Internal and External Pace

There are a lot of variables to writing; you’ve got your characters, and your plot. The dialogue needs to be natural and add to the flavor of the story, and your verbiage must be clean and functional. One mistake that many of us make is in the way we approach pacing.

Fast or Slow, Consistency Is Key

If your pacing sucks, or you’re sure you don’t need any help with the speed at which your novel unravels, it is a good idea to check your pace against the internal, emotional pacing.

Two Kinds

There are two layers to pacing; the first, and most obvious layer is in the action conveyed through the writing. You know, Joe stands up and fetches his keys, and tucks his sinister pistol into the back of his pants before going into the vestibule and calling his partner. These are external events, and contribute to the intensity of the story.

And Inside, Emotional Pacing

Inside the action is a secondary, more interesting material, which is the emotional progress of the characters, and the development of the psychological construction of the novel as a whole. This is the part that is the most interesting to me. The eventual climax of this internal development creates the emotional effect in the reader, which is why most of us read in the first place.

The Happy “Wonderful Book” Feeling

If you have a brain, and care about writing craft, the external action is probably fine. You’re most likely doing a more-than-adequate job of the outer layer, which means we’re going to talk about the internal layer.

Neglected Pace

Internal pace is not something we think often of looking at, but it is a pretty fun way to improve your novel. Internal pacing suffers when the author (that’s you!) starts to avoid the vulnerability element of performance. Now, you may be thinking that you’re writing books precisely because you don’t want to talk to people in real life, but written performance is performance nonetheless, and the words need to communicate to someone on the other end (the reader) before art happens.

But, Victor, I Just Want To Make Money

Reading is an emotional experience; purchases are generally motivated by feelings. Therefore, it may behoove the author (you) to give some thought to the amount of internal action flowing through the book. Internal action, you might say, is a natural by-product of well-paced external action. As we all know (or could know, if our public discourse on the subject of film acting was homogenous and based in sound performative principles) from too many hazy action movies, it is completely possible to have non-stop external action with little or no genuine internal action.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Timothy rocked back and forth in his chair. He got up and made some apple juice in a cup. He asked the maid for a napkin, and then he found a gun hidden in the last kitchen drawer. He saw a blue handkerchief knotted around the handle.

He took it down to the barge, and hid it beneath a box of loose bolts. When the barge went out, he stood in the kitchen and watched through the open window.

Good Writing:

The soles of his feet made a gentle pressure on the hardwood floor; Timothy rocked back and forth, the regular creak of his great-aunt’s chair filling the room with friendly noise. He could not have told you after the fact why, when he had gone into the kitchen, he had opened the last drawer, the one on the right where Maegyn kept odds and ends. He’d gone for the juice, as he always did at the finish of his afternoon rock, and a sudden impulse had gripped him; he had drawn out the shallow drawer.

He knew it was Maegyn’s gun because of the blue cloth knotted over the muzzle. She’d gotten that handkerchief from Bartholomew, before he died. Timothy stared down at the weapon for a long moment; the glass of apple juice made his hand cold, and drops of condensation fell over his palm.

He picked it up by the cloth, and shoved his hip against the drawer to close it. He had a few minutes; she was out in the wildflowers, digging up the nettles again. The gun against his stomach, and his apple juice gripped hard in his hand, Timothy walked straight down the front of the house to the dock, and ducked into the barge that lay waiting for the afternoon crossing.

Internal Action Determines The Quality Of The Novel

I’m a snob, but I outgrew action for the sake of action a long time ago. (I know, I’m so arrogant, yadda yadda.) If the bottom layer, the true emotive shape of the novel, is paced well, by which I mean regular dips and moments of euphoria, and coherent unfolding of worthwhile secrets, the book will be great. Put the skin of a strong external pace (action-based) over the internal developments, and all you’ll need are luck, positioning, and an excellent cover.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. The internal action of this book is something I am very proud of. Brushing your teeth while reading is not proven to make your teeth any whiter, but it’s worth a try.

What’s The Difference Between Character Development And Waffling?

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You may have written long, detailed backstories in your lifetime that turned out, in the big picture, to be unnecessary to your novel as a whole, or which contributed so little movement to the overall plot that they can best be described as waffling.

Or Pancaking, If You Prefer

On the other hand, there are many times in your writing that you embark on fanciful, fulsome descriptions of character traits and idiosyncratic anecdotes that build the story, flesh out your fictional people, and make your book worth reading.

What’s The Difference?

Strong character development happens when there is an active, forward-moving element in the writing. This is something that is easy to locate, when you look for it. It is like examining an invisible fish to see if it is dead or alive. Yes, I’m saying there’s an invisible fish inside your writing. If the fish is alive and swimming, there are ripples and eddies of energy all throughout the prose; something in your gut tells you that things, they are a-happenin’.

Dead Fish, No Bueno

On the other hand, when the invisible fish has gone belly up (or is missing entirely from the water of your novel), there is a stagnant, slightly sickening feeling of waiting, and waiting, and nothing happening at all. When you were a child, did you ever have a trip or a big event that you were looking forward to, and it was the night before, and you couldn’t go to sleep because you just kept thinking about what it would be like when the thing happened, and you set out on your adventure? That is not what waffling is like, but the nauseating, numb buzz of unbearable waiting in your insides is. When you’ve written a piece of diverting character story, and you read over it, pay attention to your gut. Are you sensing forward movement, or vague, nervous nausea?

Victor, You Are So Silly!

Am I really telling you that your tummy can serve as a barometer for the quality of your character development? Why yes, yes I am. (Coincidentally, the word “tummy” has always made me slightly uncomfortable, as has the word “mealy,” which makes me think of thousands of grubby white insect larvae. Hey, I went to the zoo with my kids recently, and we got to see several sets of baby insects in one of the exhibit rooms. It was a lively afternoon, and the children behaved themselves with surprising decorum. But that has nothing to do with character development, or its unsavory second cousin, waffling.)

You’re Losing Me, Victor

Let’s look at an example to see what we can see of a dead versus a living invisible fish. First, I will write a truly wasteful passage about the swashbuckling Barun, and then I will revive my translucent swimmer and write a wandering but productive bit of character development about that same Barun. Buckle yourselves into your seats, fellow internet-scribblers.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Barun carried a spear in his left hand. It stuck into his saddle stirrup, and he closed his hand around it, the same hand he had split open when he was five and the pigs had gotten out. His father had told him all about how to ride out to battle on that day, because Barun had wailed at the blood, and his mother said it was like having a fight, and he could pretend he had destroyed a horrible monster, even though he had really fallen over the fence rail and hit his palm on a sharp rock.

His scar went white after the skin healed, and the muscles pinched together a little and made a shape in his hand like a falling comet. He thought comets were neat. They reminded him of his grandmother, and of sausage-making in the fall. He had never helped slaughter the pigs, even though his brothers did, because he didn’t like the smell of the pigs’ innards. He did a good job plucking the chickens, though, and peeling away the guts. They used to feed the guts to the household dogs. He had a dog named Partchel once.

Good Writing:

The polished shaft of Barun’s spear was solid and comforting against his left palm. The butt of the spear jostled in the cup of his stirrup, which squeaked and groaned under the action of his horse. The rough scarring over his palm rubbed rhythmically against the wooden spear; Barun liked to feel the solid shaft roll back and forth over the thickened white tissue. He’d gotten the scar as a child, when his father’s hogs broke out. He’d tried to help the dogs round up the pigs, but his little legs had tangled in the shattered rails of the sty, and he’d fallen headlong, his hands outstretched. His left palm had met with the edge of a rock, and his hand had been sliced almost in two.

Mistress Doldur, the village wise-hatch, nursed him together again, but the skin grew back like a thick stone, and rose in a long hump over the cut. Mistress Doldur told him it was because of the herbs she used.

“Other little boys would have to stay home with mother, and tend the fires,” she had said, turning the bandages over, and binding sharp weeds between Barun’s fingers. “You are lucky; you have me, and you will learn to fight when you are better.”

Character Development Is Fun

How can you tell if your diverting aside builds your character or wastes the reader’s time? Imagine an invisible fish in your narrative, and feel with your gut if the fish is moving steadily forward, or floating aimlessly in an attitude of vague decay (or missing entirely). Find the fish, determine the movement of the fish, and cut or keep your character passages.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books are here. I like the dysfunctional family in this story, because they remind me of some people I knew at my parents’ church.

What To Do When Your Book Isn’t Very Good

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It is the secret terror of every author: the novel they have labored over in the solitude of their private hours is rubbish, and everyone can see it but them. It is the ultimate intellectual failure, the final frontier of the inability to protect the ego from exposure, mockery, and shame.

Sounds Pretty Bad, Doesn’t It?

Indie authors live in fear of the scathing review that reams their work up and down; unpublished authors tremble at the thought of the withering dismissal from a coveted agent, and those with representation dread the possibility that no house will ever make an offer on their book.

Gee, Victor, Hyperbole Much?

So how can you tell if your book is great, or an embarrassing mistake? I would love to jump in here and tell you that of course your particular novel is marvelous in every way, but the truth is that there are always stories for each of us that function best as a private learning process. (As in, unsuccessful books. Bad novels, if you will.) They are valuable and essential to growing your powers as an author, but they aren’t anything you want to shelve at your local library, because they’re ideologically malformed, or poorly executed, or just plain personal and myopic.

I Have (Hidden, Secret, Super Unpublished) Books Like This Myself

In fact, I have a long, long list of novel ideas that I keep tucked way, many of which are dead-end ideas, or derivative non-plots, or simply ego-boosting pet projects that would spiral into unmarketable messes if I attempted to push them any farther. How do you tell that your book is like this? I mean, to speak plainly, how do you tell if your story sucks?

This Is Where Experience Comes In

I used to struggle with recognizing quality work. I had a private art tutor a long time ago who took me through reams of photographs, rejecting, rejecting, rejecting. She finally accepted two possibilities for a study of composition. “These would be all right,” she told me.

What A Prude!

I remember being taken aback by her pickiness. Later, when I became an acting TA, and I saw student after student presenting monologues, I started to understand better. Once I started producing, perspective came into play. I was working for money, now, and once money comes into the equation of art-making, sentimentality gets peeled away. What works? Why does it work? How, exactly, does it work?

Victor Poole, You’re Full Of Hot Air!

I like Bernard Shaw, but he was not a particularly wise man. Not like Shakespeare. He was convinced, or he pretended to be in his writings, that he had far surpassed Shakespeare in both skill and artistic application. Shaw believed, or he pretended to believe, that Shakespeare was a crock who fell victim to weak-minded sentimentality.

Ah, Poor Irish Boy

Yeah, that sounds really condescending, but he was a condescending guy, Bernard Shaw. Chekhov was kind. I approve of Chekhov. (He hated Stanislavski’s work a lot more than I do, and for good reason.) To the point: you can’t find out if your book is good or bad until you give it to someone to read. And then you have to be cunning, oh, so cunning, to parse and understand the reaction of your reader. Because, and this is a topic for another day, all but one percent of your potential readers are going to react as if your book is bad, but many of their negative reactions indicate that your book is good. Context, dear reader, is the key.

It’s The Wild West Out Here In The Art World, And You’re On Your Own

Yes, writing counts as art. Okay? And let’s say you shared your book with someone, and you came to the conclusion (it’s a common one) that your book is, in fact, bad. You feel terrible. Life is bleak. You think of giving up writing for a while. You browse classes. You think about taking up an easier pastime. But, at the back of your mind is a spark of hope, and a questioning; what if you’re wrong, and the book is all right? What if the book is not the greatest work of all time, but it’s good enough? After all, there are hundreds of books in bookstores and airport corners and public libraries that are only adequate; might not yours fit in with the crowd of good-enough?

Victor, Your Blog Is So Depressing Sometimes!

Ach, it’s my fake Russian streak. Old-timey fake Russian, not contemporary (I’m not Russian). I should probably delete that part. Ahem. When you have come to the conclusion that your book is not-great, but probably better than some published books (or even many!) it is time for a dose of cold, hard, productive reality.

And It’s Time To Write Another Book!

When a baby actor (of any age) starts to chase their dream, they are full of hot air (just like I am right now! It’s a natural part of the artistic metamorphosis!). They have an unrealistic belief in themselves, and they know in their bones that the rules are going to be different for them. As the crushing anonymity of their position begins, bit by bit, to bear in on them, they get a little, um, pulverized inside. Because whatever you look like, and however special you are, there are at least five hundred more that can pass as your twin at a stretch, and with a little makeup.

That Sucks!

The vast majority of baby actors immediately give up on really making it, and they embrace their automatic relegation to amateur status. Those who continue to dream get a little harsher, and leaner, and angrier. They edge into the all-mankind-is-my-enemy territory, and most of them become somewhat depressed. Clinically, usually, because the stakes are just so completely stacked against success. And that’s demoralizing. As soon as these last holdouts, these die-hard dreamers, cross the road into bitterness, their ability to succeed plummets, and they become second-rate chorus members (metaphorically speaking, or literally), and sometimes-extras for film and very low-budget productions. The few who don’t get bitter realize that they had better get far more serious about every aspect of their lives, because what they thought they were getting into is not what they find.

Politics, Personality Management, And Renting Out Your Soul

Gosh, I sound so pessimistic, don’t I? Luckily for you, we’re talking about your book, and not your hypothetical acting career (cheers!). If your book is not very good, you’re going to make one choice: is it worth publishing for the experience, or is it for the personal archives? Only you can answer this question, and if you don’t feel very confident, remember that you can always clean it up and publish it later when you have more experience. I recommend this option (it took me years to publish my third good-enough-to-publish book, and I am still sitting on two others I wrote earlier).

And Then, You Write Another One

Nothing teaches you to write a book like writing a book. Your first one is not going to be your best one, because when you are working on your second one, you’ve learned things. And when you start your third one, you’re ready to think more seriously about pacing. By the time you get to book six, you find yourself able to make more discerning choices about scene transitions and dialogue tags.

Channel Your Inner Dory, People, And Just Keep Writing!

In the big picture it really doesn’t matter much if the book you’re working on right now is “good enough.” What matters a lot more is whether or not you’re pressing your energy up and forward, and growing. Only you know if you’re growing upwards, or sinking into yourself. Don’t get bitter. Make yourself better.

Examples

Bad Writing:

The young man who filled up the boat had a bad-tempered expression on his lips, and even his eyes made a scowl in his well-fed demeanor. Here, you thought, was an angry juvenile. His mien of irritation was added to by the very expensive vehicle that he drove down the flower-carpeted avenue.

One immediately thought he had lost his job, or had a tiff with his mother, but the truth was much worse. The plump lad had been scorned by a lady friend, and he resolved, as the morning dew melted from the faces of the daisies below, to do something vicious about it. His first thought was to damage something, and as the curb presented a ready surface to pulverize, he steered his airborne vessel slightly to the left, and scratched up the curb. This exercise relieved a few of his hard feelings, but, as he soon found, his relief was short lived, for the enforcement of the law appeared in short order, and escorted him with furious expressions of disapproval to the local retainery for such louts as saw fit to damage public roads.

Good Writing:

Devan had no patience left, not even for the shiny chrome speedboat that spun down the avenue of flowers under his command. He was angry at the universe, for his dear friend Rosabud Curtleve had informed him breezily that morning that she had no time for his advances.

Marrying a banker! The injustice infuriated him, and he began, without much fuss, to knock his vessel against the left-hand side of the steel-coated curb. Bump, bump went the florid side of the boat, and crunch, crunch, went the curb, which scratched and dented under his reinforced hull.

It was only later, in the privacy of a municipal jail, that he told himself he ought to have gone and socked that filthy banker, Gerkins Dakly, right in the nose, instead of relieving his anger on the property of New Cilderbund’s city council.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. Here are my books. Remember, nobody’s on your side, but you can make it anyway, and once you build enough momentum you will find yourself able to assemble a team of support staff.

What To Do To Prevent Incoherent Characterization

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The last thing you want when you start a new character is for their details to seep into a mash of so-so blandness. To be forgettable, you know, is the worst kind of personality trait. Here are a few tricks to ensure that your characters never venture into the muddled land of faceless, charmless name tags on a page.

Because Memorable Characters Make For Happy Readers

Nothing makes me happier, when reading a good novel, than a charming, well-defined character. I feel like I get to know a real person, and make friends with them, and I can always go back to the book and revisit them when I want to. Nothing makes me loyal to a book like a character I really enjoy. How do you make this kind of character? Well, I’ll tell you.

Victor, You Don’t Know Anything About Writing!

First, you have to make sure that your character has a physical being, which lends them a sense of reality. Sometimes you write disembodied characters; I have an ancient man whose consciousness has been magically entrapped within a stone, but even he has an energy form. He feels and sounds real, because I constructed a whole being before I wrote him.

He’s Pretty Cool

If you write a character from a place of blankness, you risk writing dialogue and actions around a ghost, or an empty bubble. Readers can feel, or taste, the substance in an established character, and if your characters are cyphers, or convenient sign posts for carrying out a plot, your books will not do well at all.

People Want To Connect With People

You start with a foundation; I like to start with a physical carriage. Even my dude-in-a-stone has body language, and a way of carrying and expressing himself physically (he was alive before he was in a stone). Even a computer character, like the malignant computer in Portal and Portal 2, has a vivid sense of visceral being. This is done with vocal inflection and word choice, but before delivery can be written, the foundation of being must be there, and that work happens inside your mind.

You, The Author, Are The God Of Your Characters

You have a foundation, a sense of how the pelvic floor is tilted, and where the energy is shifted through the shoulders and the jaw. Once you have created this basement, as it were, of a character, you can begin to build the superficial character features.

Like Makeup For The Stage

How the hair falls over the head, and what the habitual cleanliness of the body is like; these are examples of details that you need to establish in your mind in order to convey a distinct characterization to your readers. None of this, or very little of it, ever needs to be written in your actual story, but there is a real psychological effect in your creation; if you know these details, they are carried lightly through in the finished prose.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Luanne had made a poor start to her morning. The laundry was late, and there was trouble at the curbside pickup. She hadn’t made enough time for the tasks in the early portion of this day, and she was very solid in the hope that tomorrow would maybe hopefully bring in a better day. Especially since she had a date this evening. And because she was almost ready to cry. Mr. Gevo had not finished the work like he’d promised, and she wished she had stayed in bed five moments more, because then she wouldn’t be like this now.

Good Writing:

Luanne wanted to cry, but she hadn’t worn tear-free mascara today, and she stared up at the whizzing fans of the dry cleaners, blinking furiously. The cool air in the stale shop brushed like butterfly wings against her eyes, and she took in a shaky breath.

The handle of her glistening orange handbag made a sharp indent in her shoulder; Mr. Gevo came from the back, and approached the counter. When he told her the shirts would be done at five, she wanted to crumble into a heap on the floor. She thanked him, and wobbled out of the dry cleaners, her patent pointy heels catching in the lip of the door frame.

Little Foundation Work Means Weak Characterization

The deeper you get to know your characters, the more sure your characterization can become. Spend time on foundational body carriage, and remember that class and dress are superficial details sitting on top of a complex set of emotional patterns, energy habits, and physical tics.

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My books are here. Congratulations on your latest achievement in life, and good luck on your ventures this afternoon.

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).

What It’s Really Like To Write Ten Thousand Words In A Day

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Disclaimer: I am not writing at this high a quota right now, for a variety of reasons (one of which being, it requires a very settled life to write this way), but I was chugging along at 10k for several weeks last year. And if you read my books, you can’t tell which parts were written at a sluggish 200 words a day and which were initially drafted during a 10k marathon over the course of twelve hours.

Let’s Get Right To It!

Let’s establish first that we’re talking about real, quality prose that may eventually go into a published novel or story, and secondly, that we are not slipping into a sort of enthusiastic NaNoWriMo stream of consciousness (which is a wonderful kind of writing in its own way).

I Wrote My First Novel (Which Is Not Published) Using NaNoWriMo

Writing a good amount of your novel in one day requires planning and preparation. During my 10k run of days last year, I started writing at 5 in the morning, and divided the work into chunks. I went from 5-7 in the dawn, and shot for 2,500 words.

I Set Timers, Sometimes

I’ll be honest, this is really hard to do. You have to know yourself, and your style, and you have to pay really close attention to your mood. If you slip inadvertently into a cynical or self-deprecating stream of thought, your creating mechanism slows, and you soon find yourself staring at the screen and talking yourself half-heartedly into going back to bed for a few minutes.

But Sleeping Isn’t As Interesting As Writing

Life interrupted, then, and all the usual things happened that generally happen in the day (that are not writing). I went for a second chunk of 2,500 words right before lunch, and then started on the last 5,000 at around 2 in the afternoon.

What I Learned:

Here are some things I learned while performing this Herculean (and short-lived) task:

  1. Writing copiously is possible, but requires great mental fortitude.
  2. You have to arrange your working life around your writing time, which is often impossible (my quota always takes a nosedive around big work projects and life events–like moving, or any changes in my job).
  3. You have to believe it’s possible. I know it’s cliche, but you, and your negative beliefs about yourself, really are your own worst enemy.
  4. Cheerleaders help. If you have someone in your life who believes in your writing, and with whom you can share your victories, checking in daily makes a big difference.
  5. You have to eat. This was one thing that surprised me, but I found that writing a lot meant that I had to be really aware of how much and how often I was eating. If I went too long without some kind of sustenance, my brain went on perma-strike, and the work stalled.
  6. You have to take days off, both to arrange the rest of your life for another sprint, and to recover from the pressure of writing.
  7. It’s really, really fun to see so much of your story unfold in the course of the day.

The biggest surprise to me, as I worked through this process (to see if it was possible, which I found it was), was how much I enjoyed seeing the journey of the characters unfold in front of me. Usually when I write, each scene comes together in gradual chunks; character revelations, and even scenes of dialogue, unravel slowly.

Because A Few Hundred Words May Not Take You Far In The Story

Writing ten thousand words a day meant I was chewing through two or three full scenes at a time, and I could see the arcs of my characters, and the panorama of the whole story in a way that was deeply satisfying.

10,000 Words, In The Big Picture Of A Novel, Is Less Than You’d Think

I really thought, when I started working towards ten thousand a day, that I would find myself hit a brick wall of “can’t-create-anymore,” and that I would find myself stuck at five or six thousand words (which I had achieved before).

But There Was Only A Barrier In My Mind

This actually turned out not to be the case. In fact, once I had gotten over the psychological barrier of the first half of my quota, writing became easier. It was almost as if the first five thousand words were a warmup, and the second were a free and enjoyable exercise of my writing muscles.

It Feels Good To Write So Much

I’ll probably try this again in the future, because it was really fun. The project I was working on at the time was very long, and I had been planning it for years, so it was a matter of writing down the story I already knew. This helped, also.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Forkengoshe was upset, because the last time Lady Dirvensharken had gone out hawking, she had promised him a brace of rabbits, and here she came, bearing the metal bird on her arm, and carrying not a hint of bunny anywhere on her person.

The horse snuffed, steam coming out of its nose, and Forkengoshe glared at his erstwhile fiancee.

“Where are my rabbits?” he asked.

“I let them go,” Lady Dirvensharken replied.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Because Harriden put the knob onto safe catch and release, and I didn’t have the heart to snap their sweet little necks,” she said.

“Go out again; switch back!”

“I don’t want to. You can go, if you like,” she said, holding out the metal bird.

“I don’t like the talons,” he said, drawing away.

“You won’t have any rabbits, then,” she said. She kicked the hardened sides of the horse, and he strode towards the garage.

“This is not fair. You promised!” Forkengoshe exclaimed. He followed her and watched the haunches of the artificial horse bob up and down.

Good Writing:

Fogerty fumed; the radiant Lady Dirvarken had sworn most solemnly, when she had last gone out hawking, that she would bring him a brace of rabbits next time, and here she came riding on a beautiful artificial May morning, bearing the enormous metal bird on her arm, and carrying not a whiff of rabbit.

The shining chrome gelding puffed, steam wafting out of its sculpted nostrils, and Fogerty glared at his luminous fiancee.

“Where are my rabbits?” he demanded.

“I let them go,” Lady Dirvarken replied, her measured words fluttering like golden bells in the perfect dawn.

“Why?” Fogerty asked. He knew that he sounded petulant, and he did not care.

“Harriden put my hawk into catch and release mode without telling me. He caught the bunnies just fine, but he didn’t harm them, and I didn’t have the heart to snap their sweet little necks,” she said.

“Well, fix your bird and go out again; I want my rabbit stew!”

“I’m all worn out. You can go, if you like,” she said, smiling and holding out her arm, upon which the shining bird sat, silent and imperious.

“I don’t want to go out riding with a great beast on my arm!” Fogerty exclaimed. He felt enormously wronged by the world this morning. He had set his heart on steaming rabbit stew, with fresh carrots and onions, and now there would be nothing but lumpy porridge for lunch.

“Oh well, then,” she replied genially, and tapped at the metal flanks of the horse. He stepped gamely forward, and Fogerty, still furious, stalked after her, watching the silver haunches of the artificial horse bob up and down.

I Hope You Have A Good Morning!

Remember, you can achieve your goals if you are realistic with yourself about your circumstances, your available writing time, and your attitude towards yourself. You can write quite a lot of solid material, if you get out of your own way and let yourself try.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. I bet you can’t tell which parts were written in December of last year. Staying up late is a quiet time to write (but makes it harder to get up at dawn).

 

What Is The Foundation Of A Meaningful Plot?

I started studying literary construction in high school. I had an interesting AP teacher, and we did a lot of novel-analysis. There was a shift in my mind during this period; I found, shortly after I learned about foreshadowing, symbolism, and theme that poorly-written books were boring to read.

What Makes A Book Long-Lasting?

I started thinking a lot about what made a book worthwhile, because I wanted to write books, and I wanted to be as sure as I could that my books were not boring.

Because Who Wants To Write A Boring Book?

There’s a wonderful scene in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina where the young man, the earnest one who is thinking about Christianity, tells a story about seeing two mature men argue over a point of doctrine. The young man says that they go back and forth, over and around, but that every time they come near the actual question–the real crux of the issue, of whether God is real, and whether Jesus is a person who counts or not, they would swerve away from the point into more innocuous details. He found their disingenuous way of speaking irritating.

I’ve Never Read War And Peace, And I Probably Never Will

I don’t know if I’m getting cynical in my old age (relative), or if I’m less imaginative than I used to be, but I find that many novels avoid the central question, which, to me, is: Why does this matter?

Because The Meaning Of Life Makes Good Fiction

What is a book saying? Really saying? What do the situations, characters, and conclusions mean, and how do they correlate to me, and to life as it is right now? Essentially, I ask myself, what is the moral relevance of the story?

Right And Wrong, Good And Bad

I guess this might sound kind of overblown for a fantasy or science fiction story, but the most enduring stories, for me, in both genres are always those that address real questions, and that don’t shy away from intellectually rigorous philosophy.

I Don’t Care For Nietzche

The first point at which we arrive is death; who dies, and what is the meaning, and the cost, of violence? What effect does violence have on those who inflict it, and what internal judgements have the characters made, within themselves, about the need for killing?

Moral Arithmetic, For Characters!

It is possible to write a fantasy or science fiction story without physical violence, but a world without emotional violence (which is as real as the other kind) results in the sort of eerie dystopia that The Giver or 1984 shows us. The surface of seeming-harmony will eventually peel back, and below is revealed a viciousness, and a ruthlessness that can be shocking (and make great fiction).

Because There’s Nothing Like A Solid Dystopia

There is a balance, and a harmony to human affairs. If you are going to write about a completely alien world and culture, you still have to find some way to make it understandable to us as readers, which means you must translate whatever elements of their relation to each other into terms we, as a violent people, will understand.

But We Aren’t Talking About Aliens Right Now

Our first framework for meaningful plotting is the way we use violence. Who kills, and what do they think of when they kill? It is pertinent to remember that if you do not make choices for your fiction, your subconscious self will make those choices for you, and they will likely be immature and unready for critical examination on an intellectual level.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Hopper used a device in the top of a super-shiny, latest model flying vehicular unit with wheels, which had been taken from a lot next door and covered really fast with paint.

Fog impeded his view as he piloted the very advanced, very impressive craft into the grimy, full air.

“Hey, Maya, where is our new target?” The in-car communicator malfunctioned willfully. Hopper put his ear against his sleeve, activating some technology in his face. “Maya, you there?”

Good Writing: 

Hopper slammed his fist onto the top of the hover car. The engine hummed to life, and he jumped into the vehicle and bolted straight up into the air.

He shifted into the left windstream, and the car shot like an arrow through the steaming clouds of chemicals that lay in spreading blankets over the city.

“Maya, where next?” he asked. The speaker made a rustling crackle, and then died. Hopper tipped his ear against his shoulder, and scrubbed the skin-grafted phone over his jacket. “Maya, can you hear me?”

Those Examples Had No Killing In Them!

Let us remember, as we pursue our fiction goals, that no one cares as much as we do, and there are always more stories to tell. Tell one, and then tell another one, and think about life while you do so. And make sure you aren’t killing people wantonly in your fiction, because . . . well, just because.

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My books are here. My dragon is taking a long time to draw, but he looks really cool.