What Is Escape Fiction?

The end goal of recreational fiction is to experience free emotions, or sensations that don’t cost anything. Refreshing fiction gives and does not take.

Escape Fiction

There are two different kinds of fiction. One kind, literature, makes you smarter, more empathetic, and kinder to other people, and the other kind, escape fiction, distracts you from the pain and mundanity of everyday living.

In happy books, both types combine into an alchemical mix of educational and distracting material; you get a story that makes you smarter without requiring any significant concentration.

Literature vs. Pulp

There are times in life when distraction and pure froth are much more useful than exquisite prose. Delving into the human condition is great and all, but relaxation and not-thinking are often necessary to the keeping-up-with of routine living.

Of course this is a big overgeneralization, and of course there’s an endless spectrum of entertaining fluff running over into unreadable erudition, with infinite blendings along the way, but there is a kind of judgment you can make of how fun or serious a piece of writing is, as far as what it intends to communicate and accomplish in the reader’s mind.

How To Create Actual Escape Fiction

Now, the reason I bring all this up is that I, like many other authors, am engaged in the study of achieving that happy medium, the blend of escapism and significant subject material. It’s kind of the holy grail of writing, to create a story that feels timeless, important, and utterly absorbing all at the same time.

In order to make fiction that lets the reader escape into another world, you first have to figure out what the emotional transaction is between an author and a reader. So then we get into emotional cost.

Emotional Cost

Reading really heavy material about human relationships takes effort, mentally and emotionally. Particularly if the style or the subject matter are dark or negative in any way, the reader has to invest a lot of themselves into the story in order to get out the payoff. This type of dense, profound literature is kind of like an expensive vending machine containing little snacks. You put in a buttload of money, in terms of time and mental investment, and you get out a really small, delicious, one-of-a-kind snack that most people don’t enjoy eating. Like, it’s a vending machine for sun-dried calamari, maybe.

Escape fiction, on the other hand, is like a free hot dog stand, with really generic hot dogs and just a dash of mustard, and maybe some ketchup if you want it. You don’t have to pay to eat the hot dogs, but they are the really cheap kind, and you feel sort of queasy if you eat three in a row, and maybe the condiments aren’t arranged with very much attention to proportion, so you get too much mustard sometimes, and not enough another time.

Choosing Between A Bite of Calamari And A Couple Of Hot Dogs

Some people really hate hot dogs. Some other people despise fancy exotic morsels. Lots of other people like both at different times, depending on the circumstances. What’s important for us to look at today is the cost, for the reader.

Many many many authors want to be significant, and they attach a high investment cost to their reading material, to the detriment of the reader’s enjoyment. Many other authors are chasing commercial popularity, and secretly (or not so secretly) don’t give a shit about the quality of their prose.

So, How Do We Create Escapist Fiction That Is Easy To Get Into?

The key here is accessibility. Does your reader have to spend time and mental energy getting into the world of your book? Do they have to metaphorically dig out a wad of appropriately sized bills or the correct number of coins in order to mentally and emotionally grasp the inner world of your fiction?

Or are you holding out a sizzling, well-proportioned hot dog in an attractive napkin that they can pick up and eat, mentally speaking, without any thought or care first?

If you take care of the reader’s emotional needs, and are generous and thoughtful about their ability to relax and enjoy themselves, they will get fond of your cozy food stand, your fiction, and they will start to go out of their way (and dig out their wallets) to access more of your stories (presumably by buying your books, which you have presumably made available in some ready form for purchase and consumption).

Examples

Terrible Writing

His naked torso heaved, powerful and thick with muscle. Ribs of buried, supple silver metal hugged against his ribs, where slits of skin pulled open under his desperate breath. His cheeks had strips of metal, too, and his arms and thighs gleamed with hints of glistening alien silver.

He was in a tiny room, about fourteen feet square with a low ceiling. He could barely stand upright.

Great Writing

Ethan’s naked torso heaved, powerful and thick with muscle he’d been forced to grow under the alien machinery and chemical diet. Ribs of buried, supple silver metal hugged along his ribs and massive chest, where slits of his skin pulled open under the motion of his desperate breath. His cheeks and nose held buried strips of silver metal, too, and his muscular arms and thighs gleamed with hints of concealed alien metal, all silver, and all shimmering like living moonlight.

Ethan bent double in a small room constructed of thickened organic matter, about fourteen feet square with a low ceiling. He could barely stand upright, and when he rose, his thick brown hair brushed the hard surface of the ceiling.

And So

  • There exists a vast spectrum of fiction that ranges from fluffy and playful to deep and significant, but a happy balance of accessible and meaningful creates the most desirable recreational fiction
  • Think about your reader’s emotional and mental expenditure, as far as what you require of the reader for them to get a payoff, emotionally speaking, out of your work
  • Make the reader’s experience enjoyable, cost-free (in terms of mental energy), and emotionally satisfying (as in, relatively significant without being at all overwhelming or excruciating) to achieve an optimal reader experience

You’re reading Victor Poole. The above example is from the opening chapter of my cyborg series, which I am reworking to make into more of a gourmet feast than a frustrating vending taste-test.

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What Does Sexual Tension Really Mean?

Romance begins as a seed planted by competition and herd behavior.

Horses And Power

When horses are standing out in a field together, they generally fan out and face different directions. Horses can see most of the area around their bodies, and they watch for sudden movements or predator-like approaches.

A group of horses watch out for each other, and if one sees something threatening, they do that adorable lifted-head snort dealio, and all the other horses do the same thing. If there’s real danger, the horses all run away together.

People Are Similar

It’s cute. People are not horses, but we are built to live in groups, and the principles, in a broad sense, are similar. If there’s a group of people, all of them can see different parts of a scenario, and if there’s trouble, one or two of the people notice first and metaphorically throw up their heads and give a human version of a snort of alarm.

Now, romance. When a juvenile horse becomes of relatively marriageable age, the equine is thrust out, as it were, from the family group to go and find some appropriate sexual setting in which to procreate. The males band together in little bachelor groups, and the females, depending on the situation, wander about and find some new family situation to attach to.

Horses Do This In The Wild To Prevent Inbreeding

Before the little horses are kicked out permanently, they go through adolescence, and become really annoying. When the young horse of either gender behaves badly, one of the adult horses kicks them temporarily out of the herd group, and puts them in what amounts to a time out.

The young horse has to go out and be miserable some distance from the safety of the general grazing formation. Horses don’t like being kicked out, and it’s a great place from which to be eaten by predators. The position is tense for the young horse, because they’re all by themselves and can only see as much as they can see alone. They hate it.

Because The Mountain Lions Will Come Eat Them

Human beings also hate being alone, in general. It’s not safe, or comfortable, or enjoyable. Being completely isolated runs against our wiring.

When people say they’re introverts, they usually have a complex internal setup, an imaginary herd and a real support system of people, ideas, and trade-offs that allow them to stay functionally alone while feeling surrounded, if sort of trapped.

Now, Romance

Human predators, people who follow weaker people and take emotions or relational goods from them, are usually really good at exploiting biologically-imperative herd behaviors in their victims. They get the potential victim to identify with and bond to them, and then work at isolating them from their previous herd and form up a new family unit where the abuser has all the power.

Romance, as a dynamic, occurs when there is no exploitative power imbalance, and when both parties are freely choosing to form a new family bond. That’s where powerful love happens.

Horses And People

Now, what does this have to do with horses, and the way they watch out for each other? Well, every group of horses has a structured hierarchy. There’s a bottom horse, and a horse in charge, and every horse in the group has an individual place where they’re a little in charge of some of the others, or not at all in charge of some.

You can see this very clearly when the horses find a treat they really like, or when food is scarce. The most-head-honcho horses get the nice food to themselves, and the middle horses pick up the scraps, and the lowest horse wanders around like a scapegoat and chews on weeds and tree bark.

No, Really, They Do

Humans, in general, structure themselves along similar lines. Someone’s in charge, and everyone else is a little more or less in charge of each other, and someone, inevitably, is at the very bottom of the heap.

The ideal situation, and the scenario with the most powerful potential for good storytelling, is when the person in charge is adept at spreading power and protecting the weak. A good leader allocates power throughout the herd structure, and makes things seem very fair, and very safe.

Both People And Horses Will Voluntarily Align Themselves Behind A Good Herd Leader

A bad leader creates a lot of functional scapegoats who eventually get fed up with the situation and band together to overthrow the extreme imbalance.

Because of this naturally-occurring herd structure among people, there is an element of competition in everything humans do. Whether or not they admit it to themselves, or realize that it’s happening, people compete with each other to rise up the hierarchy. Because everyone is, on some level, competing to climb up in power, competition becomes a huge part of romance and mate selection.

Status Is A Real Thing

There’s the element of choosing the most desirable mate, but there’s also the matter of the relative power between both parties. For example, a person higher up on the totem pole who chooses a lower-placed person becomes the lesser-power-holding person’s guardian and guide, as far as wider herd dynamics go.

Two scapegoats will rarely mate up together, because they can’t protect each other, or themselves, and they become a kind of dumping ground for all human society. This sort of double-bottom-scapegoat relationship is very rare in real life, and manifests more in the way of a fling, or a very short-lived and intense romance. Lots of partnered people will say that they’re both scapegoats, but there’s always hidden power and strength going on under the surface in those cases.

Power And Deliberate Love

Romance cannot survive without power driving it, and protecting it from outside encroachment. Here’s an example of how the very beginning of romance incorporates both competition and herd-behavior to create sexual tension.

Examples

Bad Writing (Non-romance)

Carlos and Margaret were not friends at all, because they didn’t have anything in common. That all changed on the day they were assigned to sit next to each other on the prison bus.

The aliens had come down last month, and everyone was in prison camps, except for the lucky few who got to be pet-ambassadors to the alien home world. Carlos thought he had almost been chosen, because the huge lizard-man who had screened him in the first days of the invasion had asked him a lot of questions, and kept him back three days longer than anyone else.

Now Carlos was in prison, and next to Margaret every afternoon. He thought she was annoying. She talked too much, and always tried to make friends with the alien guards. They got to be closer over time, because of being next to each other, and one day Carlos found he was growing attached to the consistent drone of her cheery voice.

Oh, well, he thought. My life is already mostly over, and he proposed. They couldn’t get married, of course, because of being alien slaves, but they shook hands over it and decided to be pretend spouses. Margaret was killed a week later, and Carlos escaped and destroyed the local alien chief.

Good Writing (Romance soon)

Carlos waited at the gate of the alien compound, rattling his heavy metal gloves against his thighs. The bus was late again, but the other prisoners were, too. Carlos didn’t know why he’d been set apart from the other humans, but he suspected it had something to do with the pet ambassador program he’d heard was rolling out soon. Carlos hoped he would be chosen to visit the alien home world. He wanted to get out of the prison camp.

The doors of the compound opened, and a stream of very dirty humans poured out.

“Filthy idiots,” Carlos muttered. There were showers in the compound, and strange alien toilet holes in every cell, but the toilets smelled of powerful chemicals, and the showers blew a fine, translucent dust instead of water. Carlos used the shower facilities, but most of the other humans didn’t.

A tall woman with brown hair struggled through the crowd of bodies and ran to come first to the gate.

“Are you Carlos?” she asked. He nodded. “I’m Margaret. We’re sitting together now on the bus.”

Margaret was not exactly dirty, but it was clear, from the state of her hair, that she had not been using the alien showers. A faint sheen of grease showed on her skin.

One of the lizard-like alien guards walked with a heavy, jolting stride along the outside of the fence.

“Oh, good. I’ve spoken to that one before. His name is B’ethcukgiafrl,” Margaret said, her eyes gleaming.

“Say that again,” Carlos said.

“His name is B’ethcukgiafrl,” Margaret said promptly. Carlos eyed her.

“You’re sticking with me, Margaret.”

“I just told you we’ve been assigned to sit together on the bus,” Margaret pointed out.

“No, honey, you and me. We’re sticking together. And when we get back today, you’re going to take a shower,” Carlos said. Margaret lifted an eyebrow. “Don’t tell anyone that we’re together now. I’m getting out, and I’ll bring you with me. Shush,” Carlos added.

The other, much smellier humans came up to them, and the lizard-like guard unlocked the gate. A heavy bus, in the shape of a caterpillar pod, roared along the transport road, and Carlos went through the gate first.

“Hello again, B’ethcukgiafrl!” Margaret said cheerfully.

This girl is going to save my hide, Carlos thought, and he determined, as he mounted the steps of the bus, to get lessons from her on the impossible alien language as they rode to the mines.

In Conclusion

Sexual tension comes from competition and an understanding of power dynamics in a social group. Dynamic storytelling happens when a person gains power and moves up in the power structure in order to protect the one they love (or will love soon).

You’re reading Victor Poole. In my book, Pops has found out about the ugly secret hiding under uncle Gilbert’s desk. Pops was very angry, when he found out what Gilbert did.

Realistic Character Development

Back when I was in acting school, people tried to be realistic on stage, and rarely succeeded.

I was in a show once with a pair of very talented men. They worked out a piece of petty business on stage, where one of them stole a piece of food, and the other one caught him out and took it away.

The scene, the business they added in, was delightful, and petty and realistic. It was the highlight of the entire two-hour show, as far as being fresh, genuine, human, and engaging.

But, You Might Ask, What About The Other One Hour And Fifty-Nine Minutes Of The Show?

Well, the other one hour and fifty-nine minutes of the show were boring, stale, artificial, and false.

Just like a lot of acting is, when it’s live on stage. Yes, I know I sound cynical. No, I’m not exaggerating for effect.

Most Character Development In Fiction Is Similarly Insipid

Isn’t that a fun word? Insipid. It sounds both damp and stupid. Lovely word. Anyway, here’s how to avoid poor character development in your own writing.

First, Are You Making Your Characters Petty?

People do not give nearly enough credence or weight to the power of petty behavior.

People get divorced over tiny little things. People kill each other for tiny little reasons, petty ones. Fights start, hearts fall in love, and people decide to make children because of very small, stereotypically petty reasons.

Examples

Bad, Awful, Super-Serious Writing:

Ginger laid out her picnic lunch, had a really relaxing time on the top of the hill, and then went back to school and sat down to teach those very precious children all about the magic they would need to master before the war between evil Gavin and good Headmaster Chuck started up.

The children, being full of magical potential, were awfully dear to Ginger. She was sorry that most of them were going to die in the coming battles.

Better, Good, Very-Petty Writing:

Ginger never got out for lunch, though she’d packed an exquisite picnic basket and had been daydreaming about spreading out a blanket on the nearby hilltop all week.

Two of the students at Chuck’s Institute for Magical Progeny had gotten into a juvenile dispute, and were attempting to set fire to each other’s bedclothes. Ginger put them both in isolation cages, and had been about to get her picnic basket out when another student ran in, shrieking about engorged rodents.

“Go and find Chuck,” Ginger said, her fingers itching.

The student explained about how Chuck was in peace talks with the evil overlord Gavin, and couldn’t be disturbed.

Ginger studied the boy and thought about feeding him to the rodents. Ah, well, she told herself, abandoning her plans for lunch and following the quivering kid to the reputed animals, at least the war will start soon, and I can put him on the front lines.

For Realistic Character Depiction, Embrace Petty Behavior

If your characters aren’t being driven by or drawn into petty behaviors, try some out. Your fiction will get a lot better, instantly. Indubitably. (Also a fun word.)

You’re reading Victor Poole. In my book, a couple of villains I was sure would be dead by now are still hanging on, and becoming pretty helpful to the good guys. I’m pleased about that.

What Would Happen If You Wrote Happy Endings?

I knew a couple of writers in high school who were really serious about wanting to get somewhere, and make amazing stories. One of them was writing a book about dragons, and the other one was working on one of those satisfying group sagas where a bunch of fantasy characters defeat someone horrible.

They Were Both Fantasy Writers

Here are their weaknesses, as I perceived them at the time: The second writer, a girl, wrote really one-dimensional characters, and the other one, the guy working on a dragon story, wrote miserable, depressing plots. Both writers had a lot of passion, and were working in completely different ways, but I didn’t really enjoy reading anything they wrote, because both of them were determined to be realistic and morbid.

The girl wanted all her characters to have intense, self-defeating flaws, and the boy wanted all his stories to end in nihilistic wars that made the reader reflect on the pointlessness of human interaction.

Off-Topic, Here’s a Study of a Cute Horse

horse

reference here

But They Wrote No Happy Endings

After I left high school, and got more into writing my own stories, and living my own stories, I was like, wait a minute. Why do so many writers I know write really depressing endings?

I started to wonder why everything was so depressing because all my theatre directors were similarly obsessed with creating morose finishes. I think they wanted to be impressive, and to be taken seriously, and they thought that meant they had to be Dark and Ominous.

I didn’t want to see plays or read books that were more depressing than my actual life. I wanted happy endings, and characters who turned out well.

Examples

Bad Writing

The golden serpent was not so bad as everyone said. He had only one fang, not two, and most of his time was spent eating mice and meditating on the ending of the world, which he claimed would come sometime after the end of next weekend.

A long string of weekends came, and went, and the end of the world kept on not coming. Eventually the golden serpent got old and died. His owner saved the single gold fang and turned it into a necklace.

When the world really did end, on a Tuesday afternoon, no one remembered that the golden serpent had had a speech impediment, and that he’d really been saying the right day all the time. The golden serpent turned out to have been a total waste, as a prophet of doom. Luckily he was dead by then, so he wasn’t too disappointed.

Good Writing

The local gods, in response to endless requests from Shaman Ricardo, provided a prophetic serpent. The allied villages built an exciting glass case, and made constant offerings of foliage, heat lamps, and live mice.

Every Wednesday morning at five oh three, the bright yellow snake, heralded as the golden tongue of the gods, hissed out a cryptic phrase that Ricardo eventually determined was the date for the ending of the world.

The snake lived for a very long time, and got very fat, long, and thick. His diction gradually cleared up, and Ricardo was relieved when half the villagers started to hear actual words coming from the snake’s mouth. The serpent became famous, and people in faraway lands claimed that he could curse people by flicking out his tongue when he looked at them.

The golden serpent was not so bad as everyone said. He had only one bright fang protruding from his mouth, not two, and most of his time was spent eating mice and meditating on the ending of the world, which he claimed, as far as everyone could tell, would come sometime after the end of next weekend.

A very, very long string of weekends came, and went, and the end of the world kept on not coming. Eventually the golden serpent got old and died. Shaman Ricardo saved the single gold fang and turned it into a necklace, which he wore to ceremonial events.

When the world really did end, on a Tuesday afternoon, no one realized that the golden serpent had had a severe speech impediment caused by his missing fang, and that he’d really been saying the right day all the time. Up in the ethereal heavens, with his masters the local gods, the golden serpent watched the ending of the world and felt satisfied with things, since he’d finally been proven right.

In Conclusion

In our eagerness to be fair, realistic, and admirable, let us not make needlessly depressing endings or torment our characters too far.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my book, Pops is going to try and get off his regular medication, though he’s probably going to drink too much while he does it.

Ignoring Social Power Networks Could Ruin Your Novel Construction

When you write, you unconsciously repeat and recreate patterns from your social understanding.

Morals and Power

A grounding in moral and ethical behavior is necessary for meaningful plot construction. A study of power dynamics, and the pursuit of control between living bodies is similarly important.

Let’s talk for a minute about Richard the Third, the old hunchback who, bored and without a sexual partner, goes about to undermine his brothers, murder most of his relatives, and take the crown for himself.

Bunch-Backed Toad

The play is not, as most people think, about an evil man. It’s about a man who is sexually rejected, and who is without a home. He starts out going after the throne merely because everyone around him is having sex, and he is too ugly and uncomfortable to have a partner.

Literally, that’s what he explains to us in the opening, and if Shakespeare writes a character’s thoughts in iambic pentameter, that’s as good as an omniscient narrative voice. Richard is bored, and has no girlfriend.

He Says Dogs Hate Him, Too

Ironically, right after he decides to go after power, he gets all the intimacy he wants, but it’s too late for him then, as he’s already succumbed to the first idea. There’s no good woman around to wake him up and bring him back from murder and disloyalty, and so he eventually turns evil and has to be exterminated like a cockroach from hell.

But the play isn’t actually about an evil man. If you want to read a play about evil, go and look at either Claudius, from Hamlet, or Macbeth, from the play of that name.

Examples

Bad Writing (No Social Grounding)

Damien had a hard time making friends, because his hair was too long. He wasn’t a hippy, but his father thought he looked like one. Francine was a hippy, though.

The coffee shop on the corner was a good place to hang out, for local poets.

Greenland was having internal strife over some environmental workers disrupting the local economy. Everyone was very upset.

Good Writing (Social Framework)

Damien, who came from Greenland, had promised his mother on her deathbed that he would not cut his hair for five years. He thought he looked ridiculous, and always wore some manner of hat when he left his apartment.

He was a freelance illustrator, and did most of his work in a coffee shop just around the corner from his apartment. Francine, the lead barista, loved Damien’s long hair, though she didn’t care much for his drawings. She was a poet, in her spare time, and often left pamphlets lingering meaningfully about on his regular table. She hoped he would get the idea that she was inviting him to a late-night beat session, after the coffee shop was taken over by the local poets’ society.

Damien found the constant waste of paper shocking, and often collected as many pamphlets as were lying about. He carried them down the street to the nearest recycling bin, and placed them inside with all the care of a man burying a dead sparrow.

In Conclusion

Power, control, and a social grasp of morality are all essential elements for meaningful plot construction. Character action only begins to have impact when it is contextually framed in a social setting relevant to the reader.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m tinkering at the seduction scene between Crikey’s geneticist and the hunter, who is getting out dark, nasty secrets from her. Bwa ha, etc.

Want To Write Awful Relational Bonds? Skip Tests

I was reading a story the other day, and the author attempted to write one of those gradual, easy slips into true love. You know, that thing where the two people realize, without any real effort, that they were made for each other, and everything is hunky-dory in romance land forever more, because they feel sure and happy?

Relational Tests

The problem with the story was that it skipped all the in between parts, all the emotional and psychological tests we put each other through, before we throw our emotional eggs into one basket.

Bad Writing (Skipping Tests)

Gina met the guy in gym class. She ignored him then, and didn’t notice him again for four years, when they worked the same route as a mail-carrier and dog-walker, respectively.

He only started to talk to her because he was lonely, and she only talked back because she had the dogs with her, and they made her feel social and important.

After the guy confessed to having had a crush on her since high school, her heart melted, and she looked into his eyes, and they got married.

Good Writing (Incorporating Tests)

“Gina Whorple!” the mailman said. Gina looked up from her pack of leashed dogs and met his eyes.

“Oh, hello!” she said, her heart sinking. It was that awkward kid, Felix from gym class. He’d followed her with his eyes whenever they ran laps, and always tried to get on her team for tennis.

“Well, it’s great to see you! Bye!” Felix said, waving a stack of letters.

“Yeah,” Gina said, feeling the slightest edge of irritation as she passed him on the sidewalk. She’d thought, as soon as she saw him again, that he would try to stop her for a horrible, leering chat. She noticed, now that she was not worried at all about getting caught into a conversation, that he’d sort of grown into his face.

Gina glanced over her shoulder. Felix was hot now. Hm, Gina thought, and she turned her attention back to the several dogs she had charge of.

In Conclusion

Unless your characters are brain damaged, they test out relationships and check for compatibility. That means setting up potential partners for failure, and concealing parts of themselves to find out whether the other party can see through the ruse.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m surprised at how long it’s taking, in practice, to kill some of my crusty old geezers in my book. They do have a lot of safeguards in place, of course, to make sure no one can kill them.

Lonely Authors

ajalia on dragon for blog

I went to a visiting artist lecture a long time ago. The guy wasn’t technically an artist; he was a famous critic from somewhere important, and he came to a museum event and gave a talk about art, and working towards developing your style.

He Gave Advice To All The Young, Eager Art Students

He was  really nice guy, and I liked him. He was sensible, and had kind eyes and a grounded voice. You know how sometimes you meet established persons, and you sort of get the sense that they wormed their way into power by cheating, or squiggling work out of other people?

This guy was a nice, grounded, competent guy who understood art and quality work. He told this extended story, at the beginning of the lecture, about how he got to be a critic in the first place.

It was sort of a sad story, and I’m thinking about it now. Here’s how it went:

The Critic’s Story

Once upon a time, there was a young man who wanted to be an artist, and worked as hard as he knew how. His work sucked, and eventually he learned enough about composition and technique to realize how awful he was. He gave up on being an artist, after an extended struggle with himself, and he knew so much by then about art that he took up evaluating other people’s work, instead of producing his own.

The art critic who gave up. That’s the story he told.

Here’s my interpretation of that guy, and the framework he presented as his excuse for escaping internal fire and torment:

What I Heard Him Say

Once upon a time, there was a young man with sense and ability, who had potential, passion, and a big heart. He came from a screwed-up family, and was too shy and embarrassed to get his background straightened up, or to examine his dysfunctional roots.

He found, as he entered farther into serious, professional-level work, that he was consistently prostrated with shame, confusion, and an inability to face his deepest self. As he attempted to create, and to share parts of his heart and soul through art, he found that he didn’t want anyone to realize how dark and ugly he felt.

He stopped drawing, and he painted boring, technically challenging pieces with no emotional element. He got farther and farther from pure, intense creation, and more and more into hiding and lying about how small and horrible he felt.

At length, the young man gave up on himself, labeled himself as a bad person, with an infertile soul, and became a helper and cheerleader to other artists. Thinking of himself as an artist was too painful, so he reframed all his thinking and told himself that he was a lesser sort of being, a helper and guide to worthier souls.

He became an art critic.

He was deeply unhappy and perfectly satisfied with how he had figured out a consistent method to punish his internal badness.

In Sum:

The art critic was articulate, genteel, well-travelled, and with the secret, hidden emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old boy being beaten on the sly with a leather whip.

He was very successful as an art critic, though. And I don’t think many people could tell at all that he’d been abused so badly. The self-deprecating, vitriolic humor with which he poked tasteful fun at his inability to create was the biggest tell, for me.

I Don’t See Dead People, But I Often See Abuse

I imagine if anyone ever opened up his heart, he’d become a prostrate invalid for the rest of his life. Unless he was given a safe space to paint while he got through things. Someone would have to take him over, and be a parent to him, though, and nurture him for years. He was a nice guy.

Detaching From The Self-Blame

All my actors had problems like that, deep ones that twist through your soul and make you sometimes almost dead all through your heart. The difference between people who give up on art, and people who make stuff, is how much you intellectually detach from the personal nature of the abuse and learn to navigate the physiological after-effects. Professional actors and dancers, singers, too, all do that. It’s not difficult, but laypeople generally have no idea how to begin.

I’ve got to go and finish killing some corrupt gangsters in my book, now. Happy Wednesday.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my book, Gilbert had an unpleasant procedure performed on his body in the small hours. Pops’ fate is still up in the air, though.