Laugh, Cry and Lose Sleep
On Saturday December 17 the Tri-Valley Writer's hosted Ransom Stephens Ph.D.. Dr. Ransom Stephens is a physicist as well as a novelist. He presented his newest novel The Left Brain Speaks but the Right Brain Laughs.
Ransom is an engaging speaker. He makes references to AC/DC and even the Raiders, so you know he's not your average stuffy old physicist that's going to be sharing word's of wisdom.
Ransom reminded us that our job as writers can be difficult. We need to help our readers laugh, cry and lose sleep. Honestly one of my favorite problems is when I loose sleep reading a novel that I just can't put down. I'd love to be able to make someone loose sleep over my characters and their adventures.
Why Knowing How Our Brains Work Helps
Ransom was a physics professor, so the science part of art is near and dear to his heart. He started off stating that what we've previously been taught about the left and the right brain is not necessarily accurate. He described how both halves of the brain work together to create stories.
Of course we've all heard the "show your readers don't tell them" rule. Ransom presented that as a writer it is our job to provide just the right amount of information for our readers to create their version of your world in their minds. Give just enough information for their brains to fill in the blanks and they see and feel what happens to the characters.
Being able to create characters that evoke emotions for readers helps build a relationship with them. There have been studies showing that when we read our brains react the same way as if we are experiencing what is happening in the stories ourselves. That's why showing is so much more compelling for the reader, their brains get to experience it and internalize it. There's a good article how our brains react to both written and visual stories by Paul Zak's entitled 'How Stories Change the Brain'.
Animals, including humans, thrive on a feed back loop. Typically we like positive feed back loops. A feedback loop can be something as simple as: when I'm hungry my stomach hurts so I eat and then that feeling goes away and I like it. Therefore eating makes me feel good.
A relatively new scientific discipline is neuroaesthetics, or how the brain interprets art, beauty and creative works. This is something that writers have intuitively known about for centuries and Ransom looks at from the point of view as both a scientist and a novelist.
Learning the tricks of our trade is like learning about neuroaesthetics. Ransom discussed creating a sense of isolation, pacing and even orderliness to help story and a writer accomplish their goals.
One of the tricks in a novelists arsenal is to ratchet up the tension for the characters as well as for our readers. Ransom equates giving small pieces of information at appropriate moments as 'a strip tease'. We show enough for our audience to want more and pique their interests.
Speaking of a 'strip tease' there is much more in The Left Brain Speaks but the Right Brain Laughs and I highly recommend it for anyone that is interested in neuroscience or for writers who are looking to get inside the minds of their readers.
Thanks for reading. I hope everyone has a good holiday and I'll talk to you next week.
About Ransom Stephens
Ransom Stephens is a former physics professor and fifth-generation Californian. He spent 15 years conducting cutting-edge particle physics research and taught at the University of Texas at Arlington. He then moved into high-tech to work for a wireless web start-up. He’s now a Silicon Valley consultant, novelist, and science writer. His new book, The Left Brain Speaks but the Right Brain Laughs looks at the neuroscience of innovation and creativity in art, science, and life. His novels, The God Patent and The Sensory Deception, also draw on his scientific work. He lives in Petaluma, California. Visit his website for more information.
The Left Brain Speaks but the Right Brain Laughs is published by Viva Editions and can be found on Amazon.
I went to my first ever monthly meeting for the Tri-Valley Writers. There was a presentation from author Penny Warner. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect being one of the youngest people in the room. She was introduced with professionalism and thanked for coming to speak on short notice as the person who was originally scheduled to speak had a family emergency.
And then she hit us.
"I'm usually the substitute speaker, never called on to be the primary speaker." Ms. Warner said. There were awkward laughs. Then: "Although I do usually get asked to speak at funerals." She kept delivering her punches with precision; I wish that I could remember them all.
She felt so comfortable talking to the group. "Take it to the extreme" was her advice. She had me laughing and wondering how I could incorporate her advice into my writing.
Ms. Warner also had us use one of her 20 writing prompts to come up with something funny.
Top Ten Ways to Annoy Your Veterinary Staff
10. Pay the bill after arguing everything on the tab.
9. Bring in the cute little Tortie in an old ratty pillow case.
8. "But Google says...."
7. "My breeder disagrees with you."
6. "Killer just growls. He won't bite you, I swear."
5. "Can't I just do that myself at home?"
4. "Can I hold Kujo for you while you draw blood?"
3. "Boy, that's expensive. Do you think I can get this done cheaper anywhere else?"
2. "You know, I can just get another one at the pound for forty bucks."
and the most offensive #1 quote we in veterinary field have heard:
1. "....Or I could just take him home and shoot him to put him out of his misery."
I may have shocked those in the room that don't work in the field. I guess I did take it to the extreme.
Thank you Ms. Warner for letting me have fun at my first meeting. I'm looking forward to attending some more.
Check out their websites here: Tri-Valley Writers and Penny Warner
Let Magical Adventures Find You!