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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Boiling Pot of Crabs

There is a metaphor about a boiling pot of crabs. Some of the crabs will try to escape the boiling pot but others will pull them back into the pot. This is how dysfunctional systems and families work. Many time there will be one or two family members trying to escape the system but the other members of the system continue to pull them back into the system and its rules.

This can be seen when there is a family reunion or get together and a person has been away from the family for awhile. When the person is away that person may be successful and confident, but when that person returns to the family system he/she loses all confidence and returns to how he/she was while living with the family. This happens to all of us on a lesser degree or maybe greater in some cases.

Characters will also belong to different systems that expect them to behave in a certain way. When they are around their friends they will act one way that may be different than when they are around their families and even in a different manner when around associates.

We are all pulled into our systems just like the crabs and ironically when we fight against that system we may be in actuality supporting the homeostasis of that system :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Evil Genius

Yesterday (yes I know I missed it) The Golden Eagle hosted her 2 year blogoversary. The rules were to write a short story about an Evil Genius. Here is my story (Not edited or anything just for fun :)

Tim was no ordinary person. He watched from the sidelines as others had fun. He was mischievous and conniving, making his mark as often as he could and today was no different. His thumbs circled each other as he studied the scene before him, head bent and lips turned up just a bit at the tips. If one looked close enough it would almost seem that there was a glint or spark in his eyes that appeared to dance and sway like a Tesla coil.

The time was quickly approaching in which his plan would unfold. It would explode on the scene like a jack-in-the-box. Chaos would ensue leaving only havoc and disarray spreading like a swarm of bees across the concourse.

A small pop echoed between the buildings followed by a cloud of smoke. A scream. A large woman billowed out of the door making a b-line for Tim. Tim’s smile faded, the glint was gone and his thumbs no longer moved.

“It’s to the principal’s office for you young man.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Cover Decision

Thank You everyone for your help in selecting a cover. With the votes in it appears that the majority preferred the second one.

All of the covers were great and a special shout out goes to Ria for her great work on this. Please show your support by visiting her blog or webstie at or

Thanks again for all of the support on this project. Since today is my Birthday I will be playing games and preparing for my thesis defense this Friday. Have a great day I look forward to viewing your blogs!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Cover!!

I know I said that I would talk more on systems theory today, but I got a really awesome email today. My brother's friend Ria said that she would design my book cover and she got back with three options today. You will see them below. Let me know which one you like the best. I'm partial to the second one. Thanks for your help on this decision and I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!! Check out her other work at her blog or her website

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More On Systems Theory

Per Wordsmiths request i will be going into more detail on systems theory. If there is anything that anyone else would like further clarification on please ask. Sometimes I do not explain as thoroughly as I should :)

When we are looking at systems we consider them to be in homeostasis. Meaning that the system is stable and constant. When we look at systems of people this homeostasis is maintained by the tug and pull of the individuals in the system. As one person becomes rebellious another person becomes less rebellious. This is seen in families and is studied more in family system psychology. So when we look at small systems we will see people playing different roles. Another example of this is when we look at group therapy there are 8 roles that can be identified within the group. Different people take on these roles and generally stick with those roles throughout the treatment. Not all roles are taken on in every group, but they can generally be observed. 1. The follower (goes along with whatever...) 2. Gatekeeper (encourages remarks from others) 3. Scapegoat (gets blamed by everyone) 4. Storyteller (always talking within the group monopolizes the time) 5. Interrogator (always asking questions and interrogating other members) 6. Energizer (the enthusiast in the group) 7. Harmonizer (makes sure that everyone is doing ok and feeling ok) 8. Isolates (does not talk stays out of the group). These different roles can be seen in most systems and serve different purposes, some positive, some negative.

Some good examples can be seen throughout the books we read and the movies we watch. We will look at Lord of the Rings; Follower (Samwise Gamgee), Gatekeeper (Gandalf ), Scapegoat (Gollum, Wormtongue), Storyteller (Pippin), Interrogator (Boromir ??), Energizer (this could also be Pippin but Merry would also fall into this category), Harmonizer (Frodo), Isolates (Gollum). These are just off the top of my head and could be wrong. What are some examples that you see.

We will be looking at this more tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Systems Theory

Systems theory is the study of systems at all levels including couples, families, schools, governments etc. Systems in this theory are self regulating and change according to feedback. There is always a push and give within the system to fit the circumstances. A systems theorist who is a psychologist who was seeing a client would not see the client only but the entire system that the client belongs to, generally the family. Further, the problem would not be the client, but the system would be viewed as the problem.

When looking at situations in our own lives we can generally see how we react to other people and based on what the other person does is how we react. In schools we often blame the kids, or the teachers or the parents but in truth all have play in the problem according to systems theory.

When we are creating our characters we need to keep in mind the different systems that those characters belong to. If the character moves something else will be affected by that move. It may be the antagonist countering the move made by the protagonist.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Personality Test

There is a great personality test online that is free and asks for no identifying information (email, name etc.) and gives some feedback on 41 questions. You can find the test here. I was reading on another blog about the importance to set baselines when we are creating our characters. A great way to do this is to take the test first for yourself and then to reflect on what situations you find yourself in. Next take the test as if you are the protagonist or antagonist. Compare the results to your test and think of the different situations that your character would find himself in.

Another way to setup a baseline is have friends and family take the test and then make a profile database. In this database you would save the results along with some situations that you find the particular person in. Then you could use it as a reference when creating your characters.

The test only took me about 5 minutes to take and gave some really good feedback. If you feel brave go ahead and post your own profile with some information that would help others when diagnosing their characters. If not so brave post your protagonist or antagonist instead :) You can see mine below.

Your personality type: “Harmony-seeking Idealist”
Quietly forceful, original and sensitive. Tend to stick to things until they are done. Extremely intuitive about people and concerned for their feelings. Well-developed value systems which they strictly adhere to. Well-respected for their perseverance in doing the right thing. Likely to be individualistic, rather than leading or following.
Careers that could fit you include:
Counselors, clergy, missionaries, teachers, medical doctors, dentists, chiropractor, Psychologists, psychiatrists, writers, musicians, artists, psychics, photographers, child care workers, education consultants, librarians, marketeers, scientistsm social workers.

Renowned persons with similar personality types:
  • Adam Sandler, actor and comedian
  • Gillian Anderson, actress
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet
  • Jamie Foxx, actor, musician and comedian
  • Martin van Buren, American president
  • Mel Gibson, actor and filmmaker
  • Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa
  • Nicole Kidman, actress
  • Oprah Winfrey, TV show host
  • Tom Selleck, actor
Some of the things that made me the way I am is that I prefer small crowds of individuals that I know. I prefer to work one on one as opposed to big groups. I like to be home with family and a few close friends as opposed to big parties and or nightclubs etc. I like to work on my own and to set deadlines that I work towards. I enjoy writing and talking to people (as long as it is a one on one situation). I enjoy imagining and thinking through things. I like to be on time and hate being late. 

I hope to see others comments so that we can all increase our database. Please remember that this is public and you should not post anything that you would not want your employer or mother or grandmother to know about. Have fun!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back Home

Hello everyone I just got home after an 8 hour drive. Things have gone well and I have gotten some great feedback on my book. I am looking forward to getting my book out there and am grateful for all of your support and help.

I will be adding some new stuff tomorrow and look forward to your comments. If there are any questions that you have for me let me know.

Have a great night I look forward to reading your blogs tomorrow.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Social Economic Status

Social Economic Status (SES) is the status of a person based on how much money a person makes. We all have been hearing about the economy for the past couple of years. So, I figured it would be a good idea to talk a little about how it will affect our characters. People generally fall within three groups lower, middle and upper. Within each of those three groups there are three groups, lower middle, and upper.

There have been many studies conducted on how SES affects a person. Many studies have even shown that lower SES status affects a person more than race, gender or anything else. Those people coming from lower SES status will generally do worse in school (e.g. learn language slower, lower math skills etc.) They will also suffer more from psychological problems and health issues. There are many other issues related to low SES.

When we are creating our characters it is important to understand the SES that they come from. We need to make the characters more believable and realistic by showing the hardships that they needed to go through in order to become our heroes. This does not mean that they can't break the mold it just gives us an opportunity to explain why they broke the mold.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Character's Attire

Today is a post about something my mom and I talked about yesterday. We were discussing how some of the great authors tie everything to their characters personality. Meaning that the way a character dresses, how the character closes their purse, or the way they wear their hair. This is a great way to distinguish one character from another. If we change the tone that we write in when a different character enters the scene and discuss how the character's heels clip as they walk. This gives the reader a little more about who and what the character is.

This is easy to visualize. For example, what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say punk or nerd. What are you picturing. A pocket protector, broken glasses, piercings, mohawk. Think about the different way a uptight woman walks compared to a woman who has five children. What are their different behaviors? How do they act around strangers? How do they act around friends?

When writing about our characters our environment will look different depending on the character we are talking about. The conversation will look and feel different. The words we use will be different.

I will be out of town for the next couple of days but I plan on continuing to post and I look forward to all of your wonderful comments.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What People Say is Often Not What People Do

Today's post is taken from a study conducted in 1934 by Richard LaPiere. He traveled with a  Japanese couple around the US and took note of how people reacted to them. Six months later he sent out a questionnaire to the establishments (hotels) they visited and asked them if they would accept Japanese people into their establishments. His observations were all most all positive in how the Japanese couple was treated. There was only once when the couple was turned away. In contrast the questionnaire's where almost all negative. Meaning that when reported on a questionnaire the establishments would have rejected the Japanese couple and not allowed them to stay. 

The study has its flaws, but it brings up a good point. We as people often say one thing but when faced with the situation we act differently. We often say that we would be heroic in the face of danger, but when it comes down to it how would we really react. 

Another question arises from this study and that is how can we tell when what we say will match what we will do? There are five categories that help us know if what a person says is really what that person will do.

1. Strength of the attitude. The stronger you feel about the certain situation or person the more likely you will behave how you say you will behave.

2. Stability of the attitude. The more stable the attitude the more likely you will respond according to the attitude.

3. Relevance of attitude to the behavior. The more specific the attitude is toward the behavior the more likely it will occur. Just because a person says they believe in God it does not mean that they will attend church. However, if you asked them how important is church then you would see a higher correlation.

4. Salience of the attitude. If something is on your mind and it reinforces your attitude the more likely you will behave accordingly.

5. Situational pressure. Depending on the situation that you are in your behavior will Allison more closely to your attitude or farther away.

Our characters have attitudes and they have behaviors. It is important to keep in mind how they align and what makes them align.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dark Room Analogy

Today's post is on the dark room analogy that I would discuss with a supervisor awhile back. Imagine if you will a dark room with many doors. Some of the doors are cracked open some are wide open and others are shut tight. In this situation if trouble arises our first instinct is to run to the open doors, because we have been through those doors before and we really don't know what is behind the closed doors. The cracked ones we may have peeked through at times but didn't like what we saw. This is normal for people to always go through the same door, walk on the beaten path etc.

When working with clients we talk about this dark room and how they always go through the same door and always end up in the same place. What we try to teach them is to take a moment to sit in the darkness, feel the discomfort and take the time to look around for alternatives. By doing this they will slowly begin to open new doors and have new experiences or retry old ones.

This is true for our characters we need to give them a chance to feel the darkness and discomfort in order to have new experiences. This also goes for us take a moment to feel how your character is feeling. Maybe it isn't what you wanted? Take the time to think through different options and look for original ideas.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reader Perception

As we live our lives we are constantly taking new information in from the environment around us. This is all taken in from the different senses that we have (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste). Some may argue that we have a sixth sense of sorts. Think about as you are walking along minding your own business and you have the feeling someone is watching you. This is an odd thing that happens, not sure if it has been studied, although it would be interesting to look at. Anyway on with how we take things in through our 5 perhaps 6 senses. All of this information is then sent to our brain where the brain begins to muddle through what it thinks is important and what it doesn't have time to deal with at the moment and other things that it just ignores. Those things that we decide to think about and actually look into are then filtered through our own past experiences, emotional state at the moment, and active thoughts. Out of all of this mess comes our perception of the situation.

Now if we add another person to the situation who is going through the same process we have two individuals trying to make sense of all of the things going on. This can cause some confusion. Now if we add to the mess two people trying to understand each other and make sense of everything and on top of that they are both hiding something or are on guard for what ever reason. Perhaps one of them wants to impress the other or there is a power differential between the two. Now we have a very big mess. If we add on top of this any type of mental illness or extreme defensiveness it just keeps getting worse.

Now that we have the mess above going on it is easier to understand how perceptions can be warped when a person first meets another person. This understanding of the nuances and problems that can occur between our characters can give us tools in how we want our readers to perceive our characters as well. Keep in mind that as our readers are reading our stories they are having all of these things going on with them as well as they meet our characters and get to know them. They will expect them to act a certain way and they will react differently based on their own past experiences. For this reason it is important to make sure that as we are writing we keep in mind how we want the reader to react to our characters and build them based on the expected outcome. We will not be able to predict every perception of every reader but the better we understand people and how they behave the better we can understand how the majority will react. For example most readers are going to be sad when the little boy in our story gets beat. However, some readers may have an experience in their childhood where they were beaten by their father when they got an 'F' on a report card and feel that it made them better. They may then have little sympathy for the child or at the most may feel that the child should buck up and get on with it. (This is extreme of course).

The better that we can understand how people will perceive our characters the easier it is going to be for us to manipulate emotions from our readers and get them to feel the way that we want them to feel. This will also help us when we are trying to get sympathy for our characters making the experience of reading our book that much greater.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Influences of Life

It is amazing how many people live on the earth and all those that have ever lived on the earth and to think that all of them are different. Some a lot some a little. It is because of the different events in their lives that make them different. There is no two people that have had the exact same experiences and it is for this reason that none of us are exactly the same. Even twins have had different experiences and have different influences on them.

Additionally it is the influences around us that are different from any other person in this world. I have different things influencing my life than even my wife, both internally and externally. It is for this reason that we need to try and understand better those things that influence other people. By understanding these influences we can better understand why they do what they do. Once we understand the whys we can hopefully be able to explain in our books the whys.

I hope that everyone is having a nice weekend and I look forward to posting again on Monday. I think that I will be writing about an interesting concept about how we interpret other peoples motives and actions.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Learned Helplessness

In this next post we look at a term by Seligman and Maier, "Learned Helplessness." This is the term that they give to a person who no longer tries to avoid a bad situation because of past experiences in which their effort was unfruitful. For example in the study they found that if a dog was placed in a cage and given electric shock (punishing but not harmful) and was unable to escape that shock it learned to be helpless. This was seen when the dog was later placed into another box in which it was shocked but it could escape the shock simply by moving the dog wouldn't move. An animal under normal circumstances would move where as the dog who was unable to escape the shock in previous experiences did not move.

In our lives we do things because we expect certain results. For example we write novels or blog because we expect others to read and enjoy them. We are willing to be critiqued and to put ourselves out there because we expect that it will make us better writers and give us better opportunities to publish. We also do it because we enjoy it, but this goes along with our expectations. What happens though when we believe that we have no control over the desired outcome. We no longer believe that we can get published and it is out of our control no matter how good we are. We stop doing the activities that may provide us the opportunities to be published (this could go along with self fulfilling prophecies as well).

When we are writing about our characters we can make sense and shape them the way we want them to react by the experiences that they have before the event. We can either give them experiences in which they are successful and gain confidence in their personal power in determining outcomes or we can give them experiences in which they will learn helplessness. This in turn will make the characters more believable to the readers and their behavior will make sense. If in the beginning of your story an orphan boy who has been beaten all his life escapes and immediately begins to lead an army to conquer the demons invading earth, then your readers may find this a little unbelievable. However, on the other hand if this same orphan boy escapes from the orphanage and then is taken in and trained and taught to be a leader, then goes on to lead the army to vanquish the demons it becomes believable. We have all seen this happen both in stories and real life.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is context more important than actuality

Yesterday we talked about what is normal and discussed several ways in which therapist determine if a person is normal or abnormal. To go along with that there was a study conducted by Rosenhan in 1973 in which he questioned the ability of therapists to determine how normal a person is. In his study he recruited 8 subjects including himself to be pseudo patients. These subjects would then present themselves to psychiatric hospitals complaining of hearing voices. Other than complaining of hearing voices they acted completely normal and gave truthful information except for identifying information. All but one of them was admitted to the hospitals being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Remember it was all based off of the one symptom of hearing voices. Once admitted all symptoms went away and they tried to be model patients so that they could be released as soon as possible.

This is the crazy part the average stay was 19 days with a range from7-52 days. Additionally, none of them were detected by the staff and all of their charts had recorded in them schizophrenia in remission (this is normal when a patient is doing better and is no longer displaying the symptoms of the diagnoses they will receive a mark on their record showing that it is in remission). On the other hand other patients within the hospitals voiced suspicions of the pseudo patients. Other things that were noted was how the staff responded to the pseudo patients when asked normal questions. The staff would generally avert their heads and move past them as if they were not talking to them. Another thing worth noting is that among the 8 pseudo patients they were given 2100 pills. Remember that they were only in the hospital on average for 19 days.

So from this study we learn that it is hard for professionals to distinguish normal people from abnormal people because of the setting that they are in. This also relates to how we see normal and what we perceive as normal. Taking us back to the whole idea of where the setting is dictates how we are perceived  and how we perceive others.

In relation to are characters we need to take this into consideration as we put them into different settings. Our characters are not all knowing and so they will perceive things in error. Further, those who are perceiving them will see them in error. Think of Frodo and Sam as they are in Mordor with the orc armor that really didn't fit them right but no one really paid them any attention because to have two hobbits in the middle of mordor is absolutely unbelievable, therefore no one saw the two hobits just two more orcs among the millions.

Take a look at this illusion and let me know your reaction (scroll down to the bottom to watch the video).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How Do We Define "Normal"

Well I am back sorry for not posting as frequently. I have been getting ready for my thesis defense and have actually taken on another job. This is good and bad. I have more money, but less time. Also, I have this horrible cold yuck :) Anyway enough excuses and complaining on with the real reason that I am posting.

One of the things that is important to understand about psychology is that it is more than working with those people who have psychological problems. In fact more psychology is spent on understanding the average person. This is why most of the studies that I have posted have been about average every day people. For this reason when we study psychology we learn more about the average person than we do about those who have severe mental problems and it is for this reason that by understanding psychology we are able to write better characters in our stories.

The question that comes up often is who is "normal" and who is "abnormal." This is an interesting question because of the differences among people. It is helpful to then say that "normal" is more akin to being able to effectively function within the environment that a person is living. All behavior can be seen to lie on a continuum with effective functioning on one end and mental illness on the other end. Psychologists try to determine where a person lies on this continuum by using several different criteria that must be taken into account.

1)Context of Behavior. Where is the behavior occurring? 

For example I may function normally within my environment, but if you were to put me in the deep jungles of Brazil I would not be functioning very effectively and in fact some of the things that I do in my environment now would seem "crazy" to the natives that I was living with in the jungle. Another example is that it is normal to go shopping, but if a person where to arrive at the grocery store without any clothes and start to shop we would consider this abnormal.

2) Persistence of Behavior. How long has the behavior been going on?

We all of psychotic moments. (You know the ones I'm talking about where you are up late working on a WIP and forget to save it or your hard drive crashes or ....) The problem is when those psychotic moments turn into more than moments and become frequent moments and day long moments.

3)Social Deviance. Is the person acting in the norm?

I often watch people walking around talking to themselves and conclude that they must have a Bluetooth headset on. If people from 10 years ago saw so many people walking around talking to themselves they would think that our entire society had gone insane. This also can relate to the example of the Brazilian jungle that I talked about above.

4) Subjective Distress. Is the person aware of their psychological problems?

Most of us know when we are doing odd things. We know that we have certain problems. This can help in the diagnoses process. However, there are those that don't know about their psychological problems I see these people as those who would more often than not have a personality disorder as opposed to a mental illness. Take for instance a person with a narcissistic personality disorder. This person is unaware of how his/her behavior is disruptive to others. On the other hand a person with depression knows that they are depressed.

5) Psychological Handicap. Does the psychological problem impede the person ability to be satisfied with life?

People with psychological problems often feel dissatisfied with life.

6) Effect on Functioning. Are the person's behaviors interfering with how they want to live their life?

This is probably the biggest question that must be answered in order to understand the mental illness degree of a person. This is why some people with a mental illness do not necessarily need help. For example if a person needs count to ten before going to bed each night while standing on their bed we would consider this odd behavior, but if that is not impeding the persons way of life then there is really no need to address the behavior.

All of these criteria are subjective and as a therapist is evaluating a person the therapist will be making those judgments based on his/her own beliefs of what is "normal." This is why Rosenhan D. L. in 1973 conducted a study "on being sane in insane places." I will discuss this study tomorrow.

Friends Meetup Party - the perfect line