For Better Writing: Integrating The Disparate Parts of Self

fish-2580208_1920

You are divided into several pieces; components of your overall being are often so different as to seem to come from separate beings. I knew an actor, for example, who had been horribly abused as a child. He had so repressed all expression of anger that he bottled all his annoyances and petty grievances up throughout the year and had one, almost-perfectly annual explosion at his underlings in the winter months. At all other times he was subdued, polite, and too careful of sharing how he felt.

That Actor Would Have Been Served By An Integration Of His Anger

It is not healthy to live apart from yourself, or to so compartmentalize your soul that you become some breed of Dr. Jekyll, who explodes ere long into a momentary Mr. Hyde.

When you write, and you have already begun to exist in a state of semi-permanent absence from your whole self, the work reflects your lack of unification.

You See This An Awful Lot With Sex

I’m about to make a sweeping overgeneralization, so if you’re easily offended, look away now. Many, if not all, people who exclusively write explicit sexual passages without making a living at it (amateur pornographers, if you will), have compartmentalized their natural sexual self from the rest of their souls, and they use the written word as a way to sooth and erase the barrier between their current and idealized selves. I am in no way speaking of romance, light sex, or professional erotica authors, which all require sufficient depersonalization of the self to preclude this division of self.

Victor, Sometimes I Think You’re Just Making Stuff Up!

Another area where this lack of unification is apt to appear is in the author’s inability to know his (or her) end goal. What I mean by this is, what does a happy ending look like? I do not mean the achievement of some end objective; no, I mean, the very happiest, best ending that could possibly be for each of the characters. Many, many authors shy away from the possibility of happiness because they, themselves, don’t know yet what they want, or what the evaluators are for their moral good, and so they unwittingly write a similar avoidance and ignorance into their novel, which is unfortunate because it creates a fog of unsureness in the mind of the reader.

Everyone, at bottom, must be good or bad.

Good Or Bad, Best Or Worst

When a human reads a story, he (or she) is looking for a personal derivative; he (or she) wants meaning. Am I like the good guy or the bad guy? Why? And what is a happy ending? And, in reference to that ending, how am I doing currently in my life right now?

People really do ask themselves these types of questions while they are reading. They may not always be aware that they are doing it, but they most certainly are judging and comparing themselves, their friends and acquaintances, and their living standards to what is portrayed in the book at all times.

We Want To Know How We’re Doing; Are We Winning?

Are we bad? Or are we good? How do we know? How can we find out for sure? We look at stories to give us context, and we apply the context within tales to our own circumstances, to find out where we measure on the scale of evil through transcendent good.

Great literature, the kind of stuff teachers throw at your face in schools, is the material that commentates openly and consistently on the measuring stick throughout the story.

So-called “escape” literature, better known as genre fiction, does not make overt value judgements, but the best samples of this style contains a wholistic moral universe, and vividly accurate examples of human nature in a range from corrupt to pure, good to bad, selfish to genuinely altruistic.

So What Does This Mean For Me, Victor Poole?

Well, I began by explaining that many people, perhaps even you, are currently living in a state of internal compartmentalization, and, by extension, your fiction suffers from a lack of intellectual cohesion.

Selfish people, for example, write characters badly, because they relate to other humans so awkwardly themselves that their dialogue and descriptions of the beings in their stories are halting, aggressive, and completely bare of nuance. Folks who don’t listen in real life listen even worse when they are the God of the narrative, and this creates ugly prose, and harsh characterizations and scenes.

For one more example, writers who do not exercise thoroughly in real life write terrible action sequences. Having very little muscle themselves, they have no real conception of the weight, binding nature, or fluidity of significant musculature, and this is reflected in the way they write physical action of any kind.

I could go on, for there are myriad samples of poor integration, and corresponding openings between delivery and intent in the resultant fiction, but for now we will look at an example of how such a lack of integration might appear in the flesh (or the pixel, as ’twere), and then I will impart to you a basic integration visualization.

Be Cautious Of Any Person Seeking To Integrate You; Humans Steal

Yes, I include myself in this group. Anyone who reaches into your energy management is getting something from you; be very wary, and excessively aware of what they are doing while they’re in your spirit, and of what they leave behind. Beware, or risk losing things, and becoming captive to forces you probably don’t understand.

I suppose I should cackle evilly right now, and tap my fingers together in the manner of a villain. But, to work.

Examples

Bad Writing (Analytical Thinking Absent):

Solace has never wanted so badly to run away, but her legs are pinned under a shelf, and she can’t move her lower half enough to get out. Her mind races. She wrestles the furniture, but it is lodged under one of the stones from the roof.

She hears another person crying out; she didn’t hear enough to know who it was. She grunts, and pulls harder. A tall shadow moves through heavy dust that is flying through the crushed room.

“Are you fine?” a man’s voice asked. Solace shivers; she does not know this person.

“No,” she gasps.

Good Writing (Integrated Thinking):

With a crash, the sky fell into the house, carrying with it half the roof and most of a tree from above the eaves. Her mother and father were crushed under a great stone, but Solace dove left, and she was merely pinned beneath an oak shelf, unharmed aside from bruises. She couldn’t move, and after she battered helplessly with a shard of rock at the shelf, she resigned herself to a lingering death.

She could hear a cry echoing sadly through the house; it was grandmother, she thought. Solace opened her mouth to call back, but the dust caught in her throat, and she choked and coughed, and when she got her breath back she found that her windpipe seemed to have closed up for good. She could not make a sound.

What Can You Do In Terms Of Integration?

As promised, the integration visualization: Imagine that inside of you is a sharp line of blue-black (like the color of a healthy black horse). Now picture the ground below you, and pretend for a moment that it is a sea of white light. You know, like the lava game you most likely played as a child, and the floor was burning orange? Except this time the floor will be bright white, and it will be water, not lava.

Noe imagine your whole body, starting at your feet, and then your ankles, sinking gradually into the sea of white beneath you. Let yourself fall slowly into the white water. As the water touches up against the blue-black line, see it burn up and disappear. The line can be anywhere; it might run up your middle, splitting you in half, or it may form a vigorous jig-jag maze. Your subconscious mind is tremendous at pinning down problems you aren’t fully aware of yet; whatever you picture the line doing in your body is exactly right.

Now, relax down into the water, imagining the shining, lapping fluid rising past your knees, and your hips, and up your back. Watch the blue-black line, wherever it may be, scrub entirely away in the touch of the white water. Let your shoulders and your arms go down into the water, and then your neck. Feel your jaw lap into the white ocean, and then your cheeks. Your eyes next, and your forehead. Finally, listen to the feelings in your body as your last bit of skull sinks down into the brilliant white water.

The blue-black line is now gone. Stand up out of the water, and draw a new black line all the way around the edge of your body. You know, as if you were a body being chalked around by the police at a crime scene. Just go ahead and trace your own black line all around the verge of your being. This is an outline that separates you from the world around you; your body longs for division of some kind, and if you give yourself this outside-inside line of separation, you can avoid reforming the original fragmentation of your inner self.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. I’m working on an exciting new cover for the Ajalia books, and I made an embarrassing mistake yesterday. My cat is asleep at this very minute; she’s adorable.

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

big horse

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

sunglasses-2523803_1920

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.

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

denys-nevozhai-154974

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!

squirrel-619968_1280

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.

The Fantasy Writer’s Guide To Making Your Culture More Authentic

denys-nevozhai-185408

As fantasy writers, and creators of marvelous new worlds in the reaches of space, (hiya, sci-fi pals!), one of our chiefest concerns is to deliver authentic, believable, can’t-look-away indigenous cultures. A big appeal of genre is escape; you want to make sure that you’re not accidentally recreating your culture of origin covered over with superficial details.

British Translators Did This To Chekhov

There are several renditions of The Cherry Orchard from the nineteenth century where the characters stride around saying, “Jolly old chap!” and “By Jove, really, my good man!” which are neither accurate in spirit or context to the words of the actual Russian play.

It is possible, and, dare I say, common, to perform a similar Jingoistic production in your fantasy cultures, but the real danger lies in doing so unconsciously.

How Do I Avoid It, Victor Poole?

Your first and best defense against unconscious bias in your culture-creation is an accurate understanding of some different cultures to your own. For example, I’m American, and have steeped myself in Russian, British, and Chinese ways of thinking for some time.

You’ve Probably Been More Places Than Me, And You Have The Interwebs, Fair Reader (And Therefore Most Likely Surpass Me In Worldliness)

Examining the differences between mainland and colonial literature, and cross-referencing that with Australian work, and enslaved islander accounts, gives a broad picture of several different value-systems, built-in prejudices (on the part of several different peoples), and unstated cultural goals. Contrasting these impressions with the heart of Taoist philosophy, and comparing mainland Chinese social assumptions with Japanese and Taiwanese family values, leads to a beginning of discernment between the wild varieties in cultural assumptions, valuations of worth, and internalized pressures. Throw in a dash of Indian philosophy, and reflect that I have so far mentioned only a handful of very brief cultural subjects, and we can conclude that our palette for source material is endless.

If There Are So Many Great Sources, Why Did You Say People Reproduce Their Own Cultures, Victor?

Here’s where I’m going to get all particular. Cultural assumptions are tied into your roots of subsisting energy; what you expect from the world, and what you are willing to give back from within yourself, is determined mainly by culture. Your baseline assumptions of what is reasonable comes from generational inheritance of body carriage, childcare provided in your extreme youth, and the vocal patterns (and therefore energy arrangements) created by your culture of origin. This is, of course, an enormous simplification, but we’ll start there.

Once You Realize That Someone Else’s Energy Carriage Is Opposite To Yours, You Can Create Original Cultures

Turning your own energy carriage upside down can be an illuminating exercise, but a more fruitful endeavor is to temporarily inhabit, in your imagination, the mental and emotional space of another person from a culture different to yours. You probably already have at least one, and possibly many, friends and acquaintances who hail from faraway places. Buried in your subconscious are myriad source materials; what we are talking about today is how to conveniently access them, to ensure that your fantasy and science fiction cultures are not flattened reproductions of your own upbringing.

Surface Details Do Not An Original Culture Make

It is the roots, the unconscious assumptions about life, about value, and about punishment and justice that form the energy ball that is recognizable culture. Once you have absorbed the reality that someone else has completely different unconscious drivers to you, you are in a space to mash into shape a new and genuinely original fantasy (or science fiction) culture.

Examples

Bad Writing:

They came to the edge of the country, and there was no trouble with the border guard, because they were flying too high for the towers to perceive their entrance. It was lucky that the torches that were searchlights had been discontinued after the big dry spell, because the wings of the big dragons would have showed up in the bright light of such fire.

They flew and flew until they at last arrived near the outskirts of her old dwelling place, that ancient pile of rock, the Castle-proper in the new capital of Caldhart, which still bore many signs of the previous culture’s subsistence upon the previously-dry ground.

“How will we sneak into the castle? It’s heavily guarded,” John whispered to her.

Good Writing:

They arrived in the outskirts of Caldhart in the deepest night; the stars blinked above like innumerable eyes, and the shadows of Claire’s dragons flitted like black leaves, obscuring the moon. Claire left her dragons and John in a quiet valley near the great lakes, and flew alone with her own dragon towards the castle. She found Gerard, who was growing quite old and grey, in the war room of the castle.

“Goodness, Madam,” he cried, when she came into the light. He became very still, and examined her from head to foot. “What’s happened to you?” he asked at last.

Remember, Writing Original Cultures Is As Easy As Can Be, Once You Go Under The Surface

Costumes, diet, and traditions are the superficial markers of culture; what determines the shape of a person’s soul are their unconscious assumptions about the value of life, justice and wrong-doing, and the meaning of broad social interaction. Once you turn your mind into the soul of your new culture, your work will become harder, stronger, and much more captivating.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My internet’s been patchy lately. The Saroyans have the most original culture in this series; the Slavithe, Talbosians, and Eastern traders are variations on existing themes.

The Quick And Easy Guide To Writing Human Nature

dragon clip

The frill is going to extend up along the side of the head, and the skin will have a silvery tint. I haven’t put in the dragon stone yet, either, but this is one of the beasts from The Second Queen, which I am editing right now.

New Fantasy Book, Very Exciting, Coming Soon!

I actually wrote the first half of this book almost four years ago, and then hit my goal of fifty thousand words and stopped. I wrote a little tag at the bottom of the last chapter; it read, “to be continued . . .”, which I felt was appropriately ominous.

Now It Is 120k Words, And Quite Intoxicating

I looked up one of my old acting rivals last night, just to make sure I’m not as behind as I sometimes feel I am (I’m not behind at all). There are only a couple of genuinely successful people (actors) from my school, and none from my age group. I check periodically, to make sure no one has rocketed to astronomic success before me.

Victor Poole Is A Jealous Person!

I have to start eating more fat. My body is partway through developing into adulthood, and I have the opposite problem of many people, where I have to make sure I eat enough food.

And I’m Slowly Bulking My Arms

Rose, the cat who haunts my house, has discovered the joys of having her undercoat brushed out (you’re welcome, Rose), and now she shadows me along the kitchen counter in the wee hours, mewling appealingly for attention.

rose2

This is her before brushing. She is rather sleeker now.

Here’s The Writing Part

Poor writing explains relationships from a standpoint of fairness and equality; the narrative voice plays nice with the characters, and attempts to frame the story within an obviously idealistic world, where all the humans make an effort to get along and build each other up, aside from one or two bad apples who are misunderstood antagonists.

To Write Human Nature, Drop The Fair And Nice Parts

Excellent writing shows the inequality, both between individuals, and between established roles in society. Good writing, and writing that exposes human nature, comes from a framework of predatory abuse. The antagonist is generally a person who recognizes the cannibalistic nature of social exchange, and exploits it without apology or remorse. The protagonist is a genuine person who goes more than halfway to meet people in an exchange of goodwill and fellowship. The conflict in the story arises from the clash of the selfish against the disinterested human.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Berthold pushed back his hair, and squinted into the twilight. Shooting was running over schedule, and his wife would be disappointed that he was late for dinner again. So difficult, he thought, to balance the demands of an artistic career with a home life. Relationships were wonderful, though.

Greg fussed over the camera with Joel, and then waved for the sound guy to come over. They were working very hard to set up the next scene.

Berthold felt so lucky to be the star. He dug his feet into the black soil, and suppressed a contented sigh. I’m going to be famous, he told himself, and imagined the tamales that were swiftly going cold at home.

“Here we go,” Greg called, clapping his hands together. “This is it, Berthold. We’re all counting on you.”

Good Writing:

“We’re going to go over that part again,” Greg said, propping his script against his hip and staring shrewdly at Berthold. “Listen, I like what you’re doing, but I need it to feel more, um, fresh. Like you’re waking up into the world for the first time.”

“Okay,” Berthold said. He was thinking of the way his wife would be staring at her phone, waiting for a text. His was turned off, per production rules.

“Just, can you be more innocent about it? Like, pretend you’re a bird.” Greg reached out a hand, and mussed Berthold’s hair to the side. “Like a hungry bird.”

“Okay,” Berthold said again.

“And don’t do that, that smiley thing when you say ‘regret.’ Give me, like, a burst of orange there.”

“Got it,” Berthold replied.

Writing Human Nature Requires Cynicism

And remember, you have a unique perspective on a whole lot of things you’ve lived through. If you frame your experiences with a disillusioned and honest eye, your writing will improve a great deal. And also remember, people are only nice if they’re the protagonist, or if they’re selling something.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Look! I’m selling something! Thursday is the fourth day of the week, and The Dead Falcon is the fourth book in this series.

Are Time Limits Raising Your Stakes?

I directed Hamlet once. I’d like to do it again, because I’d change just about everything. It’s a pity that you have to direct a show in order to figure out how to best direct that show. Anyway, what I was going to say is that my girl who played Ophelia wanted to work out a bit of business in the opening court scene. She wanted to do an elaborate pass-the-note scene with Hamlet, which, if memory serves, I nixed, because of Authenticity.

Ophelia Is Pregnant

Today we’re talking about time limits and high stakes. Hamlet, our dearly departed heir apparent to the throne of Denmark, is, in the opening of the play, about to become a father. Proof, you say? What’s this? You want proof? All right, but first, let’s talk about high stakes.

Use Time Limits

Nine months is a bit of time; most women start showing somewhere around the five-month mark of pregnancy. When your story operates within a fixed time-limit, the stakes lift themselves. Look at these two scenarios:

1) My uncle might have killed my father, and I have to figure out if I should murder him in revenge.

2) I got my fiancé pregnant because we were about to get married, seeing as I was weeks away from becoming the king of Denmark. Well, I didn’t try to get her pregnant, but my father died unexpectedly, and she was making me feel better, and one thing led to another, and we’re getting married soon, so she was, you know, comforting me. Anyhow, she’s pregnant now, and it turns out that my mother and my uncle got married before the coronation, and now—well, now I’m not going to be the king of Denmark unless I do something pretty bloody. But my fiancé is pregnant. And now I’m seeing visions of my dead father, who says he was murdered by my uncle. So . . .

Time-Limits Raise The Stakes

Give yourself these two pretend scenarios:

1) Claudius poisoned my dad, and I need to take revenge.

2) Ophelia’s going to start showing, and her father will go nuts and/or kill her if he finds out, plus, Claudius probably murdered my father and I need to take revenge, but it would be best if I took care of this before Ophelia really starts showing, so I can take the throne and marry her, or hide her in the country.

Number two is more stressful, right? There’s a natural climax in that scenario, isn’t there? Take your novel, whatever it is, and give yourself a time limit.

An Example

Don’t worry, I’ll give you some proof in a bit (not all of the proof, because that would take hours).

For our example, let us take a young lad from the science academy in the Faedel galaxy. In the bad example, I shall show the boy operating under no time limit. Then, in the good example, I will give our hero a ticking clock, and we will see which example has higher and more effective stakes.

Bad Writing (No Limit):

Geezer scrubbed the microfibre cloth over the outsized monitor, and he ground his teeth as he did so. Lousy professors, he thought, and he pushed the nozzle of the gen-dispenser. A cloud of nanobot foam splattered over the screen, and he mashed the cloth against the glass.

The science academy was low on funds; if the board could afford it, they would have replaced all these old Earth screens with the new plasma models. Those, Geezer reflected morosely, required exactly zero scrubbing.

He sighed as he looked down the long row of monitors that he had yet to clean. Lousy work-study program, he thought, and he bent his elbow into the work. The nanobots emitted the very faintest of hums as he ground them against the screen.

Good Writing (Time Limit):

“And if you aren’t finished by the end of zero-hour, I’ll be putting you on the first transport home!”

Jezebel’s voice echoed through the classroom as she departed, slamming the door behind her. Geezer looked despairingly down the long line of filthy monitors. Zero-hour was close; he would never finish in time, which, he supposed, was the point. Professor Jezebel had been trying to oust him from the moment she’d learned his father was from her home city.

Had to go and open my big mouth, Geezer thought, as he scooped up the bottle of nanobot foam. “Guaranteed to clean while you’re away!” the bottle read. Geezer had been using the foam regularly in his duties as part of the work-study janitorial team, and he was drenched in despair as he reflected in his inevitable failure.

As you can see, adding the pressure of a time limit helps those stakes get hopping, and your reader-brain begins to work in overdrive to predict the outcome. Use time constraints to heighten your stakes, and bask in the dramatic tension that results.

And Now, A Smidgen Of Proof

I said I would give you a bit of proof; here is a ditty Ophelia sings at the end of the play:

Yong men wil doo’t, if they come too’t,
By Cocke they are too blame.
Quoth she before you tumbled me,
You promis’d me to Wed:
So would I ha done by yonder Sunne,
And thou hadst not come to my bed.

And in a later scene:

. . . ther’s Rew for you, and heere’s some for me. Wee may call it Herbe-Grace a Sundaies: Oh you must weare your Rew with a difference.

Rue is a flower rich with symbolism (the queen has to wear her rue differently, because she [the queen] is an adulteress, but rue, at the time, was also a flower that, if eaten, could cause an abortion. Pregnancy creates a time-limit, and hiding pregnancy heightens the stakes, and shortens the window of efficacious action. Do like Shakespeare, and make use of time limits to raise your stakes.

You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books are here. Wednesday is probably the most perfect day for picking up and reading Delmar’s Magic.