The Smoothest Method To Evaluate The Quality Of Your Prose

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

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

Because Being Able To Ask Indicates Sensibility

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

What Do You Mean, Victor Poole?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Do You Mean By Enough, Mr. Poole?

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

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

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

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

Now, To Business, Tender Reader

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

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

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

Here’s How You Determine The Quality Of Your Prose

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Writing Example:

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

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

“No,” Desmond said.

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

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

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

“It isn’t fair.”

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

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

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

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

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The Quickest And Easiest Way To Correct An Emotional Typo

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

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

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

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

Examples:

Missing Context and Internal Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Fixed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like, anything?” Greg asked softly.

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

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

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

The Quick And Dirty Guide To Writing Human Nature

Bad Writing:

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

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

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

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

Good Writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Easy Way To Write That Feels Like Playing

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

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

OBSERVE . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well,” Biltog said.

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

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

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

“Run!” he cried.

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

The Addition Of Humor To A Character

Without Humor:

Jordesh slung his electric lasso over his rubber-coated arm and walked through the doors of the super-galactic dining hall. The sound his boots made on the faux-stone floor echoed through the rows of people, who mostly ignored him.

He came through the important tables, the ones shaped like tear drops, and passed down a shallow set of steps to the dance floor.

There she was. He moved straight for the elegant beauty who swayed in the arms of a gray-coated man. When Jordesh reached her, he tapped on her shoulder.

Bimbi turned and saw him. Her face creased with annoyance at his attire, and the supple lasso.

“Jordesh, go away,” she murmured, before smiling at her partner.

“Excuse me. She’s mine,” Jordesh said to the gray-coated man.

“I’m not. Ignore him,” Bimbi said sweetly.

“Bimbi, come on. Please,” Jordesh muttered.

“I’m in the middle of a dance, Jordesh,” Bimbi sang softly. Jordesh grumbled and wandered to the rim of the dance floor. He sat down on the verge of an enormous pot to wait.

With Humor:

Jordesh, wearing his retro rubber disco suit and carrying the flame-colored, sizzle-edition lasso of love (patented to cause eternal affection when worn), settled his shoulders, cleared his throat, and sauntered into the broad sweep of the restaurant to claim his one true love. His boots made an unfortunate squeak on the slick floor, and the diners nearest him stared. Jordesh blushed.

He crept through the important tables, the ones shaped like hearts, and tiptoed down a shallow set of steps to the dance floor.

Jordesh glimpsed her, and if he had not been so focused on maintaining a soundless approach, he would have gasped loudly for effect. There she was. The woman with hair like gold and a figure like spun glass. Jordesh navigated the swirling couples and lifted his hand. He tapped the lady’s arm.

Bimbi turned and saw him. Her face creased with annoyance at his attire, and the supple red rope.

“Jordesh, go away,” she murmured, before smiling more toothsomely than Jordesh thought was necessary at her partner.

“Excuse me. I am in love with this woman. Depart, forsooth,” Jordesh said to the gray-coated man who clasped his lady love. Well, to be more accurate, Jordesh tried to say this, but all that came out was, “Erhum.”

“Wait until later, Jordesh. Honey,” Bimbi said sweetly.

Jordesh, finding himself bereft of speech, made an inarticulate complaint.

“I’m in the middle of a dance, Jordesh,” Bimbi sang softly. Jordesh sighed and processed to the rim of the dance floor. He sat down on the verge of an enormous potted plant to wait.

You’re reading Victor Poole. The best way to lose the affection of a useful cat is by utilizing a pointed display of Nepeta. Sharper than a serpent’s tooth, and all that. Poor Cordelia.

The Best Way To Incorporate A Pinkie Swear So You Can Establish A Character Bond

Simon held his fork over the egg, and tried to think of a nice, hot piece of toast. If only I’d stayed on Earth, he thought. If only I’d listened to Ma. Simon hadn’t listened to Ma, and he was now senior warden in the fourth level of a Ingor work prison, looking down at an alien egg and wishing it had come from a chicken.

The egg was squishy, and full of a reddish goo that sloshed uncomfortably. There wasn’t anything growing in the egg, which was a mercy in Simon’s eyes, but he didn’t like the taste of TreeFol eggs, and he would almost have smiled at a squirming blue eel, or even a basic boiled frog.

Simon sighed, because his pay was going to be docked if he wasted food. He pierced the fork into the egg, stuffed half the viscous fluid into his mouth, and forced himself to swallow. The egg’s contents made an unpleasant slurp as they ran down his throat. He scowled, and prodded the remainder of the egg.

“Enjoying our breakfast, I see,” Grace said, plopping down beside him at the table.

“I don’t like eggs,” Simon said.

“Trade you the rest for my toast,” Grace said, holding out a partial slice of honest-to-goodness rye with a pat of butter.

“Grace!” Simon cried.

“Happy to see me, Simon?” Grace said, dangling the bread.

“Take my egg, you—you creature!” Simon exclaimed. Grace pulled the bread away, her eyes narrowing.

“Go out with my sister,” she said. Simon glared at her.

“She has three heads,” Simon explained.

“The middle one is nice. You could just go out with the one head. Would you ask her out if she swore to take off the other two?”

“She’d say she would, and then she wouldn’t. I heard she did that with Robson, downstairs,” Simon said.

“I solemnly swear on my mother’s grave I will personally force her to take off the outside heads before you go out,” Grace said.

Simon snatched at the bread. She put it up above her head. Simon studied her.

“Double pinkie swear,” Simon said. Grace proffered her pinkie, and Simon locked his own around it.

“Double pinkie swear,” Grace agreed.

“Okay,” Simon told her. She gave him the bread. He slid the plate containing the half-eaten egg to her.

“I love these,” Gracy murmured.

“Disgusting,” Simon said, sniffing happily at his slice of rye and nibbling at the crust.

You’re reading Victor Poole. I’m doing cleanup on a lot of projects right now. Today is Thursday, and tomorrow will probably be Friday. Probably.

A Few Tricks You Can’t Help But Use (Once You Know Them)

  1. Call attention to unusual emotions, happenings, or statements within a scene.
  2. Make use of as modern and fresh a vernacular as you can.
  3. Keep your subject matter light, even if people are dying.

Bad Writing:

Scari bound up the wound in the alien’s side, making disapproving noises as he did so.

“Leave me alone,” the alien, who had fourteen hands and a pair of evergreen eyes, grumbled.

“No. Your blood is going to stain my sheets, and I won’t leave you back here.”

“I don’t want your lousy bed, human,” the alien grunted.

“Well, it’s drafty back here,” Scari quipped.

“Let me lie down in the engine room,” the alien said.

“You could have a towel, I guess, and I’d get you a pillow,” Scali agreed.

“What is a towel?” the alien growled.

“Um, like a sheet, but smaller, and thicker.”

“What is sheet?”

“Uh, a piece of cloth, okay? What did you mean, when you said bed?” Scari asked.

“Pile of bodies. I don’t want bodies,” the alien said. Scari blinked several times in succession.

“Would you–uh, like to lie down on a piece of cloth?” Scari asked.

“Just leave me here. Leave it alone!” the alien complained, pushing six hands at Scari’s solicitous ministrations.

“Well, that’s better, anyway,” Scari said, backing away.

“Go away and let me die in peace,” the alien said. Scari frowned, because this was a gross overstatement of the likely outcome of the wound. He turned and went out of the cell.

And now, with the application of:

1. Attention-calling to notable bits,

2. A fresh vernacular, and

3. Better contrast in lightness and seriousness

Better Writing:

The alien had too many arms, and multiple hands on each of them. Scari counted fourteen, when the creature at last lay still in the loading ramp.

“Okay, just–stay there for a second, okay?” Scari said. He hurried into the hold and got the ramp up before digging through the packaging for some clean birch fiber. He ran to the alien and tried to see how to get at the horrible gash in its side. “Okay, um,” Scari said. He knelt down and pushed gently at one of the limbs.

“Leave me alone, human,” the alien groaned.

“Look, just move your arms a little. Can you? Can I?” Scari asked. The alien, reaching unsteadily for breath, turned to see the birch cloth in Scari’s hand.

The creature sighed and eased apart its arms. The deep wound pulsed, dark blood leaking sluggishly down each side.

“Damn,” Scari murmured. He looked down at the birch, which suddenly seemed woefully inadequate, and got to work. The wound wasn’t quite so bad, once Scari managed to tighten it up with crossed bands of the cloth, and the alien started to look peeved, instead of dead.

“I thank you, human,” the creature rasped.

“Yeah, I just–let me get this, and I’ll get the cart or something. I’ll get you down to bed.”

“I don’t want a bed,” the alien hissed.

“Uh, you want a blanket, maybe?”

The alien studied him, shining green eyes cautious and dark.

“What is your blanket composed of?” the creature asked.

“Uh, like this, like the bed. It’s made of cloth,” Scari explained. The alien relaxed at once. “What–what are beds, in your–your thing?”

“Bed is a pile of bodies. I don’t want licking on my blood right now,” the alien explained.

“Oh! Well, no. No, there’d be no licking. Nope,” Scari said, feeling a little queasy.

“Take me to your bed, then. I will try not to stain your cloth.”

“Oh, it’s–that’s fine. I can get new sheets,” Scari said, waving a hand. “I’ll get that cart. You okay for a minute?”

“Yes,” the alien hissed, breathing low and soft. Scari studied the many arms, and heavy hair on the creature’s arms before rising and going once more down into the hold.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Caleb’s true love bakes a pie in this novel. Wednesdays are notoriously slow for anyone who is standing upside down right now.