30 September 2014

The 3 Rules of Storytelling, a review

Hello, Readers!

Thanks for coming back.  Today we're going to talk about the three rules of dramatic writing and storytelling.  You'll probably remember the rules from all of those delicious craft books we've read together, like John Gardner's The Art of Fiction or James N. Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel volumes I & II or Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing and many others.  But in case you've forgotten the rules, here they are:

The Rules of Dramatic Writing
1) Conflict
2) Conflict
3) More Conflict

Conflict is what drives our stories, what reveals our characters, and what leads to the revelations of the underlying ideals put to question in our stories.  Conflict, in other words, proves premise.

There are tons of ways to create conflict externally, but for the conflict to really matter, it has to reach into the heart of your protagonist and wrench her from her life of dog-walking and competition shark-training and take her into the seedy underworld of manta-ray racing (manta-racing).  That means that the conflict has to resonate with the protagonist's internal conflicts as well.

If you're unsure what that's going to look like, here's a great article by Steven James, author of National bestsellers The Bishop and The Knight. In his article, James discusses how to really draw in the reader and to flesh out one's characters, the key is to give the protagonist conflicting ideals.  If your character is a pacifist that also thirsts for justice, what happens when a drunk driver kills his wife but escapes justice because of a technicality?

I bet you want to know, don't you?  I do.  Take your characters and put them in the same situation.

Show us your masterpiece.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. If you aren't already signed up for the phenomenal(ly free) Writer's Digest weekly newsletter, you can sign up for it here

23 September 2014

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, in the Rearview.

Hello, Readers!

Thanks again for dropping in.  Lately, I've been doing a lot of posts about social justice, particularly addressing Rape Culture issues, but today, I wanted to share a book that has been incredibly freeing to me personally: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  In case you don't know who Susan Cain is, here's an awesome TED Talk about why Introverts are still awesome.  

 In case you're reading my blog and you happen to be an extrovert, let me assure you that Quiet in no way insults or demeans extroversion, and as I'll get into, it even has some tips on how to be even better at what you're already exceptional at.  

A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent van Gogh. I prefer to think that the planet needs athletes, philosophers, sex symbols, painters, scientists; it needs the warmhearted, the hardhearted, the coldhearted, and the weakhearted. It needs those who can devote their lives to studying how many droplets of water are secreted by the salivary glands of dogs under which circumstances, and it needs those who can capture the passing impression of cherry blossoms in a fourteen-syllable poem or devote twenty-five pages to the dissection of a small boy's feelings as he lies in bed in the dark waiting for his mother to kiss him goodnight... Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.
Allen Shawn 

Susan Cain opens Quiet with the above quote, then prefaces each chapter with a quote of its own which encapsulates the chapter's contents quite nicely.  As we read through Quiet, Cain first lays out the definitions of each word that she'll be using, so that even a Psychology lay-person (like myself) can understand exactly what she means. Then as Quiet continues, Cain builds on these definitions to create a rich nuance that respects and validates both introverts and extroverts.  
Quiet walks us through the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the US, then examines what we as a whole culture have lost because we have favored one type of presentation and personality over another type.  In fact, Quiet is a master balancing act that argues for diversity and collaboration as a means of achieving greater success for both personality types.  Which is of course why Cain opens with the quote from Allen Shawn.  We are interdependent.  Where one person might be strong, another might be weak.  Steve Wozniak wouldn't have been the huge success he was without the strong presentation and branding skills of Steve Jobs.  Moses wouldn't have been able to convince Israel to leave Egypt without the extroversion of Aaron.  And so on.  Cain doesn't argue for supremacy but for peace and mutual appreciation.  
One of Cain's chapters, entitled "When Collaboration kills Creativity," evaluates the rise of what she terms "New Groupthink" (watch the video for more information on that).  We all remember what it was like being forced to collaborate either in school (starting as early as Kindergarten in some cases) or in work (especially with the rise of totally "open" office designs).  Some people don't contribute very much, some not at all, and some dominate the process regardless of ability, because we as a society have taught that speaking convincingly is more important than having any real ideas.  The studies that Cain uses to address this topic of New Groupthink and forced collaboration actually show that all people perform worse under forced collaboration than when they work alone.  However, if each member of a group works independently on a project and then come together, the groups do dramatically better than any one member working alone.  Cain's research doesn't condemn collaboration, but it calls into question how we collaborate.  
Throughout Quiet, Cain validates introverts and encourages us (even extroverts) to be true to our natures.  One of the incredibly useful things that Cain points out is that introverts and extroverts require different levels of stimulation in order to be focused.  If you study better with the TV on or music blaring, then you're probably an extrovert.  If you focus better with minimal outside stimulus, then you're probably an introvert.  
Armed with that knowledge, I started looking through my daily journals and noting which days I got the most writing done, and I noticed, overwhelmingly, that the days when I didn't listen to music were the days when I not only got more writing done, but the writing I did was better and required less editing later on.  Granted, some days, I'll still want to listen to music, but now that I know what the ideal level of outside stimulus is (close to zero), I can create (and already have created) more effective work habits.  

In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for both introverts and extroverts.  1 in 3 people are introverted in the US, so that means that you do know some introverts.  Quiet will help extroverts to respect the quiet strengths of introverts, while remaining true to their own natures.  For those of us who are introverts, Quiet is a breath of fresh air, a real call for us to be true to ourselves, to love our needs for solitude, to recognize that we are awe-inspiring just the way we are.  

Thanks for reading. Get out there and embrace your excellence.  

22 September 2014

Jokes: Change the Conversation

Hello, Readers!

So, let's talk about "woman" jokes.  We've all heard them.  Some of us might have even told these jokes in our more naive/foolish years (I'm guilty of this).   (Side note: if you're still telling derogatory jokes, please stop).  And we probably have friends/acquaintances that still tell some of these jokes.  Here are some ways to shut these common jokes down and change the conversation.

The next time some person comes up and says, "Oh, I heard this great joke.  Okay, ready?  So what do you tell a woman with 2 black eyes?"
Interrupt before they can answer with this, "Hey, I have serious concerns that you might be in an abusive relationship, and here are some resources if you'd like help."  (Resources Here)

Insistent Person: "Fine, you don't like that one, how about this: why can't women drive?  Because there's no room for a highway between the kitchen and the bedroom!"
You: "Oh, I get it, this joke says that women only exist to create food and have penes stuck inside of them.  Is your masculinity really that fragile?"

Increasingly agitated person: "Hey now, we all know that  9 out of 10 participants enjoy gang rape."
You: "Multiple assailant rape happens every day, even here, even in this town, and for you to make light of the suffering of others is callous and disgusting."

Dear Readers, you are empowered, you are enlightened, you are activists.  When someone says something, speak up.  Turn that feeling of revulsion in the pit of your stomachs into an Act of Revolution.

It's time.

17 September 2014

Guest Post: Personal Security Case Study

Thanks for returning, Readers.  
It's entirely possible that you're tired of reading my pacifist, pinko-commie opinions on Rape Culture, so today we've got a guest post by Jenn (my sister-in-law) and Clayton (identical-twin brother) Hensley.  Jenn Hensley is a mother and a brown belt in Karate and a survivalist (ask her for Zombie-proofing tips).  Clayton Hensley is a US Infantry veteran and currently a student in Creative Content creation. Together they wrote this lovely fictionalized case study.  Enjoy! 

Personal Security Case Study: John Doe vs. Chris Day
By Clayton and Jenn Hensley

In this case study, we will examine a common scenario in modern shootings. To be clear, this scenario does not come from one specific case, and the names of the individuals involved in the scenario do not come from any open cases. This scenario is designed to share common elements of domestic shootings, but any resemblance to a specific open case is coincidental.

    Our John Doe in this scenario is a 35 year old white male who works a white collar job, is divorced, and has two children. The assailant, Chris Day, is a 33 year old single, white male who works at the same company as our John Doe.
    Sunday afternoon, Chris’s house, Suburbs of Dallas, Texas. John and Chris were settling down to watch the Cowboys game on television, they had been talking about work and planning their schedules for the next week. John left his kids with their mother for the weekend, so he was intent on just hanging out. Chris and John work at the same company, in the same department and had been friends since their days at UT-Dallas, thirteen years ago.
    By half-time, John was visibly intoxicated, while Chris has been pacing himself, after all, they had to work tomorrow. Chris got up and was about ten feet away from the couch when John hollered for another beer. Chris pulled his gun from his concealed holster, turned around, and leveled it at John. John stared in wide eyed horror as his friend of thirteen years shot him three times in the chest.
    Police responded to the scene of the crime arrested Chris and took John to the hospital, where he was expected to survive. A judge set Chris’ bail at two thousand, which was paid for by Chris himself, who returned to work within the week.
    Investigators collected evidence at the scene of the crime, then waited for John to wake up after his surgery.
    Following John shaking off the anesthesia, he was put to the question concerning the event. The investigator asked John if he had told Chris “No, don’t shoot me.” He responded that he had been too shocked and more than a little drunk, and wasn’t sure he had said anything. Investigators pressed further, “If you hadn’t wanted to be shot, you would have said ‘no, don’t shoot me.’ Did you want to be shot?”
    John responded that, of course, he hadn’t wanted to be shot, “What the hell is your problem?”
In their report, the investigators listed John as complicit with the event since he hadn’t said “No.”
Finishing their notes on that set of questions, the investigators asked why he didn’t rip the gun away from Chris or fight back and defend himself. John responded that “he was drunk and shocked.” The investigators let him know that if he really didn’t want to be shot, his adrenaline would have kicked in and made it possible for him to stand up, close the ten foot gap, and knock the gun out of Chris’ hand with plenty of time to spare before Chris could pull the trigger. “If you were really in danger, your adrenaline would have counteracted the alcohol in your system and helped you to move so quickly that Chris couldn’t have shot you. Adrenaline is so powerful, when you need it,” they continued, “that it automatically corrects any power imbalance.” In the report, the investigators note that John’s over-reactive temper flared up and he cursed at the officers.
    The investigators opened a new line of questioning, “John, you obviously made some terrible decisions that day, it looks like this was pretty much inevitable with the lifestyle you lead. I need you to answer this next set of questions honestly, can you do that for me?” John nodded, mutely. “Alright, I want to know why you didn’t check to see if Chris was armed when you entered his house.”
    Well,” John states, “because I trusted him. We’d been friends for thirteen years, and I didn’t have any clue that he wanted to shoot me. Why would I? We were pals. Hell, he was there for me when Jane left.”
    “Ah, classic mistake, trusting someone you know.” The investigators jotted down a few notes, “This will make it harder to prosecute, since you have a friendly connection to him. Are you sure that you’re interpreting the events correctly? Did you ask him to shoot you?”
    “What? No! Why would I want someone to shoot me?” John flew into a rage, tearing some of his fresh stitching and spewing more angry curses at the investigators.
    “Sir, you need to calm down. We just want to get to the truth of the matter, get the details right. It’s just that, by your account, that it certainly seems like you were hoping to be shot. You didn’t take even rudimentary precautions. Case in point, the outfit you were wearing, why would you go around in dangerous times like this without wearing at least a Kevlar reinforced undershirt? People who don’t want to get shot wear body armor. Someone wearing a polo shirt and short pants is pretty much asking to be shot.”
    Upon review of evidence and the investigator’s notes, the DA found that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Chris Day, who was exonerated of all charges. John Doe was deemed to have let his emotions run away with him. He was reprimanded for his treatment of the officers and warned to stop falsely accusing people of attempted murder. Not only could false accusations hurt Chris’s reputation, but it could lead to John being charged with defamation of character and slander.
Two weeks later, John returned to work in the same department as Chris. Chris would periodically walk past John’s desk, point an invisible gun, pull the trigger, and smile.
   We notice several things in this scenario. First, just because you’re asking for a beer, even Coor Lite “The Silve Bullet”, doesn’t mean you want actual bullets lodged into your chest. Second, $2,000 is a pretty low figure for the bail of someone picked up for assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. Third, we see that the investigators seemed more intent on blaming John as complicit in his own shooting, rather than actually figuring out what happened so that they could build a case against the shooter.
    Obviously, what happened to John was terrible and the way it was handled by the authorities and the courts made the psychological trauma much, much worse for John. To top that off, Chris walked away without even a slap on the wrist.
    This kind of injustice doesn’t happen. The traumatic methodology used by the investigators and the unwillingness of the courts to pursue any kind of legal action against the perpetrator is so over the top, that it’s obviously satire.
    Except that it’s not. This is the kind of reasoning that is applied against the victims of sexual violence, this is the way many sexual assault cases are handled by investigators (and worse, by family and friends). We don’t treat physical violence so callously and ineptly here in the US, so why do we approach sexual violence this way? Authorities investigating the crime, along with the friends and family of the victim often respond with this exact line of reasoning as pursued by the investigators in the case of John vs. Chris. Further, our courts and judges treat the perpetrators of sexual violence exactly the same way that Chris was treated in the above scenario.

    What story do we tell ourselves that allows us to use this logic against sexual assault victims? If it's good logic, then why don’t we apply it against victims of shootings?
    What story allows us to sympathize with the victims of other forms of physical violence, yet shun and blame the victims of sexual violence?
    Why is this kind of treatment and handling of atrocity acceptable? Why is it normal, automatic even, for us to blame the victims of sexual assault, even though we don’t blame victims of other forms of violence?

    Finally, what can we do to change the story? Because it's about damn time.  

    Excellent question, Clayton and Jenn!  First and foremost, you can educate yourself about Rape Culture (and other injustices) through resources like White Ribbon which is a group dedicated to empowering boys and men to stop Rape Culture and to stop violence against women and children.  There's MAAM (Men Aligned Against Misogyny, aka, Men Against Assholes and Misogyny) to hear other men's stories on how and why they became Feminists.  
    Then there are lots of other groups, too, both local and international: MenCanStopRape.org, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network).  DoSomething.org (check out their great article on 7 Myths about Sexual Violence)     

    Finally, TALK.  Talk to everyone you know, learn their stories.  1 in 33 males are victims of rape, 1 out of 5 women are.  1 out of 4 girls are sexually exploited by the time they reach 18, 1 out of 6 boys suffer the same.  You already know some survivors, support them.  

Social Activism is Contagious. Thank You.

Dear Readers,

Probably we've all spent some time on WebMD checking if it's just a cough or maybe it's ebola – Spoiler: it's not ebola.  Besides that good news (If you want that diagnosis in marketing-style, here: "The New You, definitely 100% Ebola free!"), I want to tell you all about something that you have already and is definitely contagious: Social Activism.
You probably don't hear it very often, but I wanted to take a moment not just for reading my blog, but for doing something so much more important: caring.  Thank you for caring and for helping raise awareness on the issues that really matter to you, Thank you for pushing for social change and social justice.  Thank you for wrestling with big issues.

Thank you.

09 September 2014

Street Harassment Litmus Test

Hello, Readers!

As you're all aware, there's an increasing awareness of the current cultural norm of Street Harassment.  To the Classy Women reading this blog, I'm sorry that it exists and it's so prevalent.  In the face of constant unwanted attention, you Ladies are holding it down, keeping your chins up, and being ridiculously awesome. Laud and honor all around.

Men, we need to get real and set a better example.  Stick around.  We're about to learn something together.

Gentlemen (and considerate Ladies who've stuck around), I know that we all have a desire to compliment/extort/praise beauty when we see it.  So let's take a look at what this increasing awareness of and displeasure at Street Harassment is about.

Let's address this in a point (P), counter-point (CP) format.  Then we'll wrap up with how to avoid harassing people on the street.
P1) The conversation about Street Harassment is NOT telling you that appreciating beauty is bad.
CP1) It IS telling you that comments that objectify others (specifically women) as ONLY objects of physical beauty or a pleasant place to stick one's penis is BAD.

P2) The conversation is NOT saying that you cannot compliment women
CP2) The conversation IS saying that shouting at women you don't already know can be uncomfortable and threatening.

P3) The conversation is NOT saying that all men are evil, rape-minded beasts.
CP3) It IS saying that the words we use and when we use them matter.

There's more to that conversation, obviously, but these are the 3 points that I see/hear talked about most often in defense of Catcalling/Street Harassment.

With those points in mind, let's look at how we can talk to – and even compliment – women whom we don't yet know.
Put yourself in the scene, you're walking down the street, on the way to pick up a coffee from your favorite local stimulant-pusher, and you see someone you want to compliment.  BEFORE approaching this person, run through this checklist:
0) What is the purpose of your compliment?
      Is the compliment aimed at getting the person to pay attention to you OR, is the compliment aimed at reminding the other person of the objective awesomeness?
     If it's the first case, then don't say anything.  If it's the second, then continue down the checklist.

1) Are the words in your head genuinely complimentary?
      A compliment is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
          1. a :  an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration; especially :  an admiring remark          b :  formal and respectful recognition :  honor   
If your words are respectful and praise the esteem of the intended recipient, then continue on.

2) Can these words be viewed as a command or a way of telling someone to be different to suit your own preconceptions?
     Keep in mind that saying something as seemingly innocuous as, "You'd be prettier if you smiled" IS harassment, because it's telling that person (usually a woman) that a) they are not pretty when not smiling and b) they have to behave/posture themselves in a way that suits you.
     Commands are not compliments.  If your boss said, "You'd look better in a suit coat", you wouldn't respond, "Thank You."

3) Does your intended compliment sexualize or objectify the person?
     This may seem hard to break down in the moment, so maybe ask a more direct version, does your intended compliment convey the message, "I want to put my dick into you"?  If it does, then that's harassment and NOT a compliment.  

So there are 3 steps (plus 1 proto-step) on how to avoid being a Street Harasser.  If you'd prefer a more regimented method to avoid being a Street Harasser, StopStreetHarassment.org has this great info-graphic:

Cheers and Thanks for Reading.