Monday, June 24, 2013

Picking Names for your Novel Characters

I have a guest blog entry on Shadowhawk's Shade, a site dedicated to reading and enjoying fiction.

An excerpt:
The name Noddysnarg has no resonance with our past experience, while Jack does. Resonance is something that culture and your past reading give to specific names (as well as names that sound similar to other names or words we know). 
Thus I have to choose a character name with at least some resonance with my potential readers. Which is why Jack is better than Noddysnarg. (Or, if I were writing about goblins, everything I just said still applies, except Noddysnarg would be the better choice.)
When writing a fantasy or science fiction novel where real-world names aren’t used, it’s harder to come up with resonate names. When I face this problem, I deal with it by choosing names that at least sound similar to real names and words that have resonance. 
Take for instance Demascus [ . . .]
Read the whole thing here:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Does Your Inner Voice Like Pie? How About Cosmology?

Our new neighbors Helen and Matt brought us a homemade rhubarb pie as a housewarming gift. What fabulous neighbors!

However, making the pie touched off something of an epiphany for Helen, which she related to us a week later when we returned the pie plate with a return-pie in it (made by Batgirl). Helen also wrote it up in her blog, which I think everyone who's got a critical inner voice might enjoy:
Recently I baked a rhubarb pie as a gift. It went down a treat for my new neighbors. In return, today they brought back my pie plate with a beautiful berry pie baked in it. In between I had a bit of a revelation about Pi. [Click to read Helen's Pi blog entry]
Which reminded me of a similar revelation I had a couple of years ago. In my case, it wasn't pie that touched off my train of thought about the insidious nature of an over-critical inner voice, it was a pile of Time-Life books:
Last night I was packing up some books—a bunch of 80s era books on stars, planets, and cosmology—that I haven’t looked at since I was a kid. I pondered giving them all to Good Will, but something nagged me. It took a moment to pin the thought down, but it was essentially: “You’re the kind of person that would own these books, so you better keep them.
Really? [Click to read my blog entry Your Story]
Both these blog posts approach the same thing: recognizing whether you have an over-critical inner voice, and by recognizing it, taking the first steps to shushing it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Want To Get Lucky?

I've long been of the opinion that "luck" isn't random. In my experience, luck is capitalizing on opportunities that come along, instead of ignoring them.

Imagine my vindication when I lucked onto an article by Richard Wiseman, who conducted actual scientific research on luck. As you might guess, he could find no supernatural agency at work. Quite the opposite.

Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles.

1) Lucky people are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities

2) Lucky people make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition

3) Lucky people create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations

4) Lucky people adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

And guess what--whether you already consider yourself a lucky person, or you think of yourself as unlucky, you can actively improve your luck by concentrating on one or more of these principles, as described in various exercises in Wiseman's article. Give it a shot, and see what happens. Who knows, maybe you'll get lucky.

Article: The Luck Factor

Thursday, June 13, 2013

BOOK REPORT: Predictably Irrational, the Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Were you an evil mastermind, you’d use the insights in Predictably Irrational to manipulate the behavior of others to do as you wished.

That's my one sentence blurb on the book. A somewhat longer (but by no means exhaustive) overview of the book follows.

Key Insights Of Predictably Irrational 
    1) Relativity
    2) Decoys, Anchors, and Ownership
    3) Power of Expectations

Decisions can’t be made in a vacuum. Without context, we can’t choose. Which means that when we do make decisions, that decision is made relative to a related piece of information. What that related information is shapes the decision that follows. It can’t logically be otherwise.

Decoys, Anchors, and Ownership 
Someone who understands the relative nature of decision making can design related information that serves as either a decoy or an anchor.

A decoy is designed to make us compare something the decoy-setter wants us to do, think, or buy with something else that seems like a worse action, philosophy, or deal.

An anchor sets an expectation, and as such it is a kind of decoy. It is usually a presented as a price, giving the would-be buyer a sense of how much something should cost. A high price for a bottle of wine on a menu conditions the buyer to be more willing to spend more for any wine bought. A feeling of ownership is a particularly pernicious anchor.

A feeling of ownership magnifies the perceived value of an item, a story or piece of art, or even a concept or ideology over the ACTUAL value of the item by at least an order of magnitude in the “owner’s” mind.

Power of Expectations
Expectations influence not only psychology, but also physiology, like a placebo. For example, when people expect an aspirin to make them feel better, they begin to feel better even if the actual tablet given is a sugar pill. When people expect to be fed, they salivate. When they expect a particular outcome, they are more likely to ignore indications that other outcomes are possible. When people are asked to recall the 10 commandments or any code of ethics before taking a test, they do not cheat even if cheating is easy.

This book offers a trove of psychological truths of interest to anyone with a human brain. It's useful both in understanding some of your own irrational instincts, as well as those of others.

For instance, the book describes how people are drawn to keeping all options open, despite that bad consequences usually follow from keeping all options open too long. It’s true in life, such as when keeping too many romantic partners available instead of concentrating on the one most likely to bring lasting happiness. #SFWApro