Incorporating Dysfunction With Style

I knew a really rude woman a long time ago. I avoided her for quite a while, and we ended up being in the same show together. I avoided her then, too. Her life was a train wreck, and she had no personal boundaries and some really strange ideas about how to go about getting what she wanted (fame, fortune, and glory).

She Was An Actor

I didn’t ever want to work with her because she was a trailing comet of destruction wherever she went, but my husband talked me into it. He thought I would benefit from a study of her dysfunction.

So I studied her dysfunction, and I worked with her for a while on her wild schemes. She’d been trying to do things by herself for a long time, but she had no discipline and zero people skills, so she never got anywhere and made a lot of enemies.

Victor Poole Has Discipline!

Anyway, long story short, I studied her for a while and cobbled a few usable theatrical ideas out of her incoherency, in the name of learning things.

I learned things.

Partway through this social experiment, I wrote a short script that detailed our actual interactions, this woman’s and mine. I wrote down almost verbatim things that she had said to me, though I softened them a bit to make her sound less insane and harsh, and then I had her read the script.

And What Did She Say?

She didn’t recognize herself. In fact, she told me upon finishing it that I needed to rewrite the character based on her, because, in her words, no one in real life talks like that or is that mean.

That was the end of our actual relationship. I started the gradual fade-out and extrication of my work from her messy life. I was startled by her ability to lie to herself, to cohabit reality and her own fantasy version of events. I mean, she was practically insane, in her determination to ignore contextual and social cues and rewrite events in her own mind.

Crazy, crazy lady. Very unhealthy.

Back To Business

Now, as promised, here’s how to incorporate dysfunction with style.

  1. Everyone is dysfunctional. Acknowledge foibles.
  2. Most people don’t want to be dysfunctional. Honor a character’s internal drive to be whole and special.
  3. Characters become good or evil to the reader when they are confronted with their dysfunction and choose either to grow towards healthy, moral behavior, or to sink further into willful depravity and emotional decay. Show consistency in the ethical progression of each character.
  4. Your job as the writer is to capture the context of dysfunctional behavior and consistently track the upgrading or downgrading of each character’s moral progression.

Samples

BAD Writing:

Rob was a bad boy; this is what he told himself when he brushed his hair in the morning, and he dreamed of motorcycles and adoring fangirls when he rode his beat-up bicycle home from his job at the ice cream store.

Rob’s mother hated him. He pretended not to notice, and when Rob got a girlfriend, he practiced hating her the same way. Rob learned to be hot. He cut his shirts off at the midriff and tangled with cruel boys after school.

Rob’s ambition was to be a tyrant of small business, but Rob could not add. This caused problems for Rob’s business ambitions, and Rob avoided the idea of accountancy or arithmetic with an assiduity that ruined his grades.

GOOD Writing:

Rob watched the neighbor girl leaving her house for the umpteenth time and slipped out the back door to meet her across the street.

“Oh, it’s you,” Rob said casually, slipping his hands into his pockets and tensing his arms.

“Nope,” the girl said without looking around. Rob glared at her and turned around, scuffing his shoes and telling himself that she’d be sorry when he did get a girlfriend. The girl glanced over her shoulder when she was sure he wasn’t looking and checked out his ass.

Rob pretended he’d only come out for some fresh air and wandered down the street with burning cheeks and some impotent fury in his heart. He had no idea that the neighbor girl had been stalking him with almost as much assiduity as he’d been watching her.

And So

Let us remember that all people have energy foibles, and that handling characters with empathy and hope leads to a smoother, more enjoyable reading experience for the reader. Also let’s remember that context, wider context, is required for good and evil to fully become engaged in character development (as in, you either need to touch on established social norms or else do some world-and-character solidifying work before the reader will get drawn fully into your moral dilemmas. But all that’s obvious.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, galactic politicians are metaphorically tearing their hair out over my leading gangster’s sudden and unprecedented alliance.

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Shakespeare Bloopers

So I was formatting my Shakespeare files today and I needed to be typing the full title for Henry IV part I, and the full title goes like this:

The First Part of Henry the Fourth,

with the Life and Death of HENRY

Sirnamed HOT-SPVRRE.

Cool title, right?

So I’m typing along and not paying attention, and then I look at my screen, and this is what I typed:

The First Part of Henry the Fourth,

with the Life and Death of HENRY

Sirnaked HOT-SPVRRE.

I’m giggling a lot right now.

Sir-naked Hotspur. Ha.

Anyway, that’s my story. I fixed it, so poor Percy is no longer a naked knight, but now I’m going to laugh every time I see the Henry IV p. I title.

BTW, Shakespeare came up with fun titles. I like this one:

THE TRAGEDIE OF IVLIVS CÆSAR.

It’s cute because the Julius part is so difficult to read. It looks like “Iv-lives!” And then, of course, the question becomes: who is Iv?!

This one is fun, too:

The second Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Good Duke HVMFREY.

I like that one because … it’s so darn long, because Humphrey is cute, and because it’s really, really fun to say “Sixt!”

Try it. “Fift!” is almost as fun. All the plays are like that that have five, six, or eight. We don’t get the pleasure of “Fourt” but “Fift”, “Sixt”, and “Eight” are totally there. “Eight” doesn’t sound odd until you read the whole thing: “King Henry the Eight.” There you are.

Anyway. Have a nice Tuesday!

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, John is having a minor emotional hiccup in the upstairs student room of a hair salon.

A Brief Personal Ramble (No Sample Today)

Sometimes I have cryptic nightmares and I don’t even want to know what they mean. I have some crap repressed really deeply, and I don’t want to go there. I mean, it all comes up eventually, since I’m sifting through my body methodically, but it is gnarly stuff, and I don’t really go looking for it on purpose. I mean, it’ll come and present itself to my brain at some point, but ugh.

The invisible self dreams are the worst. I pretend I don’t understand those, because the implications of my automatic life course are depressing.

Did I ever tell you about the one time I was walking down the street and a young woman’s dog chased after me? I should explain before I get too far into this story that I’m a pretty girl. So I’m walking down the street, and this young lady has not (I probably shouldn’t call her a lady at all, since she didn’t act like one) … so this young person had her dog out, a young puppy, and no leash on it, and the dog comes skittering after me because presumably he wanted to check out my ankle smell or something, I don’t know. I ignore the dog.

The person does this thing that I’m really familiar with, this kind of ‘Hey, moving object!’ call to get my attention. Mine, not the dog’s. And I ignore it, because hey, I don’t work for you, kid. Or know your name. Or whatever. And I’m walking, and then the young person escalates to this very specific tone of voice that I’m sure she intended to make me turn around with, scoop up her dog, and bring it back to her while smiling and gushing about how cute the dog was and how wonderful she, the person, was.

I ignored her. Pissiest face and energy radiating off her imaginable.

The thing that was interesting about this exchange was how familiar it was. Because it wasn’t any kind of ‘Hey, rando on the street! My puppy is following you!’ (Which, hey, leash your dog, dick.) And it wasn’t, ‘Fair maid! Assist me, another maid!’ (Which, also, kid, the old ‘chasing down an unleashed puppy’ shtick is not the way to get dates or friends. Leash the dog.) It was a very particular mix of ‘Serf! I exist! Worship me, scum!’ with a very distinct ‘You aren’t a girl!’ flavor thrown in.

Which actually made me smile, because I’m really pretty. Like, I’m the kind of pretty that random Russian immigrants come up to me in the mall and start talking in Russian to me because I look elegant and fresh-off-the-plane oligarch. True story.

I’m the kind of pretty that the photographer gets through the dress rehearsal shoot in a rush and then pulls me aside and asks, trembling, if he can take some private beauty shots of me for his portfolio.

I’m the kind of pretty that beautiful women refuse to work with on stage because I make them look common or something. Plain, etc.

Bone structure, yadda yadda.

Anyway, the point is that this strange young person on the street made a move to force me into some kind of worshipful entourage train for five minutes to enhance her life, and her blatant and amateurish attempt made me laugh. I ignored her, and the dog, and I think she eventually gave up on the idea of recruiting me as private handmaid (sexless, of course), and went and got the poor animal herself, but the thing that made me laugh was how incredibly shallow and unpracticed her attempt was.

You’ve got to be a lot more sophisticated than that to get me working for you. Silly person. Leash your dog.

Today is Monday, and you’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Mr. McNeal is creating order and harmony in the security team.

Repairing Unnatural Dialogue Plus One More Existential Crisis (But It Doesn’t Count)

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I’m having, like, constant anxiety right now. I was in this groove for a while back where I was coming up regularly with new story ideas, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t run into a wall and get stuck, as far as fresh material to be working on.

I didn’t expect to be here, though, where I am now.

Right now I’ve got a bunch of new material to write and a lot of old material to polish, so I’m kinda in this unstable mental area of ‘Oh no! I must keep coming up with new ideas!’, except coming up with new ideas isn’t actually helping me at this moment, as I’m too busy fixing or finishing old ones.

Anyhow, here is a quick fix for unnatural dialogue.

BAD Writing:

Gene held the plastic cup in his hand, which contained lemonade.

“Our relationship is progressing exactly the way I pictured it,” Sadie said. She sat on the picnic table.

“I disagree. We are not moving fast enough. Have you given more thought to you and me and marrying?” Gene asked.

“Gene, I have so many conflicting feelings and I don’t want to get married, remember?” Sadie said with a serious look in her eyes.

“I will ask you anyway and you will be overcome with fluttery sensations and say yes,” Gene said, setting down the cup.

“I don’t possess feelings,” Sadie said. Gene had enough feelings for both of them, so that was great in his mind. He shared how he felt with her and she nodded.

“Now, how about this picnic?” Gene asked.

“We had better talk about our expectations for how many children we want,” Sadie explained.

“I am so happy. I have never felt this way before,” Gene said.

“I am so ecstatic, also,” Sadie said. She did feel nice inside. She explained that she didn’t want to get a ring yet because she hadn’t decided which style she would like.

“I have a great idea. Why don’t you go shopping for a ring yourself, and then give it to me and I’ll propose?” Gene asked.

“What a romantic and sensible plan,” Sadie said.

GOOD Writing:

Gene turned the plastic cup, watching the reflection of sunlight through the lemonade.

“You really didn’t have to get me the ring,” Sadie said, watching him as she leaned against the picnic table.

“I wanted to. Are you going to say yes this time?” Gene asked, not looking.

“No. I’m never saying yes, remember?” Sadie said with a laugh.

“Next time, then,” Gene said, setting down the cup and shifting to the side to slide out of the bench. Sadie moved over to block his way. “Move,” Gene said, looking up at her.

“Huh-uh,” Sadie said, her eyes doing that hard, stony thing that made Gene want to flip tables.

“Pretty please?” Gene asked.

“You could slide out the other side,” Sadie explained, oozing closer.

“You didn’t let me put the ring on you, even. You’ve always let me put it on you once. I don’t like that. I’m not happy about this, Sade,” Gene said.

“I’m never going to say yes, though,” Sadie said, smooshing herself between the table and his lap. Gene nearly fell backwards, but he gripped the table. She was squished. Sadie grinned.

“Well, can I put the ring on, and you’ll say no, and then we’ll get married anyway?” Gene asked.

“Hm,” Sadie said, studying his eyes.

Remember, dialogue flows smoothly when there is an easy-to-follow chain of actions, reactions, and physical motions sparking off clear, emotionally-coherent thoughts. And also remember that people don’t often say what they’re really thinking unless they’re children, around a competent energy manager, or drunk, etc. (Or speaking iambic verse.)

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, John is repairing a young lady’s jeans with his handy-dandy portable sewing kit.

Nothing Much Today : )

Tim mashed his spell book into his bag and swung the strap over his arm. Stupid goblins, he thought as he stomped over the freshly-mown fields of daisies. Here he was, on vacation for the first time in three years, and all his plans were ruined because the goblin solstice happened to fall on this particular weekend.

Tim’s brother Horval would have told him that he really ought to check the magical-beings’ calendar for things like this, but Tim would have made an impatient noise and waved an irritated hand.

He’d come out here on purpose to collect daisies, which had to be fresh when preserved in the several magically-enhanced jars he’d brought for the purpose, and instead he found heaps and mounds of dried specimens. They’d obviously been chopped down last night, or sometime yesterday afternoon, and Tim could see from the withered stems that all usefulness was already faded from the flowers.

Clumsy, ugly goblins! Tim raged in his mind, and he stomped a little harder on the crushed flowers as he began the long trek home.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, I have finally introduced Christine. Someone important has a crush on Christine, so this is exciting.

Character Sketch From A Bus Stop (i.e. Imagination Games)

So there’s this guy. I don’t really know him so much as I know of him. I mean, we’ve never spoken before, but I people-watch habitually (writer, much?), and one of my quirks as a sabbatical-taking director is studying energy composition and looking at what fixes I would make over a particular person’s body in order to make them pop on stage.

It’s a fun hobby.

I’m a fun director. BTW. If you were wondering. My actors usually end up having severe, temporary, completely unrequited crushes on me, which I use to make the scene work more charismatic. I also occasionally hook up my actors with each other to keep them from getting all blue-bally over me. Because that’s boring. Anyway.

So there’s this guy, and he pretends to everyone, even to himself, that he is super-authentic-down-to-the-roots-of-my-soul-special-eternally-forever-unique. Like, the really super exceptional kind of guy.

He believes it in his conscious mind and he’s clearly built some pseudo-intellectual arguments over how advanced and interesting he is for having outgrown fully half of the human race as far as seeing them in equal terms.

Because he also hates women. Did I mention that part? I guess I hadn’t yet.

Poor guy. Anyway, so he believes he’s super superior, right? And here I have the effrontery to claim, or infer, if you like, that he isn’t. Gosh, I have so much gall, right?

But the thing that’s interesting about this guy (and I’ve used his type before in acting work, just in scenes, not in an actual show because I don’t like casting men who actively hate their scene partners) . . . Let me start that sentence over now. The thing that’s interesting about this guy is that his internal energy composition is soooo average. Like, almost unnaturally conventional, and then it’s bent around in a complicated arabesque around his spine and finishes in a spear point down around his ass. Like, in energy terms he has a large, deadly javelin pointing straight out of his ass, with the tip lined up to the surface of his opening.

Seriously, it’s like a black widow lying in wait at the verge of some benign-looking crevice, except the trap is for genuinely gay guys. He’s setting this complex trap and waiting for some poor, unsuspecting and pure-hearted man to stumble over his camouflaged fake-gay self so that he can energetically cauterize the poor man’s sex parts.

I’m actually serious.

Luckily for men in general, this angry guy I’m talking about, the one with an energy spear twisting up against his ass, is so remarkably and obviously straight that he would never even register a tiny little whiff of ‘maybe’ on any rational person’s gaydar.

So the gay population, it seems so far, is totally safe from this guy’s nefarious plots to subjugate and poison a partner’s self-respect with a toxic energy taint.

Anyway, I was thinking about this guy because of the original twist in his energy sub-structures. You see, the energy spear part is practically external. The guy exudes toxic danger to genuine intimacy. That part of his energy is almost on the surface for anyone looking to see how he would be as a kissing-or-more partner.

The interesting part is wrapped around and around his spine, deep in the thoracic vertebrae.

Hey, have I ever told you the story about that one time I took human anatomy at university, because I wanted to study the cadavers for art purposes, and the TA running my lab section had everyone introduce themselves on the first day, and literally every other major was something like pre-med or whatever, and I’m over here and it gets to be my turn, so everyone looks at me and I say, “I’m an acting major,” and the TA bursts out laughing and the rest of the students sort of get confused, tilted faces while they stare at me? Then I explained about the art thing, and the TA got over his hilarity and proceeded with the class. Anyway, I found that funny. Ahem.

So the guy, this toxic-to-people average guy’s interesting energy substructures are coiled around his spine, just around his thoracic vertebrae, and the most compelling part is the root of the whole energy dysfunction, which you have to be someone like me to see.

There’s a shape kind of like a short, mashed-up dagger, like a length of steel that was heated in a forge and then squeezed by a giant, impermeable-to-heat hand, so there are squiggles and ruined jumbles all along the length, and that short dagger of squished-up metal is laid just against the inner side of his spine, from the mid-point of his ribs down to about two inches above his pelvic cradle.

Fascinating. The origin of the energy piece is inconsequential to our discussion, as it’s completely mundane and contextually unremarkable, but the interesting part is how well-preserved the piece of damage is.

Oh, I didn’t say that, but the metal dagger is preserved emotional damage. It’s a memory, wrapped up in visceral, hardened sensation and saved up against his spine.

This average guy has a grudge against a woman, and he’s saved it up so carefully, and preserved it with such much raw devotion and thought that it’s become the splinter of self that drives his contrived sexuality, his entire energy carriage, and his functional personality.

He’s like an elephant impaled through the heart with a rod of splintered iron and walking around pretending to be an invisible ghost. Does that make any sense? I didn’t really understand that myself, but I do know what I mean. He’s pretending to be something he’s not because he has found, and judging by his energy core he found this out decades ago, that when he is his authentic self, and when he so much as acts friendly towards a female-presenting person, his damage begins to slip out of his control. The dagger buried against his spine heals.

This guy doesn’t want to heal. He wants to hold his grudge. So, over time he realized that if he wanted to keep his damage, his grudge, saved up and consecrated so carefully against his spine, he had to control and monitor his exposure to healthy female energy. So he very gradually ‘discovered’ that he was gay, except he isn’t gay. His internal energy is not attracted that way to traditionally male energy structures, and doesn’t respond, so then he had to alter further and create traps and poisons to keep male attention off, too. Because he wants the social shielding of ‘oh, I’m gay,’ without any of the obligation or need to be actually kind and social with actually gay men.

He’s kind of a skunk. Anyway, I was thinking about that today because I was imagining how vitriolic and possessively furious he would get if anyone like me (a director) ever prodded at his thoracic vertebrae and shifted his oh-so-carefully preserved grudge against one particular female from tons of years ago. I imagine he would get irrationally angry super fast.

There is a good reason why I don’t use actors like this, by the way. Irrational outbursts and a tendency towards life-long vendettas is part of the reason. Another part is that they taste sour on stage. I mean, in an authentically-built scene, where the actors are pinging emotion back and forth, this guy’s energy would taint the overall performance because he’s so used to damaging people in subtle and behind-the-curtains sorts of ways. He could get into great acting shape, for a true beginner learning the craft and testing the waters, in about two weeks if he ever let go of that dagger, but he’d have to choose to do that, first, and then let go of controlling his physiological response to the current experiences of his life.

Once he let the dagger against the inner wall of his spine melt away, the rest of that coiled-up arabesque of internal substructure would unwrap itself easily. The spear against his inner ass would dissipate into friendly muscular energy. He’d certainly start to smile more, and he might make friends who aren’t terrified of him.

He also might find that he actually likes male touch, which would be situationally ironic, you know. I don’t know if he’d be able to successfully date women in healthy ways without actual, external therapy with an actual, flesh-and-blood, competent practitioner. I mean, all his day-to-day coping mechanisms for navigating any manner of relationship to a female are shot all to hell. He could manage being somewhat authentically gay after he got rid of the damage, though. Poor guy.

Anyway, today is Tuesday, and my book is coming along well. I don’t think this guy is going to let go of the dagger, by the way. He’s been keeping such hold over it (in the manner of ‘my precious’ clinging and polishing) for such a very long time that his external life has come to resemble his internal conditions. He hasn’t got an emotional safety net, in an authentic energy, true-soul sense, of any kind, so the motivation to change isn’t there.

He might get married to a woman with poor boundaries, though, and produce babies and then abuse all of them verbally for the rest of his life. Being attached to a live female would give him additional fuel to burn the fires of proverbial rage against his original grudge-subject.

I think that the whole situation is sad, and I find the long-term ramifications of obsessive grudge-holding fascinating.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Claire the dragon is thinking whimsically of sharing her dragon stones with the friendly doctor.

Me, and Whatnot

So you may have noticed that I haven’t published a book for a while.

Yup.

I made a deal with myself that I would not embarrass myself unduly with performance energy that wasn’t at the reasonable place I could expect from myself. So I’ve been scrubbing up my writing skills gradually.

Also I really don’t want to be in a place where I’m working on books in a series and have only the first few published. I hate that. So I’m finishing some very, very long series all the way before publishing (and occasionally I make character choices partway through a series that require backwards renovations that wouldn’t be possible so much in an already-published book). So there’s that.

Anyway, for my own satisfaction, here are some of the projects I’m working on right now:

The biggest one is the series I keep writing little notes about at the bottom of my posts, about what’s happening in the novel(s) lately. That one is a science fiction bromance flick with a ton of steamy parts. It’s funny because I meant to write an adventure story with a few kisses sprinkled here and there, but after I’d composed the main characters, the, um, overall subterfuge turned hilariously sexy.

The main characters, you see, are in the power of some very cranky old men, and those cranky old men are all sort of obsessed with the one main character procreating so that they can have foster grandbabies to dandle about and coo over.

So there is sexual distraction to foil the deviousness of these old men while the main characters work on escaping their power.

I don’t know if that sounded overly complicated, but that is the very long and delectably steamy series I am building right now.

I have another book that I’m exceptionally fond of about a young man who dies–the book is essentially a zombie novel, but the zombies are shiny, healthy-looking people, and they eat emotions instead of flesh from regular humans, so that’s very interesting to work on.

The first part of that one (technically I would call it a paranormal book, I think) is finished, but I want to spend quite a lot of time fleshing out the narrative tone so that the reader can fully inhabit the main character’s internal journey as the plot unfolds. Right now for most of the book, the voice is focused more on the action and less on the reader’s reception of said action, so I want more padding as far as tone.

Then I’m working on that beast of a partial redraft, the dragon book.

Sigh.

My issue with the book is purely psychological. I’m making slow, steady progress, but it viscerally hurts to work on it because of some structural issues I accidentally put into the damaged areas (the original draft was the second? third? book I ever attempted to write, so there are some genuine weaknesses to be culled out in the second act).

However, the first part of the book is stellar, so I am pushing through. Carefully.

I have a bunch of other things on the back burner, currently. I’m focused on clearing the queue, as it were, and freeing up some space in my mind while building out the eventual bookshelf of finished things.

Slow, slow, slow, but the tortoise perseveres and all that.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Carrie the invalid is heading back into medical supervision for the second time in one afternoon.