Fiction and Social Intelligence

I read a fascinating article about the link between fiction and social intelligence. In ancient literature, the narrative primarily focused on the external, on battles and bloodlines. Even emotion was expressed externally- via the ripping of clothes, the tearing out hair, etc. Over time, especially around the time of the Greeks, we begin to see a shift from that external world to the internal one. We begin to focus more on the mind, the heart, even if they had a fundamental distrust of the latter.

We see this shift affect even religion. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we watch as holiness moves from what you do to what you feel. That is why David, in his psalms, is able to count himself faultless, because in his mind he has kept all the dictates of the law up to that point in his life. Then Christ comes in and presses on beyond the law to the heart. Now, obedience to God is not so much about murder as about hate, not so much about adultery but about lust. From that point on, our spiritual walk begins to capsulate all of us, not just what others see.

But the narrative goes deeper. With Shakespeare, we are given soliloquies and asides, painstakingly pointing out the mental-emotional state of the speaker as the character in question literally BREAKS FROM THE PRESENT ACTION to give his impassioned speech.

Skip ahead many years, as we move from theater to film. Now, the performer does not have to project his feelings out to a distant audience. No, as camera equipment continues to evolve, we are able to get closer and closer to the performer, to see his or her every nuance of facial feature and movement in hyper-clear detail. And, as the medium changes, so does the approach. Method acting was born out of shift, challenging performers to explore every aspect of the character, from backstory to emotional state. Everything is laid out on the table. Classical Shakespeare performers are taught to believe that nothing exists outside of the written scene. Method actors are taught that the prescribed scene is just the tip of the iceberg, as far as the character is concerned. And the audience is not only invited, but many times sucked vacuum-tube style into this every deepening world.

As the narrative becomes more emotionally are, so too does the reader/audience member. Because the reader, as the article most insightfully points out, is a co-creator of the story. I mean, who doesn’t feel a certain ownership of a certain text that they feel deeply connected to? Who doesn’t feel a sense of profound loss or accomplishment when the story is finished? So, as the narrative deepens, so too does the reader.

Now, I believe that it so important to read and be open to every style of literature/media, because all have something to offer, and all have their own inherent strength and weaknesses. The ancients had a wonderful sense of history and accomplishment. The moderns have a profound sense of self-awareness. The ancients lacked the verbiage to explore the totality of human emotion. The moderns can be so myopically focused on the moment, that they lose sense of the bigger picture. So, the challenge is to read, watch, experience everything, as you continue develop your own sense of taste and interest. You will never find the same book or movie twice, because you are always different. So, be different, be open, and have fun.

There is so much wonderful material out there. So, go exploring. You may be happily surprised by what you find, both about yourself and the world at large.

Right or Correct?

There are easy ways to find the correct thing do in every situation. Consult a rule book, instruction manual, witticism, or convenient bit of hearsay, and you are golden.

Finding the right thing to do in a given situation may not be so easily discerned. True, the right and the correct thing to do often are one in the same; that is not always the case.

if you’ve ever read Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, you’d understand. In the book, Huck has the chance to free his friend, Jim, from slavery. However, in the culture in which he lived, it was considered unlawful, even sinful to do so. “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” he replied. This was not an easy decision, as to do so would force him onto the lamb himself. Still, he felt morally obligated to do so.

Jesus Himself was notorious for doing this, being chided again and again by the self-righteous rulers of the day for doing what, in their mind’s eye, were unlawful acts. Yet, Jesus insisted that HE “did not come to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them.”

Is this hypocrisy, irony, or something else entirely?

In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, our main character, Aslan, dies in his friend, Edmund,’s stead (as was required by the law), but in doing so, Aslan cracks the Stone Table in twain, and He rises again.

There’s the rub: all these characters are, as Cervantes’s Don Quixote would say, “willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.” When they come out the other side, they have not changed what is technically correct, but rather redefined it, even superseded it. Such an action is not to be taken lightly, as change and paradigm shifts never occur with ease, but great things occur in and through them.

Application: In this life, you will sometimes be given a choice between the correct and the right thing to do. Dig deep before choosing your path. It may lead you to uncharted territory, but territory that you will not walk alone!

7 Things NOT to do When (Self-)Publishing Your Novel

Hello amazing writer friends, here are a few comical pointers on what not to do when you’ve finally reached the point of publishing your manuscript:

-Stab yourself in the eye, instead of signing the contract

-Throw your computer across the room after finishing the final sentence

-Describe your novel as “too difficult to explain”

-Measure your novel length in trees cut down

-Set your font to neon Wingdings

-Record your audio book beside a buzz saw or jackhammer

-Pre-order a bunch of copies and spend the official release date throwing them at animals and/or random passersby

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Galaxy Press Badge

Hi everyone!

A little while back, I got the opportunity to participate in Galaxy Press‘ “Writers and Illustrators of the Future” contest.

It was a great experience and inspired me to write “Into the Valley of Monsters,” a science fantasy novella about a young man who travels across his planet to bring honor back to his village and the woman he loves.  It is now available for  purchase (only $5 on Amazon!), for those interested.

Today, Galaxy Press sent me a groovy little badge to commemorate my time with them:

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It’s the small things, I tell you. Big differences are built on the back of, as Raymond Carver would say, “a small, good thing.”

If you’d like to try your hand at the contest yourself, click here. I’ll be praying for your literary (and/or illustrative) success.

Blessings to you in Christ,