My Thoughts – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Category: My Thoughts (Page 1 of 18)

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The Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists in Fiction

I LOVE villains! Better put, I love writing villains.

While the heroes are the ones we connect to in most stories, it’s really the villains and antagonists that make us care. After all, when our protagonists have to fight through impossible odds to triumph, that’s when we feel that thrill. And it’s the villains and antagonists that make the odds so “impossible”.

Think about it:

  • Without Sauron, would Frodo’s act of throwing the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom have had any meaning?
  • Without Captain Hook, would Peter Pan have had a chance to shine with his daring, brave swordplay and clever quips?
  • Without Lord Voldemort, would Harry Potter have been anything other than a normal wizard in training?

We root for the heroes, but only because the villains and antagonists have put them in a position that we care about them.

For the next few months, I’ll be doing a series of posts on all the best types of villains and antagonists in fiction. As a fantasy writer, I’ll be putting them into the perspective of a fantasy character, but I’ll also try to find good examples from across all the genres and in popular fiction.

Below is the complete list of villains and antagonists, with a short explanation of each. I’ll be following this initial post up with weekly breakdowns of each character type, including a bit of psychological context for each to help you understand how these characters came to be and what drives them.

(Feel free to share this list—over time, I intend to make it the most comprehensive guide around!)

Villain vs. Antagonist

One thing I like to make VERY clear: villains and antagonists are not the same!

Villains are defined as “a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.” Simply put, they have evil motives or do evil things.

Antagonists are defined as “a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary.” They don’t have to be truly evil—all that matters is that they oppose your protagonist.

There can be a lot of cross-over between villains and antagonists. Your antagonist could have evil motives and do evil things. In many cases, the terms can be used interchangeably.

However, many antagonists can be inherently GOOD or have GOOD motives. All that matters is that they are opposing or hostile to your protagonist.

Understanding the distinction is very important for the list below. You can write villains that are pure evil but antagonists that are honorable and noble. Villains are a matter of morals and principles; antagonists are a matter of perspective.

If I may be so bold as to tap into my own writing, here are two good examples of villains vs. antagonists:

  1. In The Last Bucelarii (Book 1): Blade of the Destroyer, the villain is a demon seeking to return the “big bad” (Kharna, the Destroyer) to the world. The antagonist, on the other hand, is an honorable Beggar Priest trying to do his job and protect the world from demons—the fact that the Hunter is half-demon sets him at odds with the priests.
  2. In Child of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves Book 1), the villain is a bully seeking to inflict psychological and physical pain on the main character, Ilanna. The antagonist, on the other hand, is the Praamian Guard and the Duke of Praamis—the fact that Ilanna is a thief sets her at odds with the “law and order” in the city.

See how it’s all about perspective? A villain will usually be evil to everyone around them, but an antagonist will simply be at odds with the main character due to their profession, religious beliefs, moral values, citizenship or origin, or any number of other factors.

Understanding these differences will help you approach the list of villains and antagonists below with an open mind, and may help you find some unique ways to turn these archetypes—both truly evil and simply oppositional—into fascinating, well-developed characters!

Types of Villains

These are the types of characters that could be easily defined as a straightforward VILLAIN (evil motives or actions).

Ancient Force/Ancient Evil

Based on the mythological concept of good vs. evil. Think Satan/The Devil, Shaitan from The Wheel of Time, or Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.

Read more…

Entropy/Chaos

Based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” This is a force that seeks to destroy all order in the universe to return it to its natural chaotic state.

Read more…

Dastardly Whiplash

The cackling, moustache-twirling, melodramatic “evil for the sake of evil”. He tends to be exorbitantly wealthy and powerful, and uses his wealth and power to prey on the weak.

Read more…

Bully

A person who is cruel to others, often for the sake of cruelty. Bullies often tend to use cruelties to hide their fears and insecurities.

Dark Lord/Supervillain

From Sauron to the White Witch to Darth Vader, the Dark Lord or Supervillain may or may not have a tragic backstory, but they are usually evil because it’s “in their nature”.

Beast

Vampires, werewolves, snakes, dragons, Cthulhic deities, and wild animals all share one thing in common: a driving, inescapable biological imperative to be savage. Often bestial/primitive instincts overlap with the innate human tendency toward violence.

Supernatural Forces of Evil

Marvel Comics’ Nightmare and the Biblical Satan are two perfect examples: forces created/destined/fated/driven by internal/psychological imperatives to be evil.

Sadist

Someone who derives pleasure or enjoyment from the suffering of others. Psychological abuse and cold-blooded torture are their favorite weapons.

Trickster

Loki from Norse mythology and Anansi from African folktales are not “evil” by definition, but their actions trend more toward evil because of their mischievous nature.

Types of Antagonist

These character types can be used as a counterpoint for the protagonist. They can be written as “evil”, “good”, or somewhere in the shades of moral grey between. Perspective is everything when it comes to these antagonists!

Mirror

Similar or identical to the hero in most ways, they will differ in one significant way: their morality, their actions/methods, or their desires. They are chiefly used as a foil to make the protagonist/hero question their ethics and beliefs.

Authority Figure

This is any sort of figure that stands in the way of “free will”, “freedom of choice”, or “freedom of action”.

Abusive Authority Figure

This is a figure of authority (boss, parent, president, nobility, etc.) that abuses their authority and power (emotional and physical) over someone else.

Morally Corrupted

From the dirty cop to the greedy nobleman to the unethical corporation, one of our greatest fears is not being able to trust the very people we have put in positions of authority over us.

Physically Corrupted

This includes classic vampires, zombies, werewolves, ghouls, ghosts, and any other “normal” human that has been physically corrupted and turned into an antagonist by way of disease, infection, or magic spell.

Career Criminal

The thief that steals the important MacGuffin, the assassin that tries to kill the protagonist, the swindler who takes advantage of kindly old ladies, and anyone else who breaks the law—either out of desire or necessity.

The Disturbed

A broad range of emotional, psychological, mental, and physical disorders can turn “good” people to “bad”. In some cases, a physical disability could either be the result of the villainy (think Darth Vader) or the cause of it due to resentment over mistreatment by a cruel society.

Henchman

Henchmen are happy to serve whoever will give them a sense of purpose and direction. If their master is evil, they’re typically willing to follow those orders—even if it means hurting others.

Note: Some people end up “henching” because it gives them an excuse to be a Bully or Sadist, or because they are “Disturbed”.

Machine

We all fear the day that A.I.s rise up and destroy us. Often, a “machine” antagonist is one created by humankind for one purpose (to prevent war), but in their extreme logic they go too far (by eradicating mankind, the cause of war).

Forces of Nature

The hero fails to save the girl in time. The heroine plummets from the back of her dragon to fall a thousand feet to her death. The ocean destroys the good wizard’s ship. The mountains stand between the protagonist and their objective. Weather (rain, wind, snow, sleet, hail, sandstorm, etc.) cause the quest to fail.

Bureaucrats

We all HATE bureaucrats, people who are “just doing their job”. They are paragons of inflexibility and sticking to the rules. Some may use their limited power (Petty Bureaucrats) to stymie the protagonist’s efforts.

Bonus: Red tape, or the established laws and guidelines that interfere with our desires and goals.

Organizations

We’ve all got a hate-on for the IRS when they take away our hard-earned money. The organization may not be inherently villainous, but their bureaucracy or regulations interfere with our protagonists’ actions.

Criminal Organizations

From the real life “Mob” to Marvel Comics’ Sinister Six, these tend to be organizations made up of law-breakers. Often populated by Bullies, Sadists, and Henchmen, along with Career Criminals.

Crowd

Gladiator summed it up best, “The mob is fickle.” A crowd of individuals can be whipped into a frenzy of passion, anger, hatred, xenophobia, religious intolerance, sexism, bigotry, or bloodlust. Add into that the “herd mentality”, and you have a riot on your hands.

Scheming Mastermind

Men and women scheme behind the scenes to gain power, increase wealth, “get the girl/guy”, or “make the hero pay for X action”. There may be no direct confrontation until the climax, but they are the invisible hand moving all the pieces.

Dark Knight/Punisher

Some may hold a high moral/ethical code, while others resort to violence to punish the “wicked”. They may be inherently “good” characters, but their actions tend to be less “good”.

Disposed Son

Born to wealth and privilege, only to have it all ripped away, these characters are driven by resentment and a lust for the power/riches they once had. Often, they’ll seek vengeance against any they believe wronged them.

Desperado

Trapped in their life—drug addict, career criminal, or prisoner—they perform unscrupulous acts in the pursuit of one goal: survival in desperate, grim situations.

Cult of Evil/Darkness

Faceless, nameless, wearing dark hoods and chanting arcane rituals, these cults can range from genuinely evil (death cults) to genuinely good-intentioned but misguided.

Fanatic

Driven by a single mission or ideology, they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. The end justifies the means.

Traitor

What started out as friendship, love, loyalty, or brotherhood has been twisted to the point that they are willing to betray those closest to them. Think Lex Luthor or Judas Iscariot.

Victim

“It’s not my fault.” “I did it because…” Anyone who refuses to take blame for their actions can end up in the role of antagonistic victim.

 

Note: There are many other types of villains/antagonists out there (Black Widow, Femme Fatale, Frenemy, etc.), but I felt these were the most psychologically “realistic” and plausible for a well-developed novel (fantasy or otherwise).

However, if you feel the list deserves an addition, feel free to comment below and let me know. Or, just add any comments you may have.

Please consider sharing this article—the more people that learn how to write realistic, believable, and compelling villains, the better our fiction will become!

 

 

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The Eight Qualities of Personality Disorders

As many of you know, I’m fascinated by all things neurological, psychological, and emotional. Since my ASD diagnosis a few years ago, I’ve loved studying more about the human brain, mind, and psyche—both what makes us tick like healthy clocks, and what throws off the inner works. This, of course, includes personality disorders.

I found this fascinating article on Psychology Today that lists the eight qualities of personality disorders. These include:

  • Domineering
  • Vindictive
  • Cold
  • Socially avoidant
  • Nonassertive
  • Exploitable
  • Overly nurturant
  • Intrusive

What’s interesting is that most of the personality disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) feature two or more of these traits. But the specific combination of traits change according to the type of disorder.

People with Paranoid disorders tend to be vindictive or cold.

People with Schizoid disorders tend to combine social avoidance with a sort of coldness. Schizoid individuals are far less likely to try to exploit you than others on this list.

People with Schizotypal disorders tend to combine coldness, vindictiveness, and avoidance. These people are usually to be odd, eccentric, and socially awkward.

People with Antisocial disorders tend to be highly domineering, vindictive, and intrusive, and often can be cold. These are the “extreme of the psychopathic personality”.

People with Borderline disorders tend to be intrusive and vindictive.

People with Histrionic disorders tend to be domineering and intrusive, but NOT socially avoidant or cold.

People with Narcissistic disorders tend to be domineering, intrusive, cold, and vindictive.

People with Avoidant disorders tend to be socially avoidant and cold, but very unlikely to be intrusive or domineering.

People with Dependent disorders tend to be highly intrusive, with almost no risk of domineering personalities. They’re also highly exploitative and vindictive.

People with Obsessive-compulsive disorders can feature any combination of the eight. According to the article, “Individuals who fit the criteria of excessive perfectionism, inflexibility, and restricted expression of emotions may have trouble at work or in relationships. They may also, however, achieve higher status and wealth, as other research has indicated. There’s a trade-off, then, when an individual has such an extreme work ethic that he or she may pay less attention to relationships.”

 

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How to Deal with Regret

Regret is an emotion we experience as a result of an action we have taken. Specifically, we wish we hadn’t taken that action, as it led to hurt: your own or that of someone else. The action may have cost you emotionally or led to some unintended consequence or punishment. Basically, you did something, and something bad happened to you or someone else as a result.  The feelings of sorrow, guilt, anger, and hurt are your mind’s reaction: regret.

Regret can be a sign that you are an emotionally healthy person (someone who CAN feel bad for their actions—unlike sociopaths, who don’t truly feel bad). However, if regret builds up too much, it can stop you from growing as a person.  Or, it can impact your life in truly detrimental ways.

As an example, I’ll use the character Naylor from At Any Cost, one of the short stories in the Different, Not Damaged collection. Naylor carries around an overwhelming burden of regret as a result of his actions: he abandoned his friends on the night the Hunter of Voramis massacred the Bloody Hand (in Blade of the Destroyer). Even though he fled out of a desire to survive, he labors under the guilt of knowing that his friends died and he is the only one to live—also known as “Survivor’s Guilt“. Because of that guilt, he cannot lead a happy life, and he is willing to sacrifice everything in order to be free of the burden.

Regret can be a burden that follows us around every day, and it can weigh us down so much that it seems we’ll never get out from beneath it. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways to deal with regret—according to an article on Psychology Today, it actually comes down to three simple attitude adjustments:

  1. Use it as a chance to learn and grow. Instead of letting the regret weigh you down, use those feelings to help you learn from your mistakes. You did something wrong, so what can you do to ensure you don’t take that same “wrong” action again in the future? Regret is the signal you’re paying attention—now it’s time to take steps to prevent it again instead of wallowing in the mire.
  2. Look at the “what ifs”. What if the small consequence or outcome was really a BIG one? What if more people got hurt? What if the action had led to irreparable damage? By thinking about the what ifs, you’ll realize that the action you regret really isn’t as big as it could have been. That doesn’t absolve you, but it does help you to be grateful that things weren’t as bad as they might have been.
  3. Be realistic about fault. How much of the situation was actually your fault? Sure, you may have taken the first step that led down a bad path, but many of the things that happened had to be out of your control. Understand your part in the regrettable situation, but learn to only accept as much guilt or blame as you are responsible for.

Regret can be a useful emotional catalyst to help you learn from your mistakes, but don’t let it weigh you down so much you are unable to move on!

 

 

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The REAL Cause of Anger

For a lot of us men (and many women), anger is a natural reaction. In fact, it’s considered one of the most “masculine” of emotions. Men are TWICE as likely to suffer from rage disorders as women. This may have something to do with our different brain structures and higher levels of the aggression-producing hormone testosterone, but the truth is that it goes a lot deeper than that.

One article on Psychology Today gave a simple yet succinct list that explains why people are angry:

  • I am scared
  • I feel hurt
  • I am frustrated
  • I feel rejected
  • I feel insecure
  • I feel lonely

To sum all of these things up in one simple sentence “I am vulnerable”.

Vulnerability is absolutely terrifying. For many people (not just men), the idea of being weak and “hurt-able” is something their minds cannot process. Subconsciously, they go through a process like this:

Step 1: I’m feeling emotions that make me feel weak.

Step 2: I don’t want to be weak, so I don’t want to feel those emotions.

Step 3: I need to replace those emotions with something else, something that makes me feel strong.

Step 4: I can use anger as that emotion because anger makes me feel powerful (by releasing adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline).

Thus, the anger is unleashed upon whoever is nearest or the cause of the feelings of weakness.

Understanding this concept is the first step to overcoming it. It’s important that we all—men and women alike—realize that anger isn’t our true emotion. Anger is actually our psyche’s response to an emotion we don’t want to feel, usually one that shows how vulnerable we are when we want to believe that we’re tough.

Before you lash out in anger, try to trace the emotion back to its root. Find out what’s really going on underneath, whether you feel scared, hurt, frustrated, rejected, insecure, or lonely. Once you find the source of the problem, it’s easier to treat the “cause” rather than just using the placebo of anger to manage the “symptoms”.

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The Most Effective Form of Torture

When writing a character like the Hunter of Voramis, bad-ass half-demon assassin, it’s all but guaranteed that there will be some form of torture involved (live by the sword, and all). Even more so when he’s visiting a mountaintop temple that is home to a wonderful organization known as the “Masters of Agony”—professional sadists and torturers.

(Yes, The Last Bucelarii (Book 4): Anamnesis is going to be a wild ride!)

As you know, I like to do a lot of research for the stories I write. I delved into a lot of the medieval torture methods, using some of the cruelest forms of torture used by the Inquisition as well as coming up with a few of my own.

(Can you say “iron cage”—if you’ve read the Hunter’s stories, you know how brutal this is…)

My research led me to a fascinating article on Psychology Today, that explained how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can actually be the most effective form of torture.

The article talks about an experiment performed on dogs in the 1960s:

“Martin Seligman developed the learned helplessness model by performing experiments in which dogs were exposed to the trauma of being electrically shocked. Some dogs were pre-conditioned by being given painful electrical shocks in a cage in which the exit gate was blocked. Later these same dogs failed to escape the shocks by escaping through an unlocked gate. They had learned helplessness from their previous traumatic experiences and would not take the initiative required to escape being traumatized again. This was interpreted as a kind of negative operant conditioning, learning how not to learn and inducing helplessness to the point of blocking further inquiry about the traumatizing environment. These humanized animals (dogs were used not rats) were not only rendered helpless, they were unavoidably terrorized and forced to suffered the awareness of impending pain without being able to understand any reason for it.”

The most effective form of torture isn’t physical. More accurately, it’s not PURELY physical.

Through pain (one of the most primitive teaching tools), the dogs learned that they were unable to escape their prison. Even when the door was unlocked, they knew they were going to be hurt, so they didn’t try to escape.

The article took it a step further by saying, “if traumatized detainees, like the dogs of Seligman’s early experiments, learn that they are helpless and they will transfer all power in the interrogation transaction to the interrogator, and do anything the interrogator demands. In order for this to work, the prisoner has to be thoroughly convinced that their situation is inescapable and under the total control of their handlers. They must not even be allowed the autonomy to basic physiological self-regulation such as eating, sleeping, elimination (deprivations that not even the experimental animals faced), and they must be deprived all forms of personal security or dignity.”

Brutal, but highly effective! By conditioning people to BELIEVE they are helpless, they will have no choice but to do what their interrogator asks. It’s a cruel sort of cognitive conditioning, but it’s truly the most effective (albeit long-term) form of torture.

AndyPeloquin

What Happens At InD’Scribe 2017 Doesn’t Stay There!

The 2017 InD’Scribe Convention was SO MUCH FUN! Not only was it four amazing days of workshops and panels, but it was an absolute pleasure to see old friends and make new ones. I can’t wait until this time next year when I get to do it all over again.

A Few of the Highlights

  • Seeing some of the wonderful people I met at last year’s convention:

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  • Meeting amazing new people

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  • Leading a discussion panel on The Psychology of Evil—breaking down villains and antagonists and delving into what makes them tick/ (No pictures, sadly!)
  • Playing (and sadly losing) a Family Feud-style “Battle of the Genres”. I haven’t had that much fun in a long time!

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  • Talking to readers about my books

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  • Winning the 2017 RONE Award for Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi Novel (of course!)

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Human Trafficking: Who Suffers Most?

For my upcoming novel “The Death of Lord Damuria” (Feb 2018), I spent a good deal of time researching human trafficking (one of the themes in the novel). My research led me to this fascinating article on Psychology Today:

The Underrecognized Victims of Trafficking: Deaf Women

The article stated, “People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking: Perpetrators like to prey on those who may be less inclined to report abuse. Deaf and hard-of-hearing populations experience abuse about one and a half times more frequently than those without hearing difficulties. Women with disabilities suffer significantly higher rates of domestic violence and sexual assault compared to women without disabilities. They also report abuse that is “more intense” and lasts longer.”

It included some pretty scary statistics:

  • Of 1,300 people rescued from a forced labor camp in China in 2007, roughly 1/3rd were disabled.
  • A report from the UK found that deaf women were TWICE AS LIKELY as non-deaf women to experience domestic abuse

The real problem, according to the article, is that most of the perpetrators of human trafficking of the disabled are caregivers: a family member, neighbors, or residents in their home. The fact that the disabled rely on caregivers and partners for support means they are more vulnerable or susceptible to this type of abuse or trafficking. And, the vulnerability of the disabled people mean they are easier to exploit, thus making them more attractive to the perpetrators of these types of crimes.

Why am I talking about this? Because the discovery of this article sparked a fascinating story idea for me…

One of the novels I planned to work on in 2018 was a follow-up to The Last Bucelarii (Book 1): Blade of the Destroyer, showing what happened to the city after the Hunter destroys the Bloody Hand. Basically the city is plunged into chaos because the Bloody Hand was controlling crime in the city, so the absence of their control leaves a power vacuum, riots, and upheaval—similar to what happens when the powerful head of a drug cartel is removed.

The story was going to be from the perspective of one of the women he frees from the Bloody Hand’s control. This woman was trafficked into the city from elsewhere on the continent, and she finds herself struggling to survive on the streets.

I always knew one of the supporting characters would be her younger sister (10-15 years old). When I ran across the article above, it gave me the perfect idea: the younger sister will be deaf. Not only will this add the element of disability that I like to include in my writing (showcasing how strong people with disabilities can be), but it creates some fascinating situations for the two sisters.  It will also shed light on a problem that exists in the modern world.

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Anxiety: It’s Why We NEED Habits and Rituals

According to one article on Psychology Today, “The brain’s chief job is the following: to draw predictions about the future and to orient behavior in line with those predictions. The brain does so by gathering as much information as possible and then using the data as inputs into the predictor system.”

However, our brains aren’t clairvoyant, and there’s no way to predict EVERYTHING that could possibly happen. This means that there will always be a certain amount of uncertainty, which triggers the feelings of anxiety in our brains. The things we can predict make us feel happy, safe; the things we CAN’T predict make us nervous, anxious, and threatened.

Rituals are our brain’s way of combatting these negative feelings. Rituals are the behavior our brains can predict, which make us feel safe and happy. If our brain knows we ALWAYS turn right at the next stoplight, it can focus on trying to predict what happens later in our day. As the article says, “Rituals are an effective shield that protect us from the onslaught of uncertain events.”

Rituals are all about repetition of behavior. We make the same turn, eat the same foods, follow the same schedule, and rely on the same conversation openers because that repetition evokes the sense that we are in control of our unpredictable environments. That “scripted sequence” is a way of tricking our brains into believing there is a certain amount of stability, orderliness, and personal control in a world of uncertainty.

Ritualized behavior also helps us to feel comfortable in times of uncertainty. We may not have control over one aspect of our lives, so we cling to rituals and habits in order to counteract that lack of control.  Even little rituals—like brushing your teeth before washing your face or adjusting your mirrors before pulling out of your driveway—are a “compensatory mechanism” that help to restore a sense of control.

Basically, habits and rituals are good. They give you something to hang onto when the natural chaos of life threatens to overwhelm you. The familiar, comfortable, and routine can help to reduce the anxiety in your life.

However, be wary of anything that becomes too important, rituals or habits that become all-consuming. When you can’t function outside of your rituals, that’s when they become unhealthy and stifling. Rituals can be a safe haven in times of turmoil, but you can’t live your life afraid of the uncertainty outside your little bubble.

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Why We Art

Art is an integral part of human culture and society. For millennia, people have been using art to communicate thoughts, ideas, emotions, and important information. Some art is beautiful, some is functional, but all is important!

But why do humans feel a need to create art? Why is it impossible to resist the siren’s call of creation? An article on Psychology Today had a fascinating take on it:

Art is beauty. It is beautiful to behold, breathtaking even. We all love beauty, and the idea that we could somehow play a part in bringing this beauty to life is irresistible.

Your art can inspire, dazzle, create an impact, strike an emotional chord, and forge a connection with total strangers. That is magic, of a sort, and something we all want to experience.

Art is evocation. When you see a beautiful pastoral image, you don’t enjoy it because of its greens, blues, and reds. You love it because it brings back those memories of picnics with your sweetheart, laughing and playing with your parents, or enjoying life.

Art evokes memories, bringing back those emotions and sensations you felt. It taps into the stored memories and their associations in your brain, triggering a recall of those events.

Art is communication. Even before we can talk, we’re able to understand simple shapes, colors, and images. Drawings have been around as long as spoken language, and it is one of the oldest forms of communication.

Colors, lines, shapes, and words can all be used to communicate non-verbally. Anyone who encounters that art will receive at least a glimpse of the message you’re trying to share. Your words can only carry as far as the sound of your voice—the message in art can travel around the world.

Art is human. Animals can be TAUGHT to create art—as so many elephants, apes, and gorillas have been—but it is only humans that are innately artistic. Perhaps it has something to do with our higher consciousness, or something else, but suffice it to say that only humans are born with the need to color, draw, trace, paint, or even carve lines into the sand as a means of communication or creation.

 

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Is Conflict Good or Bad?

We all know that every good book revolves around conflict—it’s only when your characters are thrown up against an obstacle, challenge, or threat that they truly shine.

However, outside the pages of fiction, most of us tend to avoid conflict as much as possible. After all, life is so much easier without that sort of struggle. Better to avoid “rocking the boat” or pissing off the wrong people, right?

Well, according to one article on Psychology Today, your perspective determines whether conflict is a good or bad thing. With the right outlook, conflict can make your situation A LOT better!

A study conducted at MIT involved students divided into two groups: the first group were graded against each other (on the curve), while the other group was given an average grade for the entire group.

When the inevitable inter-personal conflicts came, the two groups responded differently:

  • The first group saw the conflicts as “win-lose” situations. This led them to become defensive or attack their “competitors”.
  • The second group treated their conflicts like shared problems that needed to be resolved together in cooperation with each other in order to make progress on their ultimate goal: getting good grades as a group.

The article didn’t say which group got better grades, but that’s not the takeaway from this piece. Instead, the really important thing is to realize that our attitudes toward conflict will determine the outcome.

If we see it as an “either I win or he/she does”, the ultimate outcome will be a hostile environment filled with people going on the offensive or getting defensive. On the other hand, if we treat conflicts as a problem shared by two people—neither of whom stands to lose or gain more than the other—it’s easier to find common ground and take steps to solve the problem.

This image sums it up better than anything I could say:

 

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