Why Your Point Of View Needs A Subterranean Motive

Caleb NEW

This is a cover I’m designing for an update to my sci-fi thriller, My Name is Caleb; I am Dead. I got a great review for the book from Taylor Morrison, and I’m softening up towards commercialism in my cover designs. I wanted to fully embrace commercial appeal from day one, but I didn’t know how. I am approaching market viability one step at a time.

I didn’t realize that I’d neglected to update the interior of the book with Vellum, so that’s also in the works.

In Other News

The ‘a’ key on my laptop has worked loose, and refuses to adhere properly to the little hook parts underneath. I am training myself to type gently over the key so that it doesn’t pop off with every vigorous ‘a’ stroke.

Funnily enough, this quirk has made me grow fonder of my laptop. I have one of the MacBook Air laptops with the shredding power cords. I was patching it diligently with electrical tape, but my beloved spouse, observing the sticky and disintegrating cord, carried me forcibly to the Apple store and bought me a new one.

Now, Ulterior Motives For Point Of View

Your novel is necessarily written from one point of view or another; I tend to favor third person omniscient, but there are many kinds of point of view, and they are all good for achieving different effects. What we are talking about today is the message relayed by the style of point of view. What are you telling your readers, subtly, about the overall meaning of the story?

Every book relays a conglomerate of messages; the most long-lasting and impactful communication is that portrayed by the overall implications of the point of view. We’ll look now at some broad examples, to give you an idea of what I mean.

Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is (mostly) written from a bemused, factual third-person omniscient point of view that gives the novel as a whole a sense of inevitable absurdity and reverence; the novel mourns for, judges, and prods acerbic fun at the characters.

Agatha Christie

Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, on the other hand, embraces a first person, past tense point of view, which turns out wonderfully in the final chapters when you find out the doctor’s been (spoiler, spoiler, spoiler). In this book, the subterranean message is one of deceit, danger, and false jollity. The book would lose much of its marvelously eerie, suspenseful quality without this point of view. The underlying message, that of the intensely personal and permanent nature of homicide, makes the scenes excessively memorable.

Victor Hugo

One more example is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you haven’t read the unabridged novel, you’ve missed most of the point of the book, which is a third person omniscient impassioned ode to the architecture of Paris. Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and the emotionally impoverished Frollo are incidental to the main story, which is a very long and loving treatment of the city. This point of view creates a backdrop against which the characters move like miniatures picked out against an expansive landscape.

What Does Your Point Of View Say?

Books that have no second or third meaning, and that do not contain an overt message about life, art, and humanity, are books that do not last. The best and surest way to convey such a message is like this:

Examples:

Message: Life is hard, and people are corrupt inside.

Point of View: First person, present tense

I’m getting ahead of myself. I started to tell you about the day that I died. It was an afternoon, of course, broad daylight. Not at all the sort of scene you imagine, when you picture yourself dying suddenly. I always thought I would go in a car accident, if I died early. I hadn’t even found a girlfriend. It was incredibly ironic. I’d gotten away from my parents, I had a house that I almost owned, and I was current on my taxes. Plus, I’d just gotten a raise at work, and my boss liked me. I thought it was one of the best days of my life. Well, I wasn’t thinking right at that moment, this is the best day of my life, but I did have that feeling of something really great starting. I felt like I had been digging my way out of a deep hole, and I’d finally reached the surface and started to make some kind of genuine progress, and then Bam! Dead. Heart failure, or something. You don’t really find out, when you die like that, and are taken up right away. You don’t find out what it was that killed you. I suppose most people do some sort of hovering deal, you know, their soul hanging around over their corpse for a few days before they figure out that it’s time to move on. I would’ve found out what killed me, if that’d happened, because the ambulance would have come, and the people would have said to each other what killed me.

This is a passage from a book I’m writing about a young man who is enslaved by a goddess, and made to act as an undead guardian to humanity. This example is tricky, because it almost reads as first person past tense, but it is technically present tense, as Paul is speaking in the moment and telling the story.

I think I need to talk myself down from trickiness. I am apt to be too complex. In the meantime, here is another example:

Message: People are good inside, and honesty always pays off.

Point of View: Third person, past tense

Going inside the castle, she rummaged in the junk room until she located a putty knife. She took it out to the front steps and began scraping the wall until she hit smooth stone.

“Much better,” the princess said. The blackened goop peeled away in reams of thick, greasy sludge that dripped and seemed almost alive.

“No, no, please, oh please, no,” groaned the voice from the door. “Not my beautiful lovely sludge! I have been cultivating that sludge for decades, and now you mean to peel away my protective skin with a putty knife? What kind of a princess are you?”

“A cleaning princess,” she said, and got to work with the putty knife. After a few minutes she had cleared a sizable chunk on the wall, and she retrieved her rag, rinsed it clean, and scrubbed the stone. “That’s more like it,” she said, as she saw clean, bright white stone emerge.

And Now, For Contrast, A Terrible One

Before I jump into the bad example, remember that when you choose no message, your message is chosen for you by your psychological precedents. A message will be conveyed, whether or not you formulate one. Is it not better, particularly in the realm of art, to make a choice, and control the emotional outcome as far as you are able?

Bad Writing:

Message: I’m a super cool storyteller, and my readers love me!

Point of View: Psh! I don’t need a point of view! I’m a genius!

The house was dark; she held the phone against her chest, waiting until the time arrived. I knew he would come for me, even though there wasn’t any light to see by.

I’m outside the house, and there are no friends with me this time. I’m going to get that magical necklace she’s got. I don’t know where she got it from. It’ll be mine soon.

Her heart beats, and her knees shake. She doesn’t want to open her eyes.

I open the door. Then I realize I can’t, because it’s locked.

I hear the doorknob jiggle. My opening eyes take in the light from the desktop alarm, and the modem blinks. They aren’t afraid. Not like I am.

He goes to the window, and tries the casing.

Today’s Takeaway

The point of view that you choose inevitably creates a rhetorical framework, and determines the most lasting impression your story will leave on the reader. For example, in my very long and gradual fantasy series, the point of view is third omniscient, past tense, and the framework, the purpose of the novel and the overall message is about sex. Ajalia starts out as a severely-traumatized woman, and the whole impetus of the nine books, the through-line, is her sexual development. The moment she can get busy with Delmar, the story ends, because the point of the story is that sexual trauma is real, lasting, and possible to work through and heal from.

Well, Victor!

I’ve said this before, but I used to work every day with actors, and I found that every single one of them (yes, really) had severe energy blocks through the pelvic cradle. They could not bring their true selves onto the stage, and they could not mate. Their creative selves were almost completely obliterated. More to the point, they were incapable of love.

What Do You Mean, Incapable Of Love?

This problem fascinated me. I chose a female protagonist (Ajalia), because the damage in the women was incredibly worse than than in the men, and I framed the series as a practical exercise in releasing and integrating pelvic trauma. I gave Ajalia a perfect energy match (Delmar), and I went to work on their bodies.

The book unfolds slowly, and gently, because opening and integrating the pelvic cradle is delicate work, and it is dangerous. The characters heal, one piece at a time, and the series ends with a satisfying fade out on the wholly-integrated Delmar and Ajalia about to finally have sex.

The Ultimate Fade-To-Black

There’s a good deal of kissing, and even more talking, but the purpose, the sole motivating factor in the series, is real sex. By real sex, I mean sex in which both partners are whole, complete, and volitional in the practice.

The next time I produce a show, and I end up with three young women sitting forlornly in my living room and asking me to teach them how to date, I will be ready. And the next time I have a probably-gay actor following me around like an abandoned puppy, I shall have something more useful to offer him (because I cannot adopt the whole world, or my entire cast).

And Yes, Actors Have Tried To Move In With Me

The biggest obstacle in the past has been time; I can heal individuals, but the work often takes weeks, if not months, and everything moves like sludge because the subject has to understand what is happening in order to maintain the new energy forms after I’m out of the picture.

Because If Healing Doesn’t Last, It Does More Harm Than Good

Therefore, I wrote an extended analogy. If I meet an actor who is damaged, and longing for more, I can hand off a tidy pile of novels, and then have a ready lexicon for the eventual dialogue and individual work to follow.

This type of thinking may appear ludicrously long-term to some of you; I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t. I am satisfied with all of my preliminary trials of the novels; they appear to function as I intended them to. You, of course, are welcome to try them out yourself, but be warned that they are rather long, and will make a lot of anger and heat rise through your physical shell. Releasing old injuries often manifests as sudden rage, or as a fever.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Don’t buy Caleb until I’ve updated it, okay? And many thanks to Taylor, who took the time to read and review my science fiction novel!

Why You Repeatedly Embrace Failure (And How To Write About It)

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Adequate fiction takes a fold of the human consciousness (yours, preferably), pulls it apart into pieces, and arranges it into a coherent line. Real life is chaotic; many things happen simultaneously, and unless you are a very clever worm, like I am, you will never adequately parse through the levels of concurrent emotional action that unfold through your personal story.

Remember How I Have An Imaginary PhD In Human Nature?

I am exceptionally good at tearing apart characters, and getting to the bottom of social interactions. It is why my dialogue is so fresh.

A Sample Of Fresh Dialogue:

“Are they all mine?” She saw that he knew what she meant. She could not see his eyes clearly, but she saw his jaw tighten.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“All six babies,” she said. “Are they all mine?”

He considered her. His eyes were blank.

“No,” he said.

“Have you done this before,” she asked, “to me?”

It took him a long time to respond.

When you write a story, and it comes from inside your body, you set yourself up to replicate the relational patterns from your true experience of life. This means early childhood. Most of us stop having any authentic emotional experiences after about the age of six, when we enter the natural development of the ego. Very few people integrate fully after this point, and some of us (not very many) never even get that far.

And Now, For A Word From Our Sponsor

If you’ve ever noticed how strangely funny and pathetic I seem, in my writing, it is because I am a dead person, functionally speaking. I ought to be physically dead as well; most specimens of my type are decimated early, and then reformed into facsimile humans. Slave-zombies, if you will. I was not successfully converted into a thrall, and am therefore a floating, autonomous nonentity. My ambition is to become real; according to the mythology of Yeshua, this manner of energy transference is theoretically possible. Yes, I am aware of how I sound. And if my experiments are successful, I will become a person and stop talking so much about energy and such esoteric things.

My current non-person status means that I cannot hang onto physical possessions; I also have extraordinarily porous boundaries (which makes me both an excellent listener and the best director I’ve ever seen). Yes, I know how that sounds. No, I’m not completely insane.

Your Temporary Framework, In Terms Of Your Soul, Is Based On Rejection And An Inability To Achieve Intimacy

All humans require a bedrock of acceptance and admiration to function in everyday life. I provide just such a foundation, but there is only one of me, and far too many (see, all) people steal and piss on resources, which makes me like an overeaten corner of the commons.

I can convert the people around me into extraneous engines, replicating my abilities, but the setup is expensive, time-wise, and I end up in the same place I started: overused, worn out, and eventually discarded. Avarice, you know, and short-term thinking.

Not Being Insane, I Am Trying Something New

I have been experimenting with different formats for my childishly generous nature, and have so far found no sustainable ways of improving life for everyone. There is only one of me, you know, and there are so many of all the rest of you.

I thought for years that I would eventually stumble upon another of my kind, but each almost-meeting of the minds turned eventually into yet another extortion of my invaluable whatever-ye-call’t.

I have determined that my spirit, having stalled in a state of infancy, requires further parenting, and have therefore been turning my inward eye towards myself.

An Experiment That Will, I Hope, Prove Fruitful

So I’ve taught myself to write books, and I am now painstakingly reconstructing the stalling points at the verge of my consciousness. I have been alternating between male and female protagonists, in order to balance the development of my adult persona. Harmony between the parts of self, and all that.

Throughout this process, I have been careful to preserve a sense of whole energy within my published works. There is a great deal of violence, perhaps more than someone like you can handle, and it is conveyed realistically, which will cause your own early traumas to erupt through your consciousness. Being a responsible and conscientious guide, I have provided secure frameworks and rebuilding analogies directly after each of these violent incidents, so that there is no danger of a negative outcome in your inner self.

Dostoyevsky Irresponsibly Disseminates Mental Plague, And Dickens Seeds Self-Loathing, The Cad

First part:

Ajalia wanted to escape, and there was no escape. She wanted to escape from the way that she lived, from the place that was her experience within her own skin. She wished that she could go home. A niggling doubt rose up in her mind at this thought. Did she mean the East, she asked herself, or did she mean the place she had come from? The East, she answered herself quickly. She did not want to go home.

Home meant the narrow, cluttered house, with the dirt in the corners, and the crooked, uneven floors. Home meant her little brother, and the endless, relentless, continuous series of days that did not change. Home meant trying to make her mother and father happy, trying to make them peaceful, trying to make them satisfied, and failing, and failing, and failing.

Ajalia closed her eyes, and tried to press the memory of the dark, shadowy closet in her childhood house out of her mind. She could not. The closet was dark, and it smelled of musty clothes, and everyone had known she was hiding there, but it was the only place with three walls and a door, where she could close herself in and pretend to be hiding.

Second part:

“Are you all right?” he asked. She could feel the whole world throbbing and spinning around her in crazy circles. She told herself that she was going to throw up, and she stumbled to her feet and went to the door. Ajalia’s eyes were covered over with sparks of light; she could only partly see. She heard Denai speaking behind her, but she didn’t hear the words. His voice made a soft murmur to the loud thunder of her heart, and the heavy bellows of her breath. She thought that she would be able to breathe, if she made it outside. The darkness was all around her, and within her. She was made of darkness now. She pictured herself as a creature of night, with darkness and the studded night sky all over her arms and her legs. I want to be dead, she thought, and she stumbled towards the dim moonlight that showed the entrance to the dragon temple.

Denai was following her; she still could not understand the words that he spoke. She wished that she had still the slim leather book; she had hidden it away in the forest, when Delmar had been unconscious. She had not wanted him to read anymore of the book, and she wanted to study it herself. She had thought that she would have settled her house by now, but things, she told herself wildly, kept happening. Stop happening, things, she shouted in her mind, and tried to laugh. She stumbled out into the moonlight, and half-fell down the steps. Denai put his hands on her arms, and guided her around the corner of the street.

Third part:

Ajalia reflected on the way that Delmar was looking at her now, as if he had a right to her. She remembered the way he had lied to her, and kept money from her. She remembered how he had hidden facts about the magic from her, and how he had tried to keep her from knowing about his grandfather in Talbos, and his father’s status as a slave. Delmar is bad for me, Ajalia thought, and she remembered her father. A recoiling disgust flung up against Ajalia’s throat, and she wanted to empty herself out in a heap, and burn herself away. I hate being me, Ajalia reflected, and she smiled.

“What are you doing?” Delmar asked suspiciously.

“Purging my father from my soul,” Ajalia said in Slavithe, without opening her eyes. “I am going to get rid of my father,” she said, “and then I won’t have any use for you.”

If You Try To Succeed, You Will Fail

Not to burst your bubble and be the ultimate shatterer of your dreams, but you are probably not dead, like me. If you are not dead, you cannot do what I do, because I’m moving through energy hell. Essentially. And that would kill you. It doesn’t kill me, because I’m already dead. See how that works?

You are, however, probably mired in a lot of confusion and stifled impulses. If you are a decent soul, you long for internal freedom, and the power to know yourself, and become what you secretly hope to be. To find yourself as, in the end.

Reading my books is hard, because the impulses are conveyed with accuracy. I also did not skip any steps from one stage of emotional development to the next. I wrote without giving you any help, for the most part. Particularly with Ajalia and her cohorts, I never stopped to explain things. If you are not able or willing to dig into the circumstances, and to be a novel-detective of sorts, some scenes will appear, at first glance, to be nonsensical. Harder Than Rocks is the easiest to read, followed by Intimate Death. Ajalia is hard; the depth of internalized action, and the intensity of the character transformation make for a journey that, if you lack empathy, will seem impossible.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. I’m a dead guy, kind of like Caleb, though I have never been eaten by monkeys. If Thursday keeps on being Thursday, it will never be Friday.

Why Cranky Old Characters Make The Best Sounding Boards

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Often in the world of my novel, I may find myself in need of a chatty Cathy character, a personage with whom my more illustrious characters can pass the time and discuss vital plot points. I may even find myself indulging in a spot of comedic relief with such elderly talkative Toms.

Like The Wild Old Man In Tom Jones

Okay, he isn’t totally wild, but there is a feral geezer in a cabin who takes in Tom and his pal for a brief respite from the elements. There is also the long-winded porter in Macbeth, the maiden aunt in Learned Ladies, and that adorable, if quixotic lady who knits beside the guillotine in Scarlet Pimpernel.

Elderly Characters Can Be Useful

Sometimes I need to talk about something interesting, and sometimes a main character needs a little nudge of wise perspective (or a distraction from the tragedy of their unfolding adventures). In these cases, consider the use of an aged body. “Old people are the greatest,” in the words of the Sponge, “they’re full of wisdom and experience!” Elderly characters are also given greater range on the cantankerous and whimsical fronts, and so can be entrusted with more naturally-implausible narrative tasks.

Like The Old Guy Wearing A Nightdress In Harry Potter

When I find myself at such a critical juncture, I say to myself, “Victor, what you need right now is a suitably aged personage to carry along the conversation.” And then I find a scrap of vivid energy, slap some clothes and a backstory on it, assign it a gender, and I am off, metaphorically, to the races.

Examples

No Old Man: 

Samuel walked down the sidewalk, thinking about the lady he’d met at the bus stop. He thought about whether she’d call as he unlocked his door, and he dwelt in his memory on the lurid shad of her hair, and the unnatural flaccidity of her cheeks as he stared at the bread and old ham in his miniature fridge. He wondered if he might meet that lady again, and imagined a flower-strewn wedding with cheap suits and fitted white gloves.

Cranky Old Man:

“I met someone,” Samuel said to the man who lived in the first room of the Tavern Motel.

“Mmphfft,” said the man who lived in the first room. His door was wide open, and he was sitting on the pink plush chair provided by the Motel for the use and enjoyment of its residents.

“She might be the one,” Samuel said meaningfully. He raised his eyebrows, and nodded solemnly.

“Go away,” said the man who lived in the first room. “You are disturbing my peace and quiet.”

“Then I’ll go and plan our wedding quietly by myself, shall I?” Samuel asked.

The man in the first room of the Tavern Motel glared out at the thin sunlight that streaked the shallow block of grass in front of the rooms, and did not answer.

Sometimes Old Characters Are Excellent Mouthpieces

When I find myself against a thorny narrative juncture, I often fall back on a personage of experience and whitened hair to serve as a sounding board of sorts to my plighted main character. Perhaps you may also find this device of some use in your narrative journeying.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Copernicus is a dead man (excessively old, though not in appearance) in this book. Some really competent optometrists would like my blog if they read it on their lunch breaks.

Why Clarity Isn’t Enough In Today’s Fiction

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It isn’t enough for the reader to be able to follow the action, or even for them to feel in sympathy with your main characters. You need more; you need an element of snazz and sparkle, and you must have a sharply-intuitive grasp of some emotional reality (upon which you competently comment throughout the work as a whole).

Amleth, or Ur-Hamlet

For example, we look at Hamlet, that pilfered tale of incestuous murder and woe. The summary of the original, which you can find on any humdrum internet street corner, consists of an action-packed zest-fest of secret cave-sex, performative lunacy, and eventual murder. What did Bard Will do that made this plot so much better?

Aside From The Sparkling Rhetoric, Of Course

Bard Will took the basic story and cinched it into a plain and unadorned parallel: two mature men, each of whom has a desirable lady-friend on the side, are pitted against each other over the matter of a kingdom. One is willing to murder, and the other one has stout morals. The aftermath is messy, cathartic, and deeply satisfying.

People (Dumb Ones) Get Distracted By Bastardized Scripts

This is slightly off the point, but I am letting you know right now that Hamlet is not mad, has never been mad, and cannot be reliably shown to be mad from the authentic text. And Ophelia is pregnant, and commits suicide. Back to the subject, which is that Shakespeare isolates and myopically focuses on one emotional reality; justification for murder.

Let Me Toot My Own Horn Now

Cyrano, transcribed in the voice of Rostand, explains the occasional necessity of praising oneself, and I here shall note that my Eastern Slave series is successfully modeled upon this structure (the examination and follow-through on one emotional reality). I dare say that reading one or two of the books in the series would be a small satisfaction compared to the payoff you get from reading the whole thing. I get warm fuzzies from reading those books, and I wrote them.

Now, Back To Work!

Hamlet successfully isolates one emotional reality: when and where and how is murder justified? (Suicide is covered pretty well, too. Hamlet himself calls this “self-slaughter.” Sadly, it is the death of Ophelia that eventually brings Hamlet (and the play) to the conclusion that destruction of evil is justified. One of the things I like most about Shakespeare is how directly he deals with the victims of corruption.

Examples

Bad Writing (Emotionally Scattered Subject):

Like many of the plain folk residing internal for the broad grasslands, her two parents professed freedom and social good. She learned from her infancy of the similarity between peoples, and to discount tales she heard of children being peddled here and there, like unpaid servants. She thought she would be like them, free in the open lands, until her father traveled away, and her mother became very poor indeed. Then she learned the craven nature of a lying heart.

Well, anyway, she had said this kind of story to any who asked her about the past, even though it wasn’t exactly true. She didn’t want to think about what had happened between her parents, and the slaves in the farther reaches of Leopath were treated with more egalitarian mores than she had been taught to expect, so it was well enough, and she had plenty of good clothes now. Her mother had dressed poorly.

Good Writing (One Emotional Reality):

Ajalia’s parents had been anti-slavery people. They had taught her from the cradle that Leopath was riddled with corruption, and that the answer to the ills of their lives lay in the easy, albeit impractical solution, of abolishing slavery once and for all. Ajalia had believed her parents, or at any rate she had believed that they thought what they said, but when her father had left, and her mother had begun to realize the economic practicalities of life, Ajalia had been sold.

This was the lie that she told herself. The truth was worse, but this was the story that she told, when a story was requested, and if the details changed every year or two, no one was close enough to her to notice. She knew that she lied, but she did not care to remember the truth, and it lay, quiet and unnoticed by the people around her, in the darkest shadow of her heart.

And I’m In A Good Mood, Too

I almost didn’t write any blog post at all today, because I’m learning to be happy, and now I have actual feelings about how I would like to spend my time. I didn’t know there were people in the world who actually felt pleasant a majority of the time. You learn something new every day, sometimes, unless you’re super depressed like I was, and then you don’t.

You’re reading Victor Poole. My books can be found here. I am pretty awesome, and my cat loves me.

Totally Off-Topic Today

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So I was raised to pretend that I had no emotion. Lately, because of yoga and therapy, my emotions are surfacing, and I am all out of sorts. I don’t want to have any emotions, because the mentally ill people that I knew for most of my life prey on people who have feelings. My main protective measure was to not have any. Of course, I had emotion all the time, but it was buried pretty deep.

Too Many Feelings

Therefore, my life currently sucks. Because all the violent feelings of sadness and anger and weird, inexplicable happiness go surging about, and I don’t feel very safe when I have emotions.

Hopefully You Have Nice Parents

I keep telling myself I’m never going to tell stories about my unfortunate beginnings, but then I get stuck, and what, after all, is the point of a personal blog if you cannot, from time to time, talk endlessly about yourself?

But Victor, It’s A Writing Blog!

Yeah, that’s what I told myself this morning. It seems I did not listen to myself. My brain is circling over and around my past, and I am thinking of ways my stories reflect my early trauma. I have weird superpowers, because my parents wanted to kill me, but didn’t have the guts for prison, so they tried to get my violent brother to snuff me, but he only wanted money and attention from my parents (neither of which he would have gotten in juvie or prison, so that never worked out the way my mom wanted), so he just made unfortunate accidents happen around me from time to time. I had a lot of fake-accidental baseballs to the face in my early years.

Oddly, My Parents Really Liked Me

It took me a long time to put together that they wanted me dead. My mother, you see, really wants to hold court over a funeral for one of her kids before she gets dementia. She’s pretty sure to get it, since her mother had it, and she’s been laying plans for the plausibility of such a condition developing at strangely convenient times.

I Was The Most Useful Kid

My mother saw me as the most expendable of the children, because my father was obsessed with me, and because I didn’t complain very much about pain. She tried, more than once, to get me into unnecessary surgery as a child, because she has a thing about doctors, and she also really likes playing at the personality-disordered version of Florence Nightingale. Unfortunately for her, and luckily for me, I am a sturdy person, and she couldn’t justify the expense when my body kept healing from the minor injuries she wanted operations on.

And They’re Too Poor For Optional Medicine

I have several brothers, but most of them don’t speak to my mother anymore. They pretend she doesn’t exist. The strangest thing about my experiences is that only another person who grew up around severely disordered individuals would believe that what happened to me was real. We have ideas, socially, about what grossly abusive families look like, and most of those ideas aren’t accurate, at least for me.

Surely They Didn’t Want To Kill You, Victor!

Well, it’s a lot of things, you know. They tried starving me, but I’m so damn resilient. I didn’t start going through a proper physical adolescence until I was in my late twenties, because I never had access to enough food. There was always a lot of food in my parents’ house, and everyone else ate it. I wasn’t supposed to eat a lot of food. And again, I feel like a crazy person, because none of this was ever said out loud. There were a lot of unspoken rules about what I was allowed to do, and what everyone else could do to me. The one time my parents were pretty upfront with their desires (aside from the unnecessary operations with my mom) was when one of the other kids was trying to cultivate an aesthetic depression. Wait, I should back up and explain.

For Some People, Depression Is A Satisfying Lifestyle

My father’s side is a sort of menagerie of depressive individuals. Everybody is supposed to be depressed, and there are cozy family get-togethers where everyone who isn’t present is stripped down and discussed with all the empathy and affection one might proffer a serial killer. They get hold of the little kids as early as they can, and train them to hate themselves. Mostly with religion twisted upside down.

Ah, Mental Disorder Mixed With Worship!

On another awful note, my father believes he is a god. No, really. He also really wants to divorce my mother, but he is afraid of courthouses because of a misspent youth, and he also doesn’t want my grandfather to cut him off from the inheritance my dad has deluded himself into thinking is coming his way someday. Divorce is not allowed.

They Also Steal And Cheat

My parents live like professional beggars. I don’t really want to talk about this anymore, but my blogging gear is stalled, and hey, backstory is always fun, right? I’ve been trying to write a useful post for several days now, and all I can get out is that I hate myself and I have a lot of problems.

Except I Don’t, Really. Only Kinda

Ironically, I don’t have many problems anymore, but I’ve never let myself feel all the things that go along with people trying to kill you. The goal, you know, was for me to develop some kind of plausible disease that would require endless doctor visits, and hopefully surgery. One of my aunts has a very ill child, and my mother has never gotten over her jealousy. Second best would have been me dying in a car accident or from plausibly-deniable suicide. Fortunately for me, my parents are stupid, and my dad has been afraid of me since I was pretty little. He figured out when I was about five that I would turn vicious on him if he hurt me openly, so he settled in to screw with my head.

Which Worked For A While, As We Can See

Anyway, lately I’m trying to decide if my acting career has been formed on the basis of my parents’ rejection and abuse. You know, am I trying to win acceptance by proxy from strangers? That sort of thing. I’m really not sure. The element I like so much about writing is that I can control the process; I don’t need to coordinate twenty people’s schedules and then coax their personalities into cooperating together. Characters, you know, are less recalcitrant than live persons, and I also have no budgetary constraints for set dressing and properties. Ironically, I have more resources now to do the work I was doing before with theatre, but my will to do so is wavering. It’s just so calm and peaceful in the evenings these days, and no one knocks on my door at nine at night, wanting to hang and chat about their life. Okay, let’s be serious here, no one came to chat about their life; they came for therapy. I’m like a psychology vending machine for surface ills. I am pretty interested in fixing my own problems right now.

On A Lighter Note

I’m trying to work up the nerve to study perspective and composition more thoroughly. One of the rules of my upbringing was that I could never be competent at math, because it made my father feel inadequate. He can’t do algebra. I did advanced maths in school, but I wasn’t supposed to remember or apply any of them. The angles and measurements of perspective work terrify me. Exposure therapy!

You’re reading Victor Poole. This book is the most accurate portrayal of my folks. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be back to writing about fiction. Go me!

The Good Fairies Of Writing Don’t Exist, But Your Ingenuity Does

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It is important for the events in your book to have a certain charm; an element of coolness, or of social suavity builds the reader into a mental state where they want to be where the book happens. They want to hang around the characters, and they want to be part of the various adventures a-happening in the work.

Who’s The Coolest Person You Know?

What makes people cool? And that means, what makes the characters seem like the sorta people you would pay to stick around and stare at (because this is what paying for a novel and reading it means)? We don’t usually talk about making our writing cool, because many of us are trying to prove ourselves to Mrs. Hornswaggle from fifth grade who told us we would never write a whole book, or we’re secretly aiming for a prestigious award from the old people who have “arrived” on the literary authority scene, or we just want people to coo about how poetic our descriptions of the moon really are (in paragraphs, and publicly).

Oh, Victor, I Don’t Want Any Of Those Things!

But you want to be one of those authors who are mentioned in the big newspapers, and you want young people to call you and email you, begging for encouragement and advice, and you want to have a foreign bank account and a team of lawyers who are negotiating a TV contract for your latest novel. Right?

Okay, Maybe You Just Want A Tidy Book Deal

And an agent, and a fat advance with talented designers scurrying over your book . . . right? How do you actually, in real life, go about getting those things? Most people whom I have spoken to on the subject believe that such golden circumstances fall into individual laps by the grace of the good writing fairies. There is a moderate belief, in the people I’ve known, towards hard work and perseverance, but the main thing in their hearts is good old dumb luck and happenstance.

Happenstance Means Stagnation

There is work that makes a character cool, but there isn’t exactly a guide anywhere about, because if anyone had figured out how to reliably make people cool (and characters similarly cool), they would probably be selling their awesome methods. Right? One of the key draws of smoking, according to a book I read many years ago, is the sexually-slick aura of cool, older teenagers smoking around the vulnerable youngsters, who absorb the idea that cigarettes=awesome, and later take up the habit themselves.

I Knew An Actor Who Carried A Pack With Him For Fun (He Didn’t Smoke)

Smoking doesn’t make someone cool, but their energy carriage, style of hygiene, and attitude towards sexuality does. How can you impart some of these qualities to your main characters, in order to lure readers into a secret fascination with your creations? Huh. I got all the way down here, and I don’t want to explain this to you now. How awkward.

Squirrel!

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Ah, well. You know, I once spent half a shift in a casual dining place teaching my coworker how to pick up dates. He carried himself like a little boy, and had never learned to open his sternum or balance his shoulders over his hips. He had great hair, though, and he was popular. If he diligently eased himself out of the slouching posture of a ten-year-old boy, I was sure he would find romance easily enough. I had another lady come to me several times for work on her writing (she wanted to write plays). She was a puzzle, because I could never tell if she was genuinely stupid or really stubborn. I took a chance on her intelligence, and told her what I thought (which would form the subject of another blog about mixing gender types). Turns out, she was stubborn, not stupid, and though her dating life began to make marginal progress, she was unwilling (see, stubbornness) to apply any changes to her writing process.

Or You’re Wrong About Everything, Victor!

Always a possibility, my friends. Always on the horizon, the possibility of being a redundant old crank, but let’s get back to the topic at hand: attractive characters with a thick veneer of “cool.” To begin with, let us remember that a majority of persons in the world are heavily resistant to the influence of “cool” people, because of feelings of rejection and un-coolness, among other things. So if you’re aiming for attractive, emotionally-edible characters, keep in mind that much of your audience kind of hates attractive and awesome characters. You must therefore prepare yourself to overcome many objections (unconscious ones), and deep emotional resistance to your awesome characters.

Well, Where’s The Part Where You Tell Me About Characters, Victor?

I’m starting to close my systems up. I haven’t had a sealed system for a long time, you know. Constant tinkering, and active grafts and dilutions of pre-installed toxicity have motivated me to operate with an open core for years now; transitioning to genuine privacy is definitely a challenge. I don’t know if you have any idea what I’m talking about, but hey, hey! Let’s get straight to some examples!

Examples

Bad Writing:

Ocher, reclining beside the delicate female, made noises that attracted her sincerest attention. He seemed not-knowing what to say afterwards. He thought about mentioning the weather and the lack of a bright sky.

“It was not long ago when the two persons we were, you and I, had met,” he said.

She was silent, like a daisy reflecting on the purpose of life, and her eyes turned becomingly towards the pavement, broad and deep.

Ocher noticed each detail of her eyelashes. If only I were not married! Retribution in the form of middle age crept upon him, as it had been for much time now, and he felt twisted by the inevitability of his rejection by pretty girls he met who were in such a younger mental space than he was.

He regretted his similarly-middling wife, but she, alas, was not to know of his traitorous thinkings, as she was not present, and had been absent from the thoughts of his heart for many months now.

She turned her gaze on him, and if he had not already seated himself, the force of her glittering eyes would have cast a well of immediate gravity over his body, dragging his aged sinews now down to the seat where, already, he sat.

They sat for a very long time without speaking. She thought about things, and he tried to figure out if there was any hope for his tender feelings before the judgement of her bright eyes. Sigh. He thought. Her bright eyes.

He could not bring himself to speak to her of his feelings, and they two sat, thinking of different things. They thought of different things entirely. So different that they might have been from very different places. He remembered that they were.

Good Writing:

Ocher sat down on the steps near Ajalia, uttering a weary groan. He put his elbows back on the stone steps, and looked up at the sky.

“Are you usually that hard on him?” he asked idly.

“No,” Ajalia said. “Usually it’s coddling and kisses on the cheek, but he’s been temperamental today.”

“The new clothes must be going to his head,” Ocher said with a laugh. Ajalia looked at Ocher’s thick beard, which concealed a grim smile.

“Why do you stay with the Thief Lord?” she asked. Ocher did not look at her. She thought that he was avoiding her eyes.

“You’re a very uncomfortable person,” he observed.

“Goodbye,” she said pointedly. He looked over at her, and the smile had gone away. An expression of reaching, or of longing for something long lost, was in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“You’re not,” she told him. “You’re sorry that I don’t lie.”

“I’m sure you lie plenty,” Ocher said easily, resettling himself on the steps. “Just not about old men like me.”

“I don’t lie about anyone,” Ajalia told him.

“You lie about that young man,” Ocher said at once, his eyes fixed on the direction Delmar had gone.

“You don’t know that,” Ajalia said.

“He’s in love with you,” Ocher said. He sounded jealous.

“You’re guessing, aren’t you?” Ajalia asked him. Ocher laughed bitterly, and rubbed at his chin.

“I think he’d be a fool not to be,” Ocher said.

“Why, because I’m lovable?” Ajalia retorted. Ocher looked at her, and Ajalia did not enjoy the kind of fire that sparked in his eyes.

There Are No Writing Fairies

A lot of people (that I have known, who write) hide behind authorship as a way to avoid the whole popularity contest of life. They figure that they don’t have to become suave and desirable, because they can channel their wonderful personalities into their characters. What actually happens is that your characters reflect your inner level of social adeptness, so hiding behind what amounts to a reflection of your deepest insecurities won’t actually work. Energy carriage, style of hygiene, and attitude to sexuality; these are the broad categories that determine how cool you are. The very good news is that all these areas are highly receptive to alteration in every stage of life.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My editor says Ocher is really cool. Your next vacation will go more smoothly if you bring a nice book along.

What’s The Difference Between Character Development And Waffling?

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

Or Pancaking, If You Prefer

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

What’s The Difference?

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

Dead Fish, No Bueno

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

Victor, You Are So Silly!

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

You’re Losing Me, Victor

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

Examples

Bad Writing:

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

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

Good Writing:

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

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

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

Character Development Is Fun

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

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