Is Others’ Low Self-Esteem Draining Yours?

Note: this originally appeared as part of a subscription podcast series my company offered. I’m resurrecting it here as a reference point for people reading “Power Unlimited” is in Daikaijuzine’s Anguirus Issue and Beware of Soul Killers.

Sometimes we have to work with people who seem perfectly normal yet, when we get away from them, we feel a little weaker, a little sadder, a little more melancholy and, for lack of a better term, a little less.

What was there about our interaction with them that left us in such a state? Perhaps they had low self-esteem and took some of yours to make up for their lack. The end result is that your self-esteem got drained and you didn’t even open the tap.

Here’s how to recognize low self-esteem in others and a few things to do about it.

Self-esteem is a measure of how much we value ourselves, a purely internal measure of how we compare ourselves to others.
Psychologically healthy people have good self-esteem, meaning they believe they’re on a par with others in the personal and work achievement departments. Even when they meet an Olympic gold medal winning MD-PhD who’s piloted the space shuttle and discovered a cure for cancer, their self-esteem stays in tact because that gold medal winning person is the exception, not the rule, and people with good self-esteem recognize this.

Few people with low self-esteem carry sandwich boards announcing themselves and they do give off signs of low self-esteem. For example:

  • They make amusing but cutting remarks about your achievements and the achievements of others.
  • They are hesitant – sometimes extremely so – to do anything new or try anything unfamiliar.
  • Whenever they talk about themselves it’s often with a question involved, usually seeking confirmation that what they did was good, okay or acceptable.
  • They need to be in control of conversations and situations, often by making themselves the focus of conversations or situations.
  • They do not like to be challenged about their ideas, beliefs or experiences. This is especially true if you have or are seeking a personal relationship with them.

People with low self-esteem can be intelligent, witty, charming and disarming in the extreme, until something happens that causes them to evaluate themselves in comparison to someone else, and if that someone else is a rival, watch out!

Dealing with Self-Esteem Stealers
Rarely does challenging someone about their self-esteem do any good. What does work is pointing out to them that their remarks can be hurtful and that their remarks are not appreciated. Be prepared to be challenged so also be prepared to be strong and hold your ground. People with low self-esteem can’t let you keep yours, it would only serve as a reminder that they are less and you are more.

That’s all for now. Stay warm and well.

Toing and Froing

We’re going to build on elements from Using One-Line Summaries to Write Better Stories and Flashback as Story Frame to deal with another story challenge that often leads editors and publishers to stop reading and reject a story: Toing and Froing (To-ing and Fro-ing), something I first wrote about in Quit Stage Directing.

Simply put, Toing and Froing occurs when the writer/author has their characters move around or do things for no real story purpose; there’s no character development, no character revelation, the atmosphere doesn’t change, no plot elements are furthered or revealed, the movement is irrelevant to any established or impending plot points, the movement is unnecessary to the dialogue, et cetera.

The end result is weak writing, exposition, narration, and lots of uninteresting things happening just to fill the page. Most writers/authors fall down on “movement is unnecessary to the dialogue.” They’ll have two or more characters talking and feel the characters should be doing something while they talk.

The desire to have characters do something while talking is good, the execution is usually poor, and now we’re dealing with attribution via action which I’ll cover in another post.

Eating my own dogfood
I’m currently editing Cicatrix, a work-in-progress last picked up and put down in late Feb 2019.

What follows is the ninth scene in the story. I’ll share the scene’s original form first with brightly colored “Problems” buttons after each weak paragraph. Click on the “Problems” buttons for examples of that paragraph’s problems. Next I’ll share share a rewrite with brightly colored “Solutions” buttons. Click on the “Solutions” buttons for explanations of why the rewrite is better.

PS) this is more for my edification than yours. Feel free to disagree. Please make sure you explain your disagreement and offer suggestions for improvement. Always happy to learn, me.

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Ruminations Part 4 – I can’t talk to women anymore

(This post originated as “Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 5 – I can’t talk to women anymore”, but I’m tired of the sensitivity reader thread, aren’t you?)

My first rumination can be found at Ruminations Part I – “Your eyes are completely healed”
My second at Ruminations Part 2 – Numbers lead to informed decisions
Rumination Part 3-1 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 1
Rumination Part 3-2 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 2
Rumination Part 3-3 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 3 – I Take a “Writing the Other” class
Rumination Part 3-4 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 4 – Is your character POC or POM?

It started long ago, I’m sure. A slow dawning, a creeping awareness.

I’ve thought about it for a while. It started innocuously; a character in one of my works-in-progress knows what other characters think, how they’ll respond, what they’ll do.

Study consciousness and this ability shows up as Theory of Mind. The literature is full of it. While not calling it telepathy or mind-reading or whatever, most people do it automatically because it’s part of how we function in society; we hear something in someone’s voice and know they’re having a bad day. The truth is we’re assuming they’re having a bad day because having a bad day would cause our voices to sound the way theirs does (if you’re ravenously interested in exploring this, read my Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History. It’s rife with this stuff).

This works pretty well as long as you’re in the same cultural group as the other person.

Fails miserably when you’re from different cultural groups, which is why well done First Contact stories are wonderful reads.

The Foreigner, the Other, the Stranger
I mention off and on about the technology Susan and I created (it’s documented in that Reading Virtual Minds book I mention above). Give it a some digital communication – an email, a company organ, a business brief, whatever – and it can determine how psycho-emotively close the author feels to their reader (just one of its many abilities). One thing we discovered quick was lots of business communications authors viewed their audiences adversarially at best and as completely alien at worst (the technology provided suggestions for both tightening and loosening that bond).

The technology broke social distance – the bond between author and audience – into five degrees of separation: Otherness, Strangerness, Difference, Sameness, and Selfness. Phrasically these would be:

  • Selfness – I/me
  • Sameness – We/us
  • Difference – I/we, you/them
  • Strangerness – Us, Not-Us
  • Otherness – I/we/us, WTF?

Most fictional aliens are variants of recognizable earth lifeforms. That’s why most StarTrekTM aliens had two arms, two legs, a head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth… Didn’t matter where the aliens originated, they pretty much had the same bilateral symmetry humans have. Want to indicate the alien was nasty? Make him bilaterally non-symmetric. No Borg (except the Queen Mum and 7of9) had bilateral symmetry. They all had some kind of projection coming out of them somewhere or a huge prosthetic attached somewhere (simply put, they were out-of-balance). The Queen Mum and 7of9 were exceptions because their purpose (scriptwise) was to interact with and/or seduce humans (a different kind of assimilation, if you will).
Continue reading “Ruminations Part 4 – I can’t talk to women anymore”

Search Chapter 1 – Friday, 28 September 73

I posted my umpteenth take on a first chapter of Search on 12 November 2018. I liked the idea but not what was going on in that take so (once again) set the novel aside.

Then I wrote a few short stories and completed The Shaman. One chapter in The Shaman dealt with the subject of Search. A fan and faithful reader (thanks, Joe!) told me I had to write Search next.

Who am I to argue?

As before, so now. Search is loosely based on a real incident. The incident remains, the story is greatly different. I now understand why I couldn’t write it for the past forty years; I didn’t know what it was about.

Learning as I go, now.

Enjoy. And remember, it’s still a work in progress. These chapters are rough drafts. I’ve completed seventeen chapters so far and it seems I’ll complete the novel this time. We’ll see.


Search Chapter 1 – Friday, 28 September 73

John Chance’s hair rose on his arms as if chased by the wind. The air around him shimmered.

He smiled. Is that you, Grandpa?

He closed his eyes and let the slope of the hill between Ramsey College’s Finance and Admin buildings guide his rake. His grandfather called raking “combing Grandmother’s hair.” The feel of the wooden handle, the tines pulling crinkling leaves, the smell of freshly mowed grass. He always smelled clove aftershave when he remembered his grandfather. “Gio, pettiniamo i capelli della nonna.” Gio, we comb Grandmother’s hair.

His grandfather always called him Gio, an abbreviation of his given name, Giovanni Fortuna. John Chance. Gio. He smiled as he pulled on the rake. Crazy old man. Always had these amazing stories. How things grew. How things were. Pay attention, Gio. Ascolta! Listen.

Gio turned his head. The wind carried a hint of salt water from the ocean a few miles away. Closer, trucks and cars traveled north and south on Rt. 128, most of them supplying Manchester-By-the-Sea, Magnolia, Gloucester and Rockport. Some, the refirgeration units, backhauled today’s catch from Gloucester, Essex, and Ipswich.

Bluejays, wrens, and starlings gathered in the branches over his head. He isolated each’s song, heard each separate from the others. Chickadees and crows hopped along the rake’s path and pecked the freshly turned grass for seeds and grubs. Crows nodded at him, waiting for his rake to turn more grass over. Chickadees took flight, their wings phht-a-phht-a-phhting to a branch only to return a moment later, realizing it was safe.

He let the early Fall coolness fill him. He held his breath a moment, feeling his body’s exchange air into blood, blood releasing air. He exhaled and the stiffness of the day’s labors flowed from him. He didn’t carry a watch. The sun told him the time. Mid-afternoon warm.

His fellow students moved between classes. Footsteps clacked and clicked on walkways. Voices called hellos, shared notes, whispered gossip.

Gio returned to his raking, to the trickling sweat under his flannel shirt, to the steamy scent of his body laboring under the sun, to the motions of his muscles and tendons under his skin, to the feel of the handle, to the roughness of his calluses.

To the screams of children, to the scent of clove.

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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“Arterial blood has sprayed onto the walls; the tannoy is breaking into a staccato and the student nurse, Linda, recalls a childhood wish for invisibility” – Terry Melia’s Tales from the Greenhills

“…has sprayed…”, “…is breaking…”, and “…recalls…” – I’ve written elsewhere that I need to know Melia sweated every word choice. If the word choice above was automatic and obvious, I’m giving up writing. The first sentence of Tales from the Greenhills is present tense, direct address, and action. You are there in the center of it and the action is intense. You see the arterial blood dripping down the walls. The tannoy (British for “loudspeaker”) is making terse, abrupt statements – probably operational rather than informative based on the “arterial blood” line – and we’re given a point-of-view character who is 1) a student – she’s young, 2) a nurse – she should know what she’s doing but from (1) we know she’s in over her head, 3) recalling a childhood – she’s looking for peace, comfort, refuge, safety, 4) invisibility – she wants to get away, hide, be free of what’s happening.

And in twenty-five words.

And it keeps getting better.

Tales from the Greenhills is a must read for authors and writer-wannabes. It is a textbook of style, voice, language, dialogue, setting, …

Sorry, if I’m gushing. It’s that good.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little known works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.