Archive for the ‘Emotion’ Category

I have noticed a disturbing trend in my media of late. At least, it’s disturbing to me.

Maybe it’s the stories.

Maybe it’s the theme.

Maybe it’s writers who are too proud. Or directors afraid to offend. Or editors, producers, and publishers. But…

Characters aren’t admitting their guilt anymore.

I’m not talking about the villains. I’m talking about the heroes.

I’m of the old school in which a person who commits a crime or is guilty of some fault is expected to admit their guilt as proof of their change-of-heart and this must happen before their status with their community is restored. But I’m not seeing it play out like this anymore either in the movies I watch or the books I read.

This concept is the heart of the Christian conversion experience and has been a staple of media in western culture for centuries. Heroes typically change over the course of their stories so this concept is tailor-made for them. Usually, a bit of dialogue is all that is required because change can usually be shown. However, it seems the modern incarnations of our heroes are taking a lesson from the villains’ playbook and never admitting to anything anymore.

Maybe I’m not watching the right movies or reading the right books, but I think this is a trend nonetheless and I think a bad one.

Brave Logo
If you’ve already read my post on Pixar’s latest movie, then you may remember my complaint that neither Merida nor her mother ever fully apologizes for their behavior. Merida’s rebellious attitude goes unrecognized and unpunished. Her mother’s anti-social behavior too.


My best guess is that it’s a symptom of modern culture. Because in everyday life even our President, someone who I largely support, has not prosecuted the wall street professionals responsible for taking our economy to the brink of destruction. I applaud him for moving us forward and seeing us through some very difficult times, but part of me wants Justice. Accountability. Revenge too, if I’m being honest. And now that our most pressing issue  – the US economy – is being dealt with I’d like to see these troublemakers get their comeuppance but it hasn’t happened yet.

Personally, I have more respect for baseball players like Mark McGwire who admit their drug use – even if it is years after the fact – than those who continue to hide their faults. (Better late than never but also better early than late.) Of course the irony of modern culture is that all publicity is good publicity. The fact that we know certain names and not others has little to do with morality and lots more with what makes a story news-worthy.

As for me, I plan on having my characters admit their guilt if doing so is in keeping with their character. It is easy as a writer to avoid the hard conversations, but it is those types of conversations where honesty prevails that are most memorable and true to life.

The following statement was issued by Mark McGwire on January 11, 2010 admitting to steroid use during his career:

“Now that I have become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do five years ago.

“I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come. It’s time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the ’90s, including during the 1998 season.

“I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.

“During the mid-’90s, I went on the DL seven times and missed 228 games over five years. I experienced a lot of injuries, including a ribcage strain, a torn left heel muscle, a stress fracture of the left heel, and a torn right heel muscle. It was definitely a miserable bunch of years and I told myself that steroids could help me recover faster. I thought they would help me heal and prevent injuries, too.

“I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids. I had good years when I didn’t take any and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that I’m truly sorry.

“Baseball is really different now — it’s been cleaned up. The commissioner and the players’ association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I’m glad they did.

“I’m grateful to the Cardinals for bringing me back to baseball. I want to say thank you to Cardinals owner Mr. DeWitt, to my GM, John Mozeliak, and to my manager, Tony La Russa. I can’t wait to put the uniform on again and to be back on the field in front of the great fans in Saint Louis. I’ve always appreciated their support and I intend to earn it again, this time as hitting coach. I’m going to pour myself into this job and do everything I can to help the Cardinals hitters become the best players for years to come.

“After all this time, I want to come clean. I was not in a position to do that five years ago in my congressional testimony, but now I feel an obligation to discuss this and to answer questions about it. I’ll do that, and then I just want to help my team.”

(Source: ESPN)

Note that McGwire didn’t issue this statement as a player. Nor did he admit to using drugs during a congressional hearing. He issued this statement after accepting a new position as hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. In other words, his conscience was bothering him and he admitted his guilt honestly from feelings of remorse. That’s why his fans believed him. That’s why he got a standing ovation prior to the Cardinals home opener on April 12, 2010 – four months after his admission.

His statement before the house committee on government reform is illuminating too:

Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers ‘No,’ he simply will not be believed; if he answers ‘Yes,’ he risks public scorn and endless government investigations…My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself. I will say, however, that it remains a fact in this country that a man, any man, should be regarded as innocent unless proven guilty. (Source: CNN)

This is reality. Why aren’t we writing more material that includes scenes like this?

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I recently discovered the excellent Cockeyed Caravan blog. The author, Matt Bird, has been on a journey to discover what makes movies tick and, oh my soul, has he uncovered some great insights. It’s rare I subscribe to anything anymore, even rarer that I go back to the first post and work my way forward in time to sniff out all the insightful goodness that I missed, but that’s what I’m doing. If this were a magazine, I’d be reading it cover to cover.

In the spirit of his excellent series, the Storyteller’s Rulebook, I offer this post (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).

Bridesmaids (2011)

Let’s talk about Lazy Writing.

There is a certain movie that has received a lot of hype recently called Bridesmaids. I got to watch this movie because my wife set our DVR to record it without being aware of the hype surrounding it. Then, on one of those rare occasions when our girls had fallen asleep early, we turned it on.

Unfortunately, we didn’t finish it. We got to the part with the wedding shower where the heroine met the usurper and cut it off during the next scene. Every third word was a curse or a not-veiled-at-all sexual reference and that’s not what we expected. It was a major turn off for us which brings me to the topic of lazy writing: Using foul language to fill out dialogue is lazy writing.

Now, cursing can be used effectively. Curse words convey powerful emotions so they can be used in circumstances where this is warranted. During moments of extreme duress or tragic circumstances, for example when discovering the death of a loved one, using strong language can successfully convey that strong emotion. Curse words were invented because humans are capable of feeling powerful emotions and thus need to purge those emotions in some way. This is what writers call catharsis and it is one of the primary reasons we watch movies and read books: to experience an emotion and consequently purge it.

But casual cursing is just stupid. It’s like the writers, actors, and director are trying to emphasize every bit of dialogue. However, the end result is that if everything is being emphasized, then everything has equal emphasis and nothing is really being emphasized over anything else. It’s lazy writing.

Pixar’s feature films don’t incorporate curse words. The entire Harry Potter book series includes just one. (It’s during the end battle when Mrs. Weasley discovers Bellatrix attacking her daughter Ginny.) So if these very successful stories can be successful without using foul language or very judicious use of cursing, then why must stories like Bridesmaids use them? I think such stories are successful not because of their language content but in spite of it.

UPDATE: My wife and I recently watched a very fun romantic comedy called Revenge of the Bridesmaids starring Raven-Symoné and JoAnna Garcia Swisher. It came out in 2010 (one year before the other movie) and it’s a better movie by far. I recommend it.

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Source: A tale of two envies and what sells iPhones and Blackberries | SciGuy | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle.

Who knew there were two types of Envy? These researchers describe two distinct types – supportive and competitive. They call the supportive variant “benign” and the competitive “malicious”.

The researchers found that benignly envious people were willing to pay more for products a deserving friend had that they coveted, as in $110 more for an iPhone. That’s a good chunk of change.

However, people who were maliciously envious of iPhone owners were more likely to pay more for related but different products, such as a Blackberry.

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[Guest-posted on Forensics and Faith by Brandilyn Collin]

Last time I introduced you to Robert Plutchik‘s emotions. Today we’ll talk about blending the eight basic emotions and how to use them in our writing. The color wheel (GIF Image) from last time doesn’t show any blending beyond neighboring emotions. These are listed between the “petals” in the flower diagram. For example, “Optimism” is a blend of both “Anticipation” and”Joy”.

Thankfully, Plutchik didn’t stop there.

The 48 Emotions of Plutchik
Emotion LVL Composition Opposite Intense Form Mild Form
Anger Basic N/A Fear Rage Annoyance
Anticipation Basic N/A Surprise Vigilance Interest
Disgust Basic N/A Trust Loathing Boredom
Fear Basic N/A Anger Terror Apprehension
Joy Basic N/A Sadness Ecstasy Serenity
Sadness Basic N/A Joy Grief Pensiveness
Surprise Basic N/A Anticipation Amazement Distraction
Trust Basic N/A Disgust Admiration Acceptance
Aggressiveness Primary Blend Anger + Anticipation Alarm1
Optimism Primary Blend Anticipation + Joy Disappointment
Contempt Primary Blend Disgust + Anger Submission
Alarm1 Primary Blend Fear + Surprise Aggressiveness
Love Primary Blend Joy + Trust Remorse
Remorse Primary Blend Sadness + Disgust Love
Disappointment Primary Blend Surprise + Sadness Optimism
Submission Primary Blend Trust + Fear Contempt
Pride Secondary Blend Anger + Joy Despair
Hope2 Secondary Blend Anticipation + Trust Unbelief3
Cynicism Secondary Blend Disgust + Anticipation Curiosity
Despair Secondary Blend Fear + Sadness Pride
Guilt Secondary Blend Joy + Fear Envy
Envy Secondary Blend Sadness + Anger Guilt
Unbelief3 Secondary Blend Surprise + Disgust Hope2
Curiosity Secondary Blend Trust + Surprise Cynicism
Dominance Tertiary Blend Anger + Trust Shame
Anxiety Tertiary Blend Anticipation + Fear Outrage
Morbidness Tertiary Blend Disgust + Joy Sentimentality
Shame Tertiary Blend Fear + Disgust Dominance
Outrage Tertiary Blend Surprise + Anger Anxiety
Sentimentality Tertiary Blend Trust + Sadness Morbidness
Delight Tertiary Blend Joy + Surprise Pessimism
Pessimism Tertiary Blend Sadness + Anticipation Delight
Rest4 N/A Emotional Zero N/A

1 – Plutchik gave “Awe” as the emotion for “Fear + Surprise”. I believe “Alarm” is a better choice since “Awe” has lost the connotation of fear over the years.
3 – Plutchik used “Fatalism” for “Anticipation + Trust” but it has such negative connotations I have included “Hope” instead.
3 – Plutchik did not include an emotion for “Surprise + Disgust” by any list I could find. Therefore, I have included “Unbelief” to fill this space.
4 – Plutchik did not include the state described as “Emotional Zero” in his list. However, I believe it is useful and have therefore included “Rest” to represent it.

So how can we tap into this ocean of emotion and make it flow onto our pages?

  1. The first and simplest step is to save a copy of this information for your personal reference. A fabulous poster (PDF) exists courtesy of Markus Drews of the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany.
  2. Next, read over the list of emotions again. Look at the diagram. Get them into your head. Study. Focus. Cram. Actually, don’t cram but do all the other things. Take the time to really explore what this theory means to you and your writing.
  3. Feel free to test the limits of Plutchik’s theory as you do this. For example, does the combination of “Fear + Disgust” suggest “Shame” to you as he proposes? How about the other combinations? I had an excellent discussion with someone who expressed doubt about Fear and Anger being mutually-exclusive opposites. I shared this insight: In both emotions, one’s attention is strongly focused – usually on some object or person. However, the action that expresses the emotion happens in opposite directions; Fear is about escaping away from that focal object whereas when Angry one usually cannot be kept away. Clearly ‘approach’ and ‘escape’ cannot co-exist in the same moment of time so in this sense Fear and Anger are mutually-exclusive opposites.
  4. The previous step should naturally lead to thoughts of individual characters as their emotions travel around Plutchik’s wheel. In general, let the wheel be the spark that ignites your creative juices. Use it to identify and emphasize opposites (as in dialogue between two characters with different scene purposes).
  5. Finally, if Plutchik’s research is correct, then many writers are not using the full spectrum (or potential) of emotions in their writing. Make your characters three-dimensional by showing as much depth to their personalities as possible.

Let me introduce you to Sylvia who has just returned home from the grocery store to find her door smashed in and splintered. Her arms are full of groceries. What emotions would she experience?

How about Outrage (Surprise + Anger) over the state of her door, Anticipation that an intruder might still lurk inside, Fear and very likely Terror (Intense Fear) that she will be discovered on the stoop.

In Alarm (Surprise + Fear) she grasps the grocery bags tight around her body like a shield. Her eyes are wide with Grief (Intense Sadness) as she lowers her head in an act of Submission (Trust + Fear) over the state of her home and backs silently away. As she nears the driveway she sees a shadowy figure in the outline of the broken door and reacts with Disgust and Contempt (Anger + Disgust), but she controls her emotions and does not leap forward in Rage (Intense Anger). Finding the handle to the car door provides a small measure of comfort (Serenity) as her emotions finally start to calm down (Rest) knowing that soon she will be safely away. She Trusts her engine to start smoothly – and it does.

No good writer would write a scene this way, so take it for what it is – an example, an exploration of all eight emotions in the same scene. Yet if you count them, they’re all represented! While including all eight probably isn’t a good thing, exploring all eight for each scene is. Use Plutchik to explore each of the eight emotions in your scenes to identify which are the best to use or emphasize.

By the way, we’re all biased. We all have pet words that we tend to overuse and we often prefer certain letters of the alphabet for our characters’ names. The same goes for emotions. We write about certain emotions while ignoring others. So use Plutchik to keep your writing fresh by exploring the areas of human emotion that you often overlook. Keep what improves your writing and discard what doesn’t.

Finally, the thoughtful and observant writer will note the need for specific methods to include this material in their writing. For this, I propose the need for a comprehensive list of Facial Expressions, Body Language, and Mental States mapped to Plutchik’s emotions. However, in my research such a list doesn’t yet exist. So that will have to be the topic of another post. Hopefully, I’ve given you much to think about and a new tool to explore in your writing.

[Edits: Mine]

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[Guest-posted on Forensics and Faith by Brandilyn Collin]

Randy Ingermanson once said that people read books because they want to have an emotional experience. While that’s certainly true of “Twilight”, I think it holds true for all books. Even books about negative characters can be interesting to us because of their emotional content due to what James Scott Bell calls a “‘car wreck’ dynamic”.

Ironically, even though we’ve all experienced many, many emotions throughout our lives, few humans are experts. So, depicting them in our stories can seem an impossible task. However, as with most things, we can learn to be better at emotions.

But where to begin? Emotions are complicated and confusing. Consider these obstacles:

  • Many lists of emotions have been generated, yet no matter how much they overlap, they never quite converge. Some are even in conflict with one another.
  • There is no agreed-upon method to organize emotions. Do emotions resemble a list, a tree structure, or a three-dimensional shape? Can they even be visualized?
  • There is no agreed-upon method to name emotions. What someone calls “Joy” is called “Happiness” by another.
  • As if this weren’t complex enough, there also seem to be levels of intensity to emotions. What is the difference between Affection, Love, and Ecstasy but the level of intensity?
  • Emotions seem to somehow blend together to form new emotions that are distinct from their progenitors.
  • Even Wikipedia, a site that normally excels at harnessing the collective knowledge of the human race, fails to adequately deliver on a comprehensive list and understanding of emotions. The current list includes 80 separate emotions yet many overlap. And some are, well, foreign. Schadenfreude anyone?

So, how can emotions be classified so that we better understand them, and understanding them better use them in our writings? I believe psychologist and researcher Robert Plutchik who spent decades studying emotions has the answer. Plutchik’s research yielded some amazing discoveries about emotions including a comprehensive list of eight primary emotions arranged as opposing pairs. Observe:

  • Joy vs Sadness
  • Trust vs Disgust
  • Fear vs Anger
  • Surprise vs Anticipation

He also visualized this list as a wheel of sorts, referred to by some as Plutchik’s Flower:

Author: Ivan Akira
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Analogous to a color wheel, variations in color intensity correspond to variations in emotional intensity. Thus, the eight primary emotions occupy the middle ring of the flower with more intense forms occurring in the center (note the bolder colors) and milder forms the extremities (note the paler colors). For example, “Rage” is the stronger form of “Anger” while “Annoyance” is the weaker.

Also note that the two-dimensional flower can fold into a spinning top shape as shown in the upper-left corner. The tip of the top and the center of the flower is the point of emotional zero.

Plutchik’s approach satisfies our needs by providing:

  • a semantically-consistent set of distinct emotions
  • an organizational structure
  • a standard set of names

Plutchik’s approach satisfies our expectations by providing:

  • levels of intensity in emotions
  • the blending of primary emotions to form new ones
  • the concept of emotional “opposites” as mutually exclusive pairs
  • a blank, non-emotional state

In summary, Robert Plutchik left us a deep legacy. Next time I’ll write about blending emotions. This is where the really interesting stuff happens and which can be directly applied to the process of writing.

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Source: The Things I Cannot Change

“Let’s face it—fear is easier than courage. Fear offers no resistance. It’s a black hole, a bottomless well, it’s always right there and handily accessible in never-ending supplies. You don’t even have to look for it—it throws itself at you, a needy, uninvited interloper. It’s loud and rude, while courage sits quietly and politely, waiting for you to call it forth. I’ve noticed this seems to be the case with all positive character traits; they’re quiet, they whisper, they wait. The negative ones are ready to party 24/7. I don’t know why this is but it is. For me, the only way to hear the good things is intentionally turn the lesser things down or off, and that takes some discipline. Asking myself: “Is this a thing I can change, or not change?” is a helpful place to start. If it’s the latter, I try to let it go. Sometimes I think the whole work of living is figuring out the difference between those things, and then acting accordingly.” – Sara Zarr

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Source: My Thoughts: Body Language of the Ministers.

“Body language is so different than deception detection, yet the two are tightly woven. You really need to have a firm understand of the first to understand the latter, but body language is very fluid. It changes minute by minute, whereas deception, once it occurs, get set in stone and becomes rock solid until a confession is made. Body language, however, may say one thing now and can contradict itself minutes, hours or days later. It can only be counted on for the time it is expressed. It cannot convey long term outcomes or beliefs, as they are subject to change continually.” – Eyes for Lies

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Source: Photos: Dr. Cal Lightman’s Seven Universal Micro-Expressions | Fancast News.

The following photos depict the seven research-based universal facial expressions of emotion. They come from Fox’s hit television series Lie to Me. The photos show Dr. Cal Lightman (played by british actor Tim Roth) modeling the various facial expressions. The show is about Dr. Lightman, a human lie detector, who leads a fictitious think-tank that seeks out the truth behind people’s lies.








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Source: So You Want to Be An Expert (part 2 of 3)? | Humintell

These seven are based on extensive research by multiple scientists on people all over the globe. Apparently, all humans have at least these seven facial expressions of emotions hard-wired into our DNA.

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Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5G6ZR5lJgTI

Fascinating video about facial expressions being innate to human DNA. From the description:

Are facial expressions learned or innate? Dr. David Matsumoto of San Francisco State researched this issue by studying photos of blind and sighted athletes at the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic games.

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