From the monthly archives: September 2011

woman looks at sky

The pros and cons of narcissism is fascinating as we watch our culture gets more and more narcissistic. I’ve included just a snippet of the information. If you are writing characters, you’ll want to read the entire article and follow the links in it for more information.

For years, psychologists have observed that people routinely overestimate their abilities, said study leader Dominic Johnson, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Some experts have suggested that overconfidence can be a good thing, perhaps by boosting ambition, resolve, and other traits, creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

But positive self-delusion can also lead to faulty assessments, unrealistic expectations, and hazardous decisions, according to the study—making it a mystery why overconfidence remains a key human trait despite thousands of years of natural selection, which typically weeds out harmful traits over generations.

Now, new computer simulations show that a false sense of optimism, whether when deciding to go to war or investing in a new stock, can often improve your chances of winning. -Christine Dell’Amore, National Geographic News

Writing Prompt: What is your character overconfident about? How does that benefit her? How does that cause her to make risky decisions?

Journaling Prompt: Write about a time when you were overconfident and how that affected your decision-making.

Art Prompt: Overconfidence

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the benefits of overconfidence

Photo Credit: Mustafa Khayat on Flickr


Have you ever had someone go crazy, telling you off, acting like a two year old? Read this great description of a female tantrum:

The whole episode started innocuously enough, but soon escalated into one of those foot-stomping, tear-gushing, guilt-stabbing, man-damning rants which only the female of the species deliver so artfully. -Phil Truman, Legends of Tsalagee

Writing Prompt: Write a scene about a character who goes postal. Write a scene about someone of each gender doing this.

Journaling Prompt: Write about a time when someone told you off. Describe how that person acted and how you reacted.

Art Prompt: Tantrum

Nonfiction / Speech writing Prompt: Tell a humorous story about an adult throwing a tantrum.

Photo Credit: M. Pratter on Flickr


The old commercial asked, “Is it real, or is it Memorex?” Perhaps a better question would be “Is that a lie, or did you just forget?”

“The fallibility of memory is well established in the scientific literature, but mistaken intuitions about memory persist,” Chabris said. “The extent of these misbeliefs helps explain why so many people assume that politicians who may simply be remembering things wrong must be deliberately lying.”

The new findings also have important implications for proceedings in legal cases, the researchers said.

“Our memories can change even if we don’t realize they have changed,” Simons said. “That means that if a defendant can’t remember something, a jury might assume the person is lying. And misremembering one detail can impugn their credibility for other testimony, when it might just reflect the normal fallibility of memory.” –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write a poem or scene where someone has to deal with being accused of lying when they really just forgot.

Journaling Prompt: How do you react when you think someone is lying to you?

Art Prompt: I Forgot

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the malleability of memory and give them strategies for dealing with people who may not remember.

Photo Credit: batabidd on Flickr

ghosts in the night

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one?

In a girls’ boarding-school several years ago two of the boarders were sleeping in a large double-bedded room with two doors. About two o’clock in the morning the girls were awakened by the entrance of a tall figure in clerical attire, the face of which they did not see. They screamed in fright, but the figure moved in a slow and stately manner past their beds, and out the other door. It also appeared to one or two of the other boarders, and seemed to be looking for some one. At length it reached the bed of one who was evidently known to it. The girl woke up and recognised her father. He did not speak, but gazed for a few moments at his daughter, and then vanished. Next morning a telegram was handed to her which communicated the sad news that her father had died on the previous evening at the hour when he appeared to her. -St. John Drelincourt Seymour, True Irish Ghost Stories (free for your Kindle or Kindle software)

Writing Prompt: Write a scene where a ghost appears to one of your characters. What does the ghost reveal? How does the character react?

Journaling Prompt: Write about a time when you saw or thought you saw a ghost. If you’ve never seen one, write about someone whose ghost you would like to speak with.

Art Prompt: Apparition

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience a spooky story.

Photo Credit: theogeo on Flickr


Have you ever wondered what people are getting out of playing video games? I always thought it was pure escapism, but it seems that it is much more than that.

“A game can be more fun when you get the chance to act and be like your ideal self,” explained Dr. Przybylski. “The attraction to playing videogames and what makes them fun is that it gives people the chance to think about a role they would ideally like to take and then get a chance to play that role.”

The research found that giving players the chance to adopt a new identity during the game and acting through that new identity — be it a different gender, hero, villain — made them feel better about themselves and less negative.

Looking at the players’ emotion after play as well their motivation to play, the study found the enjoyment element of the videogames seemed to be greater when there was the least overlap between someone’s actual self and their ideal self.

“When somebody wants to feel they are more outgoing and then plays with this personality it makes them feel better in themselves when they play,” explained Dr. Przybylski. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: What video game would each of your characters want to play in order to experience being their ideal self? Write about what they are feeling as they play the game.

Journaling Prompt: What is your favorite game? How do you feel when you are playing it? What do you get out of the experience of playing it?

Art Prompt: Video game

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about videogames and alternate personas.

Photo Credit: Sebastian Fritzon on Flickr


I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things. -Lisa Yee, Millicent Min, Girl Genius

Writing Prompt: List your character’s weaknesses and strengths. How are her weaknesses actually strengths that will help her in your story? How are her strengths actually weaknesses that will create difficulties for her?

Journaling Prompt: How do people misjudge your strengths as weaknesses?

Art Prompt: Perfectionist

NonFiction / Speech Writing Prompt: Write about your personal qualities that have a negative connotation generally but that you believe are positive attributes.

Photo Credit: babukadja on Flickr


annus horribilis n. a year of disaster or misfortune. modern Latin, suggested by ANNUS MIRABILIS. annus mirabilis n. a remarkable or auspicious year. modern Latin, ‘wonderful year’.

Writing Prompt: Create a story, poem, or haiku about an annus horribilis.

Journaling Prompt: Write about a bad year that you experienced.

Art Prompt: Annus Horribilis

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell a humorous or dramatic story about a bad year you had.

Photo Credit: zoriah on Flickr


It’s human nature to look for meaning and significance in everything around us. Astrology and astronomy, for example, used to be combined into one field of scientific inquiry. Today, pure science has edged out astrology, but it is still interesting to look at how humans react to celestial events.

In 1811, still spoken of as “the year of the comet,” because of the wonderful vintage ascribed to the sky visitor, a comet shaped like a gigantic sword amazed the whole world, and, as it remained visible for seventeen months, was regarded by superstitious persons as a symbol of the fearful happenings of Napoleon’s Russian campaign. This comet, the extraordinary size of whose head, greatly exceeding that of the sun itself, has already been mentioned, was also remarkable for exhibiting so great a brilliancy without approaching even to the earth’s distance from the sun. -Garrett Putman Serviss, Curiosities of the Sky (free for your Kindle or Kindle software

Writing Prompt: Write about your character’s reaction to a major celestial event. Include his reaction to the reactions of those around him to that event.

Journaling Prompt: Write about what celestial events like comets mean to you.

Art Prompt: Comet

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about how comets are discovered.

Photo Credit: chrs_snll on Flickr

two men talking

The science of hormones and their effects on human behavior is really fascinating. 

Oxytocin’s positive effects are well known. Experiments have found that, in games in which you can choose to cooperate or not, people who are given more oxytocin trust their fellow players more. Clinical trials have found that oxytocin can help people with autism, who have trouble in social situations. Studies have also found that oxytocin can increase altruism, generosity, and other behaviors that are good for social life.

But the warm fuzzy side of oxytocin isn’t the whole story… Recent studies have found that people who were given oxytocin, then played a game of chance with a fake opponent, had more envy and gloating. These are also both social emotions, but they’re negative. “It kind of rocked the research world a little bit,” Kemp says. That led some researchers to think that oxytocin promotes social emotions in general, both negative and positive.

But Kemp and Guastella think oxytocin’s role is slightly different. Rather than supporting all social emotions, they think it plays a role in promoting what psychologists call approach-related emotions. These are emotions that have to do with wanting something, as opposed to shrinking away. “If you look at the Oxford English Dictionary for envy, it says that the definition of envy is to wish oneself on a level with another, in happiness or with the possession of something desirable,” Kemp says. “It’s an approach-related emotion: I want what you have.” Gloating is also about approach, he says; people who are gloating are happy — a positive, approach-related emotion — about having more than their opponent and about that person’s misfortune.

If Kemp and Guastella are right, that could mean that oxytocin could also increase anger and other negative approach-related emotions. That could have important implications for people who are studying how to use oxytocin as a psychiatric treatment. “If you were to take a convicted criminal with a tendency towards aggression and give him oxytocin to make him more social, and if that were to enhance anger as opposed to suppressing anger, then that has very substantial implications,” Kemp says. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: What approach-related emotions does your protagonist typically experience? What changes his behavior?

Journaling Prompt: Describe a time when you felt envious. What triggered that and how did you behave?

Art Prompt: Envy

Nonfiction / Speech Writing Prompt: Write about approach-related emotions and their function in your workplace or family relationships.

Photo Credit: pawpaw67 on Flickr

waterfall in the rain

Weather, climate, and vegetation are part of your world building if you are writing science fiction or fantasy. In other types of fiction, weather can play a role in setting the emotional tone of the story. This single sentence from Samuel Johnson places the reader in the wilderness of Scotland and establishes an emotional tone for the travelogue that follows:

The wind was loud, the rain was heavy, and the whistling of the blast, the fall of the shower, the rush of the cataracts, and the roar of the torrent, made a nobler chorus of the rough musick of nature than it had ever been my chance to hear before. -Samuel Johnson, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (free for your Kindle or Kindle software)

Writing Prompt: Write a description of weather that evokes an emotional response.

Journaling Prompt: What is your favorite kind of weather? Why?

Art Prompt: Stormy Weather

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell a story that requires a description of the weather for its humor or drama

Photo Credit: Alaskan Dudeon Flickr