Showing posts from June, 2015

What is on Terrorists' Minds?

As authors and screenwriters, it's our unenviable job to interpret what's going on in the world to our readers and viewers.

Take the highly emotionally charged topic of terrorism and terrorists.  Act of terror either by groups or isolated lone wolf terrorists seem to happen daily and almost anywhere.  Fear of terrorism has become a fact of modern life.

What are these people thinking when they plan or execute an attack?

According to this research led by Sumitra Sri Bhashyam and Gilberto Montibeller, one reason anti-terror officials find it hard to predict attacks is predictive modelling that assumes a rational mind trying to achieve clear objects effectively and efficiently.  As researchers across a number of fields are pointing out, the rational conscious mind gives us an impression of being in control of our thoughts and actions but that in reality our conscious self only acts as a "traffic cop" between thoughts and impulses generated in different parts of our mind.

As …

Personality, Situation and the Writer

This study confirms what should be intuitive to experienced authors and screenwriters: that personality predicts behavior just as does situation.  But until this study was conducted, researchers were unable to confirm this result in the real world.  This study by researchers in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University and Humboldt-Universit├Ąt zu Berlin in Germany confirms this real-life observation in a controlled situation.

Try an experiment.  Take one of your stories or perhaps a popular story from fiction or film, and write a scenario in which the only thing you do is change the personality of the protagonist.  For example, how would you describe the character of John McClane from the Die Hard franchise, the original movie based on the novel "Nothing Lasts Forever" by Roderick Thorp, screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza.  John McClane: a cynical smart-ass who thinks fast and can adapt to changing situations?  Is this an action-mov…

Biased Online Comments Influence Our Own Prejudicial Attitudes and Behaviors

We all, each of us, bear the burden of prejudice.  It may be against a race or a sexual orientation or a political group.  Bias and prejudice are in us no matter how hard each of works to overcome these deeply embedded, even genetically controlled opinions and feelings.

Part of this is due to the genetic need to protect our family and clan that helped humans survive over millions of years.  Part of these stem from our upbringing and life experience.  These traits have, frankly, outlived their usefulness.  Yet they are still there.

This study deals with how reading the prejudiced comments of others triggers our own bias and prejudice.  It's part of how the human animal works.

Two recent studies posted on SNfW play into this.  Research that shows humans have not changed much over the past 104,000 years, and that free will is an illusion, and that our thoughts and actions are controlled by our subconscious minds.

Here is the story with a link to the full study in the attribution at the f…

Study Reveals Most of America's Poor Have Jobs

While this is a hot political issue, understanding the lifestyle of these people is important to any writer.  It impacts the journalist, the author and the screenwriter equally.  Any story that involves these Americans needs to reflect the reality that these people do work, often quite hard, and that their families suffer because of the poverty and lack of opportunity they endure.  They often live in sub-standard housing eating diets that are high-fat and starchy - because that's what they can afford even with the help of food banks and Food Stamps.

This is not a cry for pity.  It's a cry for understanding.  This is a reality of life in the U.S. which should be accurately portrayed in your work.  Think Grapes of Wrath or the young men working in low paying jobs in the movie Good Will Hunting.

Here's the story, and as always with a link to full study in the attribution line.
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Most of America's poor have jobs. Between 6.4 million and 8 million heads of families c…

Passive Frame Theory: "Free will. . . does not exist."

"Free will. . . does not exist." Why do people do they things they do? Is it all rational thought?  Or do our thoughts, attitudes and actions come from "below", from beneath our aware self, does instinct and subconscious thought control our attitudes and actions that is only interpreted and expressed by our conscious mind?  According to a new theory being introduced by San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella, "the "free will" that people typically attribute to their conscious mind -- the idea that our consciousness, as a "decider, "guides us to a course of action -- does not exist. Instead, consciousness only relays information to control "voluntary" action, or goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system." Doctor Morsella's theory points out an important question for any writer of fiction.  Are we truly in control of our actions?  Or, like The Godfather's Michael…

Sitting, Sloth & Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces

On those occasions I feel anxious, I have the urge to pace or go for a walk. Now I understand why.  Sitting can increase a person's anxiety level.  Who'd a thunk? There are so many reasons for being active.  For one thing, going for a walk not only calms one down, it increases a person's creativity.  Obviously, walking is a very healthy thing to do. Here's the story which has implications not only for your own work and health, but for your characters as well.  The main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, an "educated, but slothful 30-year-old man," in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, is a classic example.  If you have yet to read it, do.  One of the funniest character studies in literature.  (I wonder why the book hasn't been turned into a film?) Here's the report with a link to the entire study in the attribution line. *  *  *  *  * Low-energy activities that involve sitting down are associated with an increased risk of anxiety
"We are see…

Businesses Don't Own Congress, But Work Hard to Get What They Need

According to this research out of Penn State, our common assumption that big business owns our Congress and the Federal agencies that regulate them with the result that they're calling the shots. . . is wrong. 

In fact, they don't get always what they want despite busloads of lobbyists and truckloads of cash.  However, they are somewhat successful in getting what they need.  It all depends on opposition from citizen's action groups.  No opposition, they get what they want.  Opposition, business often looses the battle - but with deep pockets they are often able to win the war.

This may seem like quibbling over terms.

As with many assumptions, this report points out that the situation in Washington, D.C. is far less clear, far more complicated and more hazily defined.

How does this impact the writer?  As in any topic whether fiction or non-fiction, reality is always far more nuanced than appears on the surface.  With the growing importance of getting your science right in both…

Developing Believable Characters: The Latest Research on Violence

"The perception that people with mental illness are more violent is a myth reinforced by the media."
To understand the violence inherent in human society, especially the many mass shootings in our country in addition to our world's-highest murder rate, it's important that screenwriters, authors and journalists understand what causes - and what doesn't cause - someone to kill someone else.
One of the common misconceptions with both the public, journalists, writers of fiction and screenplays is that mental illness is a major cause of violence, especially murder.This conclusion does not compute, to quote science officer Spock of the Starship Enterprise. In fact, research shows that the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators.

As writers, we each have a responsibility to present accurate and true profiles of killers and mass murderers in our work.  By stating or implying that anyone who commits a violent act is mentally il…