Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

Which story or character elements grab your attention — ‘negatives’ or ‘positives’?


Any of you use any sort of home alarm systems? Do you feel the need for such things? Have you had much property crime in your neighborhood?

Many years ago, in a house just through the block from where we live now, we had someone steal a tool box off our enclosed back porch. Other than that, I can’t recall any problem of theft of vandalism. Oh, there was a shooting just around the corner from our house a few weeks ago, but it was a personal beef sort of thing, not random crime or drive-by stuff like they see in the “big cities.” In fact, we’ve lived in this old house for 29 years next month — and violence or vandalism have never been a problem in our neighborhood.

But — if you’re moving to Springfield, Missouri, you’ll quickly hear that our “mid-town” or “central area” neighborhood is one of the places to be feared. “Stay away from there, boy!” That’s common “wisdom” about our whole region of town.

Which brings me to the point of this post: How much are we influenced by negative news, negative hype, fearful feelings, etc., in the way we perceive of people, places, and things?

As writers, we ought to be aware of things like this when we make word choices, when we approach creating a character, or when we construct a scene in our writing.

I have absolutely no statistics or principles of writing, language usage, or anything else to base this on, but: I feel very strongly that a carefully planted “negative” in a story or scene has far more impact than all the sunny “positives” we strive for in a character portrayal, narrative description, or whatever.

What do you think? What have you found works in YOUR writing? My strong instinct on the matter is that humans are naturally more alert (primitive “survival instincts” reacting to danger, perhaps?) to negatives than they are aware of positives. Try it in your writing and see.

On the other hand, I could just be projecting my own sense of, er, uh, pessimism? (My wife says I’m pessimistic. I contend I’m merely realistic. But that’s a subject for another post and another time.)