Why Your Point Of View Needs A Subterranean Motive

Caleb NEW

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

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

In Other News

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

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

Now, Ulterior Motives For Point Of View

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

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

Leo Tolstoy

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

Agatha Christie

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

Victor Hugo

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

What Does Your Point Of View Say?

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

Examples:

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

Point of View: First person, present tense

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

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

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

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

Point of View: Third person, past tense

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

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

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

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

And Now, For Contrast, A Terrible One

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

Bad Writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He goes to the window, and tries the casing.

Today’s Takeaway

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

Well, Victor!

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

What Do You Mean, Incapable Of Love?

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

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

The Ultimate Fade-To-Black

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

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

And Yes, Actors Have Tried To Move In With Me

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

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

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

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

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

Why Re-Writing Your Novel Doesn’t Work (And What To Do Instead)

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I just finished another cleaning sweep through the first two books in my fantasy series. I caught a couple of typos, and several phrases I wanted to tweak a bit. I think I cut one sentence this time. I get the impression, from reading about other writers, that I edit differently to everyone else.

Most Of You Chop Things To Bits, I Hear

I’ve talked about this before on my blog, but a couple of years ago I wrote a novel. It’s one of my editor’s favorites, but I haven’t published it yet. I thought, when I wrote it, that I would need to cut it all to pieces and rewrite it from scratch. I even tried to do this, several, several times. Having been around the creative block more than once, I had the perspicacity to save a copy of my original draft.

Months Passed; I Hammered At Re-Writing

And the novel, you know, just kept getting worse. It was as though, with every new tweak and alteration, the heart of the writing skipped farther away from me. Finally, after months of “progress,” and feeling a little bit jaded from my seemingly-fruitless efforts, I pulled up my last-edited file and put it side-by-side with my original draft.

I’ve Learned This Lessen Several Times; It Didn’t Stick At First

I found, as I looked at the original and at my painstakingly-improved draft, that the story I had written down first was stronger, more playful, and contained within it an unbroken chain of impulses that drove the action forward.

My edited draft was like a cup of lifeless nails. There were words describing actions, but no heart within the writing, and no flow inside the plot.

The Impulses Are Key, Here

I’m an actor, and a director, and my job, in that area, is to unblock and link together organic, deeply-human, aesthetic impulses from within human bodies. In a way, I have an advantage over many writers because I’m approaching my prose with an eye to the overall performance aspect. I know how to follow organic impulses, and how to drive the action into the heart of a scene.

It’s Called “Getting Work Out Of People,” In Theatre

Getting work out of people means that I take actors and crack them open, artistically, and make sure they have the framework they need to essentially bleed, emotionally and spiritually speaking, on the stage in visually pleasing ways. There’s a reason acting is cathartic; it is the act of unearthing from within yourself a deep humanity, and offering it freely to the audience.

In Writing, I Get Work Out Of My Characters

When you edit your work, your natural impulse is to hide yourself behind an unbreakable facade of cleverness, emotional depth, and know-it-all maturity. This results in dead writing, in that no organic impulses are left inside the work. And no reader wants to read (see, consume) dead work.

Impulses Are The Life-Blood Of Performance

You may be over there thinking to yourself, “Yes, but Victor, you’re a nobody! You have lousy rankings on Amazon. You have a huge series that nobody reads. Are you an idiot?” You might be thinking that, and I’m not going to defend myself to you, because I’ve been around the block, artistically and business-wise, and I’m digging a foundation for myself. I have a plan. I’m aiming for long-term sustainability.

When You Edit, Make Sure You Aren’t Disrupting The Embedded Impulse-Chain

Editing while preserving the inside of the story, the throbbing chain of impulses that led you to write what you wrote in the first place, is very difficult. I’ve been studying the creation and preservation of impulses for almost fourteen years, and I still have to stop myself from tearing parts of my work to pieces. The desire to protect yourself, and to look invulnerable and perfect to others, is very strong.

Examples

Original Draft:

Bruno was the very first person to see the aliens arrive. They had spatial transponders, and vibrated into being on the sidewalks, and in the center of public parks. He had meant to be at work early that morning, but the cat had spilled his orange juice down his suit, and then the dry cleaners had a line, which Bruno thought was absurd at seven in the morning.

He had to wear his second-best trousers, and the jacket that was a shade too dark. He hoped the client wasn’t going to notice the difference, but today was the Fishars, and he was sure they would.

Bruno was just running down the steps to his first-floor lobby to unlock the case files when, with a crackle that threatened to shake the windows free of their moorings, a long, tall shadow of murky green appeared in the street outside.

Bruno went to the double doors, and pressed his nose to the glass. The shaking grew, and the shadow became solid. A row of brilliant red eyes, arranged in a wide circle around the being’s head, stared straight at Bruno; he dropped the keys, and they made a slight jingle when they hit the floor.

Destructive Editing:

Bruno saw them first. Their green discs in their hands seemed to be a machine that allowed them to appear at will.  They came first into the wide avenues and busy sidewalks of the city, each of them holding one of these ominous devices. Bruno saw them first, and he was immediately sure that the world was over. He saw them first because he had a series of unpleasant accidents through the morning, one of which involved juice and a busy dry cleaners.

His suit didn’t match, though the aliens would not care about that, and he had been in a knot of anxiety about his clients, the Fishars, who were picky about dress. They felt that the snazziness of their attorney merited respect, and Bruno dreaded the looks he would get from Mrs. Fishar in particular.

He was on the steps to the bottom floor when a buzz in the windows made him stop. A premonition in his spine made him look up, and he saw a weird smudge out the window. What could it be? It reminded him of his unpleasant childhood.

He went to the glass doors and looked out. The aliens looked like nothing he had ever seen before. He was sure the being was staring right back at him. He dropped his keys.

Excellent Editing:

Bruno was the first person to see the aliens arrive. They had spatial transponders, and they vibrated into being on the sidewalks, and in the center of empty roads. Bruno had meant to be at work early the morning of the invasion, but his cat had knocked orange juice down his suit, and when he brought the wet clothes to the shop around the corner from work, there was a line, which Bruno thought was absurd at seven o’clock in the morning.

Bruno had changed into his second-best trousers, and a jacket that was a shade too dark. Most of his clients weren’t going to notice the difference, but this afternoon he had the Fishars, and he was sure they would.

Bruno, keys in hand, was just running down the last steps to the ground floor to unlock the day’s case files when, with a crackle that threatened to shake the windows free of their moorings, a long, tall shadow of murky green appeared in the street outside.

Bruno saw the shadow; he went to the lobby doors, and put his hand against the glass. The vibration grew, and the shadow turned solid. Elongated limbs, lean with muscle and glistening green skin, supported a strange figure. The being was tall and thin, like a rod of coarse stone, and a flat head lay atop a narrow neck. A row of brilliant red eyes, arranged in a wide circle around the being’s head, stared straight at Bruno; he dropped his keys, which made a harsh jingle when they hit the floor.

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My books are here. My cat, Rose, has been staring at the neighbor’s dog with her ears laid sideways lately; she looks like a small, furry window guardian.

Almost There

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“I have heard the most extraordinary thing,” the queen of Old Laffet said.

“You have heard that your husband proposed to marry me,” Claire supplied.

“Why, how did you ever guess?” Lysette asked, clapping her hands. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes glittered. “I also heard that your response was not so decidedly negative as I would have liked.”

“It was in no way negative,” Claire said. “I accepted him.”

“And in this little agreement,” Lysette asked, “had you reached any conclusion as to what was to be done about me?”

“To me,” Claire said, “you do not really count.”

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My new book is nearly finished. I’m getting the files ready for paperbacks of my previous series.

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

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

Who’s The Coolest Person You Know?

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

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

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

Okay, Maybe You Just Want A Tidy Book Deal

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

Happenstance Means Stagnation

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

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

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

Squirrel!

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

Or You’re Wrong About Everything, Victor!

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

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

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

Examples

Bad Writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“You don’t know that,” Ajalia said.

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

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

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

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

There Are No Writing Fairies

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

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

Why A Healthy Sense Of Boredom Leads To Better Plotting

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You may be wondering (or not) why I am writing a blog. Why are you writing a blog, Victor, you might ask. Why don’t you spend more time at your job, or lifting weights? Well, gentle reader, I’ll tell you why.

Oh, Wait! That’s Off-Topic. Update Time!

My novel is progressing soooo slowly, because I’m being careful. I have a lot of moving parts in my current work, and I don’t want to let any of them spiral out of control. And my last five chapters are coming together on my dragon novel. I made an experiment for a different cover (I’m on the fourth or fifth design now), and it was looking pretty nice, but when I made it a thumbnail to check how it worked, the color scheme and lighting were awful. I’m glad I checked it early, before I invested too much time into the texturing and details.

Because A Thumbnail Reveals Shoddy Contrast

I’m getting through the scales on my dragon, and I have another three books that I’m mulling over. I need to get through the paperback files for the Eastern Slave Series. Making the paperbacks is a lower priority, because I know I’ll end up tweaking the text on the cover files, and that will take time. I’m working over the blurbs as well.

And Now, A Word About Plotting

It’s often a great idea to embrace your short attention span, if you have one. (If you haven’t got one, try to cultivate impatience and a jaded spirit of “seen it all” –ism.) Why, you may ask, should you do such a thing?

Your Readers Browse Bored

Have you ever flipped channels on a television? If you are an exceptionally patient person and you haven’t, have you seen someone else determinedly flip, flip, flip? Readers often approach new books with the same kind of lackadaisical whimsy, and it behooves us to remember their limited give-a-hoot-ometer.

Plot Relies On Regular Velcro

Something needs to stick; some amount of action, or of wonder, or hooked premise must incentivize the reader to go on for another sentence, or another paragraph. People’s attention spans aren’t shorter than they used to be, but we’re all used to better presentation and condensation of information, and we consequently give fewer chances.

What Is This Velcro Of Which You Speak, Victor?

Have you ever passed a car accident on a highway? Did you look to see what happened? If you ever had drama-prone neighbors, did you begin to take an interest, however begrudging, in the day-to-day happenings of their lives (if only because you were hoping for peace and quiet)? When my first kid was born, we lived in the bottom half of a split-level house. Above us was a screaming person with anger problems, and we moved as soon as we could to a new place with nearly-invisible neighbors. The point of interest in my story is that I found myself, when we lived under this loud person, making constant notes of her habits and comings and goings, in an attempt to avoid the unfortunate scenes that unfolded upon occasion.

Books Don’t Have To Be Pleasant; Only Compelling

Really good writing often has an element of “is this really happening?” to it. This is sort of similar to the can’t-look-away nature of bad road accidents and surreal reality shows. We look at these unfortunate happenings not because we are horrible people, but because we want to know. We want to know what happened to cause the absorbing circumstance, and we want to see what happens in the end.

Examples

Bad Writing:

The bond was too strong for humans to understand, or even to grasp with their weak and impermanent minds. They were not strong enough, and they knew that their relationships ended only in familial setups and romantic ties.

His need was deeper than he thought it was. They were like plants growing together. Mary was close to him, and he watched her very often with the idea that she would go away when he had not remembered to look for her.

When he was made into a cyborg, she hadn’t really thought of where he was because she hadn’t known him then, or known that he would become a part of her life. She had almost died, and that hurt his heart, but when they had spent some time together he wanted to get away. Being close to such a weak person put pressure on him to live and be strong for both of them.

Tenu Nagoss had places hidden away where he could take him, when their partnership was found. He knew they would come, and he was sure they could find him without any of the fuss that could have lengthened the time between the searching and when he was caught.

Good Writing:

He had told her that he would rather die than be away from her, but he did not know, from one moment to the next, if he meant it. His devotion was like a yearning tendril of young growth, the yellowed stretch of plant that promises to grow thick and green with time.

He had not yet been separated from her in any meaningful way, and he was growing comfortable with her constant proximity. He did not understand the strength of the bond that tied him to her. He had felt it clearly enough when she had been dying, but his idea of the permanence of their relation to each other was immature and short-sighted.

A part of him looked into the future and saw, with the inevitability of the sunrise, his absorption into the alien empire. His master would come looking for him; he knew this. Mary would die, if he was unable to kill his master, and he would be whisked away to one of Tenu Nagoss’s hidden workshops.

This knowledge of what must be rested, like a subterranean building, beneath Ethan’s movements as he drew the flimsy fabric over his blood-stained skin. The robe, having been designed for humans, was too small for him, and his newly-restored inserts made shining bulges beneath the white cloth.

Drama: Fodder For Fiction

We can remember that there is nothing so compelling to the human mind as story, and we can comfort ourselves with the reassurance that ugly and embarrassing stories suck us in as easily as intellectually-stimulating writing. Your audience is often bored; if you embrace the help of your own hopefully-limited attention span, you can exploit the potential of your characters and situations to make an artistic train-wreck that many readers won’t want to look away from.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books are here. I have a lot of work to do, and I’m avoiding some of it because relaxing is a new skill for me (and I’m enjoying myself).

What To Do When Your Book Isn’t Very Good

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It is the secret terror of every author: the novel they have labored over in the solitude of their private hours is rubbish, and everyone can see it but them. It is the ultimate intellectual failure, the final frontier of the inability to protect the ego from exposure, mockery, and shame.

Sounds Pretty Bad, Doesn’t It?

Indie authors live in fear of the scathing review that reams their work up and down; unpublished authors tremble at the thought of the withering dismissal from a coveted agent, and those with representation dread the possibility that no house will ever make an offer on their book.

Gee, Victor, Hyperbole Much?

So how can you tell if your book is great, or an embarrassing mistake? I would love to jump in here and tell you that of course your particular novel is marvelous in every way, but the truth is that there are always stories for each of us that function best as a private learning process. (As in, unsuccessful books. Bad novels, if you will.) They are valuable and essential to growing your powers as an author, but they aren’t anything you want to shelve at your local library, because they’re ideologically malformed, or poorly executed, or just plain personal and myopic.

I Have (Hidden, Secret, Super Unpublished) Books Like This Myself

In fact, I have a long, long list of novel ideas that I keep tucked way, many of which are dead-end ideas, or derivative non-plots, or simply ego-boosting pet projects that would spiral into unmarketable messes if I attempted to push them any farther. How do you tell that your book is like this? I mean, to speak plainly, how do you tell if your story sucks?

This Is Where Experience Comes In

I used to struggle with recognizing quality work. I had a private art tutor a long time ago who took me through reams of photographs, rejecting, rejecting, rejecting. She finally accepted two possibilities for a study of composition. “These would be all right,” she told me.

What A Prude!

I remember being taken aback by her pickiness. Later, when I became an acting TA, and I saw student after student presenting monologues, I started to understand better. Once I started producing, perspective came into play. I was working for money, now, and once money comes into the equation of art-making, sentimentality gets peeled away. What works? Why does it work? How, exactly, does it work?

Victor Poole, You’re Full Of Hot Air!

I like Bernard Shaw, but he was not a particularly wise man. Not like Shakespeare. He was convinced, or he pretended to be in his writings, that he had far surpassed Shakespeare in both skill and artistic application. Shaw believed, or he pretended to believe, that Shakespeare was a crock who fell victim to weak-minded sentimentality.

Ah, Poor Irish Boy

Yeah, that sounds really condescending, but he was a condescending guy, Bernard Shaw. Chekhov was kind. I approve of Chekhov. (He hated Stanislavski’s work a lot more than I do, and for good reason.) To the point: you can’t find out if your book is good or bad until you give it to someone to read. And then you have to be cunning, oh, so cunning, to parse and understand the reaction of your reader. Because, and this is a topic for another day, all but one percent of your potential readers are going to react as if your book is bad, but many of their negative reactions indicate that your book is good. Context, dear reader, is the key.

It’s The Wild West Out Here In The Art World, And You’re On Your Own

Yes, writing counts as art. Okay? And let’s say you shared your book with someone, and you came to the conclusion (it’s a common one) that your book is, in fact, bad. You feel terrible. Life is bleak. You think of giving up writing for a while. You browse classes. You think about taking up an easier pastime. But, at the back of your mind is a spark of hope, and a questioning; what if you’re wrong, and the book is all right? What if the book is not the greatest work of all time, but it’s good enough? After all, there are hundreds of books in bookstores and airport corners and public libraries that are only adequate; might not yours fit in with the crowd of good-enough?

Victor, Your Blog Is So Depressing Sometimes!

Ach, it’s my fake Russian streak. Old-timey fake Russian, not contemporary (I’m not Russian). I should probably delete that part. Ahem. When you have come to the conclusion that your book is not-great, but probably better than some published books (or even many!) it is time for a dose of cold, hard, productive reality.

And It’s Time To Write Another Book!

When a baby actor (of any age) starts to chase their dream, they are full of hot air (just like I am right now! It’s a natural part of the artistic metamorphosis!). They have an unrealistic belief in themselves, and they know in their bones that the rules are going to be different for them. As the crushing anonymity of their position begins, bit by bit, to bear in on them, they get a little, um, pulverized inside. Because whatever you look like, and however special you are, there are at least five hundred more that can pass as your twin at a stretch, and with a little makeup.

That Sucks!

The vast majority of baby actors immediately give up on really making it, and they embrace their automatic relegation to amateur status. Those who continue to dream get a little harsher, and leaner, and angrier. They edge into the all-mankind-is-my-enemy territory, and most of them become somewhat depressed. Clinically, usually, because the stakes are just so completely stacked against success. And that’s demoralizing. As soon as these last holdouts, these die-hard dreamers, cross the road into bitterness, their ability to succeed plummets, and they become second-rate chorus members (metaphorically speaking, or literally), and sometimes-extras for film and very low-budget productions. The few who don’t get bitter realize that they had better get far more serious about every aspect of their lives, because what they thought they were getting into is not what they find.

Politics, Personality Management, And Renting Out Your Soul

Gosh, I sound so pessimistic, don’t I? Luckily for you, we’re talking about your book, and not your hypothetical acting career (cheers!). If your book is not very good, you’re going to make one choice: is it worth publishing for the experience, or is it for the personal archives? Only you can answer this question, and if you don’t feel very confident, remember that you can always clean it up and publish it later when you have more experience. I recommend this option (it took me years to publish my third good-enough-to-publish book, and I am still sitting on two others I wrote earlier).

And Then, You Write Another One

Nothing teaches you to write a book like writing a book. Your first one is not going to be your best one, because when you are working on your second one, you’ve learned things. And when you start your third one, you’re ready to think more seriously about pacing. By the time you get to book six, you find yourself able to make more discerning choices about scene transitions and dialogue tags.

Channel Your Inner Dory, People, And Just Keep Writing!

In the big picture it really doesn’t matter much if the book you’re working on right now is “good enough.” What matters a lot more is whether or not you’re pressing your energy up and forward, and growing. Only you know if you’re growing upwards, or sinking into yourself. Don’t get bitter. Make yourself better.

Examples

Bad Writing:

The young man who filled up the boat had a bad-tempered expression on his lips, and even his eyes made a scowl in his well-fed demeanor. Here, you thought, was an angry juvenile. His mien of irritation was added to by the very expensive vehicle that he drove down the flower-carpeted avenue.

One immediately thought he had lost his job, or had a tiff with his mother, but the truth was much worse. The plump lad had been scorned by a lady friend, and he resolved, as the morning dew melted from the faces of the daisies below, to do something vicious about it. His first thought was to damage something, and as the curb presented a ready surface to pulverize, he steered his airborne vessel slightly to the left, and scratched up the curb. This exercise relieved a few of his hard feelings, but, as he soon found, his relief was short lived, for the enforcement of the law appeared in short order, and escorted him with furious expressions of disapproval to the local retainery for such louts as saw fit to damage public roads.

Good Writing:

Devan had no patience left, not even for the shiny chrome speedboat that spun down the avenue of flowers under his command. He was angry at the universe, for his dear friend Rosabud Curtleve had informed him breezily that morning that she had no time for his advances.

Marrying a banker! The injustice infuriated him, and he began, without much fuss, to knock his vessel against the left-hand side of the steel-coated curb. Bump, bump went the florid side of the boat, and crunch, crunch, went the curb, which scratched and dented under his reinforced hull.

It was only later, in the privacy of a municipal jail, that he told himself he ought to have gone and socked that filthy banker, Gerkins Dakly, right in the nose, instead of relieving his anger on the property of New Cilderbund’s city council.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. Here are my books. Remember, nobody’s on your side, but you can make it anyway, and once you build enough momentum you will find yourself able to assemble a team of support staff.

The Fastest And Easiest Way To Open Your Pelvic Cradle

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I developed my own performance philosophy, because it became apparent to me that no one had a functional one. I started to realize the dire state of this matter when I was reading original translations of Chekhov (not the playwright, the actor) and Stanislavsky (the actor/director). Chekhov and Stanislavsky worked together for a time until Chekhov threw a massive temper tantrum over semantics and branched off into his own performance technique.

Michael Chekhov Was Anton Chekhov’s Nephew

The “ah-ha!” moment for me came when I was comparing these two Russian methodologies (I had been studying Shakespeare performance methods, and some Dada-ist garbage alongside rhetorical analysis and third-generational Marxist bodies of work), and I realized that they–each of them, quite earnestly–were talking about exactly the same end goal, and trying to start a war over whether they should pummel actors with one set of words or another. They were literally fighting over which words they ought to use to describe the same end results.

Stanislavsky Was A Terrible Director

I spent about six years of my life studying actors as they rehearsed and performed in classrooms, tiny audition rooms, and on stages of all sorts. I acted myself, and I watched the dynamics that unfolded over several moderately-budgeted film projects. I was fascinated by the ever-increasing gap between functional performance (by which I mean, acting, storytelling, that resonated deeply with an audience) and spoken or practiced methodology.

Shakespeare Was Handled The Worst, By Far

No one knew what they were doing; the best performers were destroyed by horrible directing and teaching, and support materials were often designed to deliberately hobble the actors or build a wedge of hatred and fear between the performers and the audience.

Gosh, Victor, How Did You Learn Anything?

I met two, no, make that three, good directors over these years, and I compared them exhaustively to the many, many terrible, harmful, and utterly incompetent directors that proliferated around them. Also, remember, I was studying functional source material at the same time (excellent French plays, treatments on Alexander technique, and heavy doses of Graham, Balanchine, and newer American theatre phenomenons, among other things).

Dude, This Is Not An Acting Blog, You Dirty Cross-Pollinator!

All this to say, I found, as I read Michael Chekhov’s ardent haranguing, that no one had a coherent performance philosophy at all–and I will say here, no one had a performance philosophy that functioned. By which I mean, actually worked. And by that I mean that any performance philosophy that cannot be applied by a student actor and create sustainable, measurable results in audience reaction, popularity, and emotional connection as an ensemble and as an individual figure to the public, is only a pile of ego-stroking hot air.

So I Made My Own. Like A Mad Scientist.

I didn’t cackle while I developed it, though I did become personally magnetic, and was borderline stalked by several people of both genders who found a sudden and urgent need to cultivate my favor. When I had the bare bones of a performance philosophy, I started running trials. I tweaked things. I procured several dozen willing guinea pigs in the form of student and community theatre actors, and I applied my techniques to their bodies and personalities.

Enter The Blocked Pelvic Cradle

I found an interesting phenomenon as I tested; I could make very hot, emotionally-viable actors, but they all had the same energy blocks. Every single one of them were blocked through their foundational motion carriage. And here is where I came up against a significant problem; human beings, once blocked through the pelvic cradle, are like grievously-wounded wolves. They bite, metaphorically, because their energy source is cut off, and they are, after a manner of speaking, suffering a slow death of personality.

How Do I Find Out If My Pelvic Cradle Is Blocked, Victor?

Well, the bad news is that your pelvic cradle is probably blocked. The good news is that you can open the energy flow, and remove the obstructions, if you . . .

Duh Duh Duuuuuuh!

Yeah, I recognize this feeling. It’s the feeling I get when I’m about to show how to do something profound. Well, I’m trying something new today. I’m not going to tell you how to work through your energy blocks (I wrote some books for that). When you get tired of that dried-up numb feeling in your hip sockets, shoot me an email, and I’ll think about it.

You’re reading Victor Poole. I was raised to be invisible, and to serve the whims of all other people. I am undoing my early programming. Despite my unfortunate beginnings, my comprehensive performance philosophy, which is painstakingly illustrated via allegory in these nine books, works exceptionally well.