Thursday, November 17, 2016

Apologizing, Softness and Humanity's Web

I've been trying something lately: when I regret an action, no matter how small, I try to apologize to the person who I wronged. This doesn't sound revolutionary, but given how difficult I've found it, I think I haven't done it as much as I should have. And I've found the emotional payoff to be enormous.

For example, a few weeks ago I snapped at the shuttle driver who takes me to work. I won't go into detail, but let me just say that he started it and I one-upped him, including mentioning his supervisor. During the ride, I stewed about his reaction but finally realized that I was more upset about mine. When I got out, I went around to his window and apologized--there was no need for me to speak that way. He said there was no need for me to apologize (which just shows the level of hostility we're all used to dealing with), but since then, we've been able to have pleasant interactions. I left feeling like I'd improved someone's day, instead of adding to the negativity in his world and mine.

Let me be clear that I'm not talking about apologizing for asserting my rights or taking up space. I've also learned that people (especially women like me) end up apologizing instead of saying thank you, thanks to this great illustration. As I'm teaching my children how to interact in the world, and setting limits on how they're allowed to speak to me, I'm  learning to take responsibility for my own behavior. I don't believe that it is ever justified to be mean or even use a rude voice. I'm certainly not saying that I don't still do these things, just that I'm learning to recognize when I do and apologize for it.

Apologizing for yelling at my kids is one thing. But what about if someone is physically attacking me? I would be rude. I would be mean. I would do whatever I needed to get out of the situation. And I doubt I'd apologize. However, I believe it would be better, if possible, to handle the situation calmly and respectfully. One thing that I've learned both from parenting and training in martial arts is that meeting force with force is rarely effective.

Our Grandmaster teaches us to respond to a force in the manner of a trampoline: absorbing, zero-ing out and responding with such softness that the opponent doesn't even register that he is being controlled. This is an ideal that I strive toward, although I won't sacrifice the safety of myself or my family to achieve it.

Short of the threat of physical harm, verbal exchanges offer a training ground for responding with softness. My emotional reaction might be hostile, but it is still possible to respond mindfully. Parenting provides ample opportunity for practice: it is astounding to me how simply repeating back a child's words--acknowledging that I hear what she is saying, what she wants, without saying I'll give it to her--releases the pressure of the interaction to a point where progress can be made. (For more on this, and other techniques that worked shockingly well for us, check out How to Talk So Kids Will Listen by
A mean response to a rude statement will only cause the instigator to build up their defenses. There is no way to teach through, or learn behind, a wall. When the hatches are battened, there is no possibility for communications.

A ten-minute interaction with the shuttle driver may not be a big thing, but the attitude that he and I both took through our day could have affected ten or more people. Their attitudes in turn would have affected the people they encountered: truly an exponential effect.

These kinds of one-on-one connections are what I believe to be humanity's most hopeful feature, so I'm striving to make my contributions as positive as possible.  I invite you to join me...

A political campaign is a story

I absolutely don't want to start a political discussion here but I have had trouble concentrating on writing due to the election last week. Reading this article allowed me a glimpse of the campaigns through a writer's lens. It looks at the story-telling component of campaigns and emphasizes what my critique partners are always telling me about increasing tension.

It is also pertinent to Lisa Cron's Ted Talk, How can you use story to better navigate your own Life, in which she says, "You can't change someone's mind by giving them the facts; it has to be through story, because story provides a context for the facts so we can make sense of them."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Life Cycle

 The fact that two humans can create another human is mind-blowing.  For the past ten years, my life has revolved around the astounding appearances of babies, no less miraculous with an understanding of the science of reproduction. As I’ve marveled over these beings that seemingly came from nowhere, I have neglected to dwell on the counter-point of birth.  A person can be alive and then suddenly gone. Existence can cease, and does. 

I attended a memorial last weekend for a friend who disappeared from existence in a moment. A friend who lived life to the fullest in a way far beyond the cliché. I hadn’t told him how much I admired him, or how much I cared for him, or how much I appreciated the little things he’s done for me over our long acquaintance. I know I will be haunted by memories of times I wasn’t as kind to him as I could have been, as I am already by other ‘wish I could do over’ memories with other deceased friends. Like Greg Brown wrote of his mistakes in his song The Poet Game, “like birds they fly around / and darken half my skies.”

I’ve been fortunate in many ways, and one of them is that the deaths I’ve experienced so far have been one or more steps removed from my closest circle of friends and immediate family. This is not the case for many, even some in my circles: those who were closer to the mutual friends we’ve lost, those who’ve lost their parents way too young, or whose babies’ lives were way too short.  I attempt to care for them, always knowing it is just by chance that I’m not in their position yet. But I could be. In most cases, I will be.  If I’m fortunate to live long, it will happen again and again and again. The longer we live, the more death we will see.

People came from around the world for my friend’s memorial and it was easy to feel guilty for appreciating the chance to see each other. It feels tragic that we didn’t find some reason to gather when he was alive to appreciate it. A friend of mine just lost someone more slowly, and they had parties for him every weekend that they could, up until his death. They used the opportunity to show him their love and I think that was brilliant.  It’s harder when we don’t know our time is limited, but then—that’s the point. It is something we’re told (over and over) and only recognize (again and again) when it’s too late. We are only together, in this life, for a blink of time: perhaps a long blink, perhaps brief.  It sounds trite, but showing people that we love them, making kindness and attention our priorities, is the only weapon I can think to wield against the inevitability of death.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Seeing the Light

My facebook feed is filled with reactions to lasts week's police shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. Some say #BlackLivesMatter. Some say the police are just trying to do a dangerous job. Some say it is isn't the people versus police or black versus white but light versus dark.

As a white person, I believe it is light versus dark but not in a good versus evil sense. Seeing the light means waking up to the true nature of the problem. Don't let me skip over that the police should be held to a high standard. After all, we give them the power of life and death over all of us. However, the police shootings are not just a police problem. They are the tip of the race-relations-in-America iceberg.

The police officer who shoots an unarmed black man because she assumes he is a danger to her is functioning from the same emotional response as the homeowner who calls the police because a black man is parked in front of her house... or the mom who puts her white daughter in a private school because the kids at the neighborhood school don't look like her... or myself when I assume that the African-American bus driver is not from "my" part of town... or when I only think to lock the car doors in downtown Denver after I pass a bus stop with lots of black people...

I am ashamed of my reactions. I apologize for them. But even more I'm ashamed that I spent thirty-eight years thinking that I lived in a post-racial United States. It turns out that only 'white America' is post-racial. And since white America is not all America, it's time for us to learn from those who are experiencing a different reality.  It's time to crack open one eyelid and let in the light. It hurts, but do we want to spend our lives in darkness?  Do we want to raise our kids without acknowledging the contradiction between what the United States is supposed to stand for and what they see around them?

In June 2014, I almost didn't read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Atlantic article The Case for Reparations. I mean,  I supported diversity and all, but reparations? Really? I had never owned slaves. My ancestors hadn't, as far as I knew. Why should I be held responsible, especially fiscally responsible, for something that happened centuries ago?  Luckily for me, I read it. Luckily for all of us, Mr. Coates wrote it. There is so much interesting history in the article (read it!) but the fact that touched me personally was that black people in the seventies and eighties were still systematically being denied mortgages.

I grew up in the seventies and eighties. My parents certainly weren't rich. In fact, they physically built their house themselves in order to move into an upper-middle class neighborhood. No one can deny that they worked hard and made lots of sacrifices, but a similar black family in the same location would have struggled to get that construction loan. They would have had to work harder than my parents did, and still likely would have been denied. My parents are good people. We did nothing wrong. But we benefited from an unfair system.

There's more in that article--I won't try to summarize. What I learned became a ray of light that illuminated the racial unrest that unfolded in the U.S. that summer, starting with the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. I read Waking Up White by Debby Irving.  I listened to what Americans of color were saying, and tried to actually understand instead of getting defensive because it made me feel bad.  By clicking on links posted by friends, I gained invaluable access to black people's stories: a woman who fears the day her son will be big enough to be perceived as a threat,  parents who have no choice but to teach their children about the realities of how they will be perceived, executives who are mistaken as staff at professional events, college professors who fear that their lives could be extinguished in something as simple as a traffic stop.

These are things I've never experienced in my white-American bubble. I've been nervous about the cops pulling me over for speeding, but the worst I worried would happen was that I'd have to pay a fine. I've felt like I didn't belong at academic conferences, but no one has ever asked me to get them a clean towel. When my child gets in trouble at school, the teacher dismisses it as a learning experience, not grounds for suspension or a fundamental character flaw. I've never been forced to explain to my child why their friends' parent wouldn't invite them over. I've never had to choose between speaking up about an offensive comment and losing a friend or a job.

One of my white friends posted that he doesn't want his kids to grow up being blamed for things they didn't do. I don't want my kids to perpetrate the racial divide that continues in this country. I don't want them to grow up under the false assumption that race doesn't matter in America, simply because it doesn't seem to matter to them.  I want them to listen to other people, not discount their experiences because they are different than theirs. I want them to recognize their privileges and use them to stand up for racial justice. 

So I continue to pull up the blinds.  It is often uncomfortable, but I deal with that like an adult. I make mistakes, but I believe that fear of failure shouldn't stop me from trying.  I would rather live in a painfully bright world than be soothed by a false darkness.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tailwinds of Privilege

It was a gorgeous fall day and, having escaped my responsibilities for a few hours, I rode my bike east through the Colorado plains. My muscles were ready to work hard and I felt like I was flying past the brilliant yellow cottonwood trees. As I enjoyed being completely self-propelled and using my body to its capacity, I noticed I was going faster than usual. Congratulating myself on getting in such good shape, I considered for the first time entering a bike race.

When I turned around at the half-way point, the wind started blowing. My ears and fingers were quickly chilled and, despite how hard I pushed, my pace had slowed. My legs ached with the effort of pushing the bike forward against the wind. My lungs were bursting and the gusts knocked me from side to side, one time almost blowing me to a stop. People in the cars passing by must have thought I was a beginner. Or drunk. Who was I kidding, thinking about doing a race?

As I cursed myself for weakness and the wind for its antagonism, it occurred to me that this headwind I was now struggling against probably hadn't started at the moment when I turned around. It had likely been there the whole time and was the real explanation for my earlier, record pace.  I was astounded to realize that I hadn't noticed the tailwind at all while it was helping me. It was only when I experienced it head-on, immediately afterward and on the same course, that I was forced to admit I'd had help. Before that, I'd given myself full credit for the increased pace.

On a there-and-back bike ride, one person can experience what it's like to be helped or hindered by the wind. But it is difficult (in some cases impossible) for one person to experience the other side of their societal privileges. 

In life, the person I'm passing with ease might have an intense headwind, but since I don't feel it, I assume I'm just stronger. And it's not to say that I'm *not* strong. On the bike, I was certainly working harder than the person cruising up the road in their car, exercising only than their ankle to push the gas pedal down. I could have stayed at home lying on the couch. I get some credit.  I just have to be careful about claiming all the credit.

(As a side note, I also cannot claim to be the first person to use this analogy. After having this experience, I also read it in the eye-opening Waking up White by Debby Irving. I haven't researched if there was an earlier published version).

Up next: Given how hard it is to recognize the existence of a tailwind and how easy it is to take sole credit for our achievements, how do we know when we are finding our path eased by privilege? 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: The Way of the River by BK Loren

The subtitle of the book is "Adventures and Meditations of a Woman Martial Artist" and one review that I read before checking this out said she didn't think it was applicable to the book that the author was female. While it's true that the insights BK Loren offers should be of interest to people of any gender, being female is of fundamental importance to the experiences in and uses of martial arts that she describes.

As a female martial artist of almost twenty years, I was fascinated to read of the ease of which the author excelled in the styles she practiced. One thing my experience in martial arts has taught me is the importance of size and strength. I've realized how much, on average, women are at a disadvantage in a physical confrontation. Although I am confident that practicing a martial art will mitigate those disadvantages, the net result will depend on the situation and other people involved. So far, this remains untested for me. I attribute this to a combination of the privilege of my socio-economic class, simple dumb luck and possibly avoiding acting like a victim, but I'm not stupid enough to think it might not, someday, be tested. So it was intriguing to learn that the author attributes so much of her success both in and outside of the kwoon to the practice of internal martial arts.

When I was competing in karate tournaments ten years ago, I started practicing yoga to increase the stillness of my mind and balance in my body. Back then, this was a separate discipline from my martial art training but I am lucky enough to be part of a martial arts school that does not stand still. Our Fukukancho, Mike Ninomiya, is bringing yoga and qigong practice into the dojo since he believes those practices will not only help us age gracefully but are also key to successful fighting. This book repeatedly validated that belief: almost all the physical confrontations the author describes were resolved without force, using instead the acute observational and decision-making abilities that she has learned and practiced in her martial arts training.

It is for this reason I believe this book would be of interest to a wider audience than just female martial artists (although I recognize my inability to make that judgement from the 'inside'). So much of self-defense is about what comes before things get physical. So much of a healthy life comes from granting attention to the silence within. So much of living on Earth involves recognizing that humanity is simply a part of the natural world.  BK Loren expresses these sentiments and more with this collection of sometimes beautiful and sometimes disturbing anecdotes, so that reading this collection feels like dipping into a river of refreshing and challenging insights. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Striving for a character arc

In fiction, the classic character arc has the protagonist struggling with a character flaw. The plot gives the character something they want, something that they can get only if they overcome their flaw. At the climax, of course, the character overcomes their flaw and we all go home happy.

But I've always felt drawn to stories with what might be called a circular arc: the character struggles with their flaw but is ultimately unsuccessful in changing themselves.  I believe that people do not change much and, when they do, the change is a slow process that rarely results from a single stimulus. This is backed up by research and I've wanted to express this in my writing.

These aren't popular endings, and, in fact, I'm often unsatisfied by this kind of a story. It comes down to being a cathartic exercise for the writer instead of creating a truly compelling story. But it still makes me uncomfortable to change an ending to make the story more likable.

Rather, it made me uncomfortable until I connected it to Lisa Cron's theory in Wired for Story. She says we evolved to like stories because they give us practice without having to have all the actual experiences. Could reading stories where the characters overcomes their flaw similarly be a way for us to practice overcoming our own?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Scarcity and Incentives

When one of our children has earned enough glass "gems" to fill up her reward jar, she can choose a 'special thing.' There are limited choices: go see a movie in the theater, buy a book at the book store, go to the Butterfly Pavilion or get to have a meal at Noodles and Company. Over the four years we've been using this system, our three kids have all used the first three options.  However, no one has ever chosen the fourth.

Why not? We rarely go to movies, the kids rarely get to purchase anything new and we reserve the Butterfly Pavilion exclusively for these special trips. Going to Noodles and Co for a meal, however, is not a rare event.  Why would the kids waste a once-every-few-months 'special thing' on something they're likely to get every month anyway?

There is a larger truth, here, too. If you use incentives to affect your children's behavior, it is good to start from a base of scarcity. If they get candy every night after dinner, are they going to be motivated by an extra piece? If they get to go to a movie every month, will they be motivated by going again? If they get thirty minutes of screen time every day, is the promise of an 'extra' show going to make a difference? If Grandpa brings a toy whenever he comes to visit and Mom brings one whenever she returns from a business trip, is the promise of a new toy going to motivate the kid? If they get a dollar a day allowance, is a new toy going to offer any incentive over what they can purchase on their own?

Here are a few guidelines we've used concerning incentives:

  1. Choose something they want. Sometimes it can be naturally connected to the behavior but it doesn't have to be. You are introducing an external motivation and once you tell them it's connected, it is.
  2. Small, repeated incentives are more likely to be effective than one grand item. This seems to have two causes: A) repeating a behavior makes it a habit and B) the parent is more willing to withhold a small reward that the child has a chance to earn again. 
  3. Withholding the incentive when the behavior does not meet expectations is as much as part of it as rewarding when it does. If they can get the reward either way, why would they bother to behave?
  4. Scarcity breeds opportunity. It is worth the difficulty of restraining them from excessive sweets, toys, movies or whatever in order to use those (which you wish to use) as incentives when you've decided a behavior is truly unacceptable.
The gem jars are a successful system for us (kids now 4 and 8 years old). One of the best parts is that I'm willing to make them take a gem out whenever a rule, no matter how small, is broken. We give three gems a night (one for going to bed without a fuss, one for not waking us up during the night and another for staying in bed until they're supposed to get up) so, if a kid has a nightmare or a leg ache, they only lose one of three. Still getting two gems doesn't feel like a punishment yet the philosophy is reinforced: they only get the gems they earned. 

One other incentive we've used was a reward chart for our 4 year old when she was awake for hours each night. I printed out an excel spreadsheet with 4 rows x 7 columns; at the end of each row was a picture of a piece of the Halloween costume she wanted: Elsa wig, Elsa shoes, Elsa dress and Elsa make-up.  It was about 5 weeks until Halloween when we started, so we could afford to *not* give her some stickers at the beginning (see point 3!). She ended up earning all the rewards and, after a month of practice, gained the capability of turning on her light and reading if she woke in the middle of the night. Half-way through, her sisters decided it wasn't fair that she was going to get a purchased Halloween costume, since we usually make them, and asked for reward charts of their own. In this case, buying a few items was well worth the resulting behavior. But again, if the were accustomed to getting costumes that they asked for, the incentive wouldn't have worked so well.  Scarcity breed opportunity!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Art for survival

To survive, we must tell stories 

Wrapping an emotion in words until it is encapsulated in a poem is a technique I discovered as a teenager and still use to avoid being overwhelmed. In this way, poetry has been important in my life. However, research into people's preferences in art and brain chemistry indicate that art may truly be crucial to humanity's survival.

On the TED Radio Hour's episode What is Beauty?, philosopher Dennis Dutton brings up
an experiment by Alexander Melamid. He analyzed people's taste in art and found that the universally desired landscape was one that was perfect for survival on the African savannas. For example, people prefer pictures of trees with a low branch, which would be advantageous in escaping a predator and always want water in the picture. So we find beautiful that which we need for survival.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron claims that humans like stories because, as we put ourselves in the place of the protagonist, we are practicing dealing with situations we've yet to experience. "It's a human universal,"  she says in a Tedx Talk. Stories feel good because they are so crucial for our survival.

Research like this brings a whole new meaning to using art for survival. We strive to find the most beautiful landscape... because it has all the elements necessary for our survival.  We crave the character arc... because it gives us a safe way to practice our skills. Although raw survival might be different in the modern age,  the need for beauty hasn't diminished and neither has the ability of art to satisfy that need.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Review: Search and Rescue in Colorado's Sangre de Cristos

Part thriller, part how-to manual, part philosophical treatise, this collection of true stories provides a window into the realities of Search and Rescue.

Full of useful tips like how not to go off the route on descent, how to keep warm in frigidly cold environments and how to slow the bleeding from multiple head wounds, the stories leave the reader with respect for the risks inherent in the mountain environment and an understanding of just how difficult and dangerous a rescue can be.

The author shows the care and respect that the men and women of SAR have for each other, as well as for the victims who they recognize as not much different from themselves.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Parenting: It ain't easy

I just dropped my kids off at my parents house for an overnight. It is great timing--we had planned to go to my husband's co-worker's  fiftieth birthday party but I'm suffering from a cold and so am going to stay home. The prospect of an evening reading in bed is glorious.

However, before getting home to the comforts of my bed, I had to navigate the who-sleeps-where fight the kids immediately fell into when we arrived at my parents.  There are four beds in their partially finished bedroom, which should easily accommodate three kids but, of course, they all wanted the same one. I was feeling poorly enough that I conducted the interaction mostly from a supine  position on my parents' living room floor. It would have been so nice to escape, but that would have meant my parents had to deal with the fall-out. And, probably, the youngest would have gotten her way simply because she was the most insistent on getting the favorite bed and my parents would have felt bad making her feel bad.

I'm appreciative enough of my parents' babysitting that I don't want them to have to deal with any more negativity than is necessary. And I know the little one's bad attitude about not getting what she wants is a sign that she gets what she wants too much of the time. So it was up to me, no matter how sick I felt, no matter how much I just wanted to leave, to make the decision (random drawing, which the littlest lost) and deal with the consequences.

It got me thinking of something I've learned about parenting, which sounds obvious: it ain't easy.  One of the unseen advantages to having twins as our first kids was that we expected it to be hard. Just because humans have been having babies for thousands of years doesn't mean it is easy to be a parent.

It's often most difficult right at the moment I'm least equipped to deal with it. But I believe those are the moments that count the most. If I took the easy way out (in this case, give the younger one the desired bed), what would she learn? Mom's sick + I throw a fit = I get my way. In the future, when I'm not sick, she'll probably be a good experimentalist and test if throwing a fit alone equals getting her way. So giving in this time will mean more fits to deal with. It might seem logical to say "I'll just deal with it then, when I have more energy" but I believe that giving in once will result in ten more tests: she'll throw ten more fits before she's convinced that it won't give her what she wants.

So, even though it was the last thing I felt like dealing with, standing up to her today is an investment in the future. Her future, obviously, because one of the most important skill a person has is dealing with disappointment. But also in my future: it ain't easy now, but if I stay strong, it will get better.

The other key is taking care of myself so that I have the strength to do what needs to be done. For me, this means daily exercise and predictable times to work on my hobbies. It is admittedly easier with financial resource but there are ways to do it with less: child care swaps with friends/neighbors (the kids call them playdates), gyms like the YMCA that offer two hours of free child care every day to members, and simply trading off with the other parent. Insisting on time for myself is one of the best ways to guarantee my kids will get the best parent I can be at the moments it matters the most.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Short Review of Good News by Edward Abbey

An interesting (and terrible) vision of the future of the American Southwest. The ending was surprising, given how the characters were clearly delineated as good and bad.

My review on Goodreads

Monday, February 22, 2016

Creativity in Motion

During my childhood, we drove to South Dakota at least once a year to visit my grandparents. It was a day-long drive, about four hundred miles from my Colorado home. On one trip in my teenage years, I was laying in the back of the van wishing I was traveling with a group of cool theater kids instead of my family. (Sorry, Mom, Dad and K). That was the inspiration for my first novel-length story (with characters oh-so-realistically named Sun, Earth, Moon, River, Star etc.)

The resurgance of writing in my adult life occurred on the California Zephyr, somewhere in western Colorado. As the train clacked through isolated mountains and sage-brush covered hills,  I felt the urge to move to this rural setting. Imagining how the actual experience would shock me out of my idealism, I started typing a story of a young, urban couple who attempt to take over a Western Slope orchard.

I haven't looked back on either of those stories in years but now I recognize that it was no coincidence both ideas came while traveling. There is something about moving through space that sprouts ideas in my mind. My latest theory is that scenery in motion is so information dense that it stimulates the brain to make unusual connections. However it works, I've started to use it to my advantage while writing.

Running, walking or riding my bike seem to produce similar results. In fact, the idea of the novel I'm working on now came while hiking up to work on a snowy day, as pictured below. (I know I have the worst commute in the world :/ ).  I use this to my advantage, schedule outdoor exercise at the beginning of my writing time or taking time to jot down notes directly afterward. If I remember to think about the story, I frequently figure how to make something work and I'm pleased with the efficiency of getting exercise while working on a story. It's double good!

Addendum: my husband pointed out that, since aerobic exercise is believed to immediately promote new brain cell growth in adults, there is even a positive impact during the post-exercise writing period.

And neuroscience research on how our brains get more creative during unfocused, downtime.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

'Wired for Story' tells us why friends aren't good at critiquing.

The first thing I did after completing the first draft of my novel was to give it to my husband and three of my best friends. In fact, the drive to share it with them is what motivated me to write every day. They all gave me feedback on what they liked or didn't, what they wished there was more and less of and what they thought could be improved. Overall, the feedback was positive and I figured, after a little polishing, the novel was ready.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I put the first ten pages in front a critique group and ninety percent of the participants didn't buy the basic premise of the story. I reworked the protagonist's relationship and brought it back, receiving about the same success rate. I started the story in a new place and still got the same response. I even considered throwing out the basic concept because it seemed to be so unbelievable to so many people. Finally, I got advice from a critique partner to re-balance the risk vs consequences of the character's actions, and that seems to be working.

It left me with the question, though, of why none of my friends had questioned the premise of the story. Perhaps they were just being too kind, but they were critical in other respects. So why did four college-or-more graduates with credentials as writers, scientists and readers, miss it?

I got the answer last week when I  went to a class exploring Wired for Story, a writing book by Lisa Cron. She apparently postulates (I haven't yet read the book) that we tell and listen to stories in order to gain experience. We want to put ourselves in the protagonist's place.  When my friends read a story they know I've written, there is no barrier to slipping into my skin and believing the character's motivations as written. For strangers in a critique group, though, there is an emotional gap that must be jumped between them and the story. If the premise doesn't build a bridge, they are left standing on the other side of the river.

So now I know: friends can tell you if the story has gone too extreme (one of my common problems) or gotten too mundane (another--leave out those day-to-day boring actions) or has typos. But in order to get a true perspective on how well the character interacts wit the plot, a critique group is the way to go.

It doesn't answer the question of what to do as you become better and better friends with your critique groups, though!

References: by Lisa Cron
Crafting a Page Turner with Michelle Theall  (exploring Wired for Story)

Sunday, January 3, 2016