Weekly Roundup: FICTION – It’s Good for Your Brain

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Neuroscience has some good news for both readers and writers of fiction – really. “Your Brain on Fiction” by Annie Murphy appeared in 2012, but I wasn’t aware of the article until recently.

“Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.”

Why is this significant? In the age of gaming and constant visual stimulation and entertainment, it seems the old standby of reading has more value than we thought (yes, even eBooks!). Did you ever wonder why you enjoy reading? This article goes on to explain what it is about fiction which activates the brain and brings pleasure. Authors take note – this research has direct bearing on story creation and character development!

To be honest, I am still trying to fully integrate the use of all five senses in my writing and have made some progress. On the surface, it is understood that doing so makes a better story and promotes the “show vs. tell” concept writers are continuously reminded to use. Now, research lends credence to what the writing gurus have been saying.

  • Science provides concrete evidence that the use of descriptive terms with strong odor associations, for example, such as cinnamon, lavender, and coffee, light up the olfactory cortex.
  • A similar brain response was noted in the sensory cortex in phrases involving texture, such as “The singer had a velvety voice” or “He had leathery hands”.
  • Sentences which describe motion like “John grasped the object” or “Pablo kicked the ball”, activated regions of the motor cortex.

Apparently, the brain makes little distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life, since in each case the same neurological regions are stimulated. Fiction actually goes above and beyond, providing a replica of reality by allowing readers to experience their characters thoughts and feelings. Even more intriguing, the brain tends to treat the interactions among fictional characters something like real-life social encounters, improving empathy and social skills.

“Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.”

For fiction writers, this research provides powerful encouragement and motivation. We must craft our stories with care, paying special attention to word choices and descriptions which engage all the senses, thereby transporting readers directly into the narrative. They crave it, demand it even, and we have the ability to give it to them. Our work then becomes more than mere entertainment but an exercise in brain stimulation and improved social interactions.

In the process, we create loyal fans who will not only enjoy our work but who will spread the word to others looking for a great piece of fiction. Think about that the next time you prepare to write!

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As I stated last week, Traitor’s Moon is currently being dissected by my beta readers. I have some feedback in hand, and so far they love the story! I have been busy correcting small errors, tweaking phrases, adding additional text where more information was needed, and debating the best location for the cast of characters list (it’s going in the back).

Let me give you an example of something one of my beta readers caught that no one else, including me, noticed. One of my mid-level characters is named Caleb, but in seven places I somehow changed his name to Jacob! Don’t ask me, because I still haven’t figured out why or how. The scary part is that my beta reader only noticed the switcheroo one time and almost didn’t mention it to me. I shudder to think how many bad reviews would have resulted from this single snafu. (It would be most helpful if scientific research could reveal why writers often don’t see their own mistakes.)

The quest for an attention-grabbing book blurb is ongoing, though after multiple re-writes I finally have an acceptable version. If you have never tried to condense a novel-length work into two hundred words or less, I challenge you to give it a go! It does no good to grab a potential reader’s attention with a wonderful cover, only to lose them with a ho-hum description of the book. This is one of those learn-by-doing skills which should come easier over time and, apparently, I need more time.

Along with all of this, I have yet to go back and make some minor editorial improvements to Expectant Moon. I’m hoping to attract new readers to the first book during the promotion phase of book two, so now is the time to do some housekeeping and make it really shine.

If that weren’t enough, it’s now tax time! Since I REALLY need my refund, this is going to get my full attention until it’s done. As Winnie the Pooh would say, “Oh bother”. Fortunately, he doesn’t know any swear words…

Meanwhile, I am not only gearing up for book three, Forbidden Moon, but am collecting information and ideas for the project which follows it (probably in the fall). WHAT? Yes, you heard me. Right now it’s a disjointed mess, but when thoughts come, I write them down! I’ve been known to run from the bathroom, dripping wet, to jot down an idea before I forget. Same goes for the middle of the night when I get up to use the restroom and end up scribbling notes for twenty minutes until my brain quiets down again. Hey – I can’t control when genius strikes, so give me a break!