I have a board on my Pinterest account called Dying of the Cute and I tell you what, some days it’s a lifesaver. Today, I thought I’d share a sampling 🙂
I have a board on my Pinterest account called Dying of the Cute and I tell you what, some days it’s a lifesaver. Today, I thought I’d share a sampling 🙂
Welcome to the beautiful, danger fraught world of Commitment.
Traditionally life after the wedding is summed up in one of two ways: They Lived Happily Ever After -or- The End.
One sounds like life was all roses and wedding cakes for eternity, and the other sounds just a little like I Married An Axe Murderer. Neither of those are very promising for story writing. Luckily, science hasn’t been as cynical of the committed life as fiction writers. I would go so far as to suggest that happy married life is one of those well kept secrets that only the locals know about.
So why aren’t happy faces making the headlines? First, good news doesn’t sell, second, Commitment is a very difficult stage to explain. There are so many variables that people can (and have) devote a lifetime to explaining why some couples stay together, and others fall apart.
The euphoria of early Lust is gone. The feel-good rush of oxytocin from phenomenal sex wears off. Here is another victim of Cupid’s arrow, in love. And now the fore brain steps in, crushing the screaming hind brain with the sharp stiletto heel and makes a choice.
Do I love this person?
“I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
– Mr. Darcy answering when he fell in love
Like so many, Darcy confused love with Lust. He was well in Lust with Elizabeth Bennett within moments of meeting her. The true love came later when he acknowledged that there was more than a physical desire. The moment of acknowledgment, when you make a conscious decision to be in love, is when the Commitment phase starts.
This can overlap the other stages. Scientific evidence suggests that love isn’t even a matter of sequential stages, but a cycle [reference].
We are familiar with the daily light cycle: sunrise, sunset, darkness, sunrise again.
Think of love in the same way: initial Lust and desire, Attraction and fulfillment of Lust, conscious decision to protect the object of Lust that becomes a self-less design in the form of Commitment, True Love incites feelings of Lust.
If you really want to drive a scientist crazy start an experiment with too many variables (things that could vary). For instance, ask them to find out what makes a person age 30 fall in love. The age and gender can be controlled. You might be able to narrow down the data but asking only women of a certain nationality, religion, or region, but after that? Variables! How were they raised? What books do they read? What food do they eat? It all plays a part.
For the sake of my sanity we are narrowing a very broad and complex topic down to the easy to identify variables :
– Personal Prejudice: Freud has a field day with this and while he isn’t used by psychologists today, he didn’t have a point: your brain is hardwired to notice certain things. The fore brain (stilettos and STANDARDS) makes a concious decision about who you will date. This involves looking more than jaw lines and rippling pectorals and moves into the area of noticing social cues, indicators of wealth, past relationships, and expectations of what you want.
No matter how well suited an individual is from an evolutionary stand point your personal prejudices will get in the way. Did you get burned by someone named Chris in high school? The chances of you falling in love with another Chris are low. Did you adore your parents? You’ll probably marry someone like them. Are you looking to move up socially? The chances of you falling in love with someone from a lower social strata are limited.
– Sphere of Influence: Some people divide this into Peer Group and Family, but I don’t. By age 25 most people have either moved past their nuclear family or have become friends with them. If you are writing YA or historical fiction you can use the Peer Group vs Family influence as conflict, but for our purposes here they are the same.
The Sphere of Influence is what people you care about will say about the relationship. The classic example is Romeo and Juliet. They were falling in love, definitely in Lust, but the disapproving family killed their chances of Commitment and brought about a tragic end.
A more modern example might be a college student posting a picture of someone they met on FaceBook and asking all their friends if they should go for it.
How much the Sphere of Influence affects a relationship depends on how much each individual involved relies on other people’s opinions to make choices and establish their sense of self-worth. The weaker an individual’s sense of self is, the more they rely on the judgments of the Sphere of Influence.
– Social Conjecture: This aspect of expectations has the least influence on whether or not a couple form a Commitment. This is what you think other people you don’t know think you should do. If you think society is pushing you to have a career before marriage but none of your friends actually say so, the idea falls here. You think society wants you to work more than marry, but there is no proof or weight to the idea.
This can also include taboos or laws that prevent a relationship from developing.
– Physical: Repeat after me: I cannot love someone I have not met.
I know this breaks the hearts of all the Fangrrlz out there, but Justin Bieber does not love you. No. He doesn’t. You may lust after him, and Edward Cullen, and Harry Potter but it doesn’t change a thing. If the person doesn’t know you exist, they can’t love you.
You can’t love someone who doesn’t know you. You can Lust after them all you like, but it isn’t love.
Please note: Physical ability to fall in love does not mean physical proximity. Many happy couples maintain faithful, long-distance relationships. For all those long-distance relationships to work there has to be a moment where you meet physically, catch the persons scent, and let the hind brain do its job of assessing genetic compatibility.
– Emotional: I think the biggest symbol of this is the wedding ring. In Western society the wedding band is a clear indicator that the person with the ring is Off Limits. Body language and behavior will also signal whether a person is willing to engage in a relationship of some kind.
Emotional indicators are often confusing, and this is great source of conflict for a writer. It is a great source of doubt and confusion for anyone dating.
A person can Lust after anyone they want, but there needs to be a positive emotional response from the Lustee if the relationship is going to have a happy ending. Even in asexual or aromantin individuals there is some level of emotion, it may not lead to a sexual relationship, but sex isn’t required for romantic relationships of any kind.
– Reciprocation: You cannot love someone who doesn’t know you exist, and you can’t establish a Committed relationship of the romantic kind with someone who doesn’t reciprocate. When someone says, “I’m so in love! Why won’t he notice me?” the answer is, “You are in Lust. That’s the norepinephrine talking. Get a life.”
The chemicals from the first stage of Lust make you obsess over someone. The cuddly feel-good chemicals of Attraction come when the person begins to pay attention. The Commitment stage of love is a mutual choice. Unless they make the same choice as you, it isn’t Love, it’s infatuation.
If you are writing a romance of any kind please print that sentence out and tape it above your monitor. One sided affection is creepy-stalker-love. Not romantic!
Most researchers would put religion under Sphere of Influence, and yet again I disagree. Spiritual or religious belief is a amalgamation of personal prejudice, sphere of influence, and social conjecture and I think it needs it’s own space.
What religion does that social mores don’t is offer a long-term consequence to your actions. It’s more than getting snubbed at dinner parties because you married the wrong person, it’s the personal belief that your choices in love will have eternal/immortal consequences. And then it adds another layer of social expectation on top of that.
Picture this scene some 3000 odd years ago:
Boy: Father, I’m in love!
Dad: Great, what’s his name son?
Boy: I fell in love with a woman, Father.
Dad: What? NOOO!!! What in the name of Zeus do you think you’re doing? This is a conservative Hellenistic household and I won’t have you shaming the family name by bringing your liberal Jewish smut in here!
Boy: But, Father! I love her!
Dad: Oh, no you don’t! You can’t love a woman! They’re barely smarter than cattle! Now, put on your toga like a good boy and we’ll go to church.You’ll go to the orgy and you’ll like it!
Despite the hind brain kicking you and insisting that two of one gender to not evolutionary sense make, society has often pushed away from evolutionary tendencies to secure homosexual, incestuous, or caste -based relationships as the norm.
Society is very fond of forcing the naturally slutty human being into monogamous, or infertile, relationships. And religion with the threat of eternal damnation and/or the end of the world for not marrying your sibling is often the mechanism of enforcement.
What makes these spiritual beliefs different from Sphere of Influence is that the beliefs learned in childhood are so firmly ingrained in the Personal Prejudice that a person may not even look outside the walls of their spiritual belief when considering love or a long-term relationship. It becomes a block to ideal evolution on multiple levels.
Procreating with a sibling is a Bad Idea (looking at you House Lannister), but other things (only marrying in a tribe, race, religion, or caste) can be equally limiting the dispersal of genes. And nobody but a geneticist will care about this in real time, which makes this a fun fact to remember when writing societies that tightly control the movement of genetic material.
Romantic love and sex are always consensual. Everyone involved should be happy and enthusiastically willing. There are many opinions on what is right or wrong, or what makes the ideal relationship/couple/parenting group, but that is always a personal choice. Don’t judge someone else’s happiness. If it’s working for them, and it’s a consensual relationship between adults, you smile and let live.
There is too much hate in the world, and if you take on the mantle and title of Romance Author than your job is to bring a little more happiness and love to the world. So make sure it’s an inclusive happiness.
Originally posted at www.lianabrooks.com.
Welcome to the second post in Liana’s Science of Love series! Catch up on the first post here.
Yesterday we talked about the science behind Lust. The mad, crazy, passionate time when you are truly obsessed with another sentient being, or at least obsessed with getting in their pants and scoring a DNA exchange.
After a short period of time the original chemical lust wears off. Reality sets in and you start to really see the person. Yes, the genetics and pheromones might be enough for the hind brain (the crazy bit with the spear – remember?), but the fore brain has STANDARDS.
Actually, a lot of attachment has to do with the hind brain screaming, “Ahh! There’s a parasite in my uterus somebody find me ice cream!!!”
While the hind brain stuffs ice cream in it’s mouth to drown the obscenities the logic centers perk up and go: Hot tamale! I ain’t raising this kiddo alone!
The brain works overtime, hustling the chemicals to produce permanent bonds that will make sure someone else is around to change the baby’s diaper at 3am. The conscious mind may tell you that you are madly in love, that this is fate, you are truly soulmates… and that’s sweet. Really, I’ve been with my husband over a decade and I applaud you (or your character) for thinking that.
It’s a lie, but it’s such a pretty lie.
The Science Behind Attachment
Let’s go back to one of the examples we addressed yesterday. Pride and Prejudice: The Worst Proposal Ever!
What do we see here?
Mr. Darcy is running on mad Lust at this point.
The first time I heard this part of P&P (I listened to the audio before reading) I nearly died laughing. By the standards of the time Darcy was acting on what he understood to be love. But the attachment portion of the relationship wasn’t there. Yes, Lizzy Bennett was a wonderful choice from a genetic stand point, the chances of her being in-bred with the same line as Darcy’s in-breeding was fairly low, but from the view of science this was a no-go.
Obviously because the Dracy’s weren’t in the habit of doping their guests drinks with Oxytocin at dinner, and Darcy had overlooked the key ingredient of staring into Lizzy’s eyes for prolonged periods of time [reference].
Lust is all about sex, all those hormones, the testosterone in the saliva, the dopamine pinging the brain’s reward center are all aimed at getting naked as fast as possible. Norepinephrine, the chemical responsible for obsessive focus in the early stage of Lust is the bridge between the wild monkey sex and the point where you start picking out baby names [reference].
Expiration Date: Four Years
The second stage of love, Attachment, is dictated by two primary hormones.
Oxytocin – is responsible for you wanting to cuddle, and is usually released during sex. The hind brain (Mr. Rough-Hewn Spear) wants sex for sex’s sake. It feels good! It spreads the genes around! Yay! Oxytocin is the rest of the brain’s sneaky way of making you stay with someone long enough to raise the kids.
Interestingly enough, oxytocin is also released just after birth and when a woman nurses. In the laboratory scientists have messed with block oxytocin (thus making a rat reject it’s young) and doping subjects with oxytocin (making a rat fawn over other young) [reference]. I’m waiting for the perfume industry to come out with a perfume that has oxytocin in it. Just think of the results!
Vasopressin – which controls your kidneys as well as your fidelity index. Low levels of vasopressin are associated with infidelity in mammals. Scientists are still working on the why behind this.
All of this feel-good chemical love does not add up to a wonderful marriage, Happily Ever After, or anything else a writer can put to work. This explains why you want to cuddle, and why relationships cool down after a certain period of time. Evolution set the child raising alarm clock for four years, at that point, the hormones wear off and other things kick in [reference].
Yesterday I eviscerated Scarlet (and the GI Joe script writers) for her portrayal of smart girls. Everyone falls in love. This is a normal biological function the same as breathing. Short of a malfunction in the hormone producing centers of your body this is not something you can control.
I love the paranormal books that try.
Pheromones are one of those tidbits of science that have become almost cliche. I groan when I see an ill-advised author whip out pheremones as a reason why the characters can’t keep their hands off each other. Yes, the smell works. But you can’t build Happily Ever After out of smells and Lust.
The oxytocin and vasopressin in the Attachment phase are what glue Lust to Love.
Poor Mr. Darcy needed Elizabeth’s brain to flood with a healthy dose of oxytocin before she would think of saying yes. Yes, they had a physical attraction, Lust was working fine. Yes, all the factors for an ideal Commitment (Stage 3 Love) were there in the forms of wealth and approving families (at least on her end). What Darcy and Elizabeth lacked here was the Attachment in the middle.
Remember how I said the fore brain has STANDARDS? Eventually those prejudices and conscious desires kick in and you realize the person you’re raising the kids with isn’t what you wanted in life. Evolution doesn’t care about a persons socio-economic status, religious views, or sexual orientation. All evolution and the hind brain care about is making more Homo sapiens sapiens.
The oxytocin makes you cuddle, the vasopressin makes you hang around, but what keeps the relationship going is a new a stage of love altogether.
For the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting Liana’s series of articles about the science behind love and attachment. It’s a fantastic series, and I hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Love is a many-facted thing. We pine for it. We write about it. We dream of it. We mourn the loss and yet somehow always seem to wind up with our hearts broken again… Love is rough.
And as much as people claim to know about love we often forget that it’s actually complex, chemical multi-step process. Between Lust and Love there are a lot of steps, and a lot of little glands producing chemicals that make you go DERP! This is a break down for writers who want to know the building blocks of falling in love so they can play with it, tweak it, and use it to their own fictional ends.
There is more to life than love or hate. Love comes in many stages, as few as three, and as many as eighteen (if my research is correct). Between those stages are a whole host of variables, outside influences, inner doubts, but the basics of love come down to some pretty simple things. And, really, it’s all chemically induced.
The Science of Lust
The first stage of any relationship is categorized as lust. As writers, this is where you usually start. There are entire genres devoted to the Lust stage of a relationship.
I’d like to say here that the whole, “…eyes meeting across a crowded room and she knew that he was the perfect man…” is a lie, but it isn’t. You won’t get real love from a smoldering gaze, but you can do the basic check for Lust in under 30 seconds.
What happens in the lust stage is that you are identifying the physical markers for an ideal mate. This has nothing to do with sonnets and everything to do with wild monkey sex. In the first thirty seconds your hind brain (the little uncivilized part that wants to throw rough-hewn spears at the cars on the freeway) sums up every new acquaintance as: potential mate, help, rival, useless.
The hind brain is seeking phenotypes (physical markers) that signal a healthy genetic compliment. Both genders look for a balanced and symmetrical face (unbalanced faces are associated with genetic defects).
Popular opinions that say men are only interested in butts and boobs has a grounding in science. Men are hard-wired to look for mates with good childbearing hips and adequate curves on top, a sign that the female in question is physically developed enough to carry a child. Western men also prefer smaller jaws and noses, and larger eyes [reference].
Women are a little trickier. A woman who is ovulating, that is to say a woman who is in prime baby-making condition, will look for a man who is overtly masculine: strong jaw, large muscles, someone that reeks of testosterone. When a woman isn’t ovulating she is more likely to prefer a more feminine man, because the softer individual is regarded to be a better long-term care-giver. Men with more testosterone are considered to be flight risks. [reference].
There’s also pheromones at work here. The smell a person gives off will tell other people two things 1) if they are at a reproductive peak and 2) if the person has a complimentary immune system [reference]. Not an identical set, your siblings should never smell attractive because their immune system is too similar to yours. What your hind brain is searching for is an immune system that is radically different, thus allowing your subsequent child to have a better chance at life.
And that’s in the first thirty seconds!
Remember, this isn’t about love or logic, it’s about getting your gametes into the next generation with the best chance of survival. Your hind brain is all about world domination through gene sharing.
Within the next minute the rest of the brain will kick in and start looking for the social markers we are trained from birth to recognize as being ideal in a mate. Much of what you look for will depend on how your parents raised you. If your father was a loving Daddy who spoiled you rotten the chances are good you’ll find men with similar features very attractive. If Daddy was a drunk cuss who ran out on you, men that remind you of Daddy will get an instant black mark on their record.
Even if they aren’t actively looking for a mate the average person will make a mental note of perceived social status, wealth, and ability to provide within the first few minutes of meeting a new person. While you may never do anything with this information, and despite the fact that your logical mind will probably over-rule much of what you initially think, your first impressions about a person are going to have ties to the evolutionary need to survive and procreate.
Now we’re in Lust Part II. This is where your brain settles after the intial introduction has taken place but before any real emotional bonds have formed.
“‘an involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction for another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated”
I.E. Madly in Love
This is the stage so many writers ground their plots in. This is the stuff of conflict and romance and desire and passion. This is what drove Romeo and Juliet. This is what makes Pride and Prejudice so funny!
If Mr. Darcy had never entered the dangerous waters of limerence poor Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters would have faded into obscurity. Lydia never would have been rescued. Charles Bingley never would have returned to propose to Jane.
And like all good things that are too good too last limerence has an expiration date. Three months.
On average mad lust will get you through three months of heady love [reference]. Then the feelings fade.
What’s going on in the background is pure chemistry (cue Marlon Brando on the set of Guys and Dolls)…
The poor misguided Scarlett in our video clip was quite wrong about proving love. We can. If you really want to find out if someone is in Lust you just need to check for four little chemicals: adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin [reference].
Adrenaline is what makes your heart race.
Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline and gives you an energy boost while improving your focus. This chemical is also responsible for prompting goal-oriented behavior and obsession.
Dopamine lights up the pleasure and reward center of the brain. This chemical is associated with cravings and addictions. That doesn’t even sound like a good thing, but it’s all part of falling in love.
Serotonin that gives you a happy feeling.
Your body actually rewards you for seeing this person that the hind brain as picked out as an ideal genetic candidate for its plans for world domination. Sneaky brain!
When you see the object of your chemically-driven obsession your pupils widen, making everything look brighter and better. Regular dopamine dumps combined with physical or emotional rewards from the relationship will determine what happens after the first three months.
In most cases the relationship falls apart at three months. As the body becomes accustomed to the chemical dump the rose-tinted glasses fall away and you start to see the flaws. The original spark from the dopamine fades and unless you move to the next stage (attraction) the relationship fails [reference].
But not always. An estimated ten percent of married or committed couples are still in the limerence stage [reference]. Even after decades of monogamous relationship.
Couples that stay in the first stages of love and lust are deeply committed, intense, sexually active (This is not permission to go have sex! Think before you strip!), and involved with each others lives.
Researchers have already proven what all good authors know: Couples that work together fall in love and stay in love [reference].
So this is really cool! Scientists are developing ways to diagnose vitamin deficiencies through your tears! They are especially focused on children, for whom vitamin deficiencies can have a significant negative impact on their growth and development. Also of interest is a way to test quickly, simply, and easily long before physical symptoms manifest, because if you can catch the deficiency when it’s still moderate and before physical symptoms have occurred, obviously you can get better health outcomes for the patients.
Anyway, totally random, but it’s Friday, my brain is melting a little from being back in full-time work, and I thought it was super cool :o)
Last Friday I mentioned that one of my favourite composers, Kerry Muzzey, had composed a track including the sounds of the Earth as ‘heard’ from space. It’s seriously amazing, so of course I had to share 🙂 (And OHMYGOSH when I went to find the video for today’s post, I realised THERE’S A VERSION WITH DANCE FROM THE LXD, who, as you’ll know from last week, is one of my favourite dance troupes! I either missed this a few years ago when I first found the track, or had totally forgotten, and OHMYGOSH SQUEE THIS IS SO MUCH AWESOME YAY).
So, uh, yeah. Ahem. Here’s the blurb from YouTube, explaining the ‘sounds of Earth’ bit:
In October 2012, NASA satellites recorded mysterious radio waves emanating from Earth. These radio waves known as “Chorus,” were given an audio rendering. This is what they heard. For the very first time, we could hear the Earth speak. So we decided to speak back.
See? How cool is it?! (Or is it just me, happily geeking out over here? :D) Leave a comment and let me know what you thought, and if you’d heard of the idea of the Earth making sounds before!
Did you know possums and opossums are actually totally different species? If you’re Australian or Kiwi you might be aware, but I learned the other week that the rest of the world is not so familiar with this fact! The rest this all came to light is because for few days there, we went up to our garage every morning to find the boxes and brooms in disarray – and then there were footprints on the car’s windscreen – and then droppings. Oh yeah, and BLOOD, both on boxes and the car bonnet, because our resident pest was, of course, a female on heat. La. Initially we’d thought the footprints were cat; although we live in a cat-contained suburb*, we have been known to have a cat wander through our backyard every so often, and assumed one had just gone into the garage one night when we’d left it open and been getting warm and cozy on the car.
*Meaning cats are not allowed to wander free outside the house.
But! The footprints were not feline (which closer examination proved), and it turned out we had a possum. NOT an opossum, something that will become very important in a minute, because we don’t *have* opossums in Australia, but instead, a possum – in this case, a regular, common brush-tailed possum 🙂 We contemplated possum traps and such like, and then one morning we didn’t have to, because my husband went out to the garage to find this:
Int she cute?? 🙂 We cornered her easily because although she wasn’t terribly fond of us picking her up, she was comparatively placid for a wild animal, and boxed her up to relocate (carefully, because possums and territories etc etc), and that was that. I told Twitter, and the world exploded momentarily. WHAT IS THIS CUTE AND FURRY CREATURE? the world seemed to ask. IT IS LIKE A GIANT, SHINY SUGAR GLIDER.
Well, yeah, actually, because they’re both Australian marsupials. This is a REAL possum, I told Twitter, a MARSUPIAL, not like common American *O*possums.
Heh. Turns out American Opossums are marsupials too. Who knew? So, to celebrate the mutual learning that went on around this experience, here is a handy-dandy list I’ve compiled for you on the difference between possums and opossums:
POSSUMS: Cute and adorable, like fluffy, furry little kitties with big, round eyes and petal-pink noses.
OPOSSUMS: Look, I’m pretty fond of mammals generally, so let’s characterise its appearance as a cross between a rat and a hedgehog. My US friends tell me this is generous.
POSSUMS: Their pee is pungent, but not, like, puke-gaggingly so. The possums themselves don’t have a particular smell from my human perspective.
OPOSSUMS: The internet says “almost like a skunk”. I’ll just leave it at that, shall I?
POSSUMS: Bold, curious, hungry.
OPOSSUMS: Rabid, demonic.
POSSUMS: Trees, usually of the eucalypt varieties (not hard to find in Australia, let’s face it). Caravan parks. If you’re unlucky, your roof. Maybe even the roof of your caravan or tent in the middle of the night? Possies are territorial and have their own demarcated areas.
OPOSSUMS: Under your house. They burrow?! (Possums that burrow, what even is this.) But generally just *around*, wherever nocturnal creatures hang.
POSSUMS: Don’t leave fruit (especially, but most food really) out at night or they’ll raid it. Mating possums in your roof are noisy and the pee-stink makes it into the house (but to be fair nesting in house rooves is common enough that we have possum removalists, but not THAT common).
OPOSSUMS: My American friends tell me that they will destroy your garbage, your hands, your lives, your sooooooouls….. Though the internet is helpfully full of organisation protesting that they’re really actually not aggressive and they only hiss to scare you off and really they’re adorable little demons, so pwecious, aren’t vey, pwiddy widdle critcher…
To end, more possum pictures, proving the difference in temperament. These are from my honeymoon (eleven years ago, yipes!) and yes, my husband did get bitten, but only because the poor critcher mistook his thumb for a bit of pineapple. The possum was appropriately contrite 😉
(And for the sake of accuracy, did you know that most problems attributed to opossums are actually usually caused by other animals?)
(Also, although the phrase is ‘playing possum’, only opossums pretend to be dead. And of course, apparently they stink while doing so 😉 :D)
Yup, today I wanted to share with you three random animals that I’ve seen repeatedly around the place lately, for various reasons, elaborated on below. Their common point is that they all have pointy bits on their faces! Oh, also that I think they’re incredibly shiny 😉 I know, I know, this is totally random, but they’re pretty cool animals, so bear with me 😉
First up we have the delightful nawab caterpillar, who’s been doing the rounds on Twitter:
Innit so cute?! For a caterpillar that is…
Secondly, we have the ever-charming nudibranchs (also known less gloriously as sea slugs 😉 )! This is just an indicative image; nudibranchs come in all colours of the rainbow and are just as fabulous :o) I have a bit of a fascination with these critters (probably they are one of my favourite animals) and I see them on my social media feeds pretty regularly as the twinny one Liana Brooks is also enamoured of all things oceanic 🙂
And finally, narwhals!! There are a whole buncha memes out there about how narwhals are the unicorns of the sea, and AS IF THEY AREN’T, HA. I’m kind of obsessed with narwhals at the moment because I’m plotting a narwhal birthday for the toddler later in the year O:) I may or may not already have the cake planned……. (Actually, that’s what inspired the theme of the party, because I’d seen all these amazing unicorn drip cakes around the place and wondered how I could put my own personal spin on them, and since she had a fabulous angler fish drip cake for her first birthday I figured why not continue the ocean theme?! :D)
So there you go. My random top three animals for the year so far. Leave a comment and let us know: what’s YOUR top animals of the year so far?
So, a while ago I started the map-building series as a backlash against All Those Authors that get it Wrong, and as an attempt to prevent that happening in the future. I’ve talked about the very fundamental stuff – the underlying structure of the world, the fun you can have with hotspots and volcanos – and have developed a few rules to keep you on the right track:
– Lesson #0 in Map-Building: Always have a reason.
– Lesson #1 in Map Building: The mountains are where things crash together. So are the volancos and the earthquakes.
– Lesson #2 in Map Building: You need to have a reason for where you put things on your map. But you can pretty much invent a reason for anything.
Today, we’re going to move on to above-surface stuff, and look at the basics of climate. Two things form the fundamental basis of all climate: temperature, and precipitation. You can get hot dry climates (like deserts), hot wet climates (like rainforests), warm dry, warm wet, temperate regions that have four distinct seasons and varying rainfall in each, cold wet climates, cold dry climates, climates that are prone to snow and forms of precipitation other than plain rain.
Your plain average rain, however, isn’t really plain or average. It can be pure or acidic to various degrees, it can be cold rain or warm rain, come in torrential downpours or gently soaking drizzle. Acidic rain is found in areas of high pollution or places downwind from high-pollution areas; pure rain is often found in low population density areas, but not always, because these places can be receiving pollution from other areas. Torrential rain is most usually found in the tropics; hurricanes need the right mix of airflow and water; thunderstorms need a cold front meeting a bank of warm air; drizzle often accompanies lower temperatures; and so the list goes on.
You can get so caught up in the fascinating minutia of weather – well, at least, I could – that you forget your story is actually supposed to ever be anything more than an excuse to build a really spiffy, perfectly logical world. I don’t recommend this.
The amount of worldbuilding you DO want to do is up to you, but remember:
1) More worldbuilding makes your world seem more real.
2) Most of your worldbuilding won’t make it directly into your novel, so it can be a waste of time.
and most importantly,
3) ALL worldbuilding should serve one aim: to increase conflict in your story. If you can’t think of a way for it to increase conflict, you’re pretty much wasting your time.
I mean, sure, it’s important to know what kind of clothes your MC wears, and whether or not their society could actually legitimately make silk stockings – but this all matters a lot more to your reader if it’s in some way related to the conflict, like your MC needs to masquerade as an aristocrat from another country only can’t get her hands on the kind of stockings they wear, or something. Be creative. Make it matter.
And so to round off on climates: Do know your climate, because it will affect how your people live. More on that later. But don’t feel you need to obsess. Most climates exist in most regions of the world, with the exception being the poles and the equator. Mountain ranges or lack thereof, ocean currents and whether they are hot or cold, costalness or continentality, prevailing winds – these are the four key things that will determine your climate. But really, weather is so complicated that even now we can’t accurately predict it more than about four days out. So you know. As long as your climate is within the bounds of plausibility, most readers won’t try to kill you for them.
With one exception. Please, please, please, don’t try to make your poles hot and your equator cold for no reason better than ‘to be different’. This will result in you being hunted down and smacked over the head with some basic physics.
Because the poles are, by the very nature of a ROUND planet, further away from the sun. The equator is closest. Ergo, unless you have some sort of fancy magic field that reverses the effect of the sun, your poles will be colder and your equator hotter.
And, for the love of peace, please have a round planet unless you’re writing fantasy and have a deliberate reason for not making it so (and making it, say, a Disc carried by elephants on the back of a turtle). Gravity + spinning = round world.
Note also that it’s the TILT of the earth’s axis that gives us seasons; straight axis, no seasons. Bear that in mind when designing both round planets and especially non-round planets. If you’re not round and/or you have no tilt, will you have seasons, or will your climates be stable?
Lesson #3 in Map Building: In the middle, things are grey and you can do what you like. At the edges, things have a reason. Don’t mess with this, unless you have a very good reason.
Tune in next time for more on humanity’s favourite liquid: water!
I mentioned volcanos very briefly in the last post in this series in talking about where mountains are usually formed. Often, the volcanos appear where one plate is sliding under another, forcing the upper plate even up-er, and providing a weak spot for all that yummy magma and lava to come spewing out. Yay, fire and destruction!
But there is a second way for volcanos to appear, and since it isn’t on a plate boundary, it’s kind of a neat writerly world building trick that’s almost as good as a deus ex machina for getting a volcano and/or string of islands wherever and whenever you want them.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Hawaii. Good. Now keep your hand up if you think you could point to it on a map. Keep your hand up if you think you could point to it on THIS map (you can find it if you click on the image to make it bigger).
Found it yet? Okay. Question. Is it on a plate boundary?
Hopefully, we agree on the location of Hawaii, and you’ve said no. Excellent. So, Hawaii is a chain of islands with both active(ish) and extinct volcanos – and it’s in the middle of nowhere, not actually near a plate boundary. How does this happen?
One word: Hot spots.
Randomly, some places of the plate will be thinner than others, allowing the magma to break through to the surface even though there’s no plate boundary in sight. This is called a hot spot. If the hot spot is under land (less likely, since the land plate is thicker than oceanic plate), you’ll get a regular volcano; if it’s underwater, you’ll either get an underwater volcano, or if its strong enough, a volcanic island.
But here’s the thing: the plates are moving, right? And some times, the hot spot isn’t caused just by the thinner crust; it’s also mysteriously caused by a literal ‘hot spot’ in the magma underneath. So when the plate moves on, rolling its way from one boundary to another, the hot spot stays behind – and a new volcano appears.
Rinse and repeat, and you get a lovely chain of volcanos/islands, each of which will become extinct as it moves away from the hot spot and a new volcano erupts behind it. So,
Lesson #2 in Map Building: You need to have a reason for where you put things on your map. But you can pretty much invent a reason for anything.
Doncha just love how rules in writing are made to be broken? 😀