Following The Heat At The Core Of Your Plot Is Like Hunting An Elusive Creature

When you’re writing, it is like following a large and rare creature through the woods. You have to pay attention, and you have to make sure you don’t get lost and/or die by starving or being eaten by violent creatures. It also helps if you have any idea what you’re looking for.

The single biggest problem, across every level of story telling, is subject material. The reader is like a guest paying you, the author, for a hunting experience. They want to be shown a good time and they want to feel smart and excited.

Subject Material

Angela is a brilliant geneticist who turns out to have some surprises going on in her life. And she, of course, always has shit to say, but none of it is very worth listening to. How to make the boring Angela interesting? By stripping her secrets, one by one, in view of the reader.

Examples

Absolute Shit:

Angela dressed slowly, getting ready for her new day at work. Her blouse was light blue, and her slacks were eminently professional, and she put her black-rimmed glasses on her face with a very soft sigh, because she had to work on more of the graft design this afternoon and she would rather be sipping tea. Her shoes were black.

Excellent Hunting:

Angela studied her figure in the mirror as she adjusted her soft blue blouse. Feminine, but not in any way reproachable. She chewed on her lower lip and wondered if her boss had started to wonder yet.

“Mm,” Angela said, and she examined her backside. She was wearing silk underwear beneath her slacks, both layers sturdy enough to hide the shocking texture beneath. She was immensely looking forward to the inevitable reveal, for she had hidden all her back and ass cheeks in the sex tapes, which she was sure had been seen by her very handsome boss.

“Mm,” Angela said again, her mouth curving with satisfaction. She gave her black-rimmed glasses a little nudge up her surprisingly expensive nose and sauntered out of her tiny room, her kitten heels making little tap-tap clicks against the industrial gray flooring.

In Summary

When you follow exciting creatures, of which your plot is one, track spoor. That means you have to be picking up bits and pieces of what is coming next and following a live, moving animal. Wandering aimlessly around woods is not hunting.

Following a cold trail or walking through a lot of bushes where animals don’t live will not making for excellent plotting. Fixing your mind on the elusive creature of an excellent plot and tracking said creature with attention and close, hunter-like detail, will lead to an exciting experience for the reader. Plus, it’s fun to write good material.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and it smells like Christmas in my house. The grey cat, Rose, has inherited a very large cardboard box, and is at peace with the universe.

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The Grey Cat Analogy To Fix Your Flow

You may, if you are anything like me, have experienced that disconcerting moment when someone is reading your story, or your book, or your what-have-you, and they run across a part that they clearly don’t get. At all.

A Disconnect

It’s usually a part that you like, because fate is like that, and you might feel sort of like the person who has reacted in such an incongruous manner is an idiot. You may even want to tell them so. Loudly.

Because You’re Mad

However. Here we come up against the golden rule of performance, which is that whatever the audience sees is a valid interpretation (unless they’re drunk or on drugs, or otherwise incapable of perceiving a generally accepted reality through the normal methods).

Presumably, you are not thrusting your writing into the hands of crazy people. Most likely, the people you are giving your good stuff to are friends or near relations, even. In such a circumstance, what is to be done?

Aside From Shouting

You could, of course, become a writing hermit and never speak to the person again. That works, but it doesn’t usually make your prose flow better.

Grey Cat Hiccups

People, readers, get lost from the internal action of your story when you haven’t provided enough information for them to inhabit and understand the characters.

For example:

There is a tidy grey cat who lives in my house. She is mostly nice, except for the moments when she gets a wild urge up her ass and starts thrashing around like a crazed hamster outrunning death himself. Those times, she’s sort of irritating.

Because She Claws The Furniture

If, however, I put myself into the tiny grey body of said cat, and imagine myself living in the house, and having no furred friends or consistent prey to socialize with, I start to sympathize with her occasion bouts of hair-raising insanity. If I imagine myself really as the little cat, I almost look with fondness on her escapades, with an air of, “Oh, yes, that thing you need to do so you don’t claw my face off in boredom.” (And yes, she has toys, and attention.)

Victor, You’re Getting Off Topic Again!

No, I’m not. Your reader is me, and the writing is my grey cat. Your writing, if you’re like me, often goes on a slippery, wild goose-chase, and you’re inhabiting the vehicle of the story, and you don’t notice.

Because of authorial excitement, or inspiration

Your readers notice, very much, and they stare at the crazy, incoherent jumble of words that approximate claw marks and breathless yowls, and they say: “What the hell happened to the nice story I was reading?”

And you get mad, because why aren’t they following? Gosh! It’s almost like they’re being dense on purpose!

However, the problem is in a lack of a strong meeting place; in essence, you have a problem with flow.

Fix Flow Fast

Look at that silly alliteration. My boy has been telling me lately that bicycle and popsicle alliterate. I correct him constantly, but he’s confused about rhymes. Anyway.

Here’s That Fix:

To fix your flow, you need to learn how to inhabit the detached, coffee-sipping mindset of your reader. If you can do that, you will yourself become mildly irritated, if not downright outraged, at the grey-cat shenanigans that pop up in your prose when you go off on a sudden chase of emotional passion over some trick of words or characterization.

Then you can apply some editorial catnip and get things calmed down again, and keep your reader friends, too.

Today is Wednesday, and I’m Victor Poole, and I’m too busy to write you a sample today. Ajalia says hello, but Mary’s taking up most of my attention on editing fixes. Cheers.

The Secret To Writing A Devious Character

Victoria had been late for the train once too often, and she was pulled in for questioning by the Matron of Societal Punctuality.

“What’s going on, Miss Delton?” the Matron asked.

“If you please, ma’am, my alarm has been behaving strangely. I have a new one on order, ma’am, and there was a delay at the shop.”

Victoria studied the Matron’s purple nails, which curled haughtily around her wide green sleeves. Victoria had not had any trouble really with her alarm, but her sister Fiona had a newborn, and Victoria had been doing breakfast for the toddlers the last couple of weeks. This shouldn’t have made her late, but little Doris was in a throw-food-on-the-floor phase, and Victoria hated to leave wet cereal for Fiona to clean up.

“Hm,” the Matron said in a steely sort of voice. “How’s the pairing going, miss?”

“If you please, ma’am, I have been rejected by the last two men on the grounds that my figure is too stumpy.”

“Can’t you get into a body shop?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Do that. I’ll let you off with a warning this time, but you’ll be whipped if you’re late for work again.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you ma’am,” Victoria said. She curtsied and left the room. She tramped back through the busy Hornswaggle square, and got into the elevator for the Trans-Continental Finance building.

“In trouble with the law, Victoria?” her supervisor, Gordon Hill, asked when she came into the office.

“Yes sir,” Victoria said.

“I’ll have words with you about that, miss,” Gordon said, the slightest hint of a threatening leer in his face.

Victoria produced an appropriate shudder of maidenly horror. Gordon followed her into her apportioned, closet-sized accountant’s den and shut the door.

“How’s your sister doing? I found some chocolates in the blackmarket last night. She still like those? Have you been holding up all right?” Gordon asked, in an entirely different tone. He proffered a wrapped bundle, which was adorned with a velvet ribbon, and Victoria blushed.

“Oh, Hill. You’re so sweet,” she murmured, and snuggled against him for a kiss.

“I love you, Vic. How bad was it today?” Gordon whispered, amidst their affectionate kisses.

“The matron ordered me to a body shop before my next official pairing.”

“Damn! When is the next one?” Gordon asked. He wrapped his arms around her waist. Victoria twisted and deposited the chocolates on her desk, to prevent accidental melting.

“Two weeks, my love.”

“Mm,” Gordon said. He nuzzled her cheek, and sighed against her hair. “I’ve been bribing the higher-ups to give me a slot. They don’t like that I’m your boss.”

“I could quit,” Victoria mumbled.

“No, sweetie. That never works. I’ll try some more grease on the wheels tonight, and push through to get you first. I love you, Vic.”

“I love you too, sweet Hill,” Victoria replied. They kissed and extricated themselves with a shared sigh.

“And if you’re late again,” Gordon cried, so that his voice echoed a little through the closed door, “I’ll take this up with Human Resources!”

He kissed tenderly at Victoria’s hand. She created a stifled, piercing sob, and she smiled, and he kissed her mouth once more and slipped out of her tiny office.

Victoria concealed the illegal chocolate under the fraudulent tax files from last season, which no one dared to touch since she’d gotten permission to foist the clean up audit on anyone who bothered her about them, and began to work.

You’re reading Victor Poole. It is now December, which intimates holiday-making. Also, today is Sunday, which intimates weekend-ness. I think our cat has begun to hibernate, a bit.

The Smoothest Method To Evaluate The Quality Of Your Prose

When is your prose good, and when does it suck?

If you have enough taste and self-reflective ability to ask the question, your prose almost certainly doesn’t suck.

Because Being Able To Ask Indicates Sensibility

The problem isn’t whether your prose is good, but whether it’s effective.

What Do You Mean, Victor Poole?

As I mention fairly endlessly, my background is in theatre. Everyone sucks at theatre (sorry, guys). Anyone who has real skill either moves to a metro-center to do non-profit work (or cleverly disguised beggar’s theatre), goes into film (where all the decent folk congregate), or gets out of the game and becomes a lawyer (or barista, or housewife, etc.).

Anyone who successfully creates theatre becomes subsumed into another form of performance (youtube, video production, etc.) that has a more stable income model. The only exception to this rule are little family places, or murder mystery type companies, where the experience of going to the theatre is packaged together with a whole lot of sentiment or novelty.

What Does This Have To Do With My Prose, Victor?

Nothing. I just like to follow my train of thought when I’m writing for the blog. In my years of theatre-ness (I’m waiting for the kids to get out of nappies and early bedtimes, if you were wondering, because two in the morning set breakdowns and young humans don’t blend well), I was appalled at the consistent good-but-never-enough quality of actors, producers, and every style of director.

Most of them didn’t exactly, precisely suck, but none of them were enough.

Your prose, if you are a human being, may suffer occasionally from a similar flavor of not-enough-ness.

What Do You Mean By Enough, Mr. Poole?

People who know you personally, and want you (as in, want to get into your brain, whether for good or ill), will always be motivated to read your prose.

Readers, unless they are desperate for your subject matter, need more incentive, as does the average potential audience member in the theatre world.

Enough means that there is an element of WOW! to whatever you’re doing, either of shock, of brilliance, or of some other compelling emotional draw.

When the lure is missing, the work is not enough.

Now, To Business, Tender Reader

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a cool, dark place. Empty your mind, or, if that is too much effort, think several times of how silly you look to be closing your eyes just because that silly old Victor Poole told you to.

Once you feel your heart make a pleasant shudder of excitement (the opening salvo of adventure-could-be-coming), open your eyes and read carefully, with steady attention, through your prose.

It takes shockingly little time to determine the WOW! or blerg– nature of your prose. Maybe less than one sentence, at most, maybe two.

Here’s How You Determine The Quality Of Your Prose

If your heart drops into a faint feeling of sick disappointment and boredom, your prose sucks, insomuch as it is not enough.

If, on the other hand, your heart speeds up and the harkening of adventure remains, or even heightens, you’re on to something good.

The test takes about fifteen seconds, but you must steady yourself in internal quiet and connect to a feeling of anticipation first. If you just go and stare at your work, you’ll hear nothing but your own insecurities or preconceived notions.

Your body can respond to external stimuli, in the form of words. Your emotional vehicle will change when you read, even words that you wrote.

Get into a blank space, do the test, and then work out how to write continuous WOW!

Today’s Writing Example:

Desmond, an Irish man in form and feature, but wearing the deep silver inserts of a Col-made cyborg, carried the pile of weapons into the warehouse and arranged them by type. The exuntor rods were laid in an exquisitely-tidy heap behind the door, and the blasters and evaporating shofts hung on deep shelves against one wall.

When he had nearly placed every weapon, a shadow emerged from the back of the building.

“No,” Desmond said.

“But sir,” a woman’s voice replied in a pleading sort of manner.

“I said no. Don’t call me sir. That’s idiotic. Where’s Chasya?”

The shadow, who was in shape like a female personage wearing no clothes, took on a mutinous flavor.

“It isn’t fair.”

“Where is she?” Desmond asked, his slight brogue tilting over the words. He could just hear the woman’s teeth grinding with frustration.

“She’s gone to the southern estate this afternoon for a wedding,” the woman said finally.

“Bitch, go away and pout with clothes on,” Desmond said, not unkindly, and he left the warehouse. It must be Manxu’s nephew getting married, Desmond thought, and he whistled a jaunty tune as he returned to unpack more of the ship.

You’re reading Victor Poole. We set up our Christmas tree last night. The cat is tremendously excited about this introduction of plant life to the household, and has successfully liberated one golden shatter-proof ornament so far. Said ornament has been restored to said tree.

The Quickest And Easiest Way To Correct An Emotional Typo

There are two types of emotional slip-up in fiction:

  1. Internal motivation is missing to such an extent that the scene is too harsh or is contextually incomprehensible.
  2. One or more characters retreat from caring about the others, which makes a snarl

The first problem is very easy to fix. All you need is to add more context and internal motivation, however much is sufficient to make the scene completely clear.

The second problem general requires a redraft of whichever piece fell apart. If the emotional deviance occurs early in a story, much of the story may become functionally unusable, and must be rewritten with more present, caring characters.

Examples:

Missing Context and Internal Motivation

Flora wasn’t really fond of her parents, but she didn’t mind having the house to herself when she got into the end of her apprenticeship.

“Don’t say anything in front of the cat. He can repeat things,” Flora told her boyfriend, Greg, when she brought him home the first time.

“Uh,” Greg said, for he wanted to ask some very pointed questions about the cat’s other abilities.

“He won’t mention anything he sees. He just thinks it’s funny to repeat phrases. My sister had her girlfriends over, and they played a dating game. It was awful, afterwards.”

“Why?” Greg asked. He looked at the front door, which was beginning to seem attractive to him.

“I can’t tell you in front of Mr. Mouser,” Flora explained.

“I don’t know how to respond to that,” Greg said honestly.

***

Fixed

Flora’s parents trained the cat to repeat spoken phrases, as a safeguard against inappropriate conversations between Flora and her friends. This backfired, as the cat began to pick up a varied vocabulary and a dictionary-like intimacy with pop culture and the latest trends in boy bands.

Flora’s father tried to untrain the cat, but it was too late. Mr. Mouser was a talker, and Flora’s mother said it was hardly acceptable to expand the feline’s awareness of the world and then lobotomize the animal.

“I wasn’t going to take the whole brain! Just the language centers,” Flora’s father said. Mr. Mouser crooned repetitively to the lyrics of “My Heart Pumps Only For You, Bu-Be-Baby,” in the background. Flora’s mother sighed.

“We could try a catnip gag, or something,” she suggested.

The catnip turned the crooning, spoken lyrics into drunken singing. Flora’s father signed up for a long project at work and stopped coming home. Flora’s mother took to wearing industrial-strength earplugs.

“It’s only a few more years. This breed only lives to about twenty,” Flora’s mother told herself every afternoon as she kneaded the bread.

“Hey, watch out for my cat,” Flora told Greg, her brand new boyfriend, on the first afternoon she brought him home through the back door.

“What’s wrong with your cat?” Greg asked. Flora hesitated on the threshold. She pulled Greg back onto the porch and glanced up at the windows.

“He can talk. He repeats things,” she whispered.

“Like, anything?” Greg asked softly.

“Yeah. Don’t talk to me at all, okay?” Flora said. She grinned at Greg, who flushed.

“Okay,” Greg said, for he was imagining all the things they could do instead of talking. Flora pulled him into the house and up the back stairs. Her mother hummed pleasantly in the kitchen, and Mr. Mouser, repeating the names of every boy Flora had ever had a crush on, stalked through the house until he twined through Flora’s bedroom door. His lamp-like eyes turned placidly toward Flora and Greg, who were not saying any words out loud at all, though they were having a conversation of sorts with their mouths. Mr. Mouser settled down to watch. He got bored after a while, and began to sing, “My Love, I Am Hunting After Your Blue Eyes,” as he pounced after dust motes in the air. Flora stifled a giggle mid-kiss, and Greg, feeling that he had discovered his one true love, held in a heart-felt sigh and pulled her closer.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Today, I believe, is Thanksgiving. My grey cat has been attempting to scale inappropriate surfaces lately.

The Quick And Dirty Guide To Writing Human Nature

Bad Writing:

Elton was having a very bad day. His date stood him up, his favorite hunting dog turned into a cat, and the prophesied comet fizzled out fifteen feet before it hit the appropriate mountain.

Elton had been waiting several years for the promised comet, and he had based several of his life goals around the fact of Mt. Halber being pretty much leveled, and half the population of the world destroyed.

Elton, you see, was an evil overlord, and he had been working to secure the loyalty and fear of the other half, the supposed-to-survive half of the world’s people for most of his life.

Now the comet had come, and there were all the people, going on living as if nothing had happened at all. Elton was annoyed about this. If he’d been ready for a cosmic failure on this scale, he would have built an undertone of religious warfare into the scriptures he’d been feeding his followers for the last fifteen years. He hadn’t known, and now he was scrambling for an image adjustment.

Good Writing:

Elton was having a very bad day. His date had flipped when he stood her up, his favorite hunting dog had been turned into a cat, and the prophesied comet had fizzled out fifteen feet before it hit the appropriate mountain that morning.

“If you had married that nice girl from our village, Elton, none of this would have happened,” his mother told him over the enchanted conch.

“Mom, Ellen Ripple died ten years ago of supin cough. So I couldn’t marry her, and if I had, she would be dead now. Then my life would be more of a mess,” Elton said, as he watched the bridge master torture his latest magician, who had failed to make the newly-christened Whiskers back into Spot. “It’s kind of a bad time, mom. I have to go out and get that cosmic dust from the comet. I’ll call you back.”

Elton had been waiting several years for the promised comet, and he had based several of his life goals around the premise of Mt. Halber being pretty much leveled, and half the population of the world destroyed.

“Sweetheart, that’s only a dirty old rock, and you’ve already accomplished all the goals on your sweet little checklist. I still have it on my fridge. ‘World domination.’ Sweetie, you did that one already. Just forget the comet, and get ready for Jasmine. I’m sending flowers in your name, so she’ll already like you.”

“Mom, I’m not seeing Jasmine tonight, I have a war council to run. Goodbye. I love you.”

Elton, you see, was an evil overlord, and he had been working to secure the loyalty and fear of the other half, the supposed-to-survive half of the world’s people for most of his life.

Now the comet had come, and it had fizzled, and there were all the people, both halves, going on living as if nothing had happened at all. Elton was annoyed about this. If he’d been ready for a cosmic failure on this scale, he would have built an undertone of religious warfare into the scriptures he’d been feeding his followers for the last fifteen years. He hadn’t known, and now he was scrambling for an image adjustment. His mother’s persistent attempts to hook him up with good-hearted females from her neighborhood was doing little to ease his way, partially because they were all sweet women, and partially because Elton had to readjust into evil mode whenever he spoke to them, to let them know his mom was misrepresenting the situation.

He’d spoken to Jasmine only this morning, and she had shrieked when she learned that Elton Yurbo was actually the dread majesty Rakendo, Bringer of Death. Elton sighed, and watched Whiskers push himself, purring, against the howling magician’s leg.

You’re reading Victor Poole. This week is the feasting week, and the sky is still blue where I live. Today was not at all like a Sunday, though tomorrow will most decidedly be like a Monday. (I like Mondays.)

The Easy Way To Write That Feels Like Playing

  1. Start with a strong image. Include at least two details that can be seen, felt, or smelt.
  2. Introduce a character with a phonetically-friendly name. (Bad name: Blithgirou. Good name: Biltog.) Give said character a task that, again, includes one or two sensory packages (these are like bacon bits in a salad, unless you hate salads, in which case they are like cherries in the poison of your choice).
  3. Follow the well-named task-performing character until a lull appears in the action.
  4. Introduce another, more boring-named character. (Bad name: Hyacinth. Good name: Ginger.) Write some work-a-day dialogue, with as much humor as you can stir up.
  5. Blow everything up. If you don’t know how to destroy a narrative, learn how. Your only rules now are: ONE: Biltog and Ginger must always say “yes” with their hearts, and TWO: neither of them can die or get chewed up beyond the point of functionality.

Then write what happens to make Biltog and Ginger ONE: stay together, TWO: like each other, and THREE: get free of whatever trouble is chewing on their heels.

OBSERVE . . .

The morning sun blistered over the Hulon sea, making purple mist spin up into a sky that smelled of new roses. The air was hot, but not unpleasantly so, as Biltog paddled his aluminum boat through the shallows. The splash of the dark water and the hum of the singing fish made Biltog sigh with pleasure. There was nothing so beautifully quiet as going out for the morning catch of merl-kits all alone. He savored the solitude, and the feel of his paddle as he carved through the sea was satisfying against his muscles.

The collection of the netted merl-kits went without any hitch, and Biltog had stowed his boat and was halfway up the slope to the road when a long, echoing scream shattered the morning air. Biltog frowned and turned, examining the landscape. He could see no one. The scream came again, and Biltog looked up.

He shouted in surprise and ducked just in time to miss the rocketing form of a tidy female who was ploughing through the air like a drunken sea-hawk. She crashed most unceremoniously into a grassy knoll, and Biltog dropped his nets and ran to her.

“Are you okay?” he demanded. She scattered wildly back, her hair in enormous tufts and her skin flushed.

“Uh, yes,” she said, staring at him. He blushed. She was quite pretty, if tousled, with dark brown hair and terrifically bright green eyes.

“You’re nice-looking,” Biltog said blankly. He gasped, and hurried towards his nets. He heard the female laugh behind him, and he hated himself a lot, because her laugh was even prettier than her face.

“Wait! Hey, wait up! I’m sorry for crashing at you,” she called. He heard her coming after him, and he walked faster, his eyes wide and his mouth in a snarl of embarrassment. “Hey!” she cried, and some very soft fingers caught at his arm.

Biltog gasped again, because he felt very foolish. He twisted to the side and stared at her legs. She was wearing a sort of home-made flight suit, and had thick patches over her knees.

“I’m really sorry, miss,” Biltog said.

“I’m not. I’m glad you think I’m pretty. What’s your name? I’m Ginger,” she said brightly, holding out her hand.

“Uh, Biltog,” he said. He reached out, for she seemed determined in a way that intimidated him, and shook her hand. He let go as soon as he thought was polite and snatched up his nets. “I don’t know why anyone would call you Ginger,” he added, and blushed again.

“Because my hair’s not red. My mum named me for my aunt. What are you named for?” she asked.

“Where’s your—what were you flying with?” Biltog asked.

“Only this,” she said, turning to show a set of green tubes sewn into the back of her clothes. “It was going really well until I got into that sea air. I think the vapor got into my intake valves. I should stay away from this part of the coast.”

“Oh,” he said. They stared at each other for a minute. “Um, I’m named after a big star from my father’s home system,” he said quickly.

“That’s very nice,” Ginger said. He nodded. Biltog scraped his boot over the road.

“Well,” Biltog said.

An explosion to their left made them both jump. The purple sea expanded massively, a wave surging up as if an enormous boulder had landed far out in the water. Biltog stared at the sudden flight of winged fish that burst from the sea. Droplets of water flew like shining crystals behind the scaled bodies of the creatures.

With a roar that made Biltog think the world was tearing in half, a huge cylinder of metal rose up from the disturbed waters of the sea. It was as large as a building, and it throttled up into the clouds. Slender vessels peeled from the sides of the monstrous shape and flared out in all directions. A cluster of the ships rocketed straight for the hill upon which they stood.

Ginger grabbed Biltog’s hand. He dropped his nets and closed his fingers over hers.

“Run!” he cried.

You’re reading Victor Poole. My science fiction heroes met a notorious gang boss lately. Tomorrow is Sunday, which means it will no longer be Saturday.