Romantic Fiction, Reality Shaping and The Work

Hi everyone,

I have just finished Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh, Book 4 of the Survivor's club series. This was an uncharacteristically contentious story, with a bit of quarreling. And because of the injury of one of the protagonists, it was an interesting read, Mary really gets you inside the mind of Flavian. On to the spoiler section and the few ideas that I felt were very interesting.

This wasn't your average story as it happens. In the end they declare their love for one another, but the process that they go through to get there is actually very challenging. Flavian meets Agnes during a visit to his friend Vincent (the blind one). Agnes is a good friend of Vincent's wife and so she's a regular at their home.

Vincent and Sophie have just had a child and so they invite all the survivors to come and spend their annual gathering at their home, Agnes is around and Flavian meets her. The short of it is, she falls in love with him, inexplicably, and he lusts for her, he can't find any other way of having her than to marrying her, he proposes and she accepts. They enter their marriage and face challenges from both of their pasts. Flavian having sustained a head injury speaks with a stammer and has large memory gaps, which they resolve and move home finding themselves and each other in the process, and finding love for one another.

Their story explores an interesting concept: Passion. But from both angles of the idea. On the one they discuss passion as being something that can hinder one's progress. Something that some people use to run away from life, to ignore deeper feelings, they called it at some point, in Flavian's case, the only way he had of awakening any feelings, after experiencing pain.

That was a great description of an addiction, a single minded move towards something that isn't rational, that inspires only obsession, something that one must have or else. We use passion to ignore ourselves, we use passion to not look at our feelings, to not feel and see ourselves. That was a rather lovely idea.

Agnes despised passion, because her mother (or so she thought) had abandoned her and her family because she gave in to passion. Which she understands as simply a weakness, when she starts to fall for Flavian, she's constantly conflicted about the passion that she feels, yet unable to ignore it.

However, there was a lot of nuance, Flavian used passion to express his affection and admiration for Agnes, (and lust too of course) his mental capacity isn't there entirely, this makes him erratic, sometimes blunt, and frustrated. Mary explores his mental confusion rather nicely, reading her usual deep introspection in the head of someone who had an injury of the mind was difficult, but also super interesting.

He'd go back and forth with thoughts, ideas and conclusions, he could not remember and he'd be constantly frustrated over tiny details that meant little. Sometimes he behaved almost like a child, he expressed himself in sophisticated words but he'd trample all over them. The only way he had to determine what he felt for Agnes, and what he was willing to do for her, or what she meant for him, was through his passion for her, when he quieted his confused mind and allowed his body to speak for him.

It was interesting to see these two ideas contrasted against one another, passion, it can be one of the most detrimental aspects of ourselves, but it also has the capacity to break through barriers and create something real and true.

He said something that was very beautiful at some point, he realized that with Agnes, he felt safe.. and peaceful. In his constant state of confusion, he never found peace. Agnes represented that peace, but not because she was pleasant per se. In fact, she'd quite constantly question him, but her presence in his life brought over that peace that allowed for that passion to be constructive.

Within the idea of memory loss, they did an amazing job at depicting traumatic experiences that we've forgotten, either by time or distance, or by the severity of the trauma, or quite simply by not knowing or willing to ignore.

At a point during their first week of marriage, Flavian visit his former betrothed, Velma, who is hell bent on getting married to him, after her Earl of a husband passed away, and so she was without a title any longer. Thing is, she had already been betrothed to Flavian (after lying to Flavian's brother about her and Flavian being in love and then him having debauched her), but decided to leave him and marry his best friend after Flavian's injury. And he did not tell his wife, Agnes.

This begins a quarrel, Agnes feels betrayed, she confirms all her suspicions about passion being wrong, and regrets her choice of putting her guard down to let him in and follow her own passion. She resent him and herself and particularly what it all reminded her of, her mother.

That's the background, the reason Flavian went to visit Velma was because he did not remember any of the above, yet he felt at some level that there were unresolved issues with her, he didn't tell his wife because... he's not all there, big mistake, but there's more. She decides to leave him and be practically begs her to stay, she decides to stay and give it an honest shot and so he goes into efficient mode.

The way this all gets resolved is actually quite lovely, Flavian goes to find Agnes' mother (against her wishes) and gets more of her story. He brings it to Agnes and she resents it, but the reason for it is rather interesting.

He tells her that it's the best way he can return the favor, that Agnes had offered him, of helping him remember by asking him questions and being patient with his mental gaps, to make him whole again, so he regained his life back in his hands.

So that the past stops interfering with the present, so that the past may be left where it belongs, so that the past stops being a source of mistakes in the present. Flavian could not physically remember, yet he felt the emotions of the betrayal and abuse that Velma had put him and his brother through. Agnes offered Flavian a feedback mechanism to think his way through traumatic experiences that he had not been able to metabolize.

And so he gave her the same thing, memories, pieces of her past back so that she may grow out of her own past and find balance in being passionate. Not to forget, but to build and create. He gave her memories that she didn't know she had, that she didn't know were poking at opened wounds, memories that she remembered incorrectly.

He offered her a path, rough though it may be, to the peace she brought to his life with her mere presence and being.

And that was a lovely end to the story, as the book comes to an end, they finally go back to the home where his brother used to live, and reminisce of his life, everything that Flavian had been running away from, the grief and guilt, the regret. The memories that weren't gone due to the injury, but due to the pain that they would most certainly bring. Flavian remembered everything that Velma had put them through, he remembered the last time he saw his brother alive, smiling and having a kind gesture with him.

He remembered the pain, he remembered the regret and nostalgia, he remembered all the emotions that came with facing one's past with today's eyes. His wife was the honest set of eyes that would not allow him to lie to himself or to ignore and pretend he was strong enough or wasn't impacted by it.

Through the hellish memories being brought back he found peace as his wife held him, and his stammer disappeared. It would show as a sign that he was under stress, or frustrated or nervous. The last time he had one in their story was when he told her he loved her, and that's powerful. Saying it is difficult, but it's not just uttering the words, it's what speaking them from your heart implies. Creating a memory, making a promise, committing oneself to a life, admitting vulnerability and taking a leap of faith. It made me think of how crucial our words truly are and how they can't be thrown about carelessly, or with consideration.

By navigating through their painful past, they knew themselves and each other. By being loving partners they turned their traumatic past, into a peaceful present, same old wounds, abandonment, manipulation, lies and injury. They won't change their past, it's impossible, but they stopped denying that it was there, that it had an impact.

But interestingly enough, when we deny that the past had an impact on us, we become easier prey to it.

And so, that was the story of Flavian and Agnes, confusing at times, and hard to follow. But they dug through each other's memories and found pain that they offered one another as a path to peace and safety in one another.

Be it a loved one, or a therapist or a post in this forum, even a few pages written in a journal, I think that's what working through our own memories can achieve, peace. But as depicted by Flavian after he didn't disclose all the information to his wife, there's a level of commitment to the task of working on oneself that is needed for success to be a possibility.

It was a great story about facing yourself, what you don't wish to admit or look at and thus passionately ignore, but how you also could use some passion when working on your own stuff. And finally find peace within yourself, find the freedom to forgive by understanding what went on.

And lastly, I found it adorable how at the end Flavian says that he was waiting for her all his life, and Agnes responds that so was she, waiting for him all her life. That's heartwarming as only Balogh can deliver :)

Sorry if it was a bit confusing, and thank you for reading.

Now, on to Only a Promise :)
On to the spoiler section and the few ideas that I felt were very interesting.
Very nice Alejo. Reading it gave me the idea it might be possible to create a pamphlet, a short guide to romance novel reading for the general public/those who already read romance novels. Rather than a pamphlet it could also be a webpage, like the one there is on Ponerology. Another option is a FAQ web article fitted with sufficient hyperlinks to compensate for the shortness of a three minute read. Below I work with the concept of a pamphlet.

For a pamphlet on romance novels, one could imagine an introduction to the overall idea of reading a selection of romance novels rather than all genres and all books. There could be a disclaimer, and a suggestion for whom this might be/not be suitable, but that could be squeezed in on the blurb too: "This is intended for ...". Authors of school and college books do this all the time.

Next a few examples of internal dialogue excerpts to give an idea of why they are interesting, perhaps a spoiler of one whole book, to put the excerpts into perspective, or it could be a spoiler with excerpts from the book showing the dialogue. There could a section with a summary of ideas from the MindMatters interview with Mary Balogh which also touches on the philosophical implications. In the back one could put a list of titles, not necessarily all, and including as needed some from the recommended list for the forum, especially on psychology to support the intellectual understanding of those who are interested.

If the dark romance novels of Georgia Le Carre enter too, and that is an if, because Laura wrote in that thread:
The other reading project is for a very different purpose. This view of our reality is shocking and probably as close to the truth as we can get. And we do need to know the truth in order to clarify and solidify our own position, as well as understand what is going on out there to as great an extent as we can tolerate in these times of utter madness. Funny, it is rather comforting to know that someone else (or several of them) are doing what is within their capabilities to spread some truth.
It is an if, but one might suggest supporting titles like Political Ponerology, the High Strangeness book, the Secret History book, a link to, and maybe even a link to the selection of the Ra material on Sex, suggested in this post which Laura commented on here, writing it was very helpful. That was also my experience. In retrospect, I ought to have read it before the dark romance novels.

Those were my thought reading the previous post.
That's a very good idea,

Although with today's world it might be more effective to create an infographic or a video for youtube, like a video essay perhaps that explores some of the ideas that we've encountered, or it could be a series of videos that explore a series of novels or the genre in general.

What do you think?
What do you think?
I like your suggestions, it could be any format where sufficient information can be conveyed. One could have a seed version, like what Laura has in the introduction, expand on it, and summarize it at the end. If one has a video, or article format, one could link to videos from the MindMatters channel that are most relevant, which may serve as introductions to some of the books on the reading list.
I like your suggestions, it could be any format where sufficient information can be conveyed. One could have a seed version, like what Laura has in the introduction, expand on it, and summarize it at the end. If one has a video, or article format, one could link to videos from the MindMatters channel that are most relevant, which may serve as introductions to some of the books on the reading list.
I like that,

it could be a monumental task, there are 161 pages in this thread and a lot of very good posts by a lot of members. So there's a lot of material, but it could be done. There's a few posts that delineate the commonalities between the novels, what they all share in common that is, in terms of work on the self.

There are tons of these video essays online that explore certain films that people are familiar with, and I daresay that with the popularity of these novels, there's certainly an audience for it.
I found another interesting article:

Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy

How important is reading fiction in socializing school children? Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.

Emanuele Castano, a social psychologist, along with PhD candidate David Kidd conducted five studies in which they divided a varying number of participants (ranging from 86 to 356) and gave them different reading assignments: excerpts from genre (or popular) fiction, literary fiction, nonfiction or nothing. After they finished the excerpts the participants took a test that measured their ability to infer and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. The researchers found, to their surprise, a significant difference between the literary- and genre-fiction readers.

When study participants read non-fiction or nothing, their results were unimpressive. When they read excerpts of genre fiction, such as Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother, their test results were dually insignificant. However, when they read literary fiction, such as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, their test results improved markedly—and, by implication, so did their capacity for empathy. The study was published October 4 in Science.

The results are consistent with what literary criticism has to say about the two genres—and indeed, this may be the first empirical evidence linking literary and psychological theories of fiction. Popular fiction tends to portray situations that are otherworldly and follow a formula to take readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and exciting experiences. Although the settings and situations are grand, the characters are internally consistent and predictable, which tends to affirm the reader’s expectations of others. It stands to reason that popular fiction does not expand the capacity to empathize. [The same can be said about modern Hollywood movies.]

Literary fiction, by contrast, focuses more on the psychology of characters and their relationships. “Often those characters’ minds are depicted vaguely, without many details, and we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations,” Kidd says. This genre prompts the reader to imagine the characters’ introspective dialogues. This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom. Although literary fiction tends to be more realistic than popular fiction, the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.

The results suggest that reading fiction is a valuable socializing influence
. The study data could inform debates over how much fiction should be included in educational curricula and whether reading programs should be implemented in prisons, where reading literary fiction might improve inmates’ social functioning and empathy. Castano also hopes the finding will encourage autistic people to engage in more literary fiction, in the hope it could improve their ability to empathize without the side effects of medication.

Well, this is the part where authors like Mary Balogh improve even more:

“Often those characters’ minds are depicted vaguely, without many details, and we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations,” Kidd says. This genre prompts the reader to imagine the characters’ introspective dialogues.

It's true that side characters' minds are depicted vaguely, without many details, and we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations, but we are completely inside the minds of the main characters.

From another article:

The researchers also noted that there are distinctions between literary fiction and genre fiction that might explain differences in scores. Works of literary fiction tend to place greater emphasis on character development. The people and scenarios depicted in literature are more likely to disrupt reader expectations. Classic examples of literary fiction would be Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

On the other hand, genre fiction — think Danielle Steele romance novels or a John Grisham legal thriller — takes a more plot-driven approach. Although they’re often entertaining page-turners, these books stick to more consistent and predictable themes that tend to reinforce readers’ views rather than challenge them.

And this is exactly what is happening in modern Hollywood movies, they are far more plot-driven than they have emphasis on character development.
Here's another very interesting recent study.

Imo, it may have implications not only for our experiment of mutual romance novels reading, but also for psychic hygiene in general.

The conclusions of the study are not new to us, but it is still interesting to see that this could be a physical representation of "being on the same wavelink". And that it happens if we actually pay attention and contemplate the content. Who knows, maybe this kind of heartbeat matching could also be one of the factors in connecting or maintaining specific FRV.

Having evolved with storytelling as a means to pass information across generations, our brains are powerfully attuned to narratives, so much so that we can recall well-told stories better than basic facts.

Stories play a powerful role in shaping the world we've created for ourselves, and it turns out they may even be able to dictate the rhythm of our own heartbeats.

A preliminary study looking at what happens in our bodies as we pay attention to these tales has found our hearts start beating in unison – even if we're miles away from each other.[...]

Listening to a 1-minute snippet of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in one experiment, or a few minutes of instructional videos in another, heart rates were seen to synchronize between study participants, regardless of where they were.

The instructional video showed this phenomenon was not tied with emotion, which is something previous studies have theorized after observing this synchrony in people watching the same movie.

But disrupting the volunteers' concentration – by making them count backwards or subjecting them to distracting sounds – diminished their heart's synchronicity, and their ability to recall the narrative.

Memory retention has been shown to align with conscious perception, so this suggests our hearts play a beat in time with our mind's conscious processing of the narrative, the researchers explain.

"What's important is that the listener is paying attention to the actions in the story," says Paris Brain Institute neuroscientist Jacobo Sitt. "It's not about emotions, but about being engaged and attentive, and thinking about what will happen next. Your heart responds to those signals from the brain."

In a final experiment, the researchers even tested this on 19 unconscious patients along with 24 healthy volunteers. As predicted, most of the patients failed to synchronize their heart rates, all except for two. One of these went on to regain full consciousness.

"These results suggest that the patients' [synchronized heartbeats] might carry prognostic information with a specific emphasis on conscious verbal processing," the team writes in their paper.

Aside from changes from physical activity and other stressors, the rhythms of our hearts fluctuate naturally all the time. This has been attributed to autonomic processes – the automatic, unconscious parts of our bodies' regulation, but this study shows conscious processes play a role too.

"There's a lot of literature demonstrating that people synchronize their physiology with each other. But the premise is that somehow you're interacting and physically present in the same place," says Parra.

"What we have found is that the phenomenon is much broader, and that simply following a story and processing stimulus will cause similar fluctuations in people's heart rates. It's the cognitive function that drives your heart rate up or down."

Pèrez and team suspect that individual words (as well as the overall meaning of the narrative and the emotions they inspire) drive the synchronicity, and they note a cohesive narrative is crucial to create synchronized activity seen in brain scans.

But they caution that this is a very small study, with each of the experiments consisting of only 20-30 subjects, so the results will need to be verified with larger groups of people. Comparisons with brain scans could possibly help determine if narratives are indeed the cause of the heartbeat synchronicity too.

"Neuroscience is opening up in terms of thinking of the brain as part of an actual anatomical, physical body," says Parra.

"This research is a step in the direction of looking at the brain-body connection more broadly, in terms of how the brain affects the body."

"People think they react to the world in their particular way,'' adds biomedical engineer Jens Madsen from the City College of New York. "[But] even our hearts react in a very similar way when we listen to short stories. That makes me smile. We're all human."
Laura mentioned the work on past life issues through reading, and it seems that Eastern traditions already had this aspect in their minds:

In India, there has been a literary tradition parallel to that of the West that does address this topic. In this Eastern tradition, readers’ and audience members’ emotions have had a more central role. The idea in Indian poetics is that fictional characters and fictional situations have to be created in the minds of readers and audience members by suggestion. The Sanskrit term for this suggestion is dhvani. This aspect of the tradition is not so different from Aristotle’s idea of the world-creating aspect of mimesis. But the Eastern notion, for which there is no Aristotelian parallel, is that what is suggested to readers or audience members in their empathically imagined worlds are special literary emotions, called rasas.

The job of writers or actors is to write or act in such a way that the reader/audience experiences these rasas. The Indian theorists thought that we experienced rasas because, by means of the suggestiveness of the poetry and the actors’ skills, memories would be brought to mind from the whole range of past lives. We moderns would probably now say that we experience emotions even from outside our own experience because of our kinship with the rest of humanity. But here is the important point that was stressed by the Indian theorists: Rasas are like everyday emotions, except that we experience these literary emotions without the thick crust of egotism that often blinds us to the implications of our ordinary emotions in our daily lives. For instance, if we are sexually attracted to someone in ordinary life, we can become rather selfish. Indeed in the West, falling in love is often given as a reason for suspending other social obligations. In a play or novel, however, we not only feel empathically with the character in love, but we can feel with other characters as well. The idea of a rasa is that we can feel the emotion, but also understand its social implications without our usual, often self-interested, involvement. We can experience the energizing aspects of love, but also—depending on the context—understand its potential effects on others.

Most of the romance fiction translated in my country comes from Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts, so I wanted to see what other people say about these two authors. I found one person that described what is wrong with Danielle Steel's writing:

Danielle Steel, although has millions of readers around the world and has millions of her books in print, she is not a great writer. There! I said it! I think that she has a kind of poetic prose to her writing that can pull a reader in to some degree, but the most I can say about the reason why I read her books is that they are addicting. Reading her books are like reading trashy tabloids or indulging in chocolate or ice cream when you know you shouldn't. While her older work was better, I would never compare its written style and plots with let's say a John Grisham, Gregory Maguire or a Stephen King novel. Not even a Nora Roberts novel. Steel's writing is very shallow; she writes a lot of shallow characters and there are lots of shallow characterizations throughout her books. She loves to speak of their "pedigree" and their "breeding" and although I know she's speaking of the blue bloods of society, I always get more than a little disgusted with these depictions and the only thing that gets me through it are picturing these people as dogs or horses (do you get it?); is that stuff even considered a compliment anymore? She will more than likely lead her stories with her characters' physical appearances and they are usually very beautiful and perfect, almost ethereal type women. Only once has any of her main female characters not been a beautifully described woman of some sort and that was in her novel Big Girl, about a woman struggling with her weight and family issues. More often, she uses the word "lithe" to describe her female characters and they usually have either long dark hair or long blond hair and she will go on to describe their eyes--she emphasizes these details very much so in her books, usually every few chapters or so, so you won't forget their physical attributes (probably because they're most important to her). I usually have very little emotional connection to the characters, there's just never enough substance to them for me to feel very much for them at all. Their personalities usually consist of only what tragedies she decides to assign to them, but they all seem very cookie cutter. The author herself never seems to be able to understand why people feel that she writes the same books over and over again, just changing up her characters' names and conflicts. She's even gone on to say, "How can they seem to be the same book? I've written from both men's and women's point of views, of different age groups and in different places and circumstances. How can they say it's the same book?" She really doesn't get it. One reason people say that is because she seems to have three main themes in her books: wealth and/or privileged background, death, and mother issues. Out of all the forty-eight books of hers that I have read, not one of her main female characters was a strong willed, independent voice. They always either seemed strong somewhere in their books and then became weak or they were weak throughout the entire book, the only strength gained when they were in love with a man or all the strength was the man's in the first place. She also seems to think that she's empowering women when she bestows a mountain of wealth on them or once they have some sort of financial stability in her books. This is one of the things that I abhor in her novels--she writes some stupid women as well. There will be an obvious problem and even though her character would be good at her job, she would be so hopelessly in love that would she would allow nearly anything to happen to her just so she would keep the man she's with, no matter how it's hurting her or her children. Two novels of hers that depict this to an almost sickening level are Rogue and Matters of the Heart. The mother in the novel Fine Things was apparently so wrapped up in spending her final months with her husband on the beach that she didn't think to look out for the welfare of her daughter before her death leaving her open to be kidnapped. How can you just happen to forget about your crazy ex-husband who blackmailed you for joint custody of your child? That should have been one of the main loose ends that character tied up before her death or died trying.

Another reason why people criticize her novels and say that they all seem like carbon copies is because they seem to be all written from her point of view. Most of her characters aren't all that different. She may change up the cities (San Francisco, New York, or Paris), and she may give them different careers, but they're all very similar to one another. They all conduct themselves in an almost aristocratic manner, and if you know anything about the author herself you would know that's also how Steel grew up and still lives to this day. The women in the books seem almost "pure". They hardly ever do anything wrong, something bad will happen to them, and they will usually overcome it somehow. They are the epitome of perfect people and you can't help but believe that maybe this is how Steel sees herself in some way--that's it's not her that does anything wrong, it's always other people (that's just pure speculation on my part, btw). The only way her female characters have happy endings in her eyes is if they end up with a man at the end, even if she has to betrothed them to a random man in the last 10-20 pages of a 300+ page novel. She doesn't write from a relatable person's viewpoint because I don't think that she is relatable to tell you the truth. This is a woman who has been married five times, has nine children, had a nanny for each child as they grew up, is a society woman, owns the Spreckels mansion in San Francisco, and also lives part time in Paris. She grew up with her father mainly in Paris and New York, while her mother was hardly around her after the age of six. She was usually around adults during her childhood and had very little friends. She was also an only child.

In her books, there is also a sense of isolation for most of her characters. Female characters, though they seem perfect, hardly ever have any friends unless they're married and they have other married friends that come over and have dinner parties. It's almost as though she doesn't know how to write a character that would have other associates other than their children or the people they fall in love with, and reading about her life, you can't help but wonder if this somehow reflects her as well. She is an heiress in real life, but the fortune she's acquired today has been on her own, from the sales of her books.

She wants to be compared to better authors, but she should continue to stay in the Jackie Collins category (she's not a very good writer either, but I do indulge in her work every now and again as well) simply because her writing now reads more like a book report. I would hope that an author's work would get better, but hers has become even worse with it's repetitiveness (she will mention the same thing like the color of a character's eyes or their height or something the reader already knows a minimum of five times sometimes) and descriptions. Yet, I continue to read some of her older works that I haven't gotten my hands on thinking maybe, just maybe, it will be an okay read and every now and again, the book isn't totally incredulous. The last book that I read of hers was Five Days in Paris, and it was actually okay unless you count the fact that the main character, a man that time, didn't even realize he was in a bad marriage and had to have his new love interest actually point it out to him. That was just...weird.

Well, that certainly doesn't sound like something that would improve somebody's emotional intelligence.

The author of the article says that Nora is much better. Perhaps she is better than DS, but compared to authors that that we have on our list?
Laura mentioned the work on past life issues through reading, and it seems that Eastern traditions already had this aspect in their minds:
Indeed in the West, falling in love is often given as a reason for suspending other social obligations. In a play or novel, however, we not only feel empathically with the character in love, but we can feel with other characters as well. The idea of a rasa is that we can feel the emotion, but also understand its social implications without our usual, often self-interested, involvement. We can experience the energizing aspects of love, but also—depending on the context—understand its potential effects on others.
This comes up in a post by Mary further along, too.

Concerning the ability to "understand its potential effects on others," some of the authors in some series, and not just Mary, can run a side character out to the point that one might be left with a view to the character that is not at all complementary, only in the next series to provide that context of understanding for the character that had not been originally considered. Kind of makes one step back when characters are introduced, to look more deeply to the unseen that may have shaped them.

So, just prior to the April MindMatters show with Mary (and missed reading this from her site - and if it was posted already, my apologies), she offered up a bog post 'THE EMOTIONAL BOND BETWEEN READER AND CHARACTER' which the show discussed indirectly with Mary - she did conveyed the below in the show based on questions asked of her, or so remembered.

Here it is below:


By marybalogh
Posted February 12, 2021

A good novel of any genre will almost certainly have a compelling plot. Of greater importance for a romance novel, however, is the development of a relationship between two people, very often from indifference or even hostility through liking and friendship and attraction to falling in love and, ultimately, to the fullness of total and unconditional love itself. For a love story to be truly satisfying, the ending should leave the reader sighing with contentment (and perhaps also with a little sadness that it is over), convinced that these two people share the sort of unbreakable love bond that will last a lifetime and even forever. It should give the satisfaction of happily-ever-after yet the conviction too that these two people are going to have to work on their love every day for the rest of their lives if they are to remain happy.
In order to come to this conviction, the reader has to be drawn into the world of the story and into the minds and hearts and very souls of the two lovers. Readers need to be emotionally engaged in the journey to love of these two, to the degree that in their imagination they almost become these lovers. It is the writer’s job to make all this happen.
But how?
The characters have to seem very real. Whether the hero is tall, dark, handsome and charismatic or something quite different, whether the heroine is charming and beautiful or something else entirely, they must seem like real people with whom the reader can relate and empathize. They cannot simply be cardboard characters with little depth beyond some life history and personality traits the writer has created for them. They must give the illusion of being living, breathing humans with strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and defeats and problems, as full of flaws and contradictions as real people. But no matter what, the reader has to want to root for them in their struggles and must fall in love with them in their vulnerabilities. The reader must passionately want the love story to work and to end happily.
In order to make characters real, the writer has to know them soul deep {Mary does a good job with this}. It is possible to know a great deal about other people without really knowing them to their very core. Sometimes we do not even fully know ourselves. {reading helps to pull on threads of one's own life - things that come up on an emotional level (Laura spoke of this at the outset - and more)} Do you ever find yourself saying or doing something that takes even you by surprise? Do you really know exactly how you would behave in some unexpected circumstance, a life-or-death emergency for example? When I am writing a story, I find over and over again that I have to stop, go back, find out just who this character is, and rewrite certain episodes because I have learned more about her or him and need to adjust the story accordingly. Certain things I wanted them to do can no longer happen because they are no longer the people I thought they were. And never tell me that as the writer I am in control of who my characters are. Not true!
This deeper knowledge of my characters comes to me, however, only as they speak and think and react to one another in the unfolding story. I find it impossible to know everything in advance. Crafting a whole story never comes easily to me because I am not satisfied until I feel I have the hero and heroine absolutely right. They are rarely willing to give up any of their secrets early or all of them at once. Sometimes, if all else fails and the story (and the romance) is stalling, I end up asking them, often aloud, where their deepest pain lies hidden. There is always something. Once I know that, then I can set about bringing the character healing so that he/she can reach the point of being able to give love and to accept it and settle to a lasting, meaningful love relationship. And this must happen for both main characters. They must both be involved in the revelations and the healing. They must somehow help bring each other to completeness and love and ultimate happiness.
Merely knowing the characters as they are at the start is not enough, then. There has to be growth in the author’s understanding of them, and there has to be growth in the characters if the reader is going to invest time and emotion in their story. This is not necessarily true of all genres of fiction. In some, very little emotional involvement with the main characters is necessary. But it is essential in a love story. If the hero, for example, is gorgeous and sexy and does nothing but macho things throughout the story—well, the reader might enjoy reading about him but there will be little emotional empathy with him. There can be very little conviction that he will be capable of a lifelong love commitment.
One way to delve deep into heroes and heroines and pull the reader in emotionally is through a careful use of point of view. Point of view is the eyes and mind through which a particular episode of the story is being told. It is possible to narrate the whole story in the first person, told by one of the lovers, though in that case the events can be experienced only through the mind and emotions of that one character (just as happens in our own lives). Or the whole story can be told by the author as narrator. She can tell the reader what happens and what her characters are thinking and feeling. I prefer to use what I call third person deep interior point of view. I alternate between the hero and heroine, telling one episode from his point of view and another from hers. The reader gets to experience the story through the minds and hearts and viewpoints of both main characters, but not at the same time. If you think about it, everything that happens in our lives has an emotional component. We are the ones who experience everything that happens to us and in the world around us, and everything that happens is colored by our own character and values and experiences and emotions. Especially our emotions. Very little happens to us that does not carry some emotion with it. The aim of the writer should be to duplicate this reality with fictional characters. They must come across as living, emotional beings as they experience the events of the plot. If their story is told from deep within them, then the reader will be there too, experiencing everything with them and feeling what they feel—living and loving with them.
Creating this emotional connection of writer, character, and reader is one of the greatest challenges in the writing of a love story. It is also, I believe, the key to its success—or failure. The author must be able to make the reader laugh with the characters and cry with them and feel the whole gamut of human emotions with them—and fall in love with them, as individuals and as a couple. The best and most memorable of love stories ought to be for everyone—not just the two fictional characters experiencing them, but also every reader living them vicariously with the lovers. It is the writer’s job to make sure this happens.

Caught these from Mary's FB:

Mary Balogh

True enough!


Mary Balogh

It boggles the mind a bit, doesn't it?

May be an image of text that says 'If GH can stand for P as in 'hiccough,' If OUGH can stand for o as in 'dough,' If PHTH can stand for T as in 'phthisis,' If EIGH can stand for A as in 'neighbour,' TTE can stand for T as in 'gazette,' EAU can stand for o as in 'plateau,' Then the correct way to spell potato would be GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU.'

Mary Balogh

This is clever! Bruce McEachern sent me the meme.


Mary also provides a reminder for the Westcott Series (Book #10):

A reminder that SOMEONE PERFECT, a Wesctott {Westcott} novel, Estelle Lamarr's story, is coming on November 30:
I have just finished this book. Anne Gracie is my favorite romance novel author and, having now read all of her books, this might be the best of them. Both protagonists are truly amazing people and great templates for us to model ourselves after as human beings.
I just finished the The Scoundrel's Daughter. It was another good Gracie book. There were some parts that were irritating when it seemed that the characters' mental thoughts were being explained to me instead of just letting me observe the mental thoughts to see how they changed. One aspect that jumped out at me was the difference in how men fight versus how women fight. There were back to back scenes where
in the first scene, the men burst in and fought with their fists and caused general physical destruction, followed by the second scene, where the women explicitly got rid of the man so that they could carry out their women-only plan to fight with words and social maneuvers.
I finished the Balog series "The Bedwyn Saga" yesterday and it was just amazing stories and heroes. Balog is just a brilliant writer. Once, somewhere in the middle of the book about Morgan (No. 4), I thought: "Oh, Mary has made a mistake. Such a vague story, something is missing in it." Subsequently, I was very happy when I realized that I myself was mistaken. It seems that the writer specifically intended this. Thus perfectly conveying the self-doubt of the characters and the immaturity of their feelings.The second half of the book was the absolute opposite of the first and was full of wise thoughts, decisions and actions! I was thrilled!!!
But most of all I was hooked by the story of Kristina and Wulfric (No. 6). For several days, as the reading progressed, something inside me turned over and tore out. Before going to bed and meditating, I was seized with some thoughts, I reasoned with myself and DCM. I don't even remember most of it. I should have written it down right away. ✍️ I experienced similar feelings when reading Heartless. It looks like I'm a little Luke and Wulfric, although I'm a woman. Maybe this has to do with my past lives?:-)
In the article Balog already mentioned by @thorbiorn in this thread, she writes how she was afraid to take up the search for a second half for the Duke of Bedwin:

Matching Heroes and Heroines

Perhaps the most difficult heroine I have ever had to create was the one to be matched up with Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, in SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS. He had appeared in six previous books, starting with A SUMMER TO REMEMBER and continuing through the five SLIGHTLY books preceding his own. I had built up his character in the course of those books to such a degree that readers had high expectations of his story. I was frankly terrified. I had only one chance to get it right. Once his story was written and published, I could not go back and try again with a different heroine. But what female type could I possibly put up against such a powerful, autocratic, coldly dignified, perfectly self-contained aristocrat, who had ruthlessly suppressed everything within himself that was not ducal?

In my imagination I tried out a variety of female types and a vague story line and was satisfied with none of them. I could feel no spark of excitement or challenge, no chemistry between Wulfric and his potential heroine. Then, when I switched to the opposites attract method, along came Christine Derrick. And she was so obviously wrong for him in every imaginable way that I knew she was perfect! She was pretty but neither beautiful nor elegant. Socially she was virtually a nobody. Though she had troubles enough of her own, she chose to be almost invariably cheerful. She laughed a lot. She was a terrible klutz. The first time she encountered Wulfric at a house party they were both attending, she was leaning over a balcony rail to catch her first glimpse of him but forgot that when she leaned so did the glass of lemonade in her hand. Some dripped some down into his eye, and she thought for a moment that he was winking up at her. Most shocking of all, Christine was not awed by Wulfric. Sometimes she more or less told him to get over himself. He was forever wielding his quizzing glass to dampen the pretensions of those around him. When he used it on Christine while they were out walking one day, she grabbed it from him and tossed it up into a tree, where it got stuck. Then she watched him climb up to retrieve it.
This project of reading Romantic Books seems to be a very slow and long way to yourself, your true Self. But it is incredibly interesting, fascinating and touching.:flowers::love:
Cs to start:
Session March 7, 2009

Q: (Craig) Can these breathing techniques - Sudarshan Kriya - help?
A: ¡¡¡¡¡Absolutely !!!!!!!
Q: (Craig) Is it one of the best tools we can use to revive people's humanity?
A: yes. But don't forget the balance. Face reality and master the self alternating with meditation for recovery.
Q: (Craig) Is there any possibility of rehabilitation of OPs?
A: Most likely not.
Q: (Craig) What percentage of prisoners are OPs?
A: Lower than would be expected in this current reality.
Q: (L) That would suggest that there are more people with souls in prisons. (Craig) That was my experience teaching breathing techniques in prisons. There were a lot of fantastic guys.
Would it be beneficial to show these breathing techniques here in this home for the present company?
A: Sure.
Finding this conversation made me think a lot about how beneficial it can be to propose reading workshops for the incarcerated. It is an opportunity for resilience to have space, since most of them have been vulnerabilized in their childhood. People with traumas, who are even more traumatized in the prison reality, because prisons are real hells and factories of recidivism.
Finding this conversation made me think a lot about how beneficial it can be to propose reading workshops for the incarcerated. It is an opportunity to make room for resilience, since most of them have been made vulnerable in their childhood. People with traumas, who are even more traumatized in the prison reality, because prisons are real hells and factories of recidivism.

Here is a selection of several articles found in SOTT:

There is now good evidence for the therapeutic effects of reading. The Shared Reading project, organized by the Readers' Organization, suggests that reading in groups - in their case, they bring together groups of people with mental health problems, for example, but the findings also apply to the monthly meeting of the local book club with wine added - significantly "improves self-confidence and self-esteem, builds social networks, broadens horizons and gives people a sense of belonging, preserving the mental and physical health of those who are well and building mental resilience."

Reading calls out and helps to meet the whole person, not just the depressed one. The notion of "recovery" in such a context is as much about rediscovering old, forgotten, repressed or inaccessible feelings and experiences as it is about discovering new ones.

Stepping outside the confines of our individual egos is a liberating experience, and entry into another universe, via the written word, may be a safer, or more practically possible, route for some: for the elderly, the incarcerated, or the emotionally fragile, for example, than by personal physical encounter. Among Shared Reading's successes is its work in psychiatric hospitals and prisons.

Perhaps more surprisingly and more radically, we may discover in a book dark aspects of ourselves that we have failed to recognize. Few of us imagine that we are potential murderers: yet few who read Crime and Punishment can fail to enter into the tortured conscience of Raskolnikov, who believes that in committing murder he is acting justifiably, or fail to empathize with his anguished punishment of guilt.

Dostoevsky illuminates, through the example of his character, what we would otherwise be too defended to understand: that our civilized selves can conceal a lethal arsenal, potentially capable of committing atrocities, and that those who justify killing in the name of ideology are not as alien as we would like to believe.
So reading is not simply a distraction or diversion from present pain; it is also an enlargement of our universe, our sympathies, wisdom and experience.

The act of entering into the consciousness of another being, another gender or sexual preference, social group, political outlook or religious persuasion, allows a respite from private and parochial concerns.

That broadening of our concerns may involve entering another place, or period of history, or a field we would otherwise ignore. Education, as people never tire of repeating, is a process of going out, which suggests another benefit: that in being guided by reading into previously unknown territory, we learn.

Reading produces a statistically significant improvement in the symptoms of people diagnosed with depression, including feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Reading not only helps introduce or reconnect readers to larger life systems and more widely shared meanings. It can also remind people of activities or occupations they once engaged in, or knowledge and skills they still possess, which helps restore their sense of having a place and purpose in the world.

Regular readers report a greater ability to cope with difficult situations. Reading broadens people's repertoire and sense of possible courses of action or attitude. People who read find it easier to make decisions, plan and prioritize, and this may be because they are better able to recognize that difficulty and setback are inevitable aspects of human life.

Previous research has shown that, in addition to improving willingness and ability to communicate with others, reading helps to promote respect and tolerance for the views of others.The sympathetic insights that reading summons can make us more open to the experience of others and make us feel more a part of the larger human community.

Reading also provides a currency for sharing experiences more meaningfully than is possible in ordinary social conversation. Readers have a richer topic to talk about and a greater capacity for empathy, resulting in deeper interactions and, ultimately, stronger interpersonal bonds.

Because reading operates at a deeper level than the social norm, it can help form connections between people who would not normally combine in a friendship or collegial group.

Readers have a stronger and more engaged awareness of social issues and cultural diversity than non-readers: their model of the world widens and their place within it feels more secure.
Reading is not an overindulgence, but a form of life support for which we must strive to make time.

"Boris Cyrulnik is a psychiatrist, neurologist, professor at the University of Toulon (France) and author of books such as 'The Ugly Ducklings' or 'The Love that Heals Us'. He is considered an international referent of the so-called resilience."
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Resilience is to initiate a new development after the trauma. It depends a lot on the person and his/her environment, before and after the trauma.

Two major factors that make a child vulnerable are conjugal violence and social precariousness, they do not bring security to the child, they have a hard time since their personality is being built.

If we have not acquired resilience in childhood, can we acquire it in adulthood?

Resilience is a lifelong process, but the early years are very important.
It's like a game of chess, the first moves are very important but as long as the game is not over, there are still good moves left.

Resilience is not the same when we are children. For adults to achieve resilience, the first piece of advice is not to stay alone.

During trauma the brain shuts down, doesn't work or works poorly, whereas in suffering the brain doesn't shut down. You are grieving, sad, angry, anxious, but the brain works. It is fragile if we have been fragilized in early teaching (suffering is part of human reality).

There is a difference between trauma and the representation of trauma (we suffer in the real but soon we stop suffering in the representation of the real); but if we are left alone, we only think about the misfortune, we aggravate the suffering.

It depends on affective support, we should not stay alone. The genetic factor plays a small role, it is affective and cultural. A person with trauma interprets all information as aggression, they were deprived of affection.

Some more quotes from SOTT:

Reading: the catalyst of human intelligence

The Argentine writer, Mori Ponsowy, rescues the unique value of literary texts by wondering aloud:

"Why read? To escape from great abstractions and simple words. Unlike law, science and politics, good literature is made of depth, of details [...] for, before us, the writer took the trouble to look for what really matters amidst the formless disorder of our lives, and to find the exact words to unfold it before our eyes, illuminating details and nuances that awaken us from lethargy and habit [...].

Why read? To immerse oneself in what is particular and unique in each life. To escape from the prejudices of the big words... To read seriously is a way of refusing to be sheep in a flock, sheep who are not quite sure what they think or what they believe in -or if they are, it is because others have told them so-, to become individuals with peculiar traits, with clarity of thought, with our own and precise ideas [...].

Why read? To discover who we are. Why read? To be able to think."
In a research conducted by means of brain activity scans during the reading of literary texts, Dr. Jeffrey Zacks, director of the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at the University of Washington, concluded that reading literature is a way to broaden our spectrum of sensory experiences. Absorbed reading of a narrative or poetic text is equivalent to having an authentic virtual reality experience, since the same areas of our brain are activated that we use when processing sensory stimuli in real life. Our brain creates (imagines) a vivid mental simulation of sounds, images, tastes and sensations that enrich our relationship with the world.

"We tend to think of virtual reality as something that involves computers, helmets and fancy devices but, in a quite serious sense, telling ourselves stories through writing and reading, is a form of virtual reality [...], by reading we acquire virtual experiences that can then form the basis for assimilating other experiences and other readings," Zacks states.

Neurocognitive Literature: The Transformative Power of Letters

Keith Oatley, of the University of Toronto, is one of the leading experts on what has been christened neurocognitive literature, which is the study of the effects that reading or listening to literature (both prose and poetry, which is why it has also been called neurocognitive poetics) has on our minds, referring to both immediate brain activity and changes in our personality.

Fiction is a set of simulations of realities or social worlds - the latter given that different characters appear and interact in the stories - that we can analyze and compare with different aspects of our everyday world, some of which we are unable to distinguish with our everyday perception.

For Oatley and other neurocognitive scientists, the hours we spend reading fiction are similar to, in the case of pilots, the hours they spend in a flight simulator: literature would be our "reality simulator" that would allow us to understand how to interact with other people, how to react to others in different everyday situations and, in short, how to improve our social skills.

All this because, when a person reads a story, he finds himself in a situation in which he continuously makes predictions about the thoughts, feelings and intentions of the characters, and has the opportunity to understand those who are so different, or so distant in time and space, as to make this impossible, or almost impossible, in everyday life.

As a consequence of their hours of simulation, fiction readers would have an evolutionary advantage over non-fiction readers when it comes to putting themselves in someone else's shoes, which is considered a "moral laboratory" by researchers such as Frank Hakemulder.

Of particular interest in the neurocognitive literature is to validate the hypothesis that reading is an experience that transforms us, and in particular when that transformation refers to a change in our personality. To study personality and its possible changes due to reading a story, one of the simplest definitions used by scholars of the subject is to consider it as the stable way a person has of relating to him/herself and to other people. And by "stable" a few decades ago they meant that our personality traits did not change, or changed very little, after the age of 30. We now know that it is possible to change markedly even well into adulthood.

The conclusions of Maja et al. can be extended to the entire area of neurocognitive literature: "The relationship of an individual psyche to a work of art is a highly complex process that cannot easily be brought into the laboratory. Instead, this study shows that the potential for change is there, given that the human psyche seems to respond to the art form through subtle changes in the view of itself. This potential deserves to be explored."

Do you want spiritual growth? Read more fiction

I learned that if I want to learn to think well, act well and live well, Christian or not, I should be reading stories. Stories, even and perhaps especially fiction, teach us how to live well by opening our eyes to experiences we might not otherwise have.

Stories are a kind of playground for the heart, mind and soul. As we immerse ourselves in stories, we see how the characters act, even getting to know them in some way. We see what they do and how they reflect on what they do.

Characters in stories experience difficult circumstances, conflict, self-deception, self-revelation and, hopefully, transformation. By reading fiction, we get a portal into reality and how to live well ourselves. Good fiction often tells the truth in a way that nonfiction cannot.

It seems contradictory, that to understand reality, I should spend more time imagining, but I think it's true.
We humans are storytelling creatures, and if we are deprived of stories, we will struggle to understand how to live well in our own lives and in the world.

When we read heartbreaking stories about a character's trials and struggles, we tend to develop strength for the struggles in our own lives.
Literature would be our "reality simulator".... So reading is a powerful tool we have at our disposal to be used constructively, helping to develop creative and positive aspects of humanity. This is wonderful! :love:
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