the Beautiful People bandwagon for almost every month since March, including Beautiful Books last month. I even wrote a movie review when I hadn’t read a book to review (oops–but it was fun and you may see more in the future!). All in all, I’ve really enjoyed having this blog, and I want to conclude today by saying thank you to all the readers, “likers,” and commenters; like reading is the other half of writing, you all are the other half of blogging. Thank you, and see you in 2017!

That’s it for me this year! How was your 2016? What did you read and/or write? Did you do any kind of school? Are you looking forward to 2017? Tell me in the comments!

 

Story Starters #4: Dreamlander

Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. But this one was sure trying its best.

Image result for dreamlander cover

Good morning! It’s the first Saturday of the month (how is it December already?), and that means I’m analyzing the first paragraph of a book, today, Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you may have noticed that I’ve ranted about this book before (a couple times). I read it a few months back and absolutely loved it, so why not make an excuse to look at it again?

Now, on to the sentence-by-sentence breakdown! It’ll be short today.

  • Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. As Weiland herself teaches on her award-winning blog, a book needs to hook the reader from the first sentence. As soon as we read this, we’re left subconsciously wondering, “Wow, why would the main character be thinking about this?” And we get our answer in the next sentence.
  • But this one was sure trying its best. This is a great second line to set up a wonderful hook. It leads into a major premise of the book (the idea that we live a second life in a different world, reflected in our dreams). It also gives us a better glimpse into the voice of the main character, Chris, whom we meet by name in the next paragraph.
  • The shortness of this first paragraph deserves special mention. While some books do well with longer, descriptive intros, I find that a short first paragraph has a special kind of punch to it, something that, when done well, can really hook the reader. That’s what we see here.

That’s all for me today! What do you think? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Do you like short first paragraphs, like this one? Does this want to make you read this book? (You really should read it. It’s awesome.) Or have you read it already? (In which case, I’d love to hear what you thought of it!) Tell me in the comments!

My Life This November: In Which NaNoWriMo Happens and the Semester Marches On

Hello, everyone! It’s the fourth Saturday of the month (finally), which must mean that I’m here summarizing my month for you. It’s been a bit crazy this month, so I’m not quite sure where to begin. I’ll probably be quite brief.

First, of course, in the writing domain, National Novel Writing Month (fondly known as NaNoWriMo) happened this month, and is still going on. As I mentioned on Wednesday, I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year (I mean, what college student has time to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days?), and then on October 31st I thought, “Well . . . why not?” And here I am.

As I’m writing this post this morning, my current word count is 35,847 (5,500 or so of that is from October). I’m well aware that I’m not going to finish by Nov. 30th without losing massive amounts of sleep, which would be bad for my driving to school and generally being awake in class, so basically I’m not going to hit 50K by the end of the month. But at least I’ve written probably a lot more than I otherwise have. I’m more than halfway through Circle of Fire, and I’m really enjoying it so far. I just love writing rough drafts in general. It’s so freeing. I’m really looking forward to getting to the end; it should be fun.

In other news, it’s fall in New Hampshire, and a lot of leaves fell down this month. Then, on Monday, we had our first snow. It wasn’t much, just a coating, but it still caused a lot of ice and problems on the roads. Getting to school was interesting that day.

School has been pretty good. Organic chemistry and physics have taken over my life more than ever as the semester starts to wind down to the end. I only have three more exams left before finals (yay!). It’s hard to believe that, by the end of next month, I’ll be a full year and a half through college. It’s quite exciting. And perhaps I’ll get more writing time over winter break. . . .

So that’s my month! What about you? How was your Thanksgiving (which, of course, I totally forgot to mention in the body of my post), if you’re American? Have you had snow this month? Are you also in school? How’s it going? Are you doing NaNoWriMo, and if so, how’s that going for you? Share in the comments!

My Life This October: In Which I See a Broadway Show, Catch a Cold, and Start a New Book

Hello, everyone! It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means I’m summarizing my month here for you. October has been a pretty full month for me, what with studying and numerous exams and being sick for much of the month (see second item in the title), so I’ll just give some of the highlights.

Near the beginning of the month, I got to go to Boston to see a Broadway show, stay at a fancy hotel, and have dinner in a fancy restaurant thanks to the McNair Scholars Program, which I am a part of at UNH. (If you’re a qualifying college student, you’re interested in doing research, and your school has this program, DO IT. I’m going to do it next summer and I can already tell it’s going to be awesome.) The whole weekend was really fun. I’d never experienced Boston like that before; I’ve been a lot with my family to visit museums and stuff, but it was a totally new experience going with a group of students for a night out. It was a blast. I saw my first ever Broadway show (Jersey Boys), and it was really good apart from lots of language and innuendo which I didn’t appreciate so much. As a writer, though, I thought it was very well written, and even the language and stuff was probably pretty accurate to the characters. I really enjoyed the music, too.

Image result for jersey boys boston
Not what my playbill looked like, but it gives you some idea.

Dinner was also really good. It was a sort of stir-fry place where you get all your ingredients yourself (they have pasta and burgers, too), and then watch the chefs cook it up on one of those big round grills. UNH actually has one at one of their dining halls, but it was cool to see it on a larger scale. The ice cream was also fabulous. And staying overnight in the fancy hotel was a lot of fun, too.

Unfortunately, the month took a turn for the worse the next week, when I caught a nasty virus, the current “UNH Plague.” As I’m writing this, I’ve had it almost three weeks. It’s getting better now, but for a while it was really messing things up for me–I got my first ever 59 on an exam partially because of it. (Granted, I was above class average on this exam, because it was too long and everyone found it really hard, but still . . . a 59. . . .) But life goes on, viruses or not. And since I’m taking organic chemistry, the labels on medications are a lot more interesting now, even if I don’t actually fully understand what they say.

And somewhere near the beginning of this month (or the end of last month–I can’t remember which), I finished outlining as much as I felt I could at the moment and finally let myself jump into drafting Circle of Fire! It feels so, so good. First drafts are kind of my writing happy-place because that’s what I’ve done most and therefore what I do best. (I’ve gotten really good about letting my writing suck, haha.) It’s so nice to just have a creative release of words again. It’s also interesting to write in a different genre than usual; CoF is difficult to define as one genre, but I’d say it’s mostly thriller with fantasy elements. For age range, I might place it as older YA or cleaned-up NA, new adult, something I’ve never done before. I think that’s all I’ll tell you for now, but I’m going to keep doing Beautiful People posts for CoF characters, so if you’re interested, you can get little tidbits from those.

As far as life in general, school goes on. Week 10 of the semester has just finished, and we march on steadily toward finals week. I have eight more exams between now and then . . . I just have a lot of exams this semester (counting organic chem “quizzes” as exams, that is). I have determined that, for all my ranting about organic chemistry last month, physics is that much worse. Physics, even dumbed-down physics for life science students, is no joke (that’s the exam I got a 59 on. Yeah.). I’m glad I’m getting it over with this year. Genetics, though, has only gotten more interesting with the introduction of molecular genetics, which I love. And I’m thrilled to be taking advanced genetics classes starting in the spring. (The fun will soon begin. . . .) I’m still working in the lab, doing PCR and DNA extractions and to a lesser extent looking after baby seaweeds. So . . . yeah, that’s about it for the month. I’ll be back next week with a Story Starters post!

What about you; how has your month been? Are you in college or school? Have you been sick this month? (If you have, I feel your pain, believe me.) What classes are you taking? Have you done any writing this month? Started any new projects recently? Let me know in the comments!

Beautiful People: Digging Through the Archives

Hi, folks! It’s October, and most everyone in the writing world (except me) is preparing for NaNoWriMo. (If you don’t know what that is, just Google it.) That means it’s Beautiful Books month instead of Beautiful People. So since I’m not quite ready to unveil Circle of Fire yet, I went digging through the Beautiful People archives for ten questions to ask another character. I found the questions from July 2015, which pretty well suited Chase.

ch_1
Chase Hawkins, Circle of Fire communications technician.

Chase is a secondary character from my new book (and as of right now I’m drafting it–yay!) Circle of Fire, which as I’ve said I’m not unveiling yet. But here’s a bit more about him anyway.

1. What’s their favorite ice cream flavor?

Cookies and cream, but vanilla is also good.

2. Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where are they going? What are they wearing? Who will they be with?

He’s probably going to a burger-and-fries restaurant with a large friend group, wearing a button-down shirt and jeans (which is his standard dress anyway).

3. Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. (There’s more detailed examples to this question, but I’m just going to go with that.)

Sneakers or well-worn cowboy boots, or just white socks with holes in them if he’s at home.

4. Do they have any birthmarks or scars? Where are they and how did they get them?

Not that I can think of. Wait, actually, he probably has one from falling off a bike and skinning his knee as a boy.

5. What kind of music do they listen to? Does it change depending on their mood or is it always consistent?

Chase loves country music, especially older country, and listens to it whenever he can.

6. Do they have any musical talent? Play an instrument? How’s their singing voice?

He is fond of saying that he has zero talent or he would’ve moved to Nashville and pursued a singing career long ago, but his singing voice isn’t actually that bad, just kind of average.

7. What kind of book would you catch them reading?

Either a Tom Clancy thriller or, to be honest, a kids’ sci-fi book. (Or the Bible.)

8. How would they spend their summers (or their holidays)?

Before he *ahem* got involved with the Circle of Fire (and no, I am not going to tell you what that entails), Chase used to work summers at a horse camp for kids. He enjoys being around animals, especially horses, and would really love to have a barn, but wound up with an information technology degree because there were more jobs in that.

9. It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details.

Before joining the Circle, Chase would be only just rolling out of bed, turning on country radio, and grabbing a bowl of cereal (most likely Cheerios, with lots of milk and not eaten until good and mushy). Now, he’d be at work already.

10. Is there anything your character wants to be free of?

Being in the Circle, he’d really like to be free of the threat of being attacked so he could go live in the back country somewhere, keep horses, and raise a family. He’d probably also like to be free of lack of money for aforesaid reasons.

Well, that’s Chase! Are you doing Beautiful Books this month, or just sneaking into Beautiful People archives like me? Whichever it is, do please post the link in the comments so I can read your post! What do you think of Chase? And out of curiosity, how many people are interested in learning more about his book? Share in the comments!

The Science of Storytelling: Guest Post by Olivia Hofer

Anna here! As it’s a five-Saturday month, today I have a wonderful treat for you: a guest post about story psychology and neurology by Olivia Hofer, who blogs at Story Matters. I’ll be back next week with another science post, but for now, let’s all read what Olivia has to say!

Those of us who read know the wonder of stories. They transport us to places and times and cultures and customs beyond our own, so vivid we can hear and touch and taste them. They transform us into people we are not, drawing on our common human traits to allow us to feel things we’ve never felt before. They enable us to experience, in a sense, things that can be understood only through experience, so that we may both make sense of the world for our own sakes and empathize with others who have undergone trials we haven’t. It’s magic.

It’s also science.

Let’s look at a few of the ways fiction demonstrably impacts us — and what that means to writers.

Increased empathy

Empathy — the ability to understand and feel the emotions of another — is an essential social skill, and arguably one of the major factors that distinguishes human beings from other creatures. And fiction has the capacity to nourish that ability.

According to studies, literary fiction in particular develops emotional literacy. Rich with subtext and nuance, it forces us to try our minds and sort out for ourselves what various characters are thinking and feeling. With so much unsaid, we must fill in the blanks. It’s a bit of an emotional logic puzzle.

And perhaps because of this, when researchers tested one thousand participants in theory of mind, by asking them to identify the emotions of strangers based solely on photos of eyes, those with greater familiarity with literary works scored higher than those exposed primarily to genre fiction. Previous studies measured the theory of mind of participants who read either a literary or genre fiction excerpt. Those who were given the literary sample were better able to read others’ emotions afterward.

Genre fiction, in its defense, has virtues in its own right. Studies suggest that reading books such as the Harry Potter series may alter attitudes toward marginalized people groups. The potential for societal impact is enormous.

As we write, we should consider the value of subtlety, and the impact that our portrayal of different groups might have. The power of fiction, on the individual and the societal level, cannot be overestimated. We as storytellers have a unique potential for influence. Let us use it wisely.

Further reading:

Literary fiction readers understand others’ emotions better, study finds

“Did you feel as if you hated people?”: emotional literacy through fiction

Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy

The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice

Sensory and motor activation

Spanish researchers found that when participants read words associated with distinct scents—like the Spanish words for coffee and perfume—they showed activity in the primary olfactory cortex that didn’t occur when they read “neutral” words such as the term for chair. In another study, reading metaphors that drew tactile analogies—phrases like “velvet voice” and “leathery hands”—activated the sensory cortex. This didn’t happen when the participants read descriptions such as “pleasing voice” and “strong hands”, which didn’t evoke tactile imagery.

And something similar happens as we read about the characters’ exploits. The motor regions of the brain that we use when performing physical activities and observing others’ movement are also activated when we read about characters doing the same things.

It seems there really is science behind “show, don’t tell”. Evocative imagery immerses readers in the storyworld.

Further reading:

Metaphors activate sensory areas of brain

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction

Neurological changes

And these effects may last well after we close the cover. One study found that reading the thriller Pompeii by Robert Harris heightened connectivity in language and sensory motor regions of the brain that remained hours after reading assigned passages and at least five days after finishing the book. The researchers believe the changes may last much longer, especially when we’ve read one of our favorite novels.

Our writing will likely stay with our readers, consciously or subconsciously, for some time to come. Consider the emotional as well as the thematic takeaways you hope to impart to your readers.

Further reading:

A novel look at how stories may change the brain

And that’s not to mention the stress relief reading provides, as well as the enormous impact it has on young minds.

Stories, it would seem, are entwined with our very human nature. At last we are beginning to understand how they so move us. And if these are the effects we can see, how much greater those yet unseen?

Thank you, Olivia, for that wonderful post! It was absolutely fascinating. What do you think of these impacts of storytelling? Did you know about any of them beforehand? Does this change how you think about writing? Share in the comments (and be sure to thank Olivia)!

Story Starters #2: The Hobbit

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Image result for the hobbit coverImage result for the hobbit coverImage result for the hobbit cover

(Just to forewarn you, Mr. Tolkien is perhaps entirely responsible for my love of fantasy. I might gush a bit. And now that you’ve been warned, let’s all gush together. :P)

Hello, and welcome to the second installment of my “Story Starters” blog posts! On the first Saturday of each month, I analyze the beginning of a book, any book, and today, it happens to be a very good book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

 

Image result for bilbo baggins
Yes, that’s right: the hobbit.

So let’s jump right in and do a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the first paragraph!

  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. This one is pretty self-explanatory. As we’re reading the first sentence (unless we’ve seen the movie first, precious), we are sitting here wondering: what the heck is a hobbit? It’s a great hook; it poses a question that we, the readers, would really like answered. Tolkien gets to that by paragraph three, but he has to give us some hints first, which leads us to sentence two.
  • Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. The first thing that jumps out at me is how long this sentence is. Grammatically, it makes a great contrast with the first sentence; it’s long and meandering and draws us in by Tolkien’s vivid imagery. And it gives us some great hints about what hobbits are not, and by the end, something of what they are. The mention of comfort particularly strikes me as foreshadowing the main character and theme of the book in the very first paragraph. (My analytical writer brain is geeking out right now. I mean, isn’t that foreshadowing just awesome?!?)

And that’s it for this extraordinarily short post. I hope it had enough insights to make up for its brevity.

What do you think? Isn’t Tolkien a genius? Have you read The Hobbit? (If not . . . *shakes head* Just go read it, okay?) Do you have any further analysis that perhaps my tired brain didn’t pick up? Tell me in the comments!