Weekly Musing: Look at This

I’m not sure how many people know what an infographic is yet I’m sure we’ve all seen them somewhere on the internet. Infographics are those images which present bite-size pieces of information on a variety of topics. Usually the images look like that would make a great poster and many are available for downloading and printing.

I recently found an interesting reading and writing related infographic. I thought it would be fun to write about my thoughts on the one shown below. One caution is the information presented doesn’t cite its sources so don’t take it or my reactions as 100% truth.

Infographic about reading and writing
Infographic about reading and writing


Let’s start the information about the brain. In what seems like a duh type of statement, the physical act of writing something down triggers something within the brain to remember what it better. Probably why many of us had teachers who yelled at us to take notes. Or why the older we get the more important it is to write information down. It’s interesting to learn that the connection our body makes from the mental to the physical is something that can’t be replicated any other way.

Also according to the infographic, when we engage our body and brain in the act of writing we pay more attention to what we are doing. Perhaps this is way one a piece of advice given to writers is to carry a notebook or notepad around in case a name, story idea, dialogue, anything pops up we can commit it down before it leaves our minds.

Moving down the graph let’s next look at the information presented about why telling a story is better than presenting just facts. I find this perhaps to be the most interesting because telling a story doesn’t have to be limited to a novel or short story. Thinking back to my school days I originally didn’t have an interest in history. In elementary school it was only about dates, people, and places. Just the facts, ma’am. I found this boring and dry. It wasn’t until 8th grade that I began to appreciate history and that was due to having a teacher who presented it not as simply a collection of fact but as a story. After all history is about people and events in history have several sides of a story to tell.

The same is true for storytelling. While a pared down reporting style can work to tell an effective story, Ernest Hemingway comes to mind, a reader is more engaged if it is beyond just the facts. Even non-fiction writers have realized this. Memoirists in particular must still tell a story even though everything is rooted in real life. Reading is its most pleasurable when the reader can feel an emotional connection to the story which is hard to do when the author just reports what’s going on.

What is also fascinating about the infographic is how our brains engage more when there is action in the story. That doesn’t necessarily mean a complicated action sequence reminiscent of James Bond, but even a little bit of action stimulates our brain. We respond well to what we can visualize if what the author includes well-written action.

Next we come down to why clich├ęs should be avoided. I’m not going to spend much time on this since yeah, makes sense. The first few times we hear a phrase, and it’s memorable, it sticks in our brains. After a while of reading or hearing it, it becomes white noise. Got it.

Finally we come to some miscellaneous facts about writing and reading. Nice mixtures of fun facts, like an overwhelming majority of us write our name when trying out a new pen. And more disturbing information like many UK teens only have the literacy level of a ten-year-old. Maybe if they read more books their vocabulary and reading comprehension would improve. Not really anything too earth-shattering there either.


Weekly Musing: I Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself, Maybe

Personally, I have a lot of fears and anxieties. Some of which I’ve been able to overcome the past few years as I get older while others I know I will never outgrow. I don’t see that as a bad or good thing. We all have fears and anxieties. It’s how we choose to cope or overcome them that matters.

But this isn’t one of those personal philosophical postings, rather I would like to discuss my professional fears and anxieties. Not so much ‘will I get published?’, ‘when will I get published?’, ‘will people like my work?’, etc. I do feel anxiety about my abilities. All writers and artists do, it’s why we can become quite nutty, but I know I can study how to improve, get advice from fellow writers, listen to the feedback from the writers group I’m in.

There are certain subjects, topics, and types of writing that frighten me: violence, in particular rape, sex scenes, fan fiction (I feel massively childish by wanting to express my dorkiness), unsympathetic characters, abuse in any form, and anything resembling experiences I’ve gone through in real life.

As a reader, I get squeamish at times reading certain scenes or reading experiences of a particular horrible character. If I can, I try to skim these passages even though I know these scenes are part of story and character development. Emotionally, it can be too much to take. Oddly enough, I don’t mind gory horror I guess because I know zombies aren’t real, vampires don’t exist, and there are no such things as werewolves.

But as a writer, I should be paying attention to those uncomfortable scenes. I should be studying the mechanics of the scene. I need to learn to step back from the scene emotionally as a reader, and don the intellectual cap. Does it go too far to make its point? Or does it not go far enough? Is this being done purely for shock value?

There is also the inevitable fear at the back of my head of ‘What will my family and friends think if I write this?’ That is harmful and stifles creativity. Not everybody is going to like my work and that includes family and friends. We each have our own personal tastes. I am merely the tool for the stories and characters in my head. Yes, I do create the stories and characters, to some degree, but even though I may plan out the story, once I sit down to write, the characters are the ones in control. They take turns into areas I hadn’t thought about, do things I don’t want them to do, and yes, some of those are some bad things. When I have tried to reign in some of the bad things, I’ve noticed that just creates a huge impasse. It’s when I start struggling. It’s when the writing feels like it is losing authenticity. And at the end of the day, the story needs to be authentic.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing , mentions receiving an angry letter from a reader accusing him of hating animals. In one of his books, a character kicks a dog to death. The scene was meant to show how brutal the character was, his disregard for life. It was part of character development. It wasn’t inserted in for shock value. He responded by noting he does not dislike animals nor does he advocate animal abuse. The character’s actions were not a reflection of his personal values.

It is incredibly easy as a reader, and I still do it this day, to believe that whatever a writer composes, it is an accurate and true reflection of the writer as a PERSON. I wonder if this is because writers are very often inspired by real-life events either in their own lives, the lives of those around them, or what they read/see. The lines are blurred even more with creative non-fiction which, by its very definition, is true life but with creative twists.

Writing, like all forms of art, can be a very cathartic release but it is important to keep in mind no matter how much a story could be based in the reality, it is NOT the writer’s own personal values on the page. We read stories to follow the paths characters take. We read stories to immerse ourselves in a different world, a different time. We read stories for entertainment. We read stories to reflect on our own moral compass.

In my opinion, the best stories I’ve read are rooted in realism. The characters say and do things I personally would never do but is the truth for the character. I can become sympathetic to a serial killer who murders because he was terribly abused in childhood. I can also become unsympathetic to a passive, mousy character who never stands up for themselves.

So as a writer, I need to work on emotionally allowing myself to push my creativity outside my comfort zone. Like everything else with writing, it is a long, never ending process full of successes and failures.