From the monthly archives: July 2011

art and beauty

Art is one thing; science another. But scientists are closing in on ways to objectively define art and beauty. As it turns out, it really is in the eye (or actually, brain) of the beholder.

Professor Zeki adds, “Almost anything can be considered art, but we argue that only creations whose experience correlates with activity in the medial orbito-frontal cortex would fall into the classification of beautiful art.

“A painting by Francis Bacon, for example, may have great artistic merit but may not qualify as beautiful. The same can be said for some of the more ‘difficult’ classical composers — and whilst their compositions may be viewed as more ‘artistic’ than rock music, to someone who finds the latter more rewarding and beautiful, we would expect to see greater activity in the particular brain region when listening to Van Halen than when listening to Wagner.” –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Add to your character sketch. What does your character find beautiful? Include all the senses. How does this shape him or her in ways that create drama or tension in your story?

Journaling Prompt: Write about what you find beautiful. Include all your senses.

Art Prompt: Beauty

Nonfiction / Speech Writing Prompt: Write about what you consider beautiful and what you consider art.

Photo Credit: shannonkringen on Flickr

I wonder

You’ve heard it said by nutritionists that you are what you eat. (I’m a bowl of chips with sides of salsa and guacamole. You?) Well, according to James Allen, it doesn’t stop there.

There is an unavoidable tendency to become literally the embodiment of that quality upon which one most constantly thinks. -James Allen, The Way of Peace (free for your Kindle or Kindle software)

Writing Prompt: Create a character with a one track mind. How does this manifest in what happens to him or her?

Journaling Prompt: Write about a character trait you would like to develop. Write something about it every day. Notice it when other people are exhibiting it. Write that down. Notice how it starts to become a reality for you.

Art Prompt: You are what you eat.

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience how they can use this truth to change their lives.

Photo Credit: striatic on Flickr


Science has now proven that the nice guy doesn’t always finish last. It turns out that there is a survival benefit to being compassionate and virtuous. 

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute and the USC Rossier School of Education found that individuals who were told stories designed to evoke compassion and admiration for virtue sometimes reported that they felt a physical sensation in response. These psycho-physical “pangs” of emotion are very real — they’re detectable with brain scans — and may be evidence that pro-social behavior is part of human survival. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write a scene in which an act of compassion changes a character’s destiny.

Journaling Prompt: Write about how thinking/acting in a compassionate manner has helped you be more successful in your life.

Art Prompt: Compassion

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience a story about someone who needs their help. Include a strong call to action.

Photo Credit: chappyphoto on Flickr


Some Kings just can’t catch a break. In this delightful children’s story, the young King has allowed a dragon to escape from a magical book with some dire consequences! Put yourself in his shoes for a moment.

Things were growing very serious. However popular the King might become during the week, the Dragon was sure to do something on Saturday to upset the people’s loyalty. -Edith Nesbit, The Book of Dragons 

Writing Prompt: Write about this from the King’s point of view. Write about it from the dragon’s point of view.

Journaling Prompt: Write about a habit you have that comes out just when you think everything is under control.

Art Prompt: Dragon

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell a humorous story about a time when you were out of control.

Photo Credit: Arab Fancy 🙂 on Flickr

handling emotions

Many people feel that their emotions control them, but in reality, they are making very deliberate choices about how to respond to their emotions. Understanding how people deal with intense negative emotions vs. how they handle less intense feelings can help you develop more realistic characters.

A big part of coping with life is having a flexible reaction to the ups and downs. Now, a study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that people choose to respond differently depending on how intense an emotion is. When confronted with high-intensity negative emotions, they tend to choose to turn their attention away, but with something lower-intensity, they tend to think it over and neutralize the feeling that way. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write a scene where your character has to deal with a huge betrayal. Write a second scene where your character must cope with a minor irritation. 

Journaling Prompt: Do you sometimes overreact to small things? When does that usually happen?

Art Prompt: Emotions

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience a humorous story about overreacting to a small irritant and use the story to teach the concept of having choice in how we react.

Photo Credit: andrewrennie on Flickr


I love re-imagining familiar stories, or using the original story as a launching pad for something completely new. 

By now, another sleepless night had come and gone, and the sympathetic moon had once more been chased away by a merciless sun. And Romeo, sitting at the table still, wondered yet again if this was to be the day. -Anne Fortier, Juliet: A Novel

Writing Prompt: Use the two sentences above as the start of a story.

Journaling Prompt: Rewrite a scene from your life so that it turns out a different way. How would that have affected how the rest of your life has played out?

Art Prompt: Do over

Nonfiction / Speech Writing Prompt: Choose a favorite childhood story and bring it forward into today’s world.

Photo Credit: wim314 on Flickr

dirty light switch

One of my favorite movies is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s fascinating to consider the idea of surgically excising bad memories and moving blithely into the future without them. As the movie shows, however, we need those memories, even though they are unhappy or even traumatic. They are part of who we are. It’s a bit scary, then, to read that science is getting close to making memory erasure a possibility.

Scientists have developed a way to turn memories on and off — literally with the flip of a switch. Using an electronic system that duplicates the neural signals associated with memory, they managed to replicate the brain function in rats associated with long-term learned behavior, even when the rats had been drugged to forget. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write about a character with a memory he or she wants to turn off.

Journaling Prompt: If you could turn off a memory, which would you pick and why?

Art Prompt: Memory

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about advance in memory technology.

Photo Credit: Cristian V. on Flickr

There are some fabulous nuggets of wisdom in this video.

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gossip men

A good story must have conflict. Some conflicts are out in the open, such as wars or duels. But the more interesting conflict, at least to this reader, is the secret conflict. Whether it’s gossiping teenagers or mutinous cabals, this kind of conflict can add spice to your story.

Twenty rebellious drums make not so dangerous a noise as a few whisperers and secret plotters in corners. -John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions Together with Death’s Duel 

Writing Prompt: Write about a group plotting against your protagonist.

Journaling Prompt: Write about a time when you were affected by gossip or people working against you.

Art Prompt: The plot thickens

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Write about the effect of gossip in our culture.

Photo Credit: Hamed Parham on Flickr


I grew up among cats. My parents tried dogs, but failed to house train them or break them of chasing cars. Cats are easier. I stuck with cats for years as an adult, but about 8 years ago, a beautiful Catahoula came into my life. Now I have 2, and I’ve never been happier. I like how my dogs care about how I’m feeling and what I’m doing. Here’s a quote from an interesting study on dogs and wolves:

They showed, for the first time that wolves, like domestic dogs, are capable of begging successfully for food by approaching the attentive human. This demonstrates that both species — domesticated and non-domesticated — have the capacity to behave in accordance with a human’s attentional state. In addition, both wolves and pet dogs were able to rapidly improve their performance with practice. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write about a human-wolf or human-dog interaction.

Journaling Prompt: How have pets impacted your life?

Art Prompt: Wolves

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience a humorous and/or touching story about one of your pets.

Photo Credit: plasticrevolver on Flickr
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