Top Ten Posts of Year Two

We're closing in on the end of of this blog's second year. Yay! Thank you all so much for sticking around and for your thoughtful comments and support. As I did for Year 1, this seems a good time to do a round-up of Year 2's most popular articles. So without further ado, in chronological order:

1. The Power of Touch
Do you use touch imagery in your writing? Some intriguing psychological studies suggest that it may be more powerful than you think.

2. Will Self Publishing Make You Die?
I had fun writing this post. And it's interesting  how much the industry's perceptions of self publishing have changed even since I first wrote this article.

3.  How Language Affects Thought
Does the language you speak affect the way you think?

4.  Storytellers and How They Force Their Brain Activity On Their Audience
That's right. You can control people's minds.

5.Erotic Romance, Condoms, and Social Responsibility
When psychologists rewrite romance novels to include safe sex practices, hilarity and science ensues.

6. Worldview, Tolkien, and Why Catholics Write Bad Stories
In which I wonder about our idea of  "a good story" and how dependent it is on culture.

7. What Mirror Images and Foreign Scripts Tell Us About The Reading Brain
An excerpt from my essay From Words to Brain about what makes letters and writing systems special.

8.  Typing Vs Longhand:  Does it Affect Your Writing?
This is by far my most popular blog post ever. Funny, because I almost didn't think it was interesting enough to post. Just goes to show that you never know.

9. The Blogification of Writing Tips
In which I become all angsty about the value of writing blogs.

10.  On Writing Realistic Male Characters:  (aka, Men Are Jerks)
Are your male characters unrealistic? Maybe they're too nice.

And that's the top 10 for year two. Thank you all!

Improving Creativity: The Envision Brainset

We're in the second installment of our series based on psychologist Shelley Carson's book Your Creative Brain. In each installment, we discuss one of Carson’s six categories of creativity (aka “brainsets"). As I mentioned last time, these should not be viewed as ironclad descriptions of the way things are, but rather a helpful model for thinking about creativity.

Last time, we discussed the Absorb brainset. Today's brainset is the Envision brainset. 

The Envision brainset is your brain's scratchpad or mental palette -- your ability to form images of things that do not exist. It could involve attempting to see your living room with a different furniture arrangement, or remembering the smell of your favorite lamb stew.

Improving Creativity: The Absorb Brainset

Harvard University creativity researcher Shelley Carson recently published Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. She was kind enough to mail me a review copy.

Carson divides creativity into seven distinct categories, or “brain sets.” Each brain set is a different flavor of creativity, and different people will naturally have some brain sets that come more naturally to them. In her book, Carson describes each brain set and provides exercises for strengthening it, and I thought it would be fun to talk about these brainsets as they apply to writers.

Carson emphasizes that these are not scientifically proven fact, but a model inspired by current neuroscience research. I wouldn't view these as an ironclad description of the way things are, but rather as springboards to develop your own creativity.

The first brainset is the Absorb brainset. This brainset is all about being observant -- noticing the world around you, and paying attention to random thoughts that pop up from your subconscious.

Twenty Ways to Describe Your Character's BFF

Almost every character has at least one close friend. Done well, this “bosom buddy” can act as an emotional touchstone and help us see the main character in a new light. But sometimes it's hard to show the reader how close the friendship is.  Closeness stems from a long history together -- often occurring before the start of the book.  How do you convey this closeness in their current interactions in a natural way?

I had some issues with this in my WIP. My main character has some good friends with limited screen time, and my beta readers weren't getting a strong sense of their relationship. This was a problem because the friends are a driving force behind many of my character's decisions, and without a believable emotional bond, the decisions don’t make sense.

To tackle this problem, I once again dug into The Hunger Games and Graceling. Both these books have minor characters that mean a lot to the protagonists. In Hunger Games, Katniss’ has her friend Gale. In Graceling, Katsa has her cousin Raffin and her maid Helda. I went through and picked out the little details that conveyed a strong relationship. For the curious, Gale appears on approximately 57 of The Hunger Games’s 374 pages, Raffin appears on 88 of Graceling's 471 pages, and Helda appears on 20/471 pages. (Thank you Amazon's Search Inside feature).

So without further ado, 20 ways to convey a strong relationship between two characters, with relevant quotes.

1. The protagonist can relax and be herself around the friend

“In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills …” (Hunger games, p.6)

2. Carefree joking

“’ Look what I shot.’ Gale holds up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it, and I laugh.” (HG, p.7)


“I've been told to make myself pretty for dinner.”

[Raffin] grinned. “Well, in that case, you'll be ages.”

His face dissolved into laughter, and [Katsa] tore a button from one of her bags and hurled it at him. 

He squealed and dropped to the floor, and the button hit the wall right where he'd been standing. 

When he peeked back over the railing, she stood in the courtyard with her hands on her hips, grinning.
“I missed on purpose,” she said.

(Graceling, p. 56)

3. An ability to act as a team, automatically working in unison without discussion

“I almost forgot! Happy Hunger Games!" [Gale] plucks a few blackberries from the bushes around us. "And may the odds –" he tosses a very in a high arc towards me.

I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. "– be ever in your favor!" I finish with equal verve."

(HG, p.7-8)

[Note from Livia: In the previous quote, not only do Katniss and Gale act in unison, they finish each other's sentences. The next passage is nice too. This is right after Katniss volunteers to take Prim's place in the Hunger Games, and Prim is clinging to her, begging her not do this. I love how Gayle knows what Katniss wants and helps her with it, even though it's breaking his heart.]

“Prim, let go,” I say harshly, because this is upsetting me and I don't want to cry. When they televise the replay of the reaping tonight, everyone will make note of my tears, and I'll be marked as an easy target. A weakling. I will give no one that satisfaction. "Let go!"

I can feel someone pulling her from my back. I turn and see Gale has lifted Prim off the ground and she's thrashing in his arms. “Up you go, Catnip,” he says, in a voice he's fighting to keep steady, and then he carries Prim off toward my mother. (HG, p.9)

4. Including the other person in hypothetical plans for the future.

“We could do it, you know,” Gale says quietly.

“What?”I ask.

“Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it,” says Gale. (HG, p.9)

5. Jealousy, possessiveness of the other person.

“You can tell by the way the girls whisper about him when he walks by in school that they want him. It makes me jealous but not for the reason people would think. Good hunting partners are hard to find.” (HG p.10)

6. Assuming that the friend will take her side in a disagreement

Raffin soft voice broke through her distress. “Let him explain, Katsa.”

She turned to Raffin, incredulous, flabbergasted that he should know the truth and still take Po's side. 

(G, p.25)

7. Extensive knowledge of each others’ opinions.

“On other days, deep in the woods, I listen to him rant about how the tesserae are just another tool to cause misery in our district. A way to plant hatred between the starving workers of the Seam and those who can generally count on supper and thereby ensure we will never trust one another. ‘It's to the Capital's advantage to have us divided among ourselves,’ [Gale] might say if there were no ears to hear but mine.” (HG p.14)


“What dress shall it be tonight, My Lady?" Helda called out.

"You know I don't care," Katsa called back. (G p.62)

8. Shared beliefs 

“I could be shot on a daily basis for hunting . . . . Anyway, Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker. " (HG, p.17)

9. Automatically seeking that person out for comfort

“How she wished she could take Bitterblue north to Randa city and hide her there as they'd hidden her grandfather. North to Raffin's comfort, Raffin's patience and care.” (G, p.370)

10. Fear of losing the person

“If her uncle died, [Katsa] didn't think she would grieve. She glanced at Giddon. She would not like to lose him, but she didn't think she would grieve his loss, either. Oll was different. She would grieve for Oll. And her lady servant, Helda. And Raffin. Raffin’s loss would hurt more than a finger sliced off, or an arm broken, or a knife in her side.” (G, p.50)

11. Drawing analogies to family

“[Katsa] didn't have a grandfather. But perhaps this grandfather meant to the Lienid prince what Oll – or Helda or Raffin – meant to her.” (G, p.80)

12. Familiar rituals, perhaps spanning back to childhood or other more innocent times

“Raffin sat on her bed and curled his legs up, as he had done when he was a child. As they both had done so many times, sitting together on her bed, talking and laughing. He didn't laugh now, and he didn't talk.” (G, p.148)

13. A fondness for talking about the person

“And then [Katsa] told the child, because it was on her own mind, about Katsa’s cousin Raffin, who loved the art of medicine and would be ten times the king his father was; and about Helda, who had befriended Katsa when no one else was and thought of nothing but marry her off to some lord...” (G, p.336)

14. A desire to protect that person.

“[It was] unthinkable to take this crisis to those Katsa held most dear. She would not entangle Raffin . . . . She would not involve her friends at all.” (G, p.371)

15. The character becomes a point of comparison for new events and settings. They color the way the protagonist sees things.

“They followed Jem into a well-lit room that reminded Katsa of one of Raffin's workrooms, always cluttered with open books…" (G, p.382)

“I can't help, for a moment, comparing him with Gale, who would see that field as a potential source of food as well as a threat." (HG, p.295-296)

16. New events bring up memories of the person, and the protagonist generally has a lot of memories about that person.

“[Peeta] stops together a bunch of wildflowers for me. When he presents them, I work hard to look pleased. Because he can't know that the pink and white flowers are the tops of wild onions and only remind me of the hours I spent gathering them with Gale.” (p.371)

“I rack my brains for good memories. Most of them involve Gale and me out hunting . . . .” (HG, p.268)

17. The protagonist automatically seeks out the friend when she has something important or sensitive to discuss.

“I realize I do want to talk to someone about the girl. Someone who might be able to help me figure out the story. Gale would be my first choice, but it's unlikely I'll ever see Gale again.” (HG p.80)

18. The person immediately comes to mind when the subject of friends comes up

“’ Who would you best friend be?’” asks Cinna.

“Gale,”I say instantly. (HG p.122)

19. The protagonist can predict the friend’s actions.

“And Gale. I know him. He won't be shouting and cheering. But he'll be watching, every moment, every twists, and turned, and willing me to come home.” (HG p.280)

20. Joyful reunions

“The noise of their horses and their shouts brought people to the balconies, to see who’d come. A steward came out to greet them. A moment later, Raffin came flying into the courtyard.

“You've arrived!”

(G, p.53)

Now your turn. How do you like to signal a deep connection between characters?

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