Ideas from psychology that are helpful to writers: Transformation-Imagery Theory Part 2

In my last blog post from this series I introduced the Transformation-Imagery Theory of narrative persuasion which was developed by Melanie Green and Timothy Brock in the early 2000’s. If you haven’t already read that I suggest you do that here, as what comes below may not make a huge amount of sense without that context.

In this follow on blog I’m going to suggest a few ways in which it can be helpful to writers, especially those who want to create work that has a message that is persuasive, and also to suggest, from the perspective of being a writer, a few ways in which the theory feels like it falls short.

I’m drawing here on the ideas they had when they first described the theory over twenty years ago, so it’s likely that there has been work to refine this since. I will circle back to that at a later date.

How is this helpful to writers?

I think there is some merit in looking at this theory from the perspective of thinking about how to create a story that is highly transporting (of achieving that sense of ‘losing oneself’ in the story for readers).

Green and Brock describe a process that is a meeting between the reader and the story itself, so that while there are important elements in the text that may (or may not!) make it a transporting read, the reader will also bring with them skills, abilities, and previous experiences that will also have an impact on the extent to which they become ‘transported’ into a particular story.

For example, some people may naturally be more skilled at imagining ‘story worlds’ than others, and so are more likely to be transported into any story they read. That said, while there is little we can to to impact on what the reader brings to the reading experience in terms of natural abilities, as writers there are things that we can think about to help them along.

Use of Imagery

While Green and Brock weren’t aiming at giving advice to writers in their early papers (which are the ones I am most familiar with), there are a number of clues for us in the way they framed their theory. In particular they suggested that imagery was key to the experience of transportation, so much so that they included it in the title of their theory.

My interpretation of their writing on this is that the use of language that evokes vivid imagery, interwoven through a clear plot, is key to the experience of transportation, which probably won’t be news to many writers, or indeed readers out there. Many writers will have spent time reading and re-reading passages from particularly well written books, just to try to work out how the author evoked that particular time and space.

But I would be inclined to expand on the idea of imagery to include other sensory information such as taste, smell, temperature and sound. These things don’t seem to feature in the theory, but can be essential in creating the sense of a location in a story. A lot of other better writers than me have written on this topic, but personally I feel that stories that rely on images alone create a story world that feels a little flat, and is not always persuasive.

Emotional involvement

The theory also suggests that stories that evoke strong emotional reactions may be more transporting, although interestingly they don’t really talk about understanding the emotional journey of the characters. Instead they seem to link the emotional responses of readers with the events in the story, i.e. what happens to the characters, and the readers ability to ‘see them’ through imagery.

But if we fill in the gaps here, we can think about stories where characters go on an emotional journey on comparison with stories where this doesn’t happen, and draw our own conclusions on which are more emotionally engaging. For me this feels like a missing link, but luckily for us there is another theory from psychology that can help us here, and I will write about that in my next post.

Adhering to narrative formats

Perhaps of interest to genre writers (like myself) in particular, they pointed out that people often like particular forms of stories (the example they draw on here is the suspense story) and will protect their experiences of it. In today’s money that means avoiding spoilers.

They didn’t go into great detail on this, but it reminded me of conversations I’ve heard else where about breaking, or not breaking your contract with the reader. If you kill a banker on page two, and bring in a detective as a main character on page three, the reader will expect a series of clues, setbacks and revelations until, at the end of the book, they ‘guy who done it’ is caught.

So my interpretation of what they were saying here is, don’t disappoint the reader, or it will damage their experience of the story and reduce likely transportation into it.

Avoiding false notes

One of they things that Green and Brock did explicitly mention as being potentially damaging to the experience of transportation was the existence of ’false notes’ within a story. By this they meant aspects of a story that ‘did not ring true’, they contradicted other aspects of the story or generally didn’t make sense.

While they didn’t mention this specifically, for me false note could refer to those moments where a character does something that simply seems wrong, and that doesn’t fit with the picture you have built up of the character. Something that does not seem to hold emotional truth. I have frequently put down books and stopped watching shows and movies where I like a character and then they suddenly do something that I think is really stupid.

So I think this bit of their work can be particularly helpful at revision time. Is everything consistent? Does everything make sense? Does my fictional story carry emotional truth?

I hope you have found this interesting, in my next post I’m going to move on to some of the work by Keith Oatley about literature providing a kind of emotional simulation. I hope you will follow along if you are interested in these kind of ideas.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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Creative Prompt (neighbourhood intrigue series #2): Character Study

When I write these posts I have a few rules about what I’ll include. I don’t take photos of things on private property, or of people, or of things in cars. I feel like this would be an invasion of privacy as the people involved are very rarely there to ask permission. 

But I have been very intrigued by someone I see on a regular basis, mostly for a behavior I have spotted him engage in. He seems to like to hang around by a pedestrian crossing which isn’t far from the local train station, and you can often see him kind of ‘standing watch’. There is a coffee shop with outside tables close by, and sometimes he sits there instead. A few weeks ago I was waiting at the crossing and a car raced through is, continuing along the high street at high speed. It’s a busy area, frequented by families and clusters of kids going to school, so speeding here is especially dangerous.

I saw our guy jump up and pull a note book from his pocket and try to write down the number plate. The car went too fast and he quickly replaced the notebook in his pocket with noticeable frustration. This little action really intrigued me. As far as I can see he is not a member of any official neighbourhood policing project, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen him involve himself if situations that may relate to that kind of thing.

I find this really intriguing. What does he think he’s doing? Why is he doing it?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Sunday Funday’s Creative Prompt: Lost in Croydon #2

I have just started on a third draft of the first novel in my fantasy series (called Feeding Jasmine Valentine). More than one of the characters starts the book feeling more than a little lost.

While I was out walking with my son a few weeks ago I found myself being attracted to objects around the place that seem a little lost. This is the second in a mini series of creative prompts. This week’s prompt – a pair of glasses on a bench.

What does this picture make you think of? What kind of tales does this picture inspire? Ideas or flash fiction welcome in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of them.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Sunday Funday: Creative Prompt

On of the things I have started looking for on my walks with Baby Magpie is those little incidents where nature seems to get the better of the modern world. While out this week I saw this tree, that seems to have got the better of the wall it was growing through. Inch by inch, the little tree has grown through the mortar and caused the bricks to separate. In my Feeding Jasmine Valentine series, the idea of nature ‘taking back’ is a relatively strong theme, so I have started to collect pictures like this. I hope that you find it intriguing too.

What does this picture make you think of? What kind of tales does this picture inspire? Ideas or flash fiction welcome in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Sunday Funday: Creative Prompt

I was out walking with Baby Magpie a few weeks ago and I saw these two photo’s pinned to this tree. I’m not sure if this is a lost object that someone has pinned to the tree, hoping to reunite it with it’s owner, or a subtle piece of public art.

It’s one of those things that I come across on a fairly regular basis and think ‘Ohh, that’s interesting.’ I rarely get much further than thinking about how interesting the thing is, and how there is probably a story to tell about it. I thought that someone else may see this and get an idea that sends them off onto an interesting creative tangent.

If you are a writer, artist, doodler or storyteller, you may have your own ideas about this image. Post your ideas in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Sunday Funday: Creative Prompt

It’s Sunday, time to have some creative fun. For this week’s creative prompt I’ve chosen this photo of a path leading into the woods.

Writers, artists, doodlers and storytellers, have some fun with this image. Post your ideas in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Sunday Funday: Creative Prompt

It’s been a bit grim here in London over the last few words and I’ve been thinking about how much the weather influences my own writing and other creative work.

Here’s a video of some moody weather to inspire. Writers, artists, doodlers and storytellers, what does this film suggest to you?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Sunday Funday: Story Prompt

While away at my parents a number of weeks ago I came across this tiny little hidden street with a great name – Shin Bone Alley. It sparked my imagination as it sounds a bit Dickensian.

So, just for fun, what’s the story with this alley? What kind of tales happened here? Ideas or flash fiction welcome in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Sunday funday: story prompt

A week or so ago I was out walking with Baby Magpie and I saw this fella in a tree. I thought he looked kind of majestic, just sitting there, and wondered what his story maybe on the way home.

As a bit of fun, what do you think his story is? Pop ideas, or flash fiction pieces in the comments below.

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Thoughts on Radical Kindness: Why writers and artists should practice it (Part 3)

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[This is part 3 of a series of blogs about kindness. Please see parts 1 and 2 here]

When I began writing these posts I kind of thought this would have been one of my ‘here are my random thoughts on this’ kind of posts and that would be it. However life rarely turns out as you expect. I have been thinking a bit about my own journey as a person, and as an artist and writer, and what I’m about really through these posts.

I actually wanted to write and make art when I was a teenager, but I also wanted to ‘help people’ and somehow got it into my head that being an artist/writer would mean that I wouldn’t be doing that (I have seriously revised my view on this now!). Instead I went off to university to study medicine, thinking that doctors ‘helped’ people so that was what I should do. While I really loved learning about the science, and believe that having the opportunity to study human anatomy through full body dissection was one of the great privileges of my life, it turned out that the practice of medicine was not for me. I left after four years to do a PhD in psychology, during which I studied things like advertising, persuasion and the impact that stories can have on us. I still wanted to write and make art, but some how I wasn’t ready, because I hadn’t really found my subject.

Later I did research into mental health and genetics, and I left a long term relationship because my then partner would not even talk about having children (hence I am quite late to the baby party). After this I had a bit of a break down really, although I would not have called it that at the time. I was depressed, very anxious, and drinking lots. I was in a bad way, and (cliche alert) I became attached to a number of men who were not attached to me.

I continued to work in mental health but the kind of work I did changed so that I was doing research with colleagues who also had mental health issues. We talked a lot, and I listened a lot, and in the middle of all of that, I found I was ready to make things and write things. I am now writing a novel in which people have experienced trauma and who live with those things. It’s also a fantasy novel, so I am trying to weave in strands of myth and magic, which makes things a bit complicated, but and I think I finally found my subject. I think this is the many splendid forms of being human and all the emotional consequences of that. 

So why do I think that artists and writers in particular should practice radical kindness? I think that, beyond just being a good person, there are a number of reasons. I think to create art, or convincing characters that really speak to people, it can really help to understand people. It can really help to understand the rich and varied emotional lives many people live. To understand people, you need to connect with people on an honest level. To connect with people, it really, really helps if you are kind. People will tell you things about themselves, and help you, incrementally, to better understand all the different ways of being human, if you are kind.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.