I’m in a weird place right now. I wasn’t allowed to exercise, when I was an owned body, and working out or eating healthily now triggers a lot of stress and fear in my muscles.

I’m transferring that experience into felt heat, but there’s a lot of it. I’m about halfway through my dragon book, and am chugging through book ten of my sci-fi gangster series. Things are going well.

I feel like shit, but things are going well.

Here’s a clip from The Second Queen (the horrible half). I’ll massage it into a stronger form of the same basic action.



“What about what you want?” he asked. Claire shrugged.

“I have other things I can do with my life,” she said lightly. John studied her.

“Isn’t that a horrible thing to say about yourself?” John asked.

“I don’t think so,” Claire said. “There is more to life than kissing.”

“I don’t think so,” John said fervently. Claire laughed at him.

“Is there anyone you would rather be kissing right now, other than me?” she asked.

“No,” John said instantly.

“Then I’m fine,” she said. “Let’s go get the dragon book and the stones. I’m beginning, you know, to think of them as eggs, because we can use them to grow new dragons.”

“Do you think your sons would want to be dragons with you?” John asked.

GOOD Writing

“Have you tried much to speak to your dragons? How much of the sentience of the child is left?” he asked. Claire shrugged with a smile.

“I was hiding from everything. I hardly thought myself, until I started to ache for you,” she said lightly. John studied her.

“So they’re creatures of instinct, mostly? I bet they’re smart enough to talk, if they want to, or at least to understand. What was it like, when you missed me enough to come back?” John asked.

“I just had a gaping hole in my heart,” Claire said. “I felt like I was missing most of what I needed to keep breathing.”

“That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” John said fervently. Claire laughed at him.

“Is there anything you would rather be doing right now, other than having dangerous adventures with me?” she asked.

“No,” John said instantly, his scaled face split in a grin.

“Good. Me neither,” she said. “Let’s go get the dragon book and the stones. I’m beginning, you know, to think of them as eggs, because we can use them to grow new dragons.”

“Do you think your sons would want to be dragons with you?” John asked.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m vacillating between mild depression and creative euphoria. Also, my quads are sore.


Why Skipping Revisions Brightens Your Craft

I read an acting book (actually it was a book aimed at directors) by a man who hated himself. I mean, he HATED himself. The book itself was pretty useful, as a treatise on directing, and the management of actors as a general group, but the preface–PHEW!

So Much Vitriol

So he’d written this book about handling actors, right? And it was a pretty perceptive, useful book.

Except For The Preface

You see, in the preface, his mask slipped, and he … um, was honest. He talked a little bit about his journey as a director, and there was raging, debilitating self-hate through every word.

The funny part (which is only amusing because he felt so sorry for himself in a melodramatic way) is that he wasn’t aware at all that he hated himself.

I mean, he knew, most probably, that he hated himself, but he didn’t at all realize (based on what he wrote, and how he wrote it) that he hated himself FOR GIVING UP ON HIMSELF AS AN ACTOR.

He didn’t see that, or realize it.

Because, You See

He really wanted to be an actor, more than anything in the universe. You could read it, taste his passion bleeding through the page, oozing through the words. He wanted to be somebody, become a real force in the world of acting.

And he felt like he couldn’t.


Because, dear reader, he revised himself.

He cut away at his original craft, his impulse towards creation, his soul. He wanted to be good so badly that he was willing to murder and contort his original offering of self in order to make himself over into, to his mind, something magnificent and special.

In frantically revising his personality and presentation as a young man, he destroyed, temporarily, his ability to act.

The destruction was temporary, but he was impatient, and insecure, and he wanted success NOW.


He wanted to be good enough NOW, not tomorrow, not next year, not after ten years of work, he wanted to find fame and acceptance and glory RIGHT NOW.

So he turned his passion for acting, twisted it, contorted it viciously, into a passion for HELPING OTHER ACTORS.

He found so much success in this, because his original drive was so deep, that he gave up on the idea of an actor and labeled himself as a director who had just started off confused. “I’m a director!” he shouted to himself. “Ha ha! I was such a newb! I thought I wanted to act!” (Imagine the sobbing that was going on underneath those words, if you will.)

So, What Does That Mean For You?

When you revise your work, as the writer you currently are, you destroy your soul.

I’m not talking about catching typos. I’m not talking about that afternoon when you realize that Gyinoss would flow better in the text if you renamed him Janos. And I’m not talking about that late-night session when you realize you skipped some emotional development in the second half of chapter twelve.

Those are editing tasks; they ADD to what is already there, and further develop the writing you’ve put down.

Revisions means pruning and cutting. Revisions means taking a scene that you label as BAD and rewriting it while judging yourself to make it NOT BAD. Not to make it better, not to heal up some emotional confusion, but to wipe out the original development and action sequence and write a BETTER ONE to replace it.


BAD Writing

Dana mowed through the grove on the back of the machine, cutting down several young trees as she moved to cut a pattern in the shape of her name in the grass. Oh, what a good message this will send to the woodland creatures, Dana thought. The squirrels, in particular, had been getting above themselves lately, and all of the birds were making complaints by the time their nests lay ruined in the grass and mangled by the teeth of the mower. Ha ha! Dana thought, and she set fire to the downed trees.

GOOD Writing

Dana Williams drove her young goats towards the grove of saplings where the unruly squirrels lived. Normally Dana had warm and cozy feelings towards all the woodland creatures, but the squirrels as a group, ever since Darryl had enchanted them to make them clever and talkative, had formed a nuisance that was swiftly destroying the neighborhood.

Their mischief had started out innocently enough; a few eggs smashed against windows and a couple of cows stolen and hidden in living rooms or tethered in the central intersection of the town. Soon, though, the squirrels had escalated to theft, destruction of private and public property, and kidnapping of pets.

By the time the fourth ransom note for a cat had shown up pinned to the town hall door with a sharp stone, Dana decided it was time for something to be done.

The squirrels had taken up with the bluejays, and the two groups formed a rowdy, insolent gang of small beasts who ran rough-shod over peace, quiet, and neighborly civility.

As soon as Dana brought her small herd of goats to the grove, she slipped their collars, drew a narrow hatchet from her waist, and proceeded to chop down and pile up every sapling in the area. Her ax was sharp, and her hoists and blows were full of vim and grim decision.

Dana had not been able to locate the squirrels, to ransom and retrieve her own cat, Mr. Fluffles, and Mr. Fluffles’ head and dismembered corpse had been left on Dana’s front porch one week ago today.

The goats grazed down the grass and undergrowth to the dirt as she worked, and before long, Dana had an enormous pile of felled sapling and a stubby, shorn piece of land that looked as if it had received a merciless shave with a rough-toothed razor.

The squirrels came into sight over the nearest hill, hooting and shouting obscenities in their usual way, just in time to see Dana pull an economical welding torch from her bag and set fire to the heap of cut wood.

“Nooo!” the foremost squirrel bellowed, his enormous front teeth bared in a howl of fury.

“This is war, Dana Williams!” another gray squirrel screeched.

“I’ll fetch the bluejays!” a juvenile squirrel yelped, skidding away just as Dana’s flame caught against the base of the pile of cut trees.

Dana smiled when she heard this, for she had a wicked little bird-shooting gun tucked down the back of her bag. I will be eating fresh bluejay and squirrel tonight, Dana thought, as she turned and prepared to flame the onslaught of squirrels into shrieking little balls of fiery death.

When You Write To NOT SUCK, Your Writing Sucks

Our director-author who hated himself had a blistering genius and passion for directing, because he had taken a true love for acting, and a genuine ambition for acting, and mashed and twisted it up until it became a subverted ability to make OTHER people into decent actors.

Not into brilliant actors, because he wasn’t one himself. You can’t guide someone into a talent you don’t understand yourself. The man was blind, when it came to healthy vanity, to personality development, to fame. He had no idea how he’d failed, or even that he had failed as an actor. He thought he’d made an informed choice into a more suitable field.

He Was So Angry With Himself

This was a betrayal, of himself against himself.

Now, there are actors who try directing and find a genuine passion for it. There are tons of people who write a book, or a scene, look at it, and say, I can write this SAME SEQUENCE OF ACTIONS AND EVENTS in a cleaner, stronger way.

That’s not the negative type of revision I’m hammering against right now. Redrafting and editing are great, and if you make positive changes and additions while revising, and calling it revision, then you’re doing the right thing; awesome.

Revision, as I’m talking right now, for this subject, means CUTTING, DISCARDING, and DESTROYING vital parts of your personal, inner vision.

That’s Self-Immolation, And It’s Morally Wrong

Don’t revise. Edit.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m on a high of adrenaline because of reasons. In my current novel, John Benzing is suffering an unfortunate emotional breakdown. His graft is still a secret from almost everyone.

Adding Depth To Characters You Already Own


Today I’m thinking about fantasy and depth, as in long-range vision on characters.

Let’s get straight to the chase:

You, presumably, have a bunch of really awesome characters that you’re working with in a story, or in multiple stories (I have about four worlds revolving in my mind now, with four sets of characters).

Let’s take those characters that you already have, and I’ll show you how to get a lot more (and I mean A LOT more) mileage out of them.

This process is easy, fast, and deeply satisfying. (If you follow the rules! If you don’t follow the rules, it’s maddening … so follow the rules, ‘kay?)

Victor Poole’s Magical Recipe For Depth In Already-Established Characters

  1. Start with what you have

Don’t add shit. You start, right now, with what you have. What I mean by adding shit:

Example: In one of my fantasy worlds, I have a mature centaur named Albion. With the scenes he’s in so far, I know Albion:

  • has three sons
  • his wife has been dead for years and years
  • he’s very powerful

I also have a general sense of his body carriage, the shape of his torso, and his habitual facial expression. I know these things by my instinctual writer’s sense. You do this for characters you’ve already created; you have a gut sense of what they sort of feel like, as people.

That’s what I have now for Albion; that’s what I can use in keeping this rule.

So, if I broke the rule, I would pressure myself into making Albion “more interesting.” I would add artificial knobs and doodads to his character, or to his story, in an effort to make him have more “depth,” or to make him more “compelling,” or some shit like that.

So I might start daydreaming and showing off by saying to myself that IN ADDITION:


  • Albion has a cloak-and-dagger past as a military centaur, and no one knows about it!
  • He murdered his wife!
  • He wears a lavender harness! (because centaurs)

All that shit would clutter up the core of the original character and lead to me eventually hitting a dead-end in the plot, where it concerns Albion. I would have choked off his ability to become deep in the writing by adding superficial artifice, and ironically, my attempt to force depth would rob Albion of any depth he might otherwise have had.

I know for an absolute fact that you, in your deep writer’s heart, have a sense of what is really part of the character and what is artificially added on to make the character “more interesting.”

  1. Start with what you have. Don’t show off. Don’t add crap. Don’t TRY. Just start with what you have already.

And Now, Rule Two

2. Start catching snags

Every person who exists (even characters you’ve made up for your book) has hiccups and idiosyncrasies in their dialogue and behavior.

You start with what you have and you start calling attention to snags, and refusing to move on in the story until the snag has been thoroughly addressed.

Here are some examples of snags:

  • Henry the bodyguard refuses to shake hands, and doesn’t want to talk about why.
  • Albion the centaur is cool and disdainful, and puts on a stiff manner with strangers.
  • Lysette the queen is impossibly beautiful, and doesn’t seem to age as much as she ought to.

Here Is How To Call Out A Snag

Let’s start with a new snag, just for our purposes here. I will make a new character named Violet, and write a paragraph containing a snag. Observe:

Violet, a minor witch, carried her straw purse through the door of the Farm n’ Garden store and glanced at the flecks of mulch on the floor. Her lips pursed into a slight curl of disapproval, and she went to the largest piece of mulch and kicked it against the wall. They ought to sweep better in here, Violet told herself, and she hitched her straw purse over her shoulder and walked towards the selection of sentient pansies in the back.

The snag here is the way she notices and reacts to perfectly normal debris in a gardening store. Something is under that reaction, and if we continue the story and allow some other character to confront the snag, a beginning of character depth will result. Observe:

Having chosen out her intelligent potted plants, Violet carried them to the willowy clerk at the register and dug in her straw purse for the appropriate measure of gold.

“Why did you kick aside that piece of mulch?” the clerk asked. Her eyes were clear and blue, and she stared at Violet with an unnerving boldness.

“Um, what?” Violet asked, shifting through gum and sparrow bones in her purse.

“When you came in the store. You went and pushed a piece of mulch over against the wall with your shoe. Why’d you do that?” the girl asked. Violet looked up at the willowy young woman and blinked. Violet elected to ignore the question, and succeeded in withdrawing a lump of coins.

“That should be enough. I have smaller change, if you need a closer amount,” Violet said, rendering up a handful of precious metal.

“No, that’s fine. Are you a clean freak?” the clerk asked, opening the register.

“Um, no,” Violet said, feeling that the young woman was being excessively rude.

At this point, I have two choices:

  1. The clerk pushes the point and starts a fight over getting a better answer about the mulch, and the clerk and the witch begin a relationship, either friendly or antagonistic, depending on the results of the confrontation
  2. Violet walks away with her potted pansies, is mildly bothered, and we chase down further snags throughout her day

The stakes in the relationship determine how far the snag-pushing can go on. I’ll talk over my examples from above:

  • Henry the bodyguard is confronted about the hand-shaking by Vince, and turns out to have been physically tortured by some older men a long time ago
  • Albion the centaur is confronted on his stiff manner by the young lady centaur he is speaking to, and she finds out he is very lonely
  • Lysette the beautiful queen is eventually caught doing some very naughty magic that extends her youth and good looks

And Now, The Final Rule

3. Contextual framing creates depth

A successful character draws the reader in and allows for intimacy between reader and character. You get intimate with a person by understanding how they think and feel. Showing a character’s actions and words is not enough; the character’s internal experience of their outer experience is essential to building empathy for that character within the reader.

Empathy is created by vulnerability and contextual framing.

On a completely unrelated note, here’s a landscape sketch I’m working on:


Contextual framing is created over time by showing the character’s familial situation and relations to people immediately around them. Relationships, shown through writing, make the contextual framing.

To frame our witch, Violet, we would go home with her and see her speaking to her mother and sister, who live with her, and we would watch her interacting with the magical hamster who resides in her garden and keeps back angry pests. The more we illustrated Violet’s relationships with those closest to her, the deeper and more interesting her personal snags would become.

Altogether, The Rules Are Three

  1. Start with what you have. Don’t add shit just to show off or artificially create drama. That doesn’t lead to authentic depth. You know in your gut what really belongs with the character and what is added on top.
  2. Call out snags. Usually the character who is paying attention to snags is the protagonist. Hercule Poirot catches snags; that’s almost his entire character, is finding and following up on snags. Harry Potter actually is also mainly volitional because of the way he notes and investigates snags in the people around him.
  3. Contextual framing brings everything together and cements depth. Excellent characterization creeps in on the reader over time, impressed by the relationships immediately surrounding the character.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Max is reciprocating some of the good work Vince has been doing for him. (Vince the hunter is, in the words of one bodyguard, “a mystic energy dude.”)


How Your Origins Shape Your Process

I’m fixing up one of my novels right now. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written, stylistically, as a piece of fantasy. The first half is, anyway. The second half was written under emotional duress, and that’s what I’m in the midst of fixing right now.

Stripping Out Shadows

Basically I have unpleasant relations, and a lot of themes in the book woke up some demons I hadn’t finished working through yet. Having dealt death to said demons, I’m now working through the damaged second half of my book to repair all the little rents of misery and whatnot floating through the text.

The process is interesting, to me, because most of the ruined part of the novel just needs to be flipped over. Negative statements I reverse into positive ones, and the action remains nearly identical. It’s very interesting.

Two Samples Of Humanity

I knew a guy in high school who had a talent for diffusing volatile situations. Some punks tried to start a fight with him once when I was there, and his way of charming them into being friendly was absolutely riveting. He–my friendly, talented friend–did this sort of natural writhe, got emotionally under the whole situation, and rearranged things so that it looked as if he was already friends with the punks, and the whole fighting initiation was actually a mutually enjoyable joke.

He got the aggressors on his side by siding with them, basically, and then reframing their actions as a delightful prank, which he made hilarious to everyone else who was there.

Fight To Fun

The offer, as far as my friend changing the situation from an escalating fight to a flattering social success, was irresistible, and the punks laughed and had a great time and wandered away.

No one talked about it. No one made any show of noticing what had happened. It was one of the most evocative instances of human interaction I’ve ever witnessed.

The Second Sample, Worser Than The First

I knew another person around the same time period who was not at all my friend, and she was very psychologically unstable. She tried to destroy people, and she had a few adults in power on her side, because of what family she’d been born into, so she functionally had teeth, even though she was a harmless idiot when it came down to it.

I watched her take control of another social situation, this time in a classroom, and that was also very interesting. She got power because of her adult sponsors. No one was willing to engage with the phalanx of irritable and not-particularly-reasonable old people she could easily have brought to bear, so everyone sort of folded up and pretended to be rugs.

Both Powerful, One Rotten

My first friend, the fight-diffuser, gained social power because everyone around him gave him that power willingly, and even joyously.

The second person, my not-friend with corrupt connections, laid hold of temporary, transient power by dint of her well-placed sponsors.


BAD writing

Rosa left the water running when she left the building. She imagined it slipping down the stairs, wetting through the carpets, and gradually rotting the heavy wooden floors. Mr. Psorasus would turn off the water in five minutes, as he always did, but Rosa liked to pretend she was flooding the building. Seeing the old place soaked and logged with wet made her heart feel lighter inside, even if the picture was only in her mind’s eye.

Rosa sighed and took her pocket-sized weather panel from her jacket. She flipped the dial around until the clear blue sky turned green, then ochre, and finally a gentle pink. The sun looked dark and strange, a dull purple, with the atmosphere filters turned to pink, but Rosa liked a little bit of florid sentiment in her sky while she was walking home.

She kicked the heavy piles of leaves on the sidewalk as she went. Each thick, substantial leaf scooped up and danced lazily down before making a whisper of relaxation against the others. The sounds of the leaves were a cluster of almost silence, a blanket of noise following behind Rosa like a train of quiet importance.

GOOD writing

Rosa, acting representative for Death, who was a much friendlier person than she had first suspected, had foreseen old Hank Psorasus dying in the afternoon, and she went down to Hank’s office and slipped him a few drops of deadening potion, to keep him from feeling the heart attack that would strike in a couple of hours.

Rosa blocked up the sink and left the water running when she left the building. She imagined it slipping down the stairs, wetting through the carpets, and gradually flooding the heavy wooden floors. Mr. Psorasus had grown up on the sea, and she knew the sound of lapping water would soothe him, as he slipped into death.

Rosa sighed and took her pocket-sized scenic panel from her jacket. She flipped the dial around until the clear blue sky turned green, then ochre, and finally a gentle pink. The sun looked dark and strange, a dull purple, with the atmosphere filters turned to pink, but Rosa liked a little bit of florid sentiment in the sky when a good man lay dying.

She kicked the heavy piles of leaves on the sidewalk as she walked. Each thick, substantial leaf scooped up and danced lazily down before making a whisper of relaxation against the others. The sounds of the leaves were a cluster of almost silence, a blanket of noise following behind Rosa like a train of quiet importance.

In Conclusion

Stripping out unhealthy influences and burning down old demons leads to the ability to objectively remove obstructive emotional nuance from your prose. Beware shadowy figures from your own past.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current work, John and Claire are contemplating the possibility of procreating in a reptilian fashion. Meaning eggs.


That Time When People Get Mad

I went through this really awkward period as an actor, years ago, when everyone seemed to hate me. Directors, producers, support people, and other actors, too. It wasn’t really a violent antipathy at all, but there was a distinct uneasiness, and a sense of, “What’s wrong with you, and why are you here?”

Eventually, after a lot of work and gradual development, I got sunk into a great rut of productivity, and started to get popular.

That’s about where I am, emotionally, with writing just now. I’m in this spot where I’m getting after-shocks of that vague antipathy from folks. The familiarity of the sensation is mildly reassuring, since acting went so well for me after I felt that way before.



As a preamble, before I get into the awful example, I want to talk about what I mean by dead writing. Because I’m about to show you dead writing. You’ll hopefully hate me for it, because some of your writing might exhibit symptoms of being dead.

Embrace the awkwardness with me. Or don’t. Whatevs.

Dead writing is prose that has none of your own soul shoved in between the lines.

Juicy writing has your essential self saturated in, so that when the reader takes in the story, they get to know the flavor of you as well.

Dead writing is a series of manipulative husks, words without any personality or heart inside. No life in the writing equals dead. Here we go.


Cornelius had a nice time at the restaurant, and he had an even better experience afterwards when the stuff happened in the back room. Cornelius got in touch with his deeper, spiritual self.

He did that literally, because he put his name down on a paper and was mobbed as a direct result of not reading the fine print. His body was shoved into a mushy white pod, and he was eaten up until all that was left was his soul.

Cornelius found out that his soul was an even better way to be than in a physical body. It was better because of how in touch he was with pure emotion. He couldn’t be distracted by how he felt. He always was in touch with how he felt instead of wanting to feel a different way.

This state of finding himself brought Cornelius a lot of peace, and his friends got really close to him as time passed, and he proved immaterial and valuable in getting through locked doors or other hard to reach places.


Cornelius never meant to lose all his friends and become a shadow of his former self. He’d really thought, when he entered the shady alien bar that night, to win a few card games, secure a couple of bracing drinks, and go forth to propose to Sami. All that went up in smoke as soon as he signed up for the new shadow-drug trial in exchange for a t-shirt.

“It’ll be fun!” Cornelius’ friend had shouted over the babble of alien noise. “Do it!” the human promoter had called. So Cornelius put down his name, and took the very nice t-shirt, and was dragged into a back room and stripped of his physical self.

“Wait! I don’t want to be a shadow!” Cornelius had screamed, when the alien pod squished slowly up his legs.

“You’ll be fine, honey. It’ll be super fun. Everyone will love you,” the manager said without looking up from his clipboard. One of the two men that held Cornelius down tossed the still-folded t-shirt to the manager, who caught it and glanced briefly at Cornelius. “Only three more tonight. Burn his clothes,” the manager added, before leaving the room.

As the alien pod enveloped Cornelius’ knees, and then spread far more rapidly up to his neck, Cornelius stopped screaming and started to plead, babbling incoherently for help, for them to stop. The two restraining men were silent, and as soon as the pod consumed Cornelius’ throat and mouth, Cornelius was silent, too.

And So

Hopefully I will finish settling into my groove soon, and no longer have awkward run-ins with inexplicably angry people. Really sophisticated writing has not only juicy bits from your soul, but well-arranged pieces of pure life that you’ve peeled off available bodies and pushed into the story. Artistically, of course.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Gregory is investigating a murder plot.


Showing Up To Work (And Writing Like A Seasoned Author)

Once upon a time, a not-excessively long time ago, I produced a play. I held auditions, of course, and one of the actors I ended up using had never done a stage play before. He was a semi-professional musician, a singer, and he was very handsome and had that zing-charisma one might associate with a punk-rock lead singer.

He Was Playing A Couple Of Small Parts

Handsome guy, right? And quiet, and smart.

We do rehearsals, and we’re about a week away from opening. I’ve been very gentle with this guy, because he’s never done a play before, and we’re doing some very intense classical work. He got plenty of rehearsal time, and tons of direction, and here we are, about a week from opening, and . . . he doesn’t know his lines.

He Knew What They Were, But He Couldn’t Think Of Them On His Own Yet

I’m not concerned about this, particularly. I’m used to new actors, and hobbyist actors, so I take apart the script for the fiftieth time and pare down his lines, and on the next rehearsal, I pull him over and tell him I’ve cut most of his lines. I gave him little intros and outs for his dialogue, to make the memorization as minimal as possible.

Because, you know, he doesn’t know any of them yet.

And We Have About Five Days Left

Guys, he got this look in his eyes, as if I had reached forward through time and slapped his firstborn, or deliberately poo-pooed his first major album

He was so, so offended, and I just wanted to laugh. He closed up and got stiff with me, and informed me that he was fine, and he would know his lines just fine, and then he learned his lines.

As if by magic.

I Wounded His Dignity, Though

I don’t think he ever forgave me for it. He probably sorts of hates me to this day. And I don’t know if he’ll ever do theatre again, but I’ll bet you just about anything that if he does do theatre again, he’ll memorize the damn lines a little earlier.

Now, what does this have to do with writing, and showing up to work?

Seasoned Authors Work

Most writers, who call themselves writers, just don’t–um, shall we say–write? I mean, they often tinker over words they’ve already written, or they spend hours daydreaming about what they’ll do with this or that scene, but actually, physically WRITING? Not a lot of people do that.

Same holds true for actors, and, oddly enough, dancers. Most people don’t actually show up to work in their art form. They go through the motions, and they get enough credibility for whatever notoriety they are looking for in the label, but actually fixing their minds and working? No.

So here’s the secret to conquering the known universe and eventually getting what you want as a writer:

Show up and do the work.



Azula was dead before she was alive, because dead women weren’t targets, and she didn’t want to come to life until after the Unkol masters came home again.

Azula bided her time, and looked about, and she had a string of four men to offer to the alien gods when the day came.

Azula thought she would be chosen right away, for most human maid-marks had only laid hold of one or two masculine hearts to be eaten out by the bug-eyed creatures, but she waited for almost a month before her name came up.

“Azula did a pretty good job. Let’s eat her, too,” one of the aliens said to another.

“All right,” said the other, and Azula was delighted to find out she was the main course for a festival of Moon-Ukol.


Azula breathed in slowly as she applied the black, smelly grime over her cheeks. She’d gotten the dark ointment from a corner dispensary. Little markets had sprung up almost the same night the alien invaders had come. Phone alerts and online ads had plastered every surface within minutes of their advance, all with the same message in Comic Sans:

Females will be spared if wearing Kala. Offer males in one month.

Kala was the dark substance Azula spread now on her face, some kind of oily filth excreted by the aliens. Kala was available on nearly every street market, and it was not particularly expensive. Azula didn’t know how the shopkeepers had gotten it stocked so quickly, and no one who sold the stuff would talk.

She hadn’t taken the messages seriously until she’d seen an Unkol master, a huge beast like an armored mixture of a gorilla and a dinosaur, stalking down the middle of a street and grabbing up unmarked females.

All the human women who were left wore Kala now. The oily muck burned Azula’s skin, and she scrubbed it off and wore a mask at night, to help the redness on her face.

Today marked the first day of the new month since the Unkol conquerors had arrived, and Azula had four male offerings, her two younger brothers, a paraplegic uncle, and a kid she’d trapped in the park last Tuesday. She had them all tied up in her spare bedroom, and she was not at all sure how she was going to get them all the way to the courthouse this afternoon.

In Conclusion

You may think you’re in a breakneck competition with serious, angry people who focus really hard and think endlessly of how to succeed, but you’re not competing with those people until you’ve already arrived. Right now, if you’re anything like me, you’re competing with hazy, lonely people who don’t work. So you do the work, and you’ll get into a higher, more intense class of writer soon enough.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I am currently saturated in snark. Also, in my book, somebody is about to have an emotional trip to a tattoo parlor.


Why Poor Characterization Is A Godsend

Sometimes, as a writer, you run into a patch where you write shit. It’s kind of inevitable. The idea, as you improve over time, is to recognize the shit and tuck it away where the public won’t read it and associate it with you. You know, in old drafts or something.

And Then, To Fix Your Shit, Of Course

But as you’re writing, and particularly if you’re writing regularly, you will come up against a character, or a particular emotion, that you just can’t write worth a damn.

When you come up against your own shortcomings as a writer, rejoice! Here’s why your own terrible characterization is actually a marvelous gift from life to you:

Why Bad Characterization Is Such Good News

Bad characterization immediately shows your ignorance of human nature.

Ignorance can be rectified; recognition of the problem is the hardest part. Fixing weak characterization gives you a shortcut to much, much better writing, and the improvement is easy and fast, if emotionally jostling.

Writing Ability As A Blanket

Imagine, if you will, that your writing ability is a blanket, and it is currently full of holes, but you have learned to see the blanket as normal, and don’t realize where the holes are. The reader, in each of your stories, sits down on your blanket and discovers that it’s incomplete.

If your blanket is cozy and warm, most readers will put up with a lot of holes, but if the blanket (your writing ability) is threadbare, or icky, or full of crumbs, or (heaven forfend!) sticky at all (which is what writing is like when there are control or entitlement issues in the writer), the reader is likely to eye your blanket and stroll away, or to sit for five seconds, discover the unwanted texture, and then slip inconspicuously away to change their clothes. Because sticky! Ew.

I Hate Getting Sticky; Could You Tell?

So your job, as a writer seeking to improve (in order to attract the greatest number of people to sit on your blanket), is to find out all the holes and texture problems of your particular blanket and fix them up until you have a big, wide, hole-less expanse of warm, fuzzy, just-like-Mother kind of blanket.

The easiest, fastest way to improve your blanket is to find the holes in the fabric.

The holes in the blanket of your writing craft are incorrect or weak characterizations.

Weak characterizations come from a lack of empathy.

How To Get More Empathy

Fixing an empathetic lack is so easy that it’s laughable.

All you have to do to become a better writer, after you discover that your characterizations in any particular area are weak, is to hunt out a living, real-life type of that character, or a person experiencing the emotion that you’re failing to capture, and spend time with them, and become their friend.

Authenticity is key, here. You can’t go collecting material from human beings as though you were stripping the wings off butterflies. You go and you be a real friend, a good friend, and in no time at all, your characterization will deepen, your hole in that area of your writing blanket with vanish, and more readers will be tempted to park their asses and stay for a while.



Dr. Hooper was an anesthesiologist who had no time for his only daughter. She was often lonely, but coped with the lack of parental guidance by taking up surfing.

She was too young to surf, but their house was by the lake, and she tried. The lack of actual waves often deterred her, but she took out the surfboard every day from the back shed, paddled out to the middle of the lake, and waited for a suitable storm to come along and whip up some good waves.

It was a miracle she never fell in and drowned, for she did not know how to swim.


There was a passage into another dimension out in the middle of the lake behind Miriam’s house. She’d first found it while sitting on the surfboard, staring down into the water and waiting for her father to come home and shout at her. She wasn’t supposed to be out on the lake at all, for she didn’t know how to swim, but her dad, a nurse, worked so much that Miriam had decided the only way to get his attention was to die.

She didn’t mean to actually die, of course. She was planning a dramatic rescue. She would slip off the board, as soon as he saw her, and flounder helplessly while he screamed and swam out to save her life. Miriam had plotted out the whole thing, and found the idea romantic.

As she’d been sitting on the purple and pink surfboard, staring down into the water, she’d seen a repeated flash of silver light.

At first, Miriam had paid no attention to this flash, for she told herself it was only sun dancing down beneath the water. The silver shape was too regular, and when she lay down on her stomach to see better, she found a round, unmistakable edge curving down below. She paddled the surfboard, and turned in the water, and eventually discovered that the silver curve went in a wide circle, about twenty feet in circumference, and the center of the circle had fragments of geometric light inside.

Hm, Miriam thought, and she paddled to the shore of the lake, planted the surfboard firmly in the sand, and set out into the shallows to figure out how to swim.

She wanted to get down there to look around, and her dad would never give his permission, if he knew what she was up to. She figured she had a good ten minutes to practice, before she’d need to hide the board and get back into the house.

In conclusion

If you run into a terrible characterization in your own writing, or find that you’re struggling to capture an emotion or experience within that character, the fix is easy: go forth into the world and find a friend. Make a friend, rather, out of the class of humans who share key traits or circumstances with your struggling area, and you will deepen as a writer, improve as a human, and gain empathy, which will knock that poor characterization right in the teeth.

And there’s nothing like beating up your own terrible writing for building your opinion of your work.

You’re reading Victor Poole. In my current novel, Zephyr has been entrusted with a delicate mission involving an ugly secret and a couple of dead kids.