Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Harness your emotional grip on creativity with levels of intensity

I love reading about the creative process. So many things effect the act of creation. There is place, time, deadlines, atmosphere, and a sense of purpose. But a recent article covered the idea that emotion has an effect on results and even on what area of creation the artist should focus on based on that emotion.

According to Scott Barry Kaufman in his article "The Emotions That Make Us More Creative," one should consider not just emotions that are "positive and negative," but also "emotional intensity."

Kaufman argues that research shows that the belief that positive emotion increases creativity because it broadens the outlook and negative emotion narrows the focus thus reducing the creativity is "simplistic."

Kaufman went on to explain that intensity was also very important. Emotions that are positive but lack intensity do not necessarily improve creativity. Applying research done by a psychologist named Eddie Harmon-Jones and his associates, Kaufman explained that the emotion "pleasant" as too mild while "desire" has intensity and therefore greater motivational power which would lead to completing a goal.

This is all very interesting, but how does one direct it toward creative writing? Kaufman clarifies this by stating that "high emotional states focus us on completing a goal" whereas "low emotional states" drive us to "seek" greater challenge elsewhere.  In a sense that lower emotional state causes us to seek creativity.

So to answer that question: how does this effect our creativity as writers? When we writers are feeling less intense, we are more likely to be inspired to come up with something new and unique. When we are feeling highly energized, it is likely we will do well to focus on a goal or action that requires completion.

When feeling good, relaxed or slightly under the weather, direct yourself to the act of drafting. Creativity will be within reach and supported by our emotional state which won't distract us with emotional intensity.

But when feeling highly emotional (positive or negative) our attention narrows, so we should be working on the final phases of a work, such as editing, formatting or organizing.

I am still thinking this through. When I am being creative in my writing, I get very intense and focused on the work I am drafting. That seems to run counter to what Kaufman is saying. But I must agree that at the start of the act of creating I am often in the medium range of emotion.

Later when I am choosing to edit, I find that being tightly focused, a high intensity desire to work on something, does get me to redraft and define my intention on a scene better than being relaxed does.

What I liked best about the article though is that he stated that creative people are able to adapt and mix emotional states for the best results. We are essentially diverse and not boxed in by our emotions. We harness them. Yeah, emotionally creative powerhouses. I'll take that complement.

Have any of you noted your emotional state and its effect on your creativity?  What have you found about the connection between emotion and your work?


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

6 Ways Writers Bring Verisimilitude to a Character's Experience

We fiction writers attempt to create authentic character experience, largely from events we have never experienced. Of course, we often draw from memories to bring verisimilitude to our writing, but just as often, if not more so, we write of things we have never seen, touched, emotionally felt or responded to.

Writers attempt to create the familiar and unfamiliar daily. If we are true in our creation, our readers will believe in the moment we depict.

Writers attempt to make readers sympathetic. We turn them into partners who can feel what our characters are feeling to such a degree that, however momentarily, they are in the same emotional instant of being as the character we painstakingly created.

In other words, our readers laugh, cry, wince, tremble, and smile just where we want them to as they read. Either the reader never experienced the situation or they have. In either case, they deepen the connection through imagination and through their own personal experience.

With the desire to develop our characters so our readers commiserate and celebrate with them comes the need to grasp the nuances of these unique and often powerful incidents.

There are six main ways writers do this:
  1. We talk to friends, family and professionals who can provide the needed information
  2. We research by reading texts, maps, and internet sources, etc.
  3. We seek the experience
  4. We keep copious notes about what naturally occurs in our lives
  5. We observe closely when others go through events around us
  6. We draw from our imagination, using all of the above to produce something that has yet to be experienced by anyone
Consider the following list:
  1. getting married/divorced/widowed
  2. childbirth
  3. being burned
  4. breaking a bone
  5. being hit by a car
  6. falling a great height
  7. sneaking/breaking into a home/business/institution
  8. stealing
  9. lying for the sake of survival
  10. flying a plane
  11. grave illness
  12. flying in space
  13. crashing a car/plane/motorcycle/boat
  14. losing a limb
  15. fighting a monster
  16. being shot at
  17. shooting someone
  18. making a movie
  19. abusing
  20. being abused
  21. building a house
  22. crafting a work of art or necessity
  23. fixing a machine
  24. programming a computer
  25. building a computer
  26. running a country
  27. taking over a country
  28. assassination
  29. jumping on/off a train
  30. falling in love
  31. hate
  32. raising a child
  33. teaching a skill or knowledge
  34. running a plant/warehouse, business
  35. running from an enemy/attacker
  36. running any complicated machinery
  37. running a marathon/extreme sports
  38. climbing a mountain
  39. hunting
  40. dressing a deer/pig/cow/etc. (I don't mean with clothes; however, that might be something a character might have to do, so perhaps that should be on the list)
  41. cooking a complete meal
  42. painting a picture
  43. losing one's mind/memory
  44. caring for the elderly
  45. raising a child with a disability
  46. training a horse/dog/monkey/donkey/etc.
  47. sculpting
  48. treating an injury
  49. designing clothes/interiors/architecture/etc.
  50. drowning 
  51. miscarriage of a pregnancy
red - events I acquired information about or observed from family, friends or professionals so I could use it in something I've written
purple - what I have personally experienced and may have used
orange - what I had no experience in but I did use in my writing and augmented through additional research
white - have not needed to know yet

Obviously, the list is incomplete and infinite in potential length.

We writers are busy creating characters who go through believable experiences. If you are a writer, what unusual or challenging experience did you have to craft for your work? If you are a reader, what experience did a character go through that captured an emotional and physical connection from you, that made you respond because it felt that real?


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Use these 11 "nations" of the US to create depth in the characters you build

I read an article about the various distinct cultural nations within the United States and found it very useful for determining the underlying influences of characters in fiction. In this article which made use of the work of Colin Woodard, Matthew Speizer provides (This map shows the US really has 11 separate 'nations' with entirely different cultures) descriptions of the type of people who live in specific areas in the US and what their political/cultural viewpoints are built on.

At first while reading it, I was focusing on identifying where I fit in the demographics described. It wasn't hard to figure out. I'll give you hints and let you pick my niche: born below the Mason Dickson line, but raised into my teens in northern New England, I then lived several years in Oregon after finishing high school in California. My adult life was largely in the Northwest, with southern influences. 

Now that I've written it down, all I can say is good luck with locating my cultural position within these described "nations." I might be harder to label than I first thought.  Blame my dad who never seemed to be able to stay in one place very long.

But my point is how great is this for determining the underlining influences for character building and interaction. Imagine a "Yankeedom" having to rebuild a demolished world with a "Greater Appalacian."  Utopian leanings vs very constrained. The conflicts are built into the individuals and the "cultures" they bring with them.

How about a (space)ship's captain with "el Norte" sympathies with a first officer who's a "Left Coaster." Plenty of room for common ground and still areas where the two would argue specific issues of "expression," "exploration" and regulation.

In my SF time travel novel (book 3 of Students of Jump), Next Time We Meet, Mick Jenkins is largely Greater Appalacian. But the society he is now trying to make a home in is New Netherland in many respects. He wants order where they encourage a general "go with the flow attitude."

I can see these "culture" breakdowns of political viewpoints as one more useful tool for building individual character behavior and interactive conflict between characters. As you design characters, consider where they fall in these niches. Support the influences with attitudes, heritage, and biases that add depth to the individuality of your characters.  

Follow the link to the article and take a look at it yourself.  11 Nations of the United States.

Do you see any of your characters falling under these cultural labels? If so, which character, which story, and what qualities most standout?