Friday, May 3, 2013

Right Brain or Left Brain

by Sheila Connolly

Recently I was reading a review in the New Yorker about a crime-themed television show and came upon the citation of the following statement from the "showrunner" (I'm still trying to figure out what that title means) of a different crime-themed television show, who had said that:

Either it's a left-brain journey, where you're just connecting the dots of who the suspects are, or it's more of a holistic journey where a young girl is murdered, these are the potential subjects, and this is why.

I said "aha!" because this resonates with me:  I argue with my editor all the time about it.  I'm usually far more interested in why the victim ended up dead—who would have wanted to kill him/her?—than in setting up a list of possible suspects and knocking them off the fence one at a time.

The thing is, I seem to be a right-brain writer, but I'm a left-brain person.  Oh, I know, my editor is saying now, "but where's your protagonist's emotional response to the body/the big reveal?" I'll concede that my protagonists tend to be observers and analysts.  They do not dissolve into floods of tears in a crisis, they simply take in the situation and act accordingly.  So I'm a macro right-brain writer, but a micro left-brain one.

I know, this is over-simplified.  Nobody is entirely one or the other.  I did, however, take a quickie on-line test and it showed overwhelming left-brain dominance.  I wasn't surprised.

What's the basic definition?  Right brain:  emotional, intuitive, creative; likes music, images and colors.  Left brain:  prefers logic and reasoning; is more comfortable with language (putting things into words rather than responding emotionally) and numbers.  Think Kirk vs. Spock, Napoleon Solo vs. Ilya Kuriakin, or…Castle vs. Beckett?  Of the first two pairs, you can guess which one I preferred.  For the last…I'd like to hang out with Castle, but I'd rather be Beckett.

Maybe I'm just confused.  I was once an art historian, so I must like images.  Except that I spent a lot of time analyzing images, not wallowing in their beauty.  Pretty colors make me happy.  But then, I love languages, which may explain why I can speaks bits and pieces of at least five.  But I hate math.  Still, overall I like to think of myself as logical and analytical.

But does that work for writing?  To me, understanding human interactions, and an individual's response to particular circumstances, and then conveying that effectively to readers, is the best possible goal. We talk about "character-driven" versus "plot-driven" stories, and it should be noted that the great majority of mystery readers are women, who are generally credited with greater emotional responses, so they should (in theory) respond to the first category.  On the flip side, male readers tend to prefer books in which taciturn men blow things up and shoot people, with the occasional detour to spend about fifteen minutes with a woman (think Jack Reacher). Funny thing—the latter sell better and get more press.  Go figure.

When we write in a genre, and I do since I'm a full-blown cozy writer, we know there are guidelines to be followed.  If the genre is thrillers, there must be, well, thrills; in cozies, there must be cats and crafts and kooky sidekicks.  I get that.  But I keep trying to sneak in a few more substantial elements, and I think I've arrived at what one reviewer called a "meaty" cozy.  I like that. Maybe my two brains are actually working and playing together these days.

1 comment:

Julia Buckley said...

Interesting! As with just about everything, I think I'm pretty middle-of-the-road. I love drawing, painting, photography, writing, reading. And I'm emotional, BUT I am also paradoxically rather stoic in situations in which I'd be expected to cry.

And logic rules all. I respond to logic more than anything--but like you, Sheila, I hate math. I would guess that most people are weird mixtures like that, or we would in fact all be Spock, or his emotional opposite.