Friday, December 31, 2010
And there you see this:
Hat-tip to Cory Doctorow.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Is Psychology at Odds with Christian Writers' Beliefs?
Here’s the misconception: that psychology and Christianity are fundamentally at odds with one another, and that Christians need to be wary of psychology and the people who are trained therein. In some cases, the concern is so strong that Christian writers are wary of guides to psychology like mine.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s never a good idea to accept everyone and everything under a certain umbrella (including “psychology”) carte blanche – we have to look at the fruit a tree bears. (And just as in any other profession, there’s some rotten fruit out there.) But it’s also frustrating to see people and websites that misrepresent what psychology in general is all about. In most cases, the individual who’s arguing against psychology has seized one (typically inaccurate or outdated) facet of the field and then proceeded to claim that all psychology promotes the same thing.
For example, Andrew Wommack argues that psychology says we are all products of our environment, and then claims this is incompatible with Scripture because it exempts us from personal responsibility. In fact, there is no theorist in psychology who says we are purely products of our environments, including the radical behaviorist BF Skinner. Wommack goes on to say that the Bible says our thoughts make us who we are, and that psychology does not agree with this. At which point I have a massive *facepalm* moment, because one of the most influential movements in psychology (cognitive-behavioral theory) is all about how important and influential our thoughts are! “Taking responsibility for our actions is the big difference between true Christianity and psychology,” Womack goes on. “Psychology has influenced our society to such a degree that no one is held accountable for their actions.” But that’s not true, either. Existential and Gestalt psychology in particular argue that we must all be responsible for our choices. Cognitive behaviorists, too, argue that the way we think about things affects our behaviors – and we can choose to think about things rationally and realistically, rather than irrationally. In other words, we can choose truth over untruth.
Some more radical Christians argue that there is no such thing as mental illness, only spiritual illness that God must heal. While there may indeed be a spiritual component to mental illness (and in some cases the illness may be primarily spiritual), every day we learn more about how incredibly biological many mental illnesses are. Schizophrenia, for example, seems to be caused at least in part by an oversensitivity of the brain to a chemical our bodies produce called dopamine. Many of the medications for schizophrenia–those called antipsychotics–reduce the amount of dopamine in the brain and thereby reduce the symptoms of the disorder, often helping the person live a more normal life. Does that mean that medication is the only answer? Absolutely not. Research demonstrates that medication alone almost inevitably leads to relapse. Getting the family involved in treatment, as well as re-teaching the individual how to function in society, are just as crucial as the medication. Dealing with spiritual concerns will also make an enormous difference in whether or not someone continues to improve.
I invite those who are wary of psychology to see it as a tool for understanding, appreciating, and helping people (and characters!). I encourage them to seek out psychology resources that have a strong Biblical basis–for example, try writers like Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. Frank Minirth, and Dr. Paul Meier. If you’re interested in learning how the biggest psychological theories match up with Scripture, I highly recommend Jones and Butman’s Modern Psychotherapies. I don’t necessarily agree with everything these writers say (just as I don’t agree with everything psychology says), and you may not either. Pray about it if you’re unsure.
In the meantime, it may be a good idea to double-check what you think you know about psychology for your stories. (And since the whole purpose of my Writer’s Guide to Psychology is to debunk myths, I think that’s a great place to start!) Even writers like Ted Dekker, who has a strong Christian background and publishes with a Christian imprint, makes mistakes based on outdated assumptions. In his novel Thr3e, Dekker portrays a psychiatrist as a clueless, money-grubbing jerk, and contrasts him with a spiritual leader who can seemingly do no wrong.
I don’t know why I do it, Doctor, [says the main character, Kevin] but I think the strangest things at the oddest times.Here’s the mistake Dekker made: psychologists and psychiatrists don’t make the kind of money most people assume they do.
So do all men, Kevin…. [responds the doc] You’re just a man finding his way in a mad world gone madder, madder, madder hatter. We’ll break that down next session if you drop another check in the pay box there. Two hundred this time. My kids need…
Again, there are bad eggs in any profession (personally, I'd be concerned if my therapist started talking about Mad Hatters during my sessions!), but people who want to be rich don’t last as therapists—it’s a tough job, and you can make a lot more money for the same amount of effort in other industries. (To read a detailed explanation of why this is so, check out my discussion on the topic over on Archetype Writing.)
So are psychology and Christianity fundamentally at odds with one another? I don’t think so! In fact, I think that psychology–real psychology, not the stuff of myths and misconceptions—is a way for us to better understand the way God made us. You may also find it to be a helpful tool in your writerly arsenal!
Stay tuned in the next few months for a review of Carolyn’s new book The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Better Writing Skills: Writing tips about ampersands, punctuation, character spacing, apostrophes, semicolons, and commas.
English Style Guide: Contains various hints on how to use metaphors, punctuation, figures, hyphens, etc.
40+ Tips to Improve your Grammar and Punctuation: Covers the parts of speech, punctuation, and spelling.
Grammar Girl: Short, friendly tips and memory tricks make complex grammar questions simple.
The Guide to Grammar and Writing: An older site that still offers useful info on word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and essay and research paper development.
How to Use English Punctuation Correctly: A useful crash course in English punctuation.
HyperGrammar: Take an extensive grammar course (via the ‘Net) from the University of Ottawa’s Writing Centre.
Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style: An assortment of grammatical rules and explanations, comments on style, and suggestions on usage.
Paradigm Online Writing Assistant: Explains common grammar mistakes, basic punctuation, basic sentence concepts, etc.
Writer’s Block: Cover abbreviations, capitalization, numbers, punctuation, word usage, and writing styles.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Ingermanson pens a succinct yet comprehensive overview of good fiction writing. He talks about everything from setting your goals as a writer to psychoanalyzing your characters. And at the end of the book he discusses editing, proposals and reasons manuscripts are rejected.
One unique feature of the book is that the authors designed it so you don't have to read it from front to back. You can use the table of contents at the beginning (which is very detailed) to find just the sections you need help on right now. The book does a good job of making statements like, "If you need to know more about "said topic" please see our discussion on page "#." So that makes it super easy to find the topics that will be of most benefit for where you are in your writing journey right now.
I have found the book to be both helpful for overview purposes and at times insightful as to why certain things need to be done a certain way. All in all, I highly recommend the book and think it is must read material for anyone serious about their writing career.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Hi, I'm Johne, and I have Nice Writer Syndrome. Perhaps you're familiar with this infirmity.
Janice Hardy paints the picture like this:
I come from the Space Opera genre, where Lois McMaster Bujold is an absolute genius at afflicting the characters she cares most about. This creates empathy from we readers and also takes her stories in entirely unexpected directions. This has been a successful tactic, earning her four Hugo awards for Science Fiction and two Nebula awards for Fantasy. In The Warrior's Apprentice, her hero is Miles Vorkosigan, whose parents are both noble and regal but Miles himself was poisoned as an infant in an assassination attempt. As a result, he grew to a height of only four foot nine and had a slight hunch back and very frail bones. Despite his physical condition, he had a lively intellect and intended to overcome any adversity. Lois gives him plenty of opportunity to practice. When he was competing in the obstacle course he needed to complete in order to be accepted in the Barrayaran Service Academy, seventeen-year-old Miles breaks both legs during the beginning of the course, effectively ending his dreams of being a heroic warrior like both his parents. The pain is exquisite, racking both his body and mind. But then Miles becomes Miles if you follow my meaning, and the story tracks a course unlike any I've ever read.
This is a common malady. We spend hours and hours creating our characters, interviewing them, filling out complicated character sheets, determining which personality they are on the Myers-Briggs Scale. They become like family, and we can't bear the thought of doing anything bad to them.
But as Dory from Finding Nemo said: "If nothing ever happens to him, then nothing will ever happen to him."
Who wants to read about someone nothing ever happens to?
Stories are fun when readers get to watch the struggle. They want to see someone overcome a terrible problem and win. To do that, you have to put your characters in terrible situations. You have to be mean, be evil, be cruel. If it breaks you heart to do it to them, then you're on the right track.
It takes a bold, determined author to own up to NWS. Let's see if you suffer from this, as well. Borrowing the concept from Janice, let's take a quiz.
1. Jill goes to her garage to start the car. The garage door is open when she specifically closed it the night before. She looks nervously around but sees no other obvious clue as to what's going on. She presses the wireless button on her key fob to unlock the door.
A. She opens the door, a little unsettled, but the car starts right up. She wonders what it all means on her way to work. She stops for a latte' to settle her nerves and meets a charming single man. It's love at first sight.
B. After a moment, the door locks itself again. Mystified, she unlocks the door again. Again, it relocks itself. She sees movement outside the garage window and sees somebody looking right at her. He has a device in his hands. She realizes he's hijacked her wireless signal and now has the unlock code to her car. She turns and runs inside and calls the police. There will be no latte' for Jill today.
C. The car explodes in a ball of fire and Jill's body slams against the garage wall. She crumples to the ground bleeding and unconscious while her garage burns around her.
2. Felix has a charming girlfriend. He takes her out to a fancy restaurant to ask her to marry him.
A. She hesitates before she says yes.3. Stella needs a break before she inherits the family business passed down from one Studebaker to the next. She's in the attic cleaning out an old wood chest when something sounds weird at the bottom of the chest. She removes everything and discovers a false bottom. She holds her breath in expectation and opens the compartment.
B. She hesitates before she says no, she's not yet ready to marry.
C. She hesitates and confesses she used to be a man and asks if that's a problem.
A. She finds the Rehnhold Diamond, worth over $12.2 million. She screams in excitement.4. Ving the Vicious is circling planet Earth.
B. She finds a metal box. She opens the box and finds a dusty note crumbling with age. "Smile," it says, "You're on Candid Camera!" She looks around her suspiciously. She thinks she sees something in the corner. She pulls back an old curtain and shrieks. It is the bones of a human and fifty year old film camera.
C. She finds a birth certificate and discovers she's not really a Studebaker and won't be inheriting anything. Also, her parents lied to her about her heritage and now she doesn't know who she is.
A. He sends a delegation to the surface but changes his nefarious plans when a Goldilocks girl gives his emissary a yellow dandelion in a gesture of faith and good will. Instead, he builds her a new Orphanage.
B. Ving holds the little girl ransom until the U.N. submits to his demands.
C. Ving blows up the U.N., spirits the girl away, and creates an army of Goldilocked little robot killers bent on destroying the world, bwahahaha!
5. The captain falls asleep in a cave and awakes in a distant land in need of a hero.
A. He wears no clothes, but neither does the princess he's apparently there to save. And she's ok with that because that's the norm for Barsoom. And it's love at first sight. Beats sleeping in a dank cave, right?How'd you do? Borrowing again from Janice Hardy, here's the key to the quiz:
B. He meets a giant, green, six-armed monster with huge fangs. The monster has a club the size of a small tree. The captain has, well, his wits. Maybe caves aren't so bad after all.
C. The monster clubs the captain into unconsciousness, kidnaps the princess, and disappears into a world so hostile it would earn an R-rating to adequately describe. Where's a good cave when you need one?
Mostly A: You suffer from NWS. The thought of doing anything really mean to your characters is painful to you, so your stories often lack real stakes to compel readers to keep reading.I have struggled with NWS. But I'm getting better. By which I mean, for my precious protags, it's getting worse.
Mostly B: You have a good sense of author cruelty, but you could go further. Readers often find your stories interesting, but they have no trouble setting them down if something cool is on TV.
Mostly C: You know how to make your characters suffer. Readers stay up late at night to finish your books and can't stop talking about them the next day.
Friday, December 10, 2010
1. The fattest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
12. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: 'You stay here; I'll go on a head.'
13. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
14. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'
15. The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
16. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
17. A backward poet writes inverse.
18. In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.
19. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
20. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you'd be in Seine .
21. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, 'I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'
22. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says 'Dam!'
23. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.
24. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, 'I've lost my electron.' The other says 'Are you sure?' The first replies, 'Yes, I'm positive.'
25. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
26. There was the person who sent ten puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Bunn and Oke explored this from a couple of directions: How the event affected the lives, not just of those who believed, but also of those who didn't, and those whose political power demanded the story be false; and how independent investigators (actually a centurian, Alban, and a servant girl, Leah) of the era would go about discovering the truth of the empty tomb.
The authors did some serious research, and Davis Bunn is well-acquainted with the region their novel is set in. And yet, when I glanced through the reviews in Amazon, I discovered it was the authors' research that was called into question most.
Of all the lessons I imagine Bunn and Oke would want drawn from their novel, the last would be one in faulty research. But I'm writing this not just to emphasize how important research is, but to point out the self-proclaimed experts who bring an author's research into question.
One person in Amazon's reviews pointed out the frequency with which the characters drank tea. She wasn't sure, she said, but was tea even around west of China two thousand years ago? Well, yes. I found a treatise that tracked the tea trade along with the silk trade, truly indicating its antiquity. Whether Romans or Jews drank tea, I don't know. It was available to them. Tea is made with water, and both societies of the time were careful with their water supplies, so it's possible.
Another person wasn't happy about Leah and her backstory. Leah had been a young woman of society in Rome, but once her father fell into ruin, she was sold to Pilate to serve his wife. Pilate and Herod used Alban the centurion's attraction to Leah to purchase his services to investigate the empty tomb. Since Leah was part Judean, her betrothal to Alban would give him access to information he may not otherwise have. To say Leah wasn't happy about the situation would be an understatement--and that's where our self-avowed historian's review comes to play. She believed Leah's frequent complaints about being betrothed were unwarranted.
According to her, Leah, having once been a lady of Roman society, would be accustomed to the practice of women being "married off" without having a say-so. Such trades were made to advance political goals or alliances between nations. Perhaps. But nowhere did the authors indicate Leah's father was political. If he were a merchant, for instance, trading Leah off may not benefit him. I was of the impression most Roman women were free to choose. But I could be wrong.
Now if the reviewer had indicated that selling or marrying off a servant was common, and Leah had no real expectation of remaining unwed because of this, she may have had a point. Either way, it's moot. Leah didn't want to get married at all, and expecting that fate wouldn't have changed her mind.
In my opinion, the authors did an excellent job. I admit, I balked at the word "cronies" found in the text and stopped reading to look it up. (The word was popularized by college kids back in the seventeenth century, a bit late to be written into a centurion's POV.) But the discovery certainly wasn't enough to change my opinion of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Perhaps the reviewers really are experts on the Roman era, I don't know. But I have no doubt of Oke and Bunn's research into their subject matter primarily because neither author would've risen in their careers if they had shoddy research practices. Because I'm more familiar with these writers than I am the reviewers, I trust the writers.
The lessons from these pros are 1) thorough research is mandatory, 2) you're not going to catch every mistake, and 3) criticism, like opinions, is free--and not always worth the price.
Monday, December 6, 2010
- Author Central Page
- Add your books. Check to make certain all your books are available on your page. Customers will click your name to discover what else you’ve written.
- Add a blog feed. Type in the RSS address of your blog, and Amazon will automatically update your Author Page whenever you publish a new post.
- Utilize images. You’ll want to include your author photo to provide fans a visual connection. But you can also get creative and utilize other images (book signings, etc.) as a marketing feature.
- Upload videos. Don’t forget to include your book trailer, interviews, and perhaps even a special message from you to your readers.
- Add your biography. Use a little imagination and use your biography to state more than just the boring facts. You might want to include a mini interview with yourself, like I’ve done.
- Update events. Keep your groupies up to date on book signings and readings. Amazon shares posted events with their partner site BookTour and sends them around the web to local media outlets, event listing services, and other book-friendly sites.
Because Amazon is in the business of selling, it makes it easy for authors to promote their work. Take advantage of those opportunities and watch your sales climb!