Old Rage And Projects

I’m in this weird place right now where I’m transitioning from impacted rage to normal, healthy levels of aggression. Like, I wasn’t allowed to be angry at anyone ever in my previous life, and I don’t actually experience anger in my body yet, as a real-time sort of thing. Instead I get numb, and later I stop breathing.

Victor Poole, You Are Weird

Hey, I have cool problems! Anyway, so I’m in this place where I’m learning how to actually experience any kind of anger as it’s happening, and it’s been kind of like being possessed by an alien creature or something. I mean, this is basically an existential, out-of-body experience for me.

Great fodder for science fiction, though. I like to keep track of things I experience and then turn them upside down and make different alien creatures responsible for perfectly normal somatic sensations within the human body.

That way the end result is relatable, since so many people have interesting dysfunction trapped in their bodies.

Victor Poole, Where’s That Dragon Book?

Oh, it’s coming along slowly. I have some really old projects that have been hanging around for years, literally, and taking up dusty space in my mental domain, and I’m clearing it all.

Like, this is spring cleaning for my internal landscape. You know that feeling when you’ve routed all the stuff out of the corners of your living space, and you can’t even see the floor anymore but you’re determined to actually go through every single thing and make stuff neat? So you’re stubbornly refusing to jam crap back into closets or anything, because you want the closets to be organized too? I’m doing that mentally right now, and with my writing projects.

Except It’s Time-Consuming

But at the end, I will have neat mental closets! Yes! I keep telling myself it will be worth it, but I am so interested in that day in the future when I will have a long, shiny list of published titles. This is my groaning face.

I started a new drawing course. I hate it so much, because it brings up a lot of insecurity I have around being decent at anything. I’m actually really bad at art, but I’m too embarrassed to admit how weak my deep skills are, so doing art lessons is sort of agonizing. But I’m doing them anyway. I figure it’s a good character-building exercise, at least.

Spheres And Cubes, Right Now

Part of my whole journey with embracing rage is finding out what it’s like to feel emotions and express them simultaneously. That is terrifying, and I don’t like it at all. It’s icky and scary. But I’m pretty sure it’s good for me, so I’m doing it anyway. This is my crying face. Not really. I’m not crying right now. I’m actually irritated, but admitting that to myself is a big deal, and new.


Heinous Writing

Hannah pulled the disc out of the sleeve and loaded it into her portable robot. The machine made a bleep as it ate the disc, and Hannah waited for the information to show up. It didn’t and Hannah took the disc out again and tried another disc, and another. Nothing happened at all. Darn it! Hannah thought.

She left the library and saw a new sky in the world outside. The air was clear and bright, and drops of crystal were thick everywhere, like rain frozen as it had fallen and hovering in the air. Hannah put a finger against the nearest drop. Her fingers turned green and fell off. Oh, dear, Hannah thought, and she went back into the library and found a window, from which she watched several people walk outside and hit up against the droplets.

Each of the people who touched the pieces of shining crystal died. Soon there were corpses around the grounds of the library, and Hannah’s arm felt numb. She’d lost four fingers on her left hand.

Better Writing

Hannah left the public library and saw a new sky in the world outside. The air was clear and bright, and drops of crystal were thick everywhere, like rain frozen as it had fallen and hovering in the air. Hannah reached out and touched a finger against the nearest droplet. A buzz of pain made her snatch her hand away. A prickle of heat flooded the tip of her finger and spread through her whole hand. Hannah watched in shock as her finger turned green, crumpled inward, and fell off. She now had only four fingers on her left hand. Oh, dear, Hannah thought, and she went back into the library and found a window from which she watched several people walk outside and hit up against the droplets.

Each of the people who touched more than three pieces of the shining crystal froze, wrinkled inward, edged into a green shade, and died. Soon there were wrinkled green corpses around the grounds of the library, and Hannah’s arm felt numb. She looked down at her hand and saw that her forearm and palm were tight and wrinkled, like a partially dried raisin. She’d lost four fingers on her left hand.

And So

I know there are a ton of emotions I’ve never experienced personally. Like, I know they exist, and I’ve heard all about other people having them, but they haven’t actually crossed the threshold of self for me.

Off-topic, I read this really strange fantasy series that was partially written by George Lucas once, and there were a couple of things I liked about it, but the strangest thing was the way the magic didn’t change over the course of the book (or series, I guess).

I like fantasy where the magic changes gradually and evolves, not the magic itself, but the characters’ understanding of the rules and the dynamics of the power deepens and alters.

My son found out what head mites were today and he said, “Whew! I sure hope those are extinct!”

I’m not really looking forward to bursting his bubble about that. He’s going through a stage where he screams in terror and hides in the nearest closet if he sees a mosquito.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Catero Weston is training a new candidate for leadership in the gang. The new guy’s name is Jakob, and he’s a lot of fun to write. He’s one of those guys who’s really sincere and passionate, and doesn’t at all see the value those qualities bring to him as a complete package.


Vanity And Self-Importance in Performance

I made an interesting discovery when I was inventing performance for myself.

Victor Poole, You Are Unbearably Conceited

I’m not nearly as conceited as I will be in the future. I’m still undoing rug-style prostration that was hammered into me by several malicious jealous persons in my extreme youth.

Anyway, while I was inventing performance I discovered that actors and writers who were full of themselves–genuinely, unbearably conceited–did a lot better than humble people.

Victor Poole, Your Selection Bias Is Showing

Look, I’ll even be specific: there was one guy whose acting was shit and had decent hair; he was full of himself and got local parts constantly. Directors didn’t like using him at all, and tried to replace him often, but he made himself available as far as his schedule went, and maintained the glossy condition of his excellent hair, and he got roles anyway.

But directors hated using him, and as far as I can see from the distant high-rise of the Internet, he’s stalled out in his career now. He had early success and then hit the peak of how far his juvenile vanity could take him.

This guy was not nearly as self-conceited as he could have been, and he wasn’t full of himself enough to break into legitimate film.

Film Requires God-Like Self-Worship

I knew another woman who got a lot of work in the midwest, and had a bit of a reputation, but she was full of herself in exactly the wrong way. She had conceit, but it manifested in moral boldness. The woman had no morals whatsoever, but acted as if anything she personally did was hand-written by the prophets as Meant To Be, and so she did glide along with a verve and panache that saw her through rough spots pretty well.

She had more success than good-hair-guy, but couldn’t get any real work in film, either. She did regional stage stuff, and is still doing so, as far as I can tell. She doesn’t have any friends, though.

Another Example of Vanity

A third woman I knew, a script writer, had talent and no confidence whatsoever. She was a literal welcome mat, as far as her functional personality went, and though her writing sparkled and gave off iridescent gleams of eternity, she never found genuine production (by which I mean, successful fleshing-out of her work).

People latched on to her writing and used it for their own ends, but her personhood never attached to the final product at all. She was like a privately-owned mine of words, delved into and dug up when occasion required good writing.

And One More Writer, A Man

I knew another guy, a writer in his thirties, who had consistent productions of his works and a lot of friends and acquaintances. He was vain in a steam-roll kind of way; he would push over objections and assume that everyone would help him reach his goals.

He was emotionally tone deaf, mostly on purpose, and he has also stalled out at a semi-permanent plateau, as far as I can see, and is held back by the same pushiness he’s used to advance himself.

Dead Ends Everywhere; Victor Poole, You Are So Bleak!

Oh, I’m a realist. Now, what I learned as I watched people be vain in different ways was that what we think of, as a general group of writers approaching work, as a good attitude is more like Kool-aid for chumps.

Because we’re supposed to be simultaneously full of ourselves, of a kind of preternatural belief in our ability to Do Something Special, and also consistently humble and embracing of Any Useful Advice handed to us by others.

Vanity That Doesn’t Go Far Enough Won’t Take You Far, Either

I can practically guarantee that you are not properly vain, in a useful sense. You are overconfident and shallow, and you doubt yourself.

How do I know this? Because I’m full of myself. : ) But also because I know people, and a person like you, who is reading a blog like this, has built a foundation of incorrect and toxic vanity.

What you need is to become properly saturated with self-conceit, with a belief in your inherent superiority as a judge and observer of human nature.

Two More Samples

G.B. Shaw was full of toxic vanity.

Shakespeare was bursting with healthy self-conceit.

Underneath Shaw’s veneer of confidence was a fear, almost shatteringly vibrant, of being really a fool. Shaw’s terror of himself led to an acerbic self-commentary in all but one of his plays.

Shakespeare was genuinely confident, did not fear himself one bit, and wrote whole stories on purpose to excite and exploit the audience in order to reap a profit.

Be more like Shakespeare. Embrace conceit.



Ris was a mysterious centaur; he was not one of the Northern breed, and his coat was entirely too sleek. Eueen did not trust him, and she wished that her father had sent him off when he’d had first come calling. Ris teased her and the other children for the way their forelegs lifted high from years of ploughing.

“Ye’d walk so, and ye’d been raised proper in the land,” Eueen’s father said.

“Aye, so I would,” Ris had agreed good-humoredly.

“I wish he’d go away,” Eueen told her sister, Marren.

“I think he’s good-looking,” Marren said, shifting her hips and looking altogether too worldly for words.

“You’re too little for mating,” Eueen snapped.

“Nonsense. I heard that in the capital, mares as young as fifteen are put to brood,” Marren said.

“You heard that from Clovan, and she made it up. She said so to me,” Eueen said.

“Well, I think he’s handsome,” Marren said.

“Are you going to tell him so?” Eueen asked.

“Shh!” Marren hissed, looking swiftly at the open door of the barn.


Ris formed an uncomfortable addition to their household; he worked in the fields, and lived in a rough stone hut he had erected in the forest to the north, but he joined the family for meals, and Eueen’s father kept Ris back to talk politics over the fire more often than not. Eueen thought Ris was frightening and ugly; his heavy black sides and the wild tangle of his hair as it fell over the bare skin of his shoulders reminded her of the ghost stories her granddam used to tell over the evening fire.

Ris was a mysterious centaur; he was not one of the northern breed, and his ebony coat was entirely too sleek for their own piebald herd. Eueen did not trust him, and she wished that her father had sent him off when the black beast had first come calling. Ris teased her and the other children; he called them farm morsels, and laughed at the way they walked, their white-splashed forelegs lifted high from years of ploughing the deep furrows of the valley fields.

“You’d walk so, and you’d been raised proper in the land,” Eueen’s father said, the first time this occurred.

“Aye, so I would,” Ris had agreed good-humoredly, and his teasings had passed without comment ever since.

The bare flesh of his chest irritated Eueen, which was strange. Her father and her brother had bare torsos, too, and all the male centaurs she’d ever known, but Ris’ nakedness felt like a personal affront. Eueen was deeply grateful that her own skin was thoroughly covered with her white and copper hide. She didn’t know what she ever would have done, if she’d been one of the mares whose skin showed bare.

Eueen was notable for the way her hide extended straight up her neck, covering her cheeks with delicate hair and running up into the hair of her head. She was the only mare she’d ever seen with hide over her whole torso and her face and neck. Her own mother had a bare face, and both her sisters, and her sister Marren had delicate, fair skin all down her back and to the tip of her waist. Marren’s front was covered with a tawny chestnut, up to the turn of her shoulders.

Eueen had heard of women with bare skin all over their upper bodies, just like the men, but she’d never seen such a woman herself. All the mares she’d ever known had hide covering their fronts. Eueen’s own excessively modest hide pleased her enormously, now that the disturbance of Ris had presented itself.

“I wish he’d go away,” Eueen told her sister, Marren, over the husking one night.

“I think he’s good-looking,” Marren said, shifting her bright chestnut hips and looking altogether too worldly for words.

“You’re too little for mating,” Eueen snapped, her own cheeks growing hot under her hide.

“Nonsense. I heard that in the capital, mares as young as fifteen are put to brood,” Marren said, her eyebrows arched.

“You heard that from Clovan, and she made it up. She said so to me,” Eueen said. Marren’s face turned sour, and she swished her red-gold tail.

“Well, I think he’s handsome,” she said stubbornly.

“Are you going to tell him so?” Eueen asked.

“Shh!” Marren hissed, looking swiftly at the open door of the barn.

And So

Toxic vanity is bad and saturated self-conceit is good. Embrace your preternatural role as Commander-for-Life of your own perception, and take away from yourself all scraps of in-chargeness over anyone and anything out of your purview, and you are likely to find great success in your endeavors.

Remember, you are the ultimate authority on your experience, your emotions, and your thoughts and opinions.

You know nothing in a real sense about anyone else’s experiences, true opinions, or deep thoughts.

Stay inside your fence of self and you can’t go wrong. Plus, your writing improves. And eventually, if you really sink in and become God of your own deepest self, you can learn to exploit and excite the audience in order to reap benefits and make them happy at the same time. Richard Burbage might agree with me. Unfortunately he’s dead, so I can’t ask him. But he is the dude who got Shakespeare worked up enough to write the role of Hamlet, which literally encompasses half of the text of the play by the same name, so, you know, copy Mr. Burbage also. He was presumably saturated with delectable self-conceit. The good kind.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m writing about the reputation man of the Viridi Vitae right now. It’s sort of delightful. His murder team isn’t in town yet, and he’s recruited a couple of men from the local Vitae branch to come follow him around and look intimidating. They have already terrorized a local cab driver (an alien who is going to receive a very large tip), and are about to go interview Ashley Kelly’s former roommates. Mm, interrogations.

Rough Whale Study


I’m getting a bunch of rough sketching done. I used to be really studied and tight in my technique, and I’m working on loosening my style and bringing more movement and emotion into my work.

I want to start doing a lot more original composition, so I’m doing several fast studies every day to get used to composition and color choices. I used to do a lot of isolated drawings on blank backgrounds, so changing to thinking of whole landscapes is new for me.

In terms of writing, I’m focused on saying yes to unexpected impulses within my outlines. When a character develops in an unexpected direction, where I would usually say, “No, you vagrant! Stay on target!”, I am instead saying, metaphorically, “Why not? Play, wee imaginative person!”, and then finding out what comes of it.

I imagine this sort of loosey-goosey-ness is very good for me, what with all the heart-holding excitement it necessarily brings to the writing process. I need to clean the air filters in my house tomorrow. Ahem.


BAD Writing

Solomon had two hands wound over the special hilt of the magic weapon, which, having been enchanted to do so by the man with magic who’d had it a long time ago, glowed a gentle green color in the creepy dark of the monster’s place of residence.

Scales of destroyed little lizards and their white inside frames, sucked thoroughly of every bit of previously organic material, crunched with plenty of loud crunch under Solomon’s shoes.

A low growl came from the central portion of the large hole Solomon was standing in, which was so dark inside he couldn’t see the monster he’d come to seek tonight. Solomon’s heart filled with butterflies, and he held onto his hat.

“Ugog, come here and face me,” Solomon said, his voice splashing like a confident challenge over the general environs, which were dark and scary to Solomon. Solomon saw a pair of thin snaky limbs move out over the heaps of scales and lizard pieces.

“You came for a fight, and by George, I’ll surely win,” Ugog howled, his voice loud.

“Come here,” Solomon vociferated, moving in a spring and raising the length of his sword in both hands.

GOOD Writing

Solomon kept hold of the enchanted blade, which glowed iridescent green in the half-light of the monster’s den.

Scales of destroyed miniature dragons and their ivory bones, sucked dry of every particle of juice, crunched noisily under Solomon’s heavy boots.

A low growl emanated from the heart of the cavern, which was all in shadow. Solomon’s heart quaked, and he held forth the emerald sword.

“Ugog, come forth and face your doom,” Solomon said, his voice echoing like reverberating bells against the walls of the place. The growl grew, and from the faint light of moonlight far behind near the entrance, Solomon saw a pair of silver tentacles spin out over the heaps of scales and delicate bones.

“You came for death, and you shall have life instead, endless life, and I will mount your eyes within my face,” Ugog said, his voice like stones crushing against themselves.

“Show yourself, demon,” Solomon whispered, settling in a crouch and grasping the hilt of his sword in both hands.

I’m thinking about buying a few of the Blandings Castle books to absorb Wodehouse’s humor. Lately I’ve been reading about Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and it’s kinda late to be writing a blog post. But hey! It’s morning somewhere in the world!

Why Skipping Revisions Brightens Your Craft

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

So Much Vitriol

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

Except For The Preface

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

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

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

He didn’t see that, or realize it.

Because, You See

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

And he felt like he couldn’t.


Because, dear reader, he revised himself.

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

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

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


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

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

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

So, What Does That Mean For You?

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

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

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

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


BAD Writing

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

GOOD Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When You Write To NOT SUCK, Your Writing Sucks

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

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

He Was So Angry With Himself

This was a betrayal, of himself against himself.

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

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

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

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

Don’t revise. Edit.

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

Adding Depth To Characters You Already Own


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

Let’s get straight to the chase:

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

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

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

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

  1. Start with what you have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And Now, Rule Two

2. Start catching snags

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

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

Here are some examples of snags:

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

Here Is How To Call Out A Snag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point, I have two choices:

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

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

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

And Now, The Final Rule

3. Contextual framing creates depth

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

Empathy is created by vulnerability and contextual framing.

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


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

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

Altogether, The Rules Are Three

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

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

How Your Origins Shape Your Process

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

Stripping Out Shadows

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

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

Two Samples Of Humanity

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

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

Fight To Fun

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

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

The Second Sample, Worser Than The First

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

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

Both Powerful, One Rotten

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

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


BAD writing

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

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

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

GOOD writing

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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

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

He Was Playing A Couple Of Small Parts

Handsome guy, right? And quiet, and smart.

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

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

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

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

And We Have About Five Days Left

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

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

As if by magic.

I Wounded His Dignity, Though

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

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

Seasoned Authors Work

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

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

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

Show up and do the work.



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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