The Science of Creating – Kathy Rowe

Author Kathy Rowe

In my former life, I was what the Air Force called a “Diagnostic Imaging Craftsman.” In other words, fancy speak for an x-ray technician. I did a little bit of everything: routine x-ray, fluoroscopy, mammography, CAT scan, and assisted in MRI. So when I see stuff that deals with imaging, I tend to take notice.

Lately, I’ve seen some pretty interesting articles on the human brain. Let’s face it, we as writers use that big blob of gray and white matter between our ears something fierce. There’s probably not a day that goes by that we don’t have some story idea or characters lurking inside. It’s just what we do and who we are.

So when a friend posted this link on my Facebook page, I had to read it. Cool stuff! Evidently reading fiction has an impact on folks—our words can stimulate their brains. And the interesting part is the words are descriptive. Things like: coffee, perfume, roses, and a host of other specific ones. When a person was placed in an fMRI (functional MRI) scanner and they were given a passage of fiction to read; the portion of their brain called the olfactory cortex (which deals with smelling) lit up on the scan. No, they weren’t really smelling those things, but the brain interpreted those words as a smell they were familiar with; thus giving the reader a richer experience.

And what does all this super-fancy science stuff tell us? That perhaps writing with more attention to the senses and being specific will give your readers a better experience. A different study also assessed metaphors. “Leathery skin, silky soft hair, and others that dealt with texture also got the brain excited. No, I’m not saying to embellish everything you write; but a smattering of it here and there can only add to a good storyline.

My wonderful hubby found this article for me  which deals with using small amounts of electric current to encourage the brain to focus on tasks. Pretty neat, but can you imagine what would happen if they attached that to a writer’s brain? Probably one of two things: we can write with amazing clarity and precision; or, since all the voices in our head are silent, we can’t write a darn thing!

I often wonder what the results would be if they tested writers while we worked. Wouldn’t it be cool to see how much of your brain is going to work when you’re in the creative groove? Are we different than the readers tested? Still not sure of that electrical stimulation thing; perhaps as long as there were no needles involved, I would volunteer to be a test subject. Who knows, maybe one day we really will have “thinking caps” that we put when we want to write…

Author: Kathy Rowe (K. Rowe)

K. Rowe is an experienced and prolific multi-genre author. She draws from over twenty years of active Air Force service. Kathy lives in eastern Kentucky with her husband and a zoo of farm animals. Among her many duties she finds time to offer services as a publishing consultant for new authors. Learn more about Kathy from Facebook, and her Amazon author page.

15 thoughts on “The Science of Creating – Kathy Rowe”

  1. That's cool! I immediately want to rush off and write lushly descriptive passages and imagine the effects they'll have on a reader's brain! It starts me wondering, though, about the effect of a gorily detailed murder scene. Can I inflict that on a reader knowing how those synapses will light up as they imagine the blood flowing? Might just have to stick to the cosies!

    1. I think description (within reason) is good for the brain. I always joke that the hardest two things to write are love scenes and battle scenes. But they require a huge amount of creativity and thought, and if you don't get them right, folks will laugh at you. I used to sit at the front desk of the radiology dept with my netbook (it was good to be the boss) and while I was guarding the all important desk, I would be writing. Sometimes my co-workers would see sticky notes with names on them at different locations on the desk and ask me about it. I would simply explain I was writing a battle scene and needed to know where all the characters were. Shaking their heads, they would walk off…

      No matter if you are writing a beautiful scene on a lake, or a bloody battle scene. I think we should give the readers the best imagery available. Admittedly we all get caught up in the moment and sometimes forget. Thank God for re-writes!

  2. I really enjoyed this post! I have a layman's interest in science – mostly in the biological sciences – so discovering that words can have a direct impact on specific brain areas is really exciting.

    When I first started writing I'd write something like 'XX felt depressed.' Now there's nothing wrong with that but eventually it hit me that in real life we come to the conclusion that someone is depressed via a whole series of subtle cues including body language etc rather than waiting for someone else to tell us that XX is depressed. So now I try to give readers the building blocks while allowing them to come to their own conclusions.

    Your post has boosted my confidence that I'm on the right track! Thank you.

  3. Cool post, Kathy! I'd love to see a brain scan of a writer in full "Zen writing" mode. I wonder if it would be much different from someone who's dreaming? Or someone who's meditating?

  4. Guy's in the outpatient clinic for evaluation.

    He's in the waiting room, reading a 9 year-old copy of Arizona trailways and a Siamese cat slinks in the the room and starts checking him out. It climbs up in his lap and sniffs him, licks him, snoops around, then jumps down and leaves.

    He thinks it's odd to have a cat in a hospital, but kind of charming. He returns to his reading and suddenly there's a big black Labrador Retriever all over him. It sniffs his crotch, licks him, noses his face, checks him out doggy style, then woofs off out of the room.

    He's trying to sort that all out when an intern in white smock comes in and hands him a bill, asks how he's going to bill it.

    He's astounded. "Six hundred bucks???? For what? You didn't even see me!"

    The intern looks at the bill and shrugs.

    "Well, you had Lab tests and a cat scan."

  5. Loved this post!!!

    The Matrix was on TV last night. I always thought the idea of the brain making a plugged in human believe he was living in the real world and not a slave to society a fascinating concept. So many possibilities.

  6. Am a wee bit late with this comment, but if this interests you, you may be interested in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Words-Can-Change-Your-Brain

    I'm in the process of writing commentary on Writing with Compassion using the principles that they're finding in these fMRI studies mapping regions of the brain.

    Thanks for posting this. I imagine I'm gonna reference it. Will let you know when the article is out.

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