What Really Happens When You Base A Character On Someone You Know

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Many of my characters are constructed from people I knew, or know currently, in my real life (hi, Jamie!). As I’ve said before on my blog, I have a peculiar knack for reading people’s body language and energy casings, and this results in some fascinating (to me) tinkering over character formation and subsequent arc development.

Combining Potent Personalities In A Blender—Then Go!

One of my favorite characters, a king named John, is an extraction and distillation from an interesting quasi-genius I know quite well. It is not the full person, but about a quarter of the original, drawn off and grown out into a complete personality.

How Does That Happen?

First, I take a person who tickles my curiosity. In the case of John, the base personality was an enigma to me; there was a twist of childishness and frank genius in my source person that nagged at me. I isolated that element of character, and pressed it out into a human form. This is kind of like taking a swab from inside someone’s cheek and then putting it in a damp plastic mold and waiting for new life to fill out the desired shape. Okay, that sounds kind of nasty. Instead, let’s say it’s like cutting one branch from a tree, and splicing it into a plain tree to grow a pure strain of fruit. There, that’s more palatable.

Victor, Sometimes Your Analogies Are Just Too Strange

After I’ve gotten the piece of person I want, I start to tease at the new character, pushing at different aspects of the personality to find the weak spots. If I were to do this on a straight copy of the real person, the source body from which I drew the character, the book would rapidly become very deep, very personal, and very, um, committed. You can’t take an authentic human, a real person with a complete aura and set of personal qualities, and then chuck them into a narrative setting and not come out with sterling literature. Literature, however wonderful it might be, is not usually suited for fantasy or science fiction work, because it is just too damn serious (see, Harder Than Rocks, which is charming, and perfect, and very sobering at the end). (See also My Name Is Caleb, which is based on a combination of three very abused people I know well.)

Genre Fiction Is Not Suited For Complete Characterizations

Fantasy has got to be a little bit fun, or at any rate, sufficiently light-hearted to serve as an escape. I pushed the envelope about as far as I could with Ajalia and Delmar, but even they are quixotic enough to escape the melancholia of genuine humanity. People are dark inside, not because most of them are bad (though many of them are), but because there is an unbearable weight of pain, oppression, and sorrow that goes before every person, and trails along behind.

Enough With The Sober Philosophizing, Victor!

What happens when you take a person you know well, and use part of them, or most of them, in a character in your novel? Well, if you are possessed of any discretion, you will conceal what you have done! But what happens is that you start to get into your source’s head, and you start, if you have skill as a writer, to inhabit their skin, or some part of their soul.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Leopold was so fed up with the state of his enormous, too-big house of expensiveness, he was ready to throw it all into disarray with a haphazard auction at the lowest social bar, rung, or placement possible for a man of his elevated station. He was to the point, in actual matter of factness, of considering giving up the family noblelands, and going into the space realms to live as a carnival barker, or a lackey to a pirate-type-rubbisher. This, in fact, was what Leopold told himself, but his butler-chef, Marinker, was already plotting to thwart such a disastrous state of affairs, and made a balanced breakfast of greens and egg whites, hiding a silver sheaf of money under the plate as an added temptation. Leopold never had any money, because his butler-chef had strict orders from the elder brother to keep all household monies under strict lock and key.

Good Writing:

Leopold was upset; his hair fell to one side, and his normally scrupulous trousers had gained a set of wrinkles across the hips. He paced up and down the superfluously thick carpet of his needlessly-large library, and meditated on the various schemes he had sketched out for the purpose of obtaining money.

Toddy, his older brother, always kept the cold, hard cash far from Leopold’s sticky fingers, and the young man, who had only recently gained his majority, was seriously contemplating running away to the star-blazer’s circus, to live as some kind of freak. He’d have to mutilate himself, but lots of young men did that. At least, that’s what he’d read about in Science-Mudo Monthly. They had pictures of the space-freaks there, sometimes, young men with five noses, or an extra set of lips in their cheeks. It wasn’t so bad, he told himself, and you could always pay for a cosmetic fix after you’d made your fortune being chased by moon monkeys and standing on your head during the fire show.

Marinker was well ahead of young Leopold’s schemes; the butler slid discreetly into the library with all the fanfare and clatter associated with a timid mouse, and lay a tray of spinach and eggs noiselessly on the bench of the ivory harmonium. Clearing his throat ever so gently, the butler crinkled a pair of shimmering silver bills under the plate; the money made a lush rustle, and Leopold’s ears pricked up instantly. Marinker slid like an eel from the room, and Leopold pounced on the funds.

And Remember, Celebrities Have Proprietary Energy Signatures

Don’t use famous people unless you are very, very good at energy alterations, and even then, people will be able to taste the foundational composition. Use nobodies, strangers at the park, friends from elementary school, and people you know well enough to predict. Age can always be adjusted, and characters can be mashed together to make original flavors. When you use real people to inspire your characters, be prepared to develop startling empathy for your subjects, and don’t use too much of one person unless you’re prepared to make a literary tome.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. Almost all of my characters are drawn from pieces of people I’ve known (or know) in real life. I like to combine touches from as many as four people to create original subjects (like Leed).

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Want To Be A Successful Writer? Give Up Now

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A very strange thing happened to me when I started taking myself seriously as a writer: I couldn’t write anymore (this was many years ago). I felt so much pressure to write as well as I possibly could that I froze up and didn’t dare write anything that felt wrong. Because I had too little experience making stories, this meant that most everything unfamiliar felt strange and new, and therefore wrong.

So Much Pressure To Be Perfect Right From The Beginning

So I didn’t write much. I had some very lovely chapter beginnings, and one story that had an excellent collection of scenes almost completed, but I could not write an actual book. I would sit down regularly, as I supposed all earnest someday-authors must, and I would attempt to squeeze words out of myself.

Squeezing Words Out Doesn’t Work If All The Words Have To Be Perfect

It never worked. I was still convinced that I would, at some point, and by sheer force of will, become an author, but I could never break past the unendurable pressure to be really, perfectly good, right now, no matter what.

No Mistakes, Victor Poole!

I took up poetry, which I was good enough at to somewhat make up for my failings as a novelist. Eventually, and because I was an actor, I took up playwriting, which I turned out to be quite good at. The problems of conflict and continuity still plagued me, but I was good enough at dialogue to gloss over my inability to plot.

Failed Novelist, Average Poet And Playwright

Still, I planned on being a writer of books. I was dead-set on it. The years passed, and I never sat down and attempted to force myself to write books anymore. I was busy doing other things, and writing different kinds of projects. The idea of books nagged at me, though. I wanted more than anything else to write novels. They were, to me, the legitimate form of writerly creation.

Just ‘Cause I Like Books

Something really interesting happens when you give up on a long-held ambition. You relax, and many things that have been pushed under the surface by the pressure of expectation and fear begin to rise up, and become part of your awareness. I’ve seen this with actors; only when they become thoroughly discouraged, and say, “Well, I can’t do it. Nothing is working,” do they allow themselves to risk. Only when they embrace failure, and the humiliation of expected crash-and-burn work do they begin to be able to use their real selves in the act of creation.

And So, I Gave Up

I gave up on writing great novels. I stopped telling myself that I was going to be really good at books. I stopped believing that I had what it took to succeed. So much time had passed, and I had failed so unilaterally to write any kind of a book, that I started coming to terms with the fact that what I was doing was not working at all. I started telling myself that I was wrong, and that my future self would not spontaneously erupt into a competent novelist.

Goodbye, Unrealistic Expectations; Hello, Failure

At first, this made me very sad. I didn’t want to feel like a failure. I wanted to be good at things. I wanted to be proud of myself. Giving up on such a long-held ambition made me feel really stupid, and like I had failed an ultimate test of character by not finding some way to follow through on doing what I wanted.

Woe Is Me, Or Woe Was Me, At The Time

But, with reality staring me in the face, and cognizant of the fact that I had not even tried to write a single chapter of a novel for literally years, I gave up. After I felt all the accompanying emotions of miserable failure, I started to look about with some interest. I could not be a successful author, I thought, and there was no longer any pressure to write well. In this newfound freedom from expectation, I found that I kinda sorta wanted to sit down and write a book.

Once I Didn’t Have To, I Kinda Sorta Wanted To

You know, just for fun. Just for me. Because I didn’t have to write a good book, or a non-embarrassing book, or a coherent book any longer.

I Could Write Garbage! It Was Freeing!

So I wrote a book. I enjoyed myself so much that I started studying plot, and scene-building strategies. I spent several frantic months imitating great storytellers, as an exercise in storytelling.

I Wrote Many Novellas At This Point

A new ambition began to burn in me. I would no longer become a successful author; now, I wanted to be a person who actually finished projects. That, I thought, was a pretty achievable dream. After all, I had proven to myself that I could actually, in real life, write a whole book.

So I Finished Projects; I’m Nearly Caught Up Now

I spent more years writing books. Now I have come up against another expectation: I want to finish a great many books in an integrated world. As I approach this emotion, I am already beginning to give up. I’ve learned that giving up, and embracing utter, miserable failure is the quickest route to getting exactly what I want.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books, which I never thought I would write, are here. I’m working on a companion series about Philas right now.

The Fantasy Writer’s Guide To Making Your Culture More Authentic

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As fantasy writers, and creators of marvelous new worlds in the reaches of space, (hiya, sci-fi pals!), one of our chiefest concerns is to deliver authentic, believable, can’t-look-away indigenous cultures. A big appeal of genre is escape; you want to make sure that you’re not accidentally recreating your culture of origin covered over with superficial details.

British Translators Did This To Chekhov

There are several renditions of The Cherry Orchard from the nineteenth century where the characters stride around saying, “Jolly old chap!” and “By Jove, really, my good man!” which are neither accurate in spirit or context to the words of the actual Russian play.

It is possible, and, dare I say, common, to perform a similar Jingoistic production in your fantasy cultures, but the real danger lies in doing so unconsciously.

How Do I Avoid It, Victor Poole?

Your first and best defense against unconscious bias in your culture-creation is an accurate understanding of some different cultures to your own. For example, I’m American, and have steeped myself in Russian, British, and Chinese ways of thinking for some time.

You’ve Probably Been More Places Than Me, And You Have The Interwebs, Fair Reader (And Therefore Most Likely Surpass Me In Worldliness)

Examining the differences between mainland and colonial literature, and cross-referencing that with Australian work, and enslaved islander accounts, gives a broad picture of several different value-systems, built-in prejudices (on the part of several different peoples), and unstated cultural goals. Contrasting these impressions with the heart of Taoist philosophy, and comparing mainland Chinese social assumptions with Japanese and Taiwanese family values, leads to a beginning of discernment between the wild varieties in cultural assumptions, valuations of worth, and internalized pressures. Throw in a dash of Indian philosophy, and reflect that I have so far mentioned only a handful of very brief cultural subjects, and we can conclude that our palette for source material is endless.

If There Are So Many Great Sources, Why Did You Say People Reproduce Their Own Cultures, Victor?

Here’s where I’m going to get all particular. Cultural assumptions are tied into your roots of subsisting energy; what you expect from the world, and what you are willing to give back from within yourself, is determined mainly by culture. Your baseline assumptions of what is reasonable comes from generational inheritance of body carriage, childcare provided in your extreme youth, and the vocal patterns (and therefore energy arrangements) created by your culture of origin. This is, of course, an enormous simplification, but we’ll start there.

Once You Realize That Someone Else’s Energy Carriage Is Opposite To Yours, You Can Create Original Cultures

Turning your own energy carriage upside down can be an illuminating exercise, but a more fruitful endeavor is to temporarily inhabit, in your imagination, the mental and emotional space of another person from a culture different to yours. You probably already have at least one, and possibly many, friends and acquaintances who hail from faraway places. Buried in your subconscious are myriad source materials; what we are talking about today is how to conveniently access them, to ensure that your fantasy and science fiction cultures are not flattened reproductions of your own upbringing.

Surface Details Do Not An Original Culture Make

It is the roots, the unconscious assumptions about life, about value, and about punishment and justice that form the energy ball that is recognizable culture. Once you have absorbed the reality that someone else has completely different unconscious drivers to you, you are in a space to mash into shape a new and genuinely original fantasy (or science fiction) culture.

Examples

Bad Writing:

They came to the edge of the country, and there was no trouble with the border guard, because they were flying too high for the towers to perceive their entrance. It was lucky that the torches that were searchlights had been discontinued after the big dry spell, because the wings of the big dragons would have showed up in the bright light of such fire.

They flew and flew until they at last arrived near the outskirts of her old dwelling place, that ancient pile of rock, the Castle-proper in the new capital of Caldhart, which still bore many signs of the previous culture’s subsistence upon the previously-dry ground.

“How will we sneak into the castle? It’s heavily guarded,” John whispered to her.

Good Writing:

They arrived in the outskirts of Caldhart in the deepest night; the stars blinked above like innumerable eyes, and the shadows of Claire’s dragons flitted like black leaves, obscuring the moon. Claire left her dragons and John in a quiet valley near the great lakes, and flew alone with her own dragon towards the castle. She found Gerard, who was growing quite old and grey, in the war room of the castle.

“Goodness, Madam,” he cried, when she came into the light. He became very still, and examined her from head to foot. “What’s happened to you?” he asked at last.

Remember, Writing Original Cultures Is As Easy As Can Be, Once You Go Under The Surface

Costumes, diet, and traditions are the superficial markers of culture; what determines the shape of a person’s soul are their unconscious assumptions about the value of life, justice and wrong-doing, and the meaning of broad social interaction. Once you turn your mind into the soul of your new culture, your work will become harder, stronger, and much more captivating.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My internet’s been patchy lately. The Saroyans have the most original culture in this series; the Slavithe, Talbosians, and Eastern traders are variations on existing themes.

Science Fiction Sample, And An Update About Venting My Emotional Vehicle

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I’m purging a whole lotta crap out of my ribcage. Emotions get stuffed in there; I have a lot of dark, ugly things in my ribs. And I’m emptying them out, but it sucks. It sucks because all the negative, blocked, squishy (not the good kind of squishy, the rotten, smelly kind) experiences that I’ve hidden in order to cope are stored there, and I’m doing a renovation of my interior, so of course the goo in my ribs has to go. It just smells terrible. Spiritually. I mean that it smells spiritually. It doesn’t actually smell, like, in your nose or anything.

I Knew A Man Very Like Alexander Skarsgard In School

He was a strange duck, very kind in his heart, but he had the most awful manners. He was like a walking sexual harassment lawsuit, pending. But very sweet. He never bothered really good women, and his irritating teasings were coming from a clean place. A lot of men harass women because they’re horrible human beings, and selfish, but this guy, Carl, we shall call him, poked at unhappy, broken women, in an effort to cheer them up. He was very childish.

Oh, Victor, Why Are You Bringing Up Carl?

I brought up Carl the friendly harasser because I thought about fixing him. I generally think about fixing everyone that I meet, because I know how to fix people. Yeah, I know that sounds arrogant or something, but I do. I rebuild people, when I feel like it. And when I think my repair-work might last. People destroy themselves, you know, when they think they can get away with it without becoming homeless. Carl didn’t destroy himself; he was already broken, almost beyond repair, by the infidelity of his parents, and the cruelty of his homeland (he was a foreigner).

Those Rotten Ribs, Which Stink

Anyway, I was pondering the potential fixing-up of Carl, and I ran my projection equipment, which I always do before picking up a new broken person, and I found that, though it would, over the course of about fifteen years, be possible to fix Carl, I could not bring myself to face the stench. His ribs, and his lower lumbar vertebrae, were stuffed with inherited poison. He’d tried to absorb and cleanse the sins of his mother and father, you see, and he didn’t have the tools for the job. When a child, later an adult, attempts to purge another, and they cannot do the job, they hide the evidence, usually in their bones.

It Would Be Like Performing Surgery On A Rank Corpse

Carl is the type of man who will never, ever, ever let go of a love for and loyalty towards his parents. Which means that he will never, ever allow anyone to remove the rot and the decay from within his bones. I could fix Carl, by blinding him, and then bending him over my knee and gutting him, but it would take a long time, and, as I said before, it would smell very, very bad. Spiritually, not in the physical world.

What Are Spiritual Smells, Victor?

If you don’t have any extra-sensory perceptions, you should probably think about developing some. For the future, you know, when the machines are supposedly going to take over (which, having connections to construction, I just do not believe can ever happen, really). Smells, though. I mentioned that death is black, several days ago, and I said that I wouldn’t tell you about what evil was like. I will tell you this: it smells, like you wouldn’t believe. Spiritually.

Examples

Good Writing:

Mary felt taken aback by this choice of words. She was not entirely offended; she figured Ethan was not used to talking to people that he liked. She had seen him interact with other cyborgs, a little, and their way of communication was not exactly fluffy or harmonious.

The truth was that Ethan wanted to hurt her feelings; he was uncomfortable with their connection, and he was living in a fold of contradiction. He wanted Mary to be happy, but he did not want to make her happy himself, and he did not want to encourage her affection for him.

He sensed, in an instinctual way, and also because she had nearly died rescuing him on the guardship, that she loved him, and he had never been loved wholly in his life. He did not like how vulnerable and owned it made him feel. He preferred the cold, heartless relationship he had to his alien master, and to the conquering race as a whole. They were monstrous and cruel, but they never expected him to parse his own feelings, and he was finding, as he interacted further with Mary, that interpreting his own feelings was an exercise fraught with trouble and pain.

Very, Very Bad Writing:

Mary did not enjoy the expression he used in referring to her this way. She had very strong feelings about how he was speaking, stuffing them away, Ethan would learn in the future if she was just nicer to him. The cyborgs were different to mortal men, who had shown her gentility and charm.

Ethan was more machine than man; his heart cold, filled with dark thoughts and a rib of metal down his spine. Unhappy he was inside, and sharing the misery would be closer between them.

It became plain, especially after her life-saving actions, that she liked him more than a lot, and he was not in the tune enough with his emotional side to be comfortable figuring out how to say to her that he really wanted to, and would like, to slow down their togetherness. It was all too fast and hard for him to wrap his clumsy mind around, here, especially.

Worry About Your Own Malfunctions, Carl!

Most people don’t smell bad, in their auras, but most people also don’t attempt to carry and purge their parents’ evil. Proscription: Don’t try to carry or purge the sins of anyone else. Sins, here, being in reference to the distortions and damages ladled onto natural energy forms. I’m venting and dumping old pain, which smells bad, spiritually, but Carl was carting around a pile of infectious ooze and decades-old septic decay. Nasty. Like, if I opened him up, and began the purging process on him, I wouldn’t be able to be in the same house as his body. Ugh.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. Evil auras are described with frightening accuracy in this series. Thursday is my favorite day, because it’s still a writing day, but it’s almost the weekend (break!).

The Surprisingly Simple Secret To Continuous Work

 

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Spoiler alert: Death is the secret to continuous work, or rather, the constant remembrance of the inevitability of death.

Now I Ramble About My Life

Some days I get super tired of being me. I think I must be the most ridiculously, needlessly screwed-up person ever. Because there’s nothing actually wrong with me, but I think there’s a shit-ton of things wrong with me, so life feels complex when it isn’t really.

And Some More Rambling

I have a bunch of projects I’m working on right now. I stopped working on Scribophile, because the people all felt negative and crab-potty. Like, super angry people who stomp on dreams. Those kinds of people. I haven’t deleted my account yet, because I have this idea that someday in the future I’ll get hardened and ruthless, and then I’ll go around practicing my people skills on the folks there. Probably won’t happen, but it’s a nice daydream.

Victor Poole, Hardened Edition!

I have a unicorn for human beings. I know a lot of folks are mean, but it’s hard for me to let go of the idea of everyone being secretly good inside. I had a good day the other time I went out grocery shopping though; I met five or six friendly people, and even the drivers at the lights were courteous. That was nice.

Plus, A Grocery Clerk Thought My Shirt Was Awesome

I didn’t like the newest Star Wars movie. I felt like I was sitting in a country church cultural hall, watching a volunteer production. The worst parts were the guy with the breathing mask (flat, flat, sad) and the blind guy who believed in the force. I have never seen such poor work on a film in an actual theatre. I mean, the performances were severely lacking (those two instances in particular). The main woman was good, and the main guy was all right in the last ten minutes.

Oy Vey, The Scene Transitions!

Have you ever seen the absurdly-long Harry Potter musical online? I haven’t ever sat through the whole thing, but I watched the first parts years ago. Voldemort and Quirrel were adorable.

Now I Talk About My Projects

I’m working on a new Egyptian story, and I’m doing character charts for my centaur book. I have the plot outlined, but I want to establish more detail about the creatures and cultures in the world. I think Amazon is falling apart.

Kobo, Anyone?

Taoism teaches us that death is our friend; imagine for a moment that you are old and grey. Picture yourself on a cold and lonely deathbed, at the ripe old age of one hundred and two. Imagine that your friends and relations, if you happen to have any, are huddled sorrowfully around you, and that you are about to expire.

Here’s The Secret To Working Continuously:

Now, with this scenario in your mind, think of your writing. How many books have you written, and what are they like? Did you give up on authorship? Do you have a career to speak of? There isn’t one right answer, but there certainly is an answer that you want to be the final result. When you remember that you have a finite number of moments left to be alive, and to write, you begin to think more practically of what it will cost you to reach your goals.

Having A Hard Time Writing? Remember That You’ll Soon Be Dead

Death is inevitable, and an impersonal finish to your life story. Is your story going to be one of writerly triumph and perseverance, or are you going to realize that you actually would rather become a professional botanist? If you have a genuine well of longing deep within you, and a yearning for writerly success, the constant remembrance of death will create a spur to your quiet moments, and you will find that you work harder, longer, and more continuously.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Caleb comes to terms with his untimely death in this book. Happy 4th of July, fellow interneters.