Are You Building A Bridge To Your Readers?

Is there a disconnect between your intention and the reader’s understanding? If so, here are a couple of approaches to bridge the gap and make clarity sure.

Back in the old days, when I taught acting, I developed a reputation for lecturing actors about gender and sexual presentation in theatre. Most of my actors were adorable messes of gender confusion, which is perfect for normal life and disastrous for live stage performance.

One time, I had a meeting with several of my actors and one young woman (brown hair, moderately tall, svelte), said something to the tune of, “Oh, no! Now Victor Poole is going to make me feel guilty for not wearing high heels and makeup all the time!”

A Disconnect Between Writer and Reader

This female actor was hearing something that I wasn’t saying, and, being a diligent person, I took note and adjusted my phrasing to suit her mind.

Yesterday I read a scene to my editor, and I’d phrased one sentence in a way that led him to completely visually misinterpret the remainder of the scene. We had a laugh over the misunderstanding and I added two more sentences, which made my original intention completely clear.

When You’re Writing, Make A Bridge to the Reader

  1. Readers are coming from a different planet, most of the time.
  2. Luckily, their planet is connectible with your planet if you build a bridge.
  3. Only 1% of readers will bother to build a bridge to you, so you have to take responsibility for making the bridge to them

You Are the Builder of the Bridge

Here are some easy tricks to help you successfully connect your writing to the understanding of the reader, with as few hiccups as possible.

A bridge has some method of support that holds it up. A bridge also has a foot-path upon which the reader crosses over. The supports are underpinning writing qualities, and the foot-path is the plot.

Here are some of the heavy-duty methods that support a bridge between the intent of your writing and the received understanding of the reader:

  • described visceral, sensory input (sight, hearing, smell, etc.)
  • realistic physical mammalian response common to human beings
  • psychology
  • universal emotional experience

One You Have Supports in Place, the Rest of the Bridge is Story

It’s possible to have functional supports, but no plot, and it’s possible and common to have a plot, or a foot-path of a bridge, without the necessary supports to make it walkable.

My earlier snafu with my editor was due to some missing visual description; once I added in a couple of clarifying sentences, we were off to the races again.

You need both supports for the bridge (sensory description to allow the reader to ground their mind, emotional scenarios that resonate with the reader’s lived experience, etc., etc.) and you need a plot, or a surface upon which the reader can cross over from their mental world into theirs.

In Conclusion

If you are finding that your readers aren’t always hearing what you’re saying, look at your material with the analogy of a bridge in your mind, and separate the parts of your writing into two general camps:

  1. Supports to the story, which, again, are things like: sensory descriptions, usage of proven psychology, emotionally evocative scenarios, etc.
  2. Plot, or story, which is the actual foot-path upon which the reader crosses from their mental planet into yours

If you remember that you are ultimately responsible for building and maintaining a useable and attractive bridge, and you keep in mind the two very different and totally necessary parts of said bridge, you will be able to share a marvelous common experience with the reader, and both of you will be deeply satisfied by the experience of  sharing and understanding your work.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, poor John, the fabulous handsome man of yore, is having his heart broken on a stairwell in his adopted son’s building this morning. I pity John, who has been ill-used, and is due for a happy ending. I intend to give John an overwhelmingly happy ending.

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The Simple Shortcut To Achieve A Strong Working Session

If you struggle to rock into a consistent rhythm while writing amidst inevitable distractions, here are two steps to cut through to solid work, no matter what the world is doing around you.

How many times do you picture yourself getting your shit together, sitting down in a peaceful spot, playing your favorite working music, and pounding out a solid session of really great prose?

And how many times does that imagined experience translate into reality? If your life is anything like mine, mundanity and irritating obligation do a lot to intrude and destroy your peaceful work habits, and that’s not even including whatever psychological barriers you may be wrestling with at any time.

For example, I’m working on a gangster stairwell scene right now, and owing to the fact that it was really late when I did the first draft and had a slight case of brain sludge, I accidentally flopped the power between the two gang leaders’ personalities and have to start over on the scene today.

Overwhelm, Noise, Demanding Humans, and Money Problems Can Destroy Your Work Session

I used to have pretty rigid conditions for how I wanted to write, and when. Spoiler alert: I got very little writing done at that time in my life. After that, I got a strong dose of reality and hello-I’m-failing, eventually got my shit together, and started to experiment, by which I mean I started to write through everything.

I started to write through money problems, and handle distracting humans while I was tapping little bits at a time. I started to stay up absurdly late or to get up very early, to catch quiet.

I started to train myself to write with a constant, concentration-shattering veneer of noise going on.

I’ve said before on this blog (I don’t remember if that post made the last ye-olde-purge-scythe roll-through, so you might not be able to read it now), that I often write novels while playing Spongebob Squarepants episodes on half of my screen.

Embrace The Right Kind of Chaos

The first time I was ever in a large dance performance, I remember being backstage when the leading ballerina darted into the wings and started to desperately strip off all her clothes. Two or three useful persons descended like rabid hyenas and helped her shuffle manically into her next gossamer tutu.

Not having observed a true down-to-skin costume change involving pointe shoes ever before in my life, I was somewhat startled by her total lack of concern with modesty (which is saying something, because I’ve been doing costume-heavy drama with period garters and stockings for a while, and have assisted a fellow actor with a quick-lingerie change for weeks at a time before).

Having Children Made Me A Much Better Writer

Have you ever gotten yourself set up to write, to have a really great work session, and found that it just–is too quiet? That there’s too much space and attention available for your work and you’re a little set adrift by the way in which you can concentrate?

This is why I started using Spongebob. Well, I didn’t set out to use Spongebob; what happened was that I had to entertain my toddlers while I was working, so I learned how to split my screen and play Bob the Builder or Sesame Street while I typed as quickly as I could.

And It Turns Out . . .

It turns out that a moderate level of controllable distraction does a lot to settle my mind. I started to experiment with pacing and music types, and Spongebob Squarepants has exactly the right pace and auditory combination to keep my prose flowing.

The First Part of the Shortcut:

Find a distraction that works for you. This might be ugly music (I’m serious; the agitation of something that drives you crazy usually helps you type a little faster), or it might be Youtube videos of people wrapping gifts (because apparently, that’s a thing).

The point of this first part is to establish a base-level, white noise distraction that you begin to establish and associate with working. You control the distraction, and you condition your mind to think you’d better be writing while it’s going on.

The distraction works better if you kind of enjoy it, or find it soothing on some level, but don’t do anything that’s going to make you fall asleep. The distraction needs to be an agitating thing.

Part Two of the Shortcut:

Over time, you can teach yourself to associate chaos with deep productivity.

Life, unless you are super special and lucky, is never going to slow down in terms of emotional and psychological intensity. Something is going to be a problem, always, and obstacles are always going to present themselves, whether they are crushing bills, very loud neighbors, or persistent feelings of inferiority or failure.

Part two of the shortcut is to gradually train yourself to control your poison, to get in charge of something that seems to stop you from working.

And then you use that thing (in my example, Spongebob Squarepants), to get a lot more work done.

Most Problems Come Down To Control

If you are having a hard time, and I don’t care if it’s a tiny hard time or a soul-shattering “I cannot do this right now” hard time, much of your resistance to knocking out a solid session of writing comes down to your feeling, deep in your heart, that you are not really in control.

So, in the two-part shortcut, you take back control.

If you’re anything like I was, or like most of the writers I’ve known throughout my life, you’ve been stalling and/or throwing strike-type resistance to combat the out-of-control feelings in your heart.

Having a strike or putting work off gets zero words written.

Our goal here is to write words, and more words, and even more words so that we can learn and grow and become the best writer ever in the history of language. Or to finish a spanking good novel.

In Conclusion

If you’re having a hard time getting regular, strong work sessions out of your available writing time, try this two-part shortcut to settle down and get right to work.

  1. Find a distraction that works for you.
  2. Teach yourself to associate your chosen, deliberate chaos with deep productivity.

Take back control over your process, your exposure to irritating distractions, and your writing time by first

  • acknowledging that there will always be distractions or obstacles
  • accepting that you can’t make all the physical or emotional or psychological barriers go away
  • actively choosing an acceptable, hopefully-pleasant distraction to subject yourself to
  • getting right down to work with a more peaceful and much more productive heart.

You’re reading Victor Poole. It’s not nearly as cold outside as it was forecasted to be, which I’m sort of glad about. My Christmas tree is getting a tiny bit wilty, which I think is adorable.

Does Your Writing Seem To Come From Inside A Cynic’s Heart?

 

If you have a hard time writing sincerely, here is a quick kick to the pants to get you out of the habit of cynicism.

When I produced theatre, a constant problem was that actors were used to being callous about love. Try producing a romance when the main characters keep sneering over the love speeches. Hint: It doesn’t work. The audience gets tired after about thirty seconds, and the play turns into a mean snark-fest about how idiotic love is.

Cynicism kills adventure.

The first problem, then, was to break down the actors and convince them to be sincere. This means exposing their hearts, which means you have to expose your heart, first. As a writer, you need to be able to consciously write with sincerity.

Story Time:

Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, I had a director who really thought he was a deep romantic. (Spoiler: he wasn’t.) His key to making the in-love characters work was to sit down with dolls (I’m serious) and block out the entire show before rehearsals. Now, this method does work if you have sense and discretion, but this director was an inveterate cynic, and so the technique only made rehearsals stiff and endless. He gave the actors detailed notes on how to move, and where, and gave impassioned speeches about prompt line delivery.

This behavior was supposed to make the love elements work. It didn’t, and they didn’t function, and the director’s rooted cynicism bled through the blocking, the rehearsals, and the final performances of the show. The audience could tell, and the show failed.

Don’t Let Cynicism Ruin Your Novel

If you’ve ever done any improvisational exercises at all, you’ve likely heard the Yes Rule, which, boiled down to the essentials, is this:

The Yes Rule: When any person on stage introduces an idea, every other person must say yes, either metaphorically or literally.

Example: Bad Improv! Wrong! No!

BETH. Here I am in the supermarket. The apples are on sale!

JOE. Oh, no! A tyrannosaurus rex is stomping through the ice cream aisle! Aiee!

BETH. I don’t see any dinosaurs here. We’re in a grocery store, for *&^#’s sake.

The scene is destroyed.

Fail! Bad, naughty Beth for breaking the Yes Rule and saying no.

Example: Yes! Right! Good!

BETH. Here I am, buying apples at the store. Oh, look! Overripe bananas!

JOE. Oh, gosh! A stegosaurus stampeding through the dairy aisle! Help! Run! Aaaugh!

BETH. No! Not dinosaurs again! Curse Professor Gumbly-Fish and his time travel vortex!

JOE. Hurry, Beth! Let’s fashion a rudimentary trebuchet from these carts and pineapples!

BETH. Okay! Take that, you naughty stegosaurus! Pew! Pew!

Etc., etc., and the rogue stegosaurus is defeated, carved into dino-steaks, and roasted over the rotisserie chicken island. Chaotic fun is had by all, and the improv scene succeeds.

But Victor Poole, That Scene Was Silly!

 

All you need to do in order to make your writing pure, strong, and free of cynicism, is to say yes continuously.

That doesn’t mean you can’t edit, but it does mean you need to maintain and preserve a chain of yes, yes, yes, throughout the body of the whole piece.

Now, let’s see how this applies to actual fiction.

Writing Sample

 

Bad Writing (Saying No):

Celia tore across the page in the book and put the edge of the thick vellum into the flame of a candle. The page took a long time to catch fire, but at last it burned with a reassuring permanence, and at last was reduced to a pile of destroyed ash on the thick wooden table.

Celia wished she had done something different with the book, now that the destruction was accomplished. She had wanted to keep the ugly spell, but couldn’t risk Lord Venerous ever getting hold of it.

Luckily, Celia had copied the dangerous magic onto a private notebook using invisible ink, and so she would be able to read over it again whenever she liked. She was sure that Lord Venerous, despite his personal history as a famous spy, would never think to check for the use of invisible inks.

I may as well destroy the whole book, then, Celia thought, and she went and tossed the whole thing into the fireplace, which was blazing hot and only a few feet away. She watched the unique and ancient book burn up and prodded at it a few times with a fire iron until the spine curled up and crumbled away.

Good Writing (Saying Yes, and incorporating the Yes Rule):

Celia studied the page, reading over the words again and again. She closed her eyes, her fingers on the thick vellum and her nose full of the distinctive smell of ancient binding, and reviewed the spell. She opened her eyes and checked each ingredient, and then went over it again.

She studied the spell for two hours, and when she could see every splotch of ink and aged mark in her mind, and had repeated the instructions word-for-word in her own mind three times without a mistake, she drew her spell-working knife and began to cut the page from the book.

She was extraordinarily careful, for Margen had warned her that Lord Venerous was after the book, solely for this spell, and Lord Venerous had been a famous spy and would likely check for missing pages.

Celia examined the sliced-away page and turned the book several times before cutting again with the sharp knife to get the last sliver of visible vellum cut out. She opened the book to the matching page and loosed the opposite half of vellum out from the sturdy stitches.

When she’d made no sure no mark at all remained in the ancient book, she carried both pages and every scrap of vellum that she’d cut to the blazing fireplace, and fed the pieces in until they were obliterated. Soon there was no trace that any reanimating spell had ever filled one page in the magical book, and Celia sighed and began to apply a careful layer of dust to the book, to make it match the others on the wooden desk.

In Conclusion

To root out cynicism from your work, make sure to:

  • always say yes, either metaphorically or literally
  • retreating from new topics is saying no
  • contradicting previous-introduced details destroys the feel of adventure
  • unconscious and rooted cynicism makes for lousy writing

Remember, cynicism rejects introduced topics or suggestive details, and embrasure builds on them.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and my children have been learning about dinos from that Dinosaur Train show. They say complex dinosaur names in the evenings that I do not recognize. I need to take down my Christmas tree pretty soon.

 

The Chicken Bone Dance

Once upon a time, there was a child from Scandinavia whose parents were not in love. The kid grew up, and his parents got divorced. The child, being an aggressive root in his heart, took the opportunity to settle into an antagonistic relationship to the whole world, which irritation he never lost.

He got taller, and his face got stubblier, but he learned to hide the aggression in his eyes, and he often pretended to be drunk, though he never was.

One day, the boy-grown-man found a similarly disrespectful photographer, and took up with her. They played a great many tricks on humanity, but the ugliest trick was that of the bone chicken dance.

Story Hooks

The only part that matters is the emotional why. Where is the part that makes your heart go thump and hold still? Story hooks are like fish hooks, in that there has to be a sharp ending somewhere, and they need to cause a little blood.

Can you imagine a fish hook that is so soft and nubbly on the end that it slips right out of the fish’s mouth, and never catches through or tears?

One can, of course, catch fish in nets, but that does not involve writing stories through physically-taken-in words. Such a method is more akin to music or live performance, anything involving several senses at once.

Words Are Hooks

When you have a cruel, rending hook, ponder, if you will, upon the addition of a line. Many people in the world of writing stories throw hooks into the water willy-nilly, with no fishing line attached. They cause blood in the water, but they don’t bring home any fish.

And Plot Is The Line

Shakespeare finished the stories he laid down in a manner that paid off. Richard kills, and is killed. Hamlet fails, and kills, and is killed. Juliet tries, and Bassanio cheats (functionally) twice in a row.

Plus, Fishing Rod

It is possible to fish with only a line and a hook, but it is not beautiful to observe such fishing. Finesse, skill, and elegance come in with the addition of a fishing rod.

The stick from which the plot and hook dangle and are whipped forth and then drawn back is analogous to writing craft.

In Conclusion

Do not spend your life holding a stick and throwing smooth-nubbed metal curls into the water of rushing humanity.

Procure a fishing line, and make the fish bleed.

You’re reading Victor Poole. It is too cold to go fishing where I live, but the small furry creatures are out and about. There are Christmas lights in my house now.

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

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

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

Subject Material

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

Examples

Absolute Shit:

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

Excellent Hunting:

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

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

The Grey Cat Analogy To Fix Your Flow

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

A Disconnect

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

Because You’re Mad

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

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

Aside From Shouting

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

Grey Cat Hiccups

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

For example:

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

Because She Claws The Furniture

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

Victor, You’re Getting Off Topic Again!

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

Because of authorial excitement, or inspiration

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

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

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

Fix Flow Fast

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

Here’s That Fix:

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

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

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

The Secret To Writing A Devious Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can’t you get into a body shop?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

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

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

“Yes sir,” Victoria said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two weeks, my love.”

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

“I could quit,” Victoria mumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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