“Hardwiring Happiness” for Your Readers


Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is book about learning to soak in good feelings so you’ll develop neuronal pathways that change you from misery-prone to happy. I recommend the book to all writers, not just because I think we’re susceptible to despair, but also because of this…

Page 86 is about “bringing a feeling to the front of awareness.” It’s telling us that we have things at the edges of our mind that we’re not thinking about directly, but which are available to us if we look inside.


When I read this I thought, “Seriously, are there people out there who need to be told to look around inside their heads for things that aren’t central to what’s going on in front of them?”

I guess so. The book is basically amazing and the author is a Ph.D., so he must know a lot more about people than I do. There must be plenty of us who are relatively unaware of what’s not in “the front of awareness.” There must be plenty of us who naturally live in the moment.

Whatever it is that these people have, can someone please bottle it and sell it to me?

For me, it’s difficult to live in the moment for even three consecutive seconds – to stay out of the periphery of my subconscious mind where I worry about Monday’s frozen section or something happening now (or in the past) to one of my kids.

I do yoga now to stay in a concrete, superficially painful moment (stretching), so I can get a break from the background anxiety I live with much of the time. If you’re a writer, you’re probably a little like me.

Although it’s beside my point, I should mention that Dr. Hanson is saying to go inward to find positive feelings, not negative.

When I’m writing dialogue, I do have to constantly remind myself to get into the characters’ heads and look around at their internal thoughts and feelings. If I fail to do so, the dialogue comes out linear and flat, as if a puppetmaster is trying to “move the story ahead” in an efficient manner.

Of course, as I learned the hard way this year, if I go too far with the inner complexities of a character, I wind up with excess backstory which causes plot paralysis and takes too much energy to read. (A novel has to constantly give the reader more energy – excitement, interest, weird information, etc. – than she puts into the work of reading, or she’ll set the book aside for later.)

So there’s got to be a balance that fits you and the reader you target. Keep in mind that the evolution of popular fiction in the last century from slow-moving to fast-paced will probably accelerate. Our children’s grandchildren will be intolerant of all but the fastest-paced of today’s novels, I would guess.

And keep in mind, when you go into your characters’ heads to write their dialogue, if you don’t want them to be depressed and depressing individuals, re-live some of their positive feelings and experiences. Often I tend to only focus on their pains and problems.

Notice how much focus is given to the description and feelings surrounding good food in The Hunger Games, by Collins. Notice how that you don’t just skim over these sections. You read them and you feel them with Katniss. They are bitter-sweet, sometimes, but not negative.

Go now and buy Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. I’m begging you. Here’s a link: http://www.rickhanson.net/books/hardwiring-happiness

Of course, I’ve got no dog in the fight, no conflict of interest and nothing to gain financially if you buy his book.

Please, though, if the book changes your life, tell a bunch of other people about it. A bunch of other writers, maybe. Thanks.

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is not merely character driven, it’s written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.


Do Good Stories Move?

Every book I’ve read on writing fiction says to keep the story moving. So I started with a bomb scene in a Hospital. It bombed. Then I went with a bank robbery. Boy did it move…  nowhere.

Then I read, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, and figured out why my story had failed before it started.2e4c57_274073

Reading Collins, I was stunned at the number of passive verbs in the first chapter. There was no fighting. Back-story was everywhere, woven into every scene! The main point of the first chapter seemed to be the characterization of Katniss. (…as I mentioned on a previous post if you need some sleep).

With this new abrasive knowledge, I began re-writing my own novel from scratch. I made my hero, Johanna, the viewpoint character (vp), and slowed us all down. I forgot active vs passive verbs and focused on the odd talents and history of my young VP, whom I dearly love.

The explosion at the hospital? She wasn’t there. Bank robbery? Never happened.

My wife and daughter do read my stuff, albeit rarely. No one else ever does, sniff, sob. No, no, no, I’ll be fine, just give me a second…

My two readers had previously suffered the hospital and bank versions (now discarded) where the non-hero side kick was viewpoint and the pace was fast and boring.  They had polite suggestions.

But when they read the slow re-write that focused on Johanna as a brilliant, suffering, kind-hearted girl who felt awful about how much she had enjoyed (as a child) strangling her brother’s therapy animal… my two in-house readers looked at me differently. “What happens next?” they asked.

My wife, in disbelief kept saying, “It moves right along!”

Only one scene had a real-time clash / conflict (as opposed to a flashback clash): two under-motivated characters were quarreling for the sake of the pied piper of conflict. (You, know, the little guy with the flute who keeps telling writers that conflict drives good stories. He’s almost right.)

That scene got trashed like this…

“Is this essential to the story?” my wife asks.

“Well, no.”  [me whining]

“Then get rid of that whole section.”

“Yes, Dear.”

My fiendish little mind started to churn…

Stories MUST move! It’s the law. But my only action scene did not move. And yet the scenes where Johanna walks the house suffering memories, reflecting on the paper by the sink, wondering about her hair… This stuff “moves along nicely?” 

On what planet?

But hmmm…

When books say to keep stories moving, they mean that the reader needs to keep moving through the book.  Action, hack attempts at suspense, violence, narrow escapes, poorly motivated conflict… none of that “movement” keeps the reader moving.

The hero may be fascinating to the writer who knows that Johanna did some amazing stuff on page 142, but to the new reader, if Johanna didn’t become interesting by page ten, the hospital bomb on page eleven won’t mean a thing.

More remarkably, the action scene on page three is a yawner unless Johanna becomes interesting before the end of page two!

Amazing. But it makes sense.

So I backed away from “story movement,” and started weaving in the odd things about Johanna. I made up a few new things, too, just for merry measure.

Now my first chapter moves. Wheeee!

“I want to know what happens next,” my wife says. My daughter says the same.

Those are the best words I’ve ever heard!

OK, maybe hearing that The Mentalist is on DVD was better, but that was partly because I had Ruffles in hand.

Don’t be jealous about what my two readers said. Haha. They’re related, anyway.

You’re the one with the real talent! Keep at it.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Note: That picture up top is Chris Farley, the greatest comedian who ever lived. God rest his soul.

In this skit he’s a motivational speaker who lives “in a van down by the river.” My favorite line is…

“We got ourselves a writer here! Hey, Dad, I can’t see real good. Is that Bill Shakespeare over there?”

Here’s a link to a video of the skit: http://pizzacomedy.com/sketch/living-in-a-van-down-by-the-river/