Often, as I am writing, I find myself using slightly elevated language, because I get drawn into the pathos of the scene. Later, I return and make a smoother flow to my dialogue, to make sure it doesn’t sound overinflated.
“It is common knowledge in the stars that cyborgs sent to run the Human Museum were one step away from falling under the general extinction order. Your mind and body are of a low grade, only just passable for conversion. You are lucky you are alive,” the tall cyborg said in a dry, emotionless voice.
“That might be true for the others, but not for me,” the director snapped. “I am in charge here; I am different. My master wanted to keep me for something more important, I know he did. He was forced to let me go. You cannot deny they needed a clever man to run their little project here.”
“Then that is all that you are,” the tall cyborg said, “a man. You will never be a true cyborg.”
“It’s common knowledge in the stars that those sent to run the Human Museum were one step away from falling under the general extinction order. Your mind and body are of a low grade, only just passable for conversion. You’re lucky to be alive,” the tall cyborg said.
“That may be true for the others but not for me,” the director snapped. “I’m in charge here; I’m different. My master wanted to keep me for something more important, I know he did. The others forced him to let me go. You can’t deny they needed a clever man to run their little operation here.”
“That’s all you are,” the tall cyborg said, “a man. You will never be a true cyborg.”
Changing some of your words to contractions and loosening the formality of your language can add a soothing sense of rhythm to your prose, and strengthen your dialogue.
You’re reading Victor Poole. My cat tried to attack a roll of paper towels the other day, and my cyborgs are marshaling their forces against the Ben-sa alien empire today. The rough study is from this.
When you write, you often leave out the best parts. You don’t write about the most exquisite feelings, or the tenderest moments. Everything ought to be pat action and tight dialogue; all things should push the story forward. That’s the way you might feel, anyway, but what your reader wants the most is the deepest and strongest experience of the heart of the story, and that often includes happy feelings, exciting or startling sensations, and even scenes of tender friendship or love.
Victor Poole, You’re So Judgmental!
How do I know you are probably skipping the good parts in your writing? Well, I’ll tell you: I’m extrapolating from a combination of my own experience as a writer, my days of studying story-making in amateur theatre, and my personal findings as a reader of fiction.
So I’m pretty sure, like ninety-nine percent sure, that you’re skipping most of the good parts in your story.
Why Are These Soft, Squishy Bits Getting Skipped Over?
The super short answer is embarrassment and shame, but the longer, more complete answer is that everyone has, at some point in their life, been rejected or left out, or excluded in some painful manner, and this has taught each of us that sharing our truest and deepest selves with others is scary, bad, and sometimes dangerous.
Well, I Don’t Feel That Way, Victor!
Good for you! You rock on with your bad self! However, I shall continue, since not all of us are as lucky and/or resilient as you.
When you start to hide the squishy, human part of yourself in your writing (which is what skipping these deep parts is), the story suffers immeasurably. The characters become dry and unemotional, almost like rote-reading robots, and your prose becomes, shall we say, a tiny little itsy bit tedious at times.
You Can’t Call MY Prose Tedious, Victor! You Cad!
On the other hand, when you share your very favorite parts of the story with genuine excitement and generosity, the prose gets all filled up with good, edible chewiness, and your characters become real people, fully dimensional and memorable.
I Want Memorable Characters! Teach Me, Victor Poole!
The way you can tell if you’re skipping good parts in your writing is if you are bored. Honestly, there you go. If you aren’t excited by what you’re writing about, and eager to put it down, you are more than likely hiding the good parts of the story, possibly even from yourself.
Look! I just explained writer’s block!
I’m actually serious; when you can’t write, or you don’t really wanna feel-like-it-right-now, you are probably hiding a really great part of the story from the reader, and writing around it, or over it, or through it.
Let’s take a break from the jibber-jabber and look at some examples:
Skipped good parts:
They sat next to the fire with their hands turned towards the warmth, and the touching that had almost happened two hours ago made them reluctant to speak.
He hadn’t meant to brush against her, and for her part, she found him far less attractive now that she knew he hadn’t lived away from his mother yet.
She started to make the food, and he roused himself and unpacked their bags. They were silent, quiet, and utterly without words for each other, and they slept on opposite sides of the fire that night.
With the good parts:
Thadeus and Jewly sat next to the fire with their palms towards the warmth.
“I thought you were going to kiss me earlier today,” she said. He looked at her sharply, and flushed.
“I wasn’t,” he said.
“I know, because you didn’t,” she said pointedly. His cheeks reddened further, and he scooted a little away from her. She moved closer to him, a frown of deep irritation creasing her mouth.
“Well, what are you getting closer to me for, if you hate me so much?” he demanded.
“I never said that,” she snapped, and eased closer. He glared at her suspiciously.
“I heard you say that you thought I was a lame excuse for a knight. I heard you say that,” Thadeus exclaimed.
“Living with your mother after you’ve been knighted is decidedly out of the spirit of adventure. Where are you supposed to take your true love, after you’ve gotten hold of her?” Jewly demanded. His face darkened; he frowned at her, and scooted closer; their legs pressed together.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well, what?” she replied.
“Aren’t you going to squeal, and go sit over there?” he asked harshly.
“Why would I squeal when you keep not trying to kiss me?” she asked, color mounting in her cheeks. Thadeus stared at her, his face undergoing a gradual revolution. He opened his mouth as if to speak again, and then closed it. She sniffed, and her breath shivered, as if she was concealing a heartfelt sigh.
His hand crept towards her knee; she eyed him, and he hesitated.
“Aren’t you going to run away and tell me how much you don’t want to kiss me?” he asked. His voice had turned husky.
“No,” she said.
“Do you want me to kiss you?” he asked.
In conclusion, when you are writing, watch out for lackadaisical lack of interest from you towards your story, and beware of writing around or away from the really good parts. Remember, if the reader would want to hear about it because it’s really intense, go ahead and write about it, even if it’s scary and/or too embarrassing.
You’re reading Victor Poole; my books are here, and I recommend starting with this one.
Writing a novel is a lot like directing a play; your characters are like your actors, and the world-building and cultural development are like your set dressing and properties.
Directing Is Great
Something that not a lot of people realize when it comes to theatre is that a lot of acting is, in practice, deeply therapeutic. You are role-playing, and putting your own real emotions through the paces of the story. (I have opinions about what counts as “worthwhile” acting, so if you love externally-driven representational theatre, we are bitter enemies in real life.)
When you direct a play, and you are working with not the most highly-qualified professionals in the world, you end up landing in the role of therapeutic tour guide, or as house-mother to the emotional gymnastics of your actors. If you are wise, and an ethical director, you shape their process to fit the play and stay the hell away from their private lives.
Bad Directors Are Awful
I’ve had a lot of experience with crappy, soul-sucking directors, but I’ve also been lucky enough to work with a few really decent and principled directors.
Now, what does this have to do with fantasy and science fiction writing?
Yay, Victor’s Going To Talk About Writing!
Well, you may find, when you get into the groove of writing your story, that your characters start to lose control of themselves. Some of them want to kiss each other, and they aren’t supposed to. Some of them draw weapons and start lashing out at people, and some of them develop a sudden and unforeseen petty streak.
You start to find out that your characters, if you are writing good ones, have minds of their own. This can be upsetting, especially if you work from outlines, but you can turn it to your advantage and get great fiction out of the situation.
First, remember that people who act out are always working out early traumas, no exceptions. Somewhere inside their beautiful little soul is a hurt or abandoned or misunderstood child, and all you, as the author, need to do is coax out that hurt and do something about it.
Second, let them break stuff. Yeah, sometimes it seems like you’re losing your book, because your fourth-important main character wants to burn down the city, and you need the city for the final battle in book three, but if it’s really important to the guy, give him some matches and see what happens.
Third, know that artistic creation is mysterious, and if you cudgel the muse into obedience she is apt to break your head open with malapropos life circumstances. Because karma and poetic justice are things that seep into your life when you write a lot. Don’t tempt fate; honor the violent and unbidden urges of your characters and give yourself a seat on the train called, “What the crap is going to happen next?!”
Bad Writing (characters forced to conform to an outline):
Gevad was not a bad man, when he had the time to think before he acted, but there were so many financially ignorant saps in Slavithe, and he loved having houses and servants so much that he could hardly keep himself from taking advantage of the poor and the recently-rich whenever he could.
Lasa he had picked up on a whim; he’d known her father, and dabbled in magic with her mother, back before witches were banned from the city, and he had a soft spot for the olden days. He hadn’t meant to seduce her when he first obtained the deed to her mother’s house, and ownership of her body. Her blue eyes were soft and appealing, and he found himself saying things to her about freedom, and hard work, and she had wormed her way into his arms before he thought to say, “Certainly not, young lady!”
He knew she expected him to free her out of love, but not once in his life had Gevad given up material advantage for sentimental reasons, and she was too weak-willed to force his hand.
Better Writing (characters allowed to do as they will):
“Later,” he told her, when she asked when they would marry. It was against the law to marry an owned woman, but Lasa cared nothing for rules, and she had spent her life bending them without significant consequence to her person.
“I told mother I wouldn’t bring her to the wedding,” she told him. Her long hair was over her shoulder, and her bright face was tilted to the side, like a colorful bird’s.
“Mmrsh,” Gevad mumbled. What he wanted to say was, “Your mother will be long-dead before I even think of marrying you, big-breasted one,” but he never said what he really thought to Lasa. She snuggled into his lap, and he sighed.
“You like having me, though,” she coaxed. “You’d feel lonely without me in the house.”
“I’d miss you from my bed, sure,” Gevad murmured.
“And from your life, silly,” Lasa chided. She gazed up at the ceiling, her eyes wide and innocent-seeming. “I want to wear green when we get married,” she mused.
“Later,” Gevad said again.
“Next week,” she said.
“I don’t know when. Things are very hard for my business right now,” he lied. Things had never been better; he was flush with cash, and more than twelve bond-servants had fallen into his hands in the last month.
“If I get you that little white house rented, would we be able to afford it?” Lasa asked. “I wish we could bring my mother’s things down from upstairs,” she added.
“Soon,” Gevad said.
“But if I sell that little house, or let it out, will you marry me then?” she demanded.
“I would think about it,” Gevad said. Lasa’s lips turned in a satisfied curve, and she kissed him soundly.
To Sum Up
When your characters stray from the script, they are probably working out early trauma, and you can let them break stuff. Creation is shrouded in mystery, and to preserve the peaceful order of your own everyday existence, the best course is to follow along in the wake of your characters’ authentic desires.
You’re reading Victor Poole; the picture is a study of this. My books are here, and Lasa/Gevad are featured in the first installment of the series.
To make your prose flow easily, build crescendos and rhythmic transitions into your sentences and paragraphs. (This is a picture I drew yesterday.)
Ah Keeper, Keeper, I haue done these things
(That now giue euidence against my Soule)
Musical Rhythm Is Easy
You can do this with word size, consonant choice, phrasing, and sentence length. Let us look at the musical composition below: Clarence begins with a soft train of vowels. “Ah, ee, ee, I, ee, ee” is followed by a parenthetical aside of a fat “Ow! Oh!,” and then finished up with a rising “A, ee, ow! K! T! E!”
Vowels Are The Soft Filling Of Words
As soon as Clarence has offered this opening salvo, he embarks into a long, vowel-stretched appeal to God and the keeper’s mercy, accompanied by the lighter consonant sounds, “th, v, g, d, ss, and n.”
See The Speech Below
When we follow Bill’s example, and arrange our internal sounds with the keeping of the scene, our sentence length and phrasing add immeasurably to the build and emotional impact of the scene.
Here Is Clarence, After His Nightmare:
Ah Keeper, Keeper, I haue done these things
(That now giue euidence against my Soule)
For Edwards sake, and see how he requits mee.
O God! if my deepe prayres cannot appease thee,
But thou wilt be aueng’d on my misdeeds,
Yet execute thy wrath in me alone:
O spare my guiltlesse Wife, and my poore children.
And Now, With Fantasy
How, might you ask, can I apply these entrancing vowel and colon tricks to my own prose? Well, let us look first at a disastrous example of non-built chaos that I whipped up with a look of pained disdain on my features:
The dragon, how he had crutched his eager way wandering into the arching light-bulb brilliance canyonways, was ill-forgotten. His bills extend and his arm-frills opened long they were sails in the crushed air pieces dazzling in rock walls and carrying dust probably.
His nostrils cup open and snorted, while vivid eyes are moving death in his heart from there to his teeth. Yellowed.
And now, order and musicality enacted upon said chaos:
White wings clenched like spans of marble, he clung to the canyon walls in the light of the sun. The shadow he cast, unearthly black, ran from end to end of the canyon floor and kissed against the tips of his claws. The dragon opened his jaw and roared, frills snapping wide at his neck and sides.
The wind swept through the canyon in an answering howl, filling his leathern skin like sails; dust expanded from his flared nostrils and hissed through his yellow fangs.
Writing with rhythm and variety in your sentences requires an attention to the length of your phrasing, an eye for vowels, and a willingness to embrace joining forms of punctuation. And remember, when in doubt, go and read some original-folio Hamlet; nothing like Bard-prose whips your creative vehicle into tune like freestyle Elizabethan patter.
You’re reading Victor Poole. The image above is a study of a photo from here. My cyborg sequel is nearing completion.
Guys, Pinterest has some great resources for studying anatomy. I’m working on shoulders and hands right now. I’m like a has-been that never fully was. Oh well. Anyway, today I want to talk about how to dredge more juice out of your characters.
An odd thing happens when you have a familiar character about whom you write; you both know them well enough to feel cozy writing them, and frustratingly distant enough to be unable to force them to do what you need them to do in the story. (Kinda like when you’re the boss, and your underlings are stubbornly and slipperily evasive, instead of tractable and easy to command.)
I’ve heard people talk fondly about stubborn characters before; to me, they are nuts asking to be smashed open with a hammer. See, below:
An Uncracked Fellow:
Vince aligned the sights along the barrel of his ZQ-Bombast rifle (limited edition chrome) and waited for the fallow-parling to stand up from its nest. He fired, and the alien shrieked and crumpled out of sight. Vince slung the rifle over his shoulder and hoisted himself up the trunk of the F-aklen tree, which had oddly-curved rocks embedded in the bark.
He reached the nest and glared down at the bleeding parling; it was a female, and half her left shoulder was blown open. Vince dug for a bend-chip in his belt and knelt over the crying parling. She beat at him with her right palm, but her limbs were weak, and he pinned her and slid the chip into the opening under her skull. Her cries morphed slowly into words.
“Foolish ugly man-child,” she complained, “and after the season, you’ll be hunted by my brothers! They will strip out your lungs and use them as toys for our bargels!”
“That’s as may be, but I want your bones,” Vince said. She breathed in sharply, and her body grew still. Vince smiled at her, and pink tears sprung into her eyes.
“Mama!” she shrilled, her voice echoing through the copse with a ringing jangle.
“They can’t understand you anymore, darling,” Vince said. He pulled a leather belt out of his bag, and bound up the parling’s shoulder until the skin pinched white.
“No, no!” she screamed. “You must not take my wings.”
“Mama, save me!” she howled, as he pinned her neck under his knee and unfolded his lapse-saw.
What An Unsavory, Uncracked Nut!
Here we see Vince wrecking mayhem on a winged lady on the planet Vhuar, and he seems quite a villain (from the perspective of the parling).
Now, if we tell Vince to let the lady go, he will laugh in our teeth and take her leg just to show that he cannot be controlled.
My Word, Victor, You’re Violent!
I won’t crack him in this scene; this would necessitate the addition of a third character.
We shall take him in a later scene, after he has obtained his ill-gained parling bones and is in the process of selling them on the Obloogo black market. We find Vince meeting with a new character, Hole.
Hole shall serve as our metaphorical hammer, and I shall bring him down resoundingly upon the unsuspecting Vince. See, below:
Vince, Smashed Into Docility:
Vince threw the black bag onto the table; the delicate objects within made a musical jangle.
“How many?” said a deep voice from the shadows.
“Five pieces,” Vince said. His eyes combed through the darkness; he could not see Hole, but he knew the ugly man was there.
“Three arms, one leg, and a whole tail extension,” Vince said. He folded his arms; his Perso-fin pistol made a snug bump against his left hip. “All female, and pure through,” he said.
“They’ve been asking for the male bones particularly,” Hole said, coming into the light and lifting the bag. “Harder to fetch in the males,” he added, glancing up with a smile.
“I’ve no interest in killing,” Vince said.
“But at maiming, you excel,” Hole mused. He lifted an exquisite golden bone from the bag. “How did you clean them?” he asked.
“Trade secret,” Vince said at once. Hole fixed him with a beady eye, and snorted.
“I told Crikey you’d come in soon,” the hideous man said, as if offering a pleasantry. Vince’s shoulders drew together, and his palm twisted towards his gun. “It won’t work in here, my friend,” Hole remarked. He nodded at the pistol, which was disguised as a utilitarian flashlight. “These are wonderful, all of them. I’ll take the lot, and in exchange, I won’t kill you for Crikey,” Hole said. Vince launched himself forward, and smashed against a translucent force field. “Oh, these are new,” Hole said with a smile. He pointed at the ceiling, where a hint of green illuminated the boundaries of a square. “Thank you for the bones,” he added, dropping the delicate pieces back into the bag.
“He’ll kill me!” Vince shouted. His eyes had gone wild, and a peculiar, animal-like fear was in his whole body. Hole paused over the table, and took in the vivid terror in Vince.
“Yes, I think you’re right. But I’ve been promised a great deal of work out of you first,” Hole replied. “Rumor has it, Crikey is going to train you as a retrieval hound, and send you out hunting.”
“Hole!” Vince shrieked, throwing himself at the invisible barrier. It held like iron beneath his blows, and Hole chuckled as he turned away.
“I’m sure you’ll look very handsome as a hybrid,” the ugly man called.
Ha! Now He Is In Nutty Fragments
The key to breaking down a recalcitrant character is to force him (or her) up against the most formative, purely-instinctual fears in his physical being. Once your man (or woman, or thing) is in emotional shambles, you can build a great story around them, and use them without any holding back or irritating unwillingness on their part.
May you have much luck in your own smashing endeavors!
You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books are here. I’m about to fry some homemade burgers, with cheese and pickles on top.
I always feel as if I’m behind, and trying unsuccessfully to catch up. Sometimes I resign myself to the fate of the ever-behind, and sometimes I try to convince myself that all is humming peacefully along. I suppose the evaluatory criteria are so subjective as to be ultimately meaningless.
Today I’d like to talk about the petty relationships that can contribute to great characterization.
Rules For Petty Relationships
The relationship must subsist on a mostly-unconscious emotional exchange.
One half of the partnership has to be poor.
A romantic interest must form conflict between the two halves.
The relationship must be comprised of the same gender/orientation.
First, I’ll write a plain and unadorned pair-bond between two characters. I will then add, one by one, the qualifiers above, and you can judge for yourself the alteration in the resultant prose.
Plain Pair-Bond (Incorporating by Default Rule 4):
Otso and Benm carried their sticks over the mountain and searched for blue and green stones along the way. Benm claimed to have learned the secret of shaping the rocks, which he said were called mountain teeth, into razor points.
“We’ll affix them to our rods, and then we’ll be able to fight the groundlings in the caves below the lake,” he said.
“I don’t think we’ll find any of those stones,” Otso said doubtfully. He enjoyed carrying his stick, which he scraped in the failing light of the evenings until it was smooth and bright.
Plus Rule 1 (Addition of an Emotional Exchange):
“See if you can find any blue rocks,” Benm said. He walked far ahead of Otso, the two long sticks balanced over his shoulders. “I’ll make us spear tips out of them, if we can get any.”
“We’re not going to find blue rocks out here,” Otso called. He looked down anyway, and watched carefully over the mountainside as he rode their sickly pack mule.
“My grandfather taught me how to sharpen the rocks. Green ones would be all right, too,” Benm said. He rolled the wooden rods against his neck and studied Otso. “He called them mountain teeth.”
“All the rocks here are gray,” Otso called. Benm sniffed, and looked out over the expanse of mist below them.
“If we have spears, we’ll be able to fight and have adventures down there,” he said.
“You don’t know how to fight,” Otso mumbled under his breath. He kept his eyes fixed on the passing ground, which was uniformly gray and dull.
And Now, Rule 2! (One is Poor):
“See if you can find any blue rocks,” Benm said. He walked far ahead of Otso, the two long sticks balanced over his shoulders, his fitted jacket snug around his waist. “I’ll make us spear tips out of them, if we can get any.”
“We’re not going to find blue rocks out here,” Otso called, his own ragged cloak wrapped close against his body. He looked down anyway, and watched carefully over the mountainside as he rode the sickly pack mule. He kept his bare feet snug against her warm and fuzzy sides.
“My grandfather taught me how to sharpen the rocks. Green ones would be all right, too,” Benm said. He rolled the wooden rods against his neck and turned to face his friend. Benm’s supple leather boots made regular crunches on the slate as he paced backwards up the slope and studied Otso. “My grandfather called the stones mountain teeth.”
“All the rocks here are gray,” Otso called. He pulled his threadbare cloak more closely around his arms, and hugged his legs against the mule. Benm sniffed, and tuned to look out over the expanse of mist below them.
“If we build spears, we’ll be able to fight and have adventures down there,” he said.
“We don’t know how to fight,” Otso mumbled under his breath. He kept his eyes fixed on the passing ground, which was uniformly gray and dull. No hint of blue or green showed between the shattered stone. Otso tightened his grip on the coarse reins, and stared up at the mountain.
Throw in Rule 3, a Romantic Competition:
“See if you can find any blue rocks,” Benm said. He walked far ahead of Otso, the two long sticks balanced over his shoulders, his fitted jacket snug around his waist. “I’ll make us spear tips out of them, if we can get any. Marli would like that. She likes weapons.” Benm stretched his arms, and rolled his shoulders. Otso’s ears burned red at the mention of the tavern-maid.
“We’re not going to find blue rocks out here,” Otso called, his own ragged cloak wrapped close against his body. Marli had noticed his bad clothes, he was sure. If he found rare stones, Otso thought, he could sell or trade them for a better cloak, and shoes. He looked down and watched carefully over the mountainside as he rode the sickly pack mule. He kept his bare feet snug against her warm and fuzzy sides.
“My grandfather taught me how to sharpen the rocks. Tell me if you see a green one,” Benm said. He pretended to strike an enemy in the air, and let out an extravagant sigh. He rolled the wooden rods against his neck and turned to face his friend, his supple leather boots making regular crunches on the slate as he paced backwards on the slope. “My grandfather called the stones mountain teeth. I bet Marli would find that interesting.”
“All the rocks here are gray,” Otso called. He thought Marli would find colored stone fascinating, but he wasn’t going to say so to Benm. He pulled his threadbare cloak more closely around his arms, and hugged his legs against the mule. Marli likes me better, he told himself. Ahead on the slope, Benm sniffed, and tuned to look out over the expanse of mist below them.
“If we build spears, we’ll be able to fight and have adventures down there,” he said. Otso was sure Benm was thinking of how Marli would react to tales of their battles.
“We don’t know how to fight,” Otso mumbled under his breath, but he was thinking of Marli’s brown eyes, and the way her cheeks flushed when she was excited. He kept his eyes fixed on the passing ground, which was uniformly gray and dull. No hint of blue or green showed between the shattered stone. Otso sighed; he tightened his grip on the coarse reins, and stared up at the mountain peak.
I Would Call That A Resounding Success
Well, I wrote the damn thing, and I didn’t expect it to turn out that well. Let this be a lesson to me, then. I would like to add here that I think I write rather well. No qualifiers.
Great characterizations are often founded on fundamentally petty relationships. The rules (that I just made up) for constructing such a pair-bond are as follows:
The relationship must subsist on a mostly-unconscious emotional exchange.
One half of the partnership has to be poor.
A romantic interest must form conflict between the two halves.
The relationship must be comprised of the same gender/orientation
May your own relationally-joined characters find a satisfying base of transferred emotion, economic disparity, and competitive love.
You’re reading Victor Poole. My books are here. I have a lot of editing to get through this week.