One Point Perspective

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I am a baby at drawing. But look at my pretty shadows! Yay!

I’m (insert mundane work details, indicating that I’m a-froth with bustling industry), and here is a bit of Diana for now:

Sample

The Proposal

“Well, we were here, just–just living here. Um, I don’t know how much you remember, Di. Diana, sorry,” Stuart said, flushing and scooting a little away on the bed.

Diana wanted to keep Stuart on the edge of feeling off-balance and uncomfortable, so she moved closer to keep them at the same distance.

He studied her for a moment, a hard light in his eyes, and then continued without making any comment on her behavior.

Good, Diana thought, and she looked at the bruising along Stuart’s face as he spoke.

“I don’t know what parts you were there for, but things started to jump around in my timeline after that fight we had. You remember, when I came back, or seemed to, and you threw water in my face and tried to beat me up?” Stuart asked.

“Yeah, I know that part,” Diana said.

“Good. Well, things got wonky after that. Um, I had you tied up in the bed, right? And I was trying to talk to you, to make you calm down, and then everything–well, the room around us dissolved and you and I both went and had a long talk with the aliens. Do you remember this?” Stuart asked.

Diana had no intention of revealing how much she’d experienced, so she made herself look haunted and tired and refused to answer. Stuart sighed.

“Yeah, I’ll just keep talking and telling my side. It’s hard for me to think about, too. I imagine it’s worse for you, if you do remember that stuff. When did you leave? What part did you miss?” Stuart asked.

“Stuart, talk,” Diana said.

“Yeah, okay. Well, I’ll work from that fight, then, and me tying you up. So the room dissolved and we had a really long talk with the aliens. They, um, froze you for parts of that, and then sometimes they froze me and talked to you instead. Negotiations went on forever, it seemed like, hours, and the conclusion was that we’d both be aged a bit and thrown into a facsimile neighborhood, to recreate young adulthood for the aliens. I feel really stupid saying all of this as if you weren’t there for it, Diana. I mean, you know most of this better than I do, I’m sure. You were managing most of it, telling the aliens what would be acceptable, and how things needed to be. I feel idiotic telling you the story like this,” Stuart said, his eyes asking her for help.

“No. Keep talking,” Diana said. Stuart sighed and nodded.

“So the aliens made us older. I was in my late twenties, I think, and you were at least twenty-one. I’m not sure exactly how old, but you told the aliens that twenty-one was your cut-off age for what you’d be comfortable with, and so you were early twenties and I was late twenties. Um, and we were still in this house at first. You changed so much, Di. I didn’t know at first if it was even you, but–I guess it might not have been you, actually,” Stuart said, looking moody.

“Look, Stu. If we ever get to the point of being really good friends and I feel I can trust you, then I’ll tell you my half and we can really compare timelines. For now, just be super honest,” Diana said.

“Okay,” Stuart said, clearly attempting to make himself small and docile-looking. Diana laughed and patted his knee, which made him flinch and then smile in a faltering manner.

“Stu, that’s not working. I know you’re not nearly this wrought up with dramatic feelings. Just talk,” Diana said.

Stuart’s looks melted into something like consternation. He eyed her and then sniffed with a ‘Well, fine, then’ kind of sound and went on.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Rosie the toddler is about to be rescued (dramatically!).

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Caleb’s Office Conceptualization of Death (that’s a mouthful)

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This is the office from my spec-thriller, which is going through a light update at the moment.

I’m learning to draw buildings in my free time right now because they terrify me. I mean, I don’t think they should, realistically, because buildings are usually just boxes with curves built in some places, and it should be a matter of rulers and shadows.

But they do, they scare me mostly to death, so I’m working on that. I finally finished my dragon book (hooray!), which took me a few years start to finish, and now I’m queuing up my next enormous revision challenge.

There’s expensive ice cream in my freezer that I have not yet sampled, and here is what happens next to Diana:

Sample

The Frightened Boy

The first thing Diana did was to go past the bookshelf and lay hold of a partly-filled recipe book, which had a lot of blank pages in the back. She carried the recipe book into the kitchen, paying no attention to Stuart, who was shadowing behind her and trying to be quiet, and found a pen in the junk drawer.

Diana peered out of the open kitchen window to ascertain an estimate of the time of day.

The sun was at a midpoint between noon and evening, and Diana decided it was probably somewhere around three o’clock and noted down the date and time at the back of the book.

“What are you doing?” Stuart whispered. He seemed to think that if he spoke too loudly, Diana would vanish again.

“I’m keeping track of time,” Diana said, tucking the pen into the book and keeping it under her arm as she got a snack. Her supply of food was endless and extremely boring, as the plants in the yard grew quickly and had fresh fruits on the vines every morning. Diana had taken to keeping a supply of the eggplant-shaped fruits on the counter, and the pile of fruits she’d left there the last time she’d been in the house were perfectly good.

“Can I have one?” Stuart whispered. Diana frowned, for she heard hunger in Stuart’s voice, and she piled several of the heavy fruits into Stuart’s arms. “I—okay,” Stuart said.

“They grow outside. We have plenty,” Diana said, for she could see he didn’t want to put her out by eating too much. Goodness, Stuart’s gotten manners in his captivity, Diana told herself, and she grabbed her own fruit and went back to the bookshelf, where she found a couple of murder mysteries she hadn’t read yet. “Bedtime,” Diana said, nodding towards the stairs.

“You want me to go first?” Stuart asked, his voice low.

“Yeah. I’m right behind you, Stu,” Diana said. Stuart stared at her for a moment, as if trying to decide if she was going to trick him and run away, or if she might vanish if he took his eyes off her. Eventually Stuart compromised by walking sideways and keeping his eyes on her. Diana laughed.

“What? I don’t want to be without you again. I don’t like it,” Stuart said.

“Go up by yourself, honey, and wait for five minutes. I’ll come up and sit with you then. I’ll start counting right now,” Diana said.

“No! No, stay. I don’t want to be apart,” Stuart said.

“Stu, go, or I’ll make it ten minutes,” Diana said. Stuart glared at her with something resembling hatred and then turned and stomped up the stairs. Diana bit her lip and laughed in her heart, for she felt Stuart was behaving adorably, and she counted through five minutes before following him.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m thinking about rhetorical practices of reflection in well-constructed dialogue. Also, in my current book, Gloria is having her makeup done for the big shindig, at which she is hoping to snag a boyfriend.

Porathu Parked

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Here is the spaceship the hunting party is currently using, docked at a big port in Carnepi. They’re going to charter a larger one when they meet up with the extra hunting guests next week.

Grumble bruhamblerg.

I am titling chapters right now, which is always fun. I’ve been constructing experiment blurbs in my free time, because they scare me.

Confronting demons is useful and all that. And yes, writing blurbs can form a big, scary demon. Because I said so.

This is my brain on not enough sleep. Urgh.

Sample

Stuart’s Turn, Again

“You don’t have to make anything for me, Di,” Stuart said. He had followed her to the kitchen and was hovering and looking uncomfortable in the doorway.

“I’m already almost done. We can go sit under the tree to eat,” Diana said. Stuart took a couple of steps into the kitchen and then turned and left. Diana heard the front door open and close.

She got a couple of plates together and followed Stuart outside. He’d climbed the tree and was wedged partway up, his cheek laid against the bark and the thick leaves.

“You look kind of beat up,” Diana offered, sitting down on the ground underneath Stuart.

“Yeah,” Stuart said.

“Well, did they hit you?” Diana asked.

“No, I got–no,” Stuart said, cutting himself off and looking discomfited.

“What? Come on, Stu, we’ve got a week and we might as well talk now,” Diana said.

“Don’t call me that. They won’t leave us alone for a whole week. I don’t–I’m not sure I want to talk anymore,” Stuart said.

“Okay,” Diana said in a peaceful and understanding sort of way, and she sat and ate her lunch while ignoring Stuart, who eventually dropped down with a pained grunt and sat a little distance from her.

“I got put in with some other guys before I came back here, a kind of–a kind of biker gang,” Stuart said. “They roughed me up before the aliens got me out again.” Stuart prodded his slices of alien fruit and nibbled on one in an experimental way.

“Were they older men, and five of them?” Diana asked.

“No, just teenaged punks,” Stuart said.

“I had a kind of gang of old guys, and I killed them all,” Diana said.

Stuart glanced at her with a sort of ‘Oh, really?’ look in his eyes.

“The aliens gave me a gun, like a plastic toy, and they said it would kill,” Diana said.

“They just got taken back, then. You didn’t kill them,” Stuart said.

With a plop, five rotting dead bodies were deposited in the grass nearby.

Stuart swore. Diana laughed.

“What are you laughing for?” Stuart demanded.

“You saw me have a baby, Stu. I’m not going to burst out crying and think that’s real,” Diana explained. The dead bodies vanished. “Funny, though,” Diana remarked, sighing over her food.

“What’s funny about that? They smelled real,” Stuart said.

“Tell me what happened, Stu. Come on. We’ll just go around like this endlessly in circles until you talk. How long were you in the tube?” Diana asked.

Stuart pretended to be absorbed in his fruit.

“What, did you have some kind of time thing going on and you were in there for fifteen years?” Diana asked.

“Four. I was in the tube for four years,” Stuart said, his eyes on the plate.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, someone is about to be trained as a spy for the reputation man.

Long-Term Undercurrents in Fictional Character Development

As a preface, there are two general layers of character development when it comes to depth.

Depth.

By that I mean, how sober and weighty a character is in their approach to other people, themselves, and the ramifications of their overall impact on living things and social structures around them.

So with depth, there are two layers.

The first layer is the surface description, and that’s dialogue, actions, and individual interactions with other characters or non-sentient objects in a space.

For example, the way a man handles a frying pan tells you an awful lot about him. One person may lift the frying pan carefully, making no sound against the surface of the stove, and adjusting the handle to be at a visually pleasing angle to the rest of the lines nearby, while another might snatch up and clang the pan down without careless abandon, leaving the frying pan only partially on the heat and paying no mind at all to the placement of the handle.

There are infinite ways to pick up and use a frying pan, but if we were to sit down and watch representative samples of the action from hundreds of persons, we would quickly separate our subjects into types or similar pan-handlers, depending on their speed, their care, and the kinetic quality of their accompanying motion.

I brought up the frying pan example because that is a sampling of a surface level indication of character depth.

Now, the surface is dialogue, actions, and individual interactions with other people or non-sentient objects within the world.

There are two parts to character depth, and the first part is surface description.

The second part is deep meaning. Deep meaning comes from contextual patterns of behavior, the linking together of the surface aspects to the overall picture of the character in the world.

This is where characterization becomes interesting, because only with the addition of deep meaning can we evaluate an individual character and decide if we approve of them or not.

Deep meaning allows us to elucidate moral judgments from the data provided by surface description.

Examples

Ronny picked the kitten up by the scruff of its neck and rapidly scooped the tiny body into the folds of his sweater, keeping the baby cat warm and swaddling its trembling body.

“You should have left it alone,” Yolanda said, her eyebrow arched and her mouth twisting with disapproval.

“The little kitty was scared. Look, its fur is wet. I’m taking it home,” Ronny said, shivering with excitement as he felt the frail body throb in his sweater with a violent purr.

Okay, there we have some surface description. If we left this segment as-is, it would be poor writing, because the reader has no deep meaning with which to evaluate the context of Ronny’s behavior or of Yolanda’s judgement.

Let’s look at some examples of deep meaning that, if woven into the surrounding story, would combine with this surface description to give the reader a very powerful sense of character depth and development.

Some Deep Meaning Samples:

  1. Ronny is a serial killer who experiments on homeless animals and Yolanda is an undercover cop working to pin Ronny for murder. OR …
  2. Yolanda just painstakingly and secretly restored the kitten to its mother and Ronny is an eccentric recluse who collects homeless cats. OR …
  3. Ronny’s beloved cat just died, leaving him disconsolate and on the verge of a breakdown, and Yolanda has been trying to get Ronny to agree to get a dog as their new pet. OR …
  4. Yolanda is mildly allergic to cat hair and Ronny passive-aggressively coats himself in cat smell in order to make her sneeze and choke up. OR …
  5. Ronny is a recovering alcoholic who just rescued the kitten from a potential road accident and Yolanda, who supports them both, lost her job yesterday and hasn’t told Ronny yet.

Deep meaning is established over time and within the overall patterns of behavior shown by surface description. Together the two parts create depth in individual character development.

The pitfall to watch out for here is that it’s possible to create a lack of deep meaning and an overabundance of surface description, and also to write surface description in patterns that creates deep meaning you don’t want your characters to show. It’s very possible and somewhat common to write surface description that, contextually, inadvertently reveals deep meaning that you, the author, didn’t mean to leave in there.

The undercurrent of contextual behavior is the foundation for character depth, and surface description is the landscape and decor on top of that foundation. When you’re aware of the foundation you’re creating, you’re much less likely to end up with a wobbly or accidentally shallow character.

And Now, A Sample

More Diana

Diana hiked swiftly through the dark halls of the junior high, listening to the huff of Stuart’s breath behind her. She wanted to leave him behind, but he was taller than she was, and had been irritatingly athletic for the last several years.

Diana preferred the old Stuart, the chubby, awkward one who wore glasses and made silly grimaces when he was angry. That Stuart had been, to her mind, perfectly manageable. Everything had spiraled out of control with the boy’s embrasure of physical discipline, and his descent into more than competent juvenile hygiene had made him impossible to win against.

Stuart was handsome, he smelled good, adults loved him, and his favorite activity was destroying Diana’s life. Now that he’d had muscles for several years, he was fairly practiced at tormenting her in ways that were wildly effective and functionally impossible to bring to anyone else’s attention. Stuart was a sneaky fellow, and Diana pushed open the heavy doors of the junior high and wondered if he was going to continue to behave well in light of the aliens’ looming and threatening existence.

Diana turned and walked backwards, the weighty metal backpack on her shoulders and her nose frosting already in the chilly air.

“So, Stu,” Diana said, watching Stuart press out of the school doors and immediately begin to shiver. He was wearing gym stuff, shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, and Diana wondered if the aliens had taken him in the midst of some irritatingly effective workout session. Stuart hurried to catch up to her, and Diana frowned and walked backwards faster, angling to stay on the icy sidewalk.

“What?” Stuart asked, breaking into a jog and catching up. Diana concealed her irritation and spun around, almost breaking into a run herself. “Dude, slow down! What is it?” Stuart asked, laughing at her and striding easily along at her faster pace.

Diana had meant to be working Stuart up into a rage; she hadn’t expected to start feeling so angry herself, and she slowed down and then stopped, fixing her eyes on the graceful ice swirls over the sidewalk. Stuart paused beside her and waited, and he had so obviously accepted her as a temporary leader to their small party of two that Diana found herself wanting to punch him.

She hadn’t tried to hit Stuart for years. Diana took several calming breaths and reminded herself that the aliens, hopefully, were going to dissect Stuart or something after they were finished watching them.

Stay calm; he’s afraid of the aliens, Diana told herself, and she looked at Stuart, who was watching her expectantly.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, the hunting party is about to get underway.

Flavors of Underpinning Tone

Every story has an overarching flavor of tone, of longing for something, even if that something is nothing. There is quite a bit of fiction (and nonfiction) that reaches desperately for annihilation in tone.

But my point is, every story has something reaching through the core, underpinning the words. This tone has a way of expressing itself subtly most of the time; you might be able to find glimpses of it through the types of adjectives selected in a scene, or in the repeated motifs of character interaction.

The salient takeaway, though, is that you’ve really got to be at least moderately aware of what tone you’re shooting for in your work.

The worst thing that can possibly happen in a piece of fiction is an uncontrolled and subconscious shift in tone.

Purposeful shifts in tone make for masterpieces, or for very compelling light fiction.

Accidental shifts in tone destroy story and cause contempt to spring up in the heart of ye olde discerning reader.

Even if a reader couldn’t tell you what a tone was with words, they know why they’re reading, in their hearts, and they get sort of betrayed and vitriolic, even if quietly so, when the author up and changes the goalposts in the middle of a tale.

So, what are some examples?

Loneliness as an overall tone:

I missed the way his fur got all over the couch cushions. My wife kept telling me to go ahead and adopt a kitten, but I didn’t want a kitten. I hadn’t actually enjoyed having an animal in the house, but once Mr. Butter Paws had passed into the great cat castle in the sky, and his earthly marks had finished being worn off through repeated and routine vacuuming, I found myself touching the cushions and trying to find those irritating flicks of brown hair.

Frantic pursuit of hilarity:

Bryan raked through the earth, his fingers scrabbling over the pebbles and loose clods of dirt. His hands caught continually against the delicate tendrils of tree roots, and he let out an impatient noise and tore through them, searching deeper, harder.

Soon his fingers scraped against something that was definitely not dirt or stone. It was soft, and it was foamy. Yes! Bryan thought, and he scrambling to unearth the moldy Nerf football he had buried only fifteen short months before.

Those are only a couple of examples, but the takeaway is that you are always, always writing down an underpinning tone, and if you aren’t aware of the style you’re using, it may work against you, and if you shift tones because of personal mood changes, your story will struggle to maintain any rhetorical coherency or fluidity in overall structure.

Underpinning tone is mainly subconscious in the creation process, but you can learn to subsume and control your inputs, and thereby eventually exert considerable influence over your resultant tone.

And now, some Diana:

The four aliens were horrible to look at. Diana thought, when their four shrunken faces emerged from their deep, shadowy hoods, that they were shaped as if some mildly drugged insane person had shoved dough around with a spoon and then fired the matter and called the end result faces.

They had eyes, sort of, but they were of various numbers and sizes and seemed to have been shoved in here and there with no regularity or rhythm. They had mouths, but three of the aliens wore their mouths sideways, stretching from one jaw up to an ear. The fourth alien had an unfortunate mouth in the lump that passed for his forehead.

They didn’t have noses.

Diana stared.

One of the aliens, the one with a mouth in his forehead, spoke to her with an awful sound like cat’s claws on a chalk board.

“You are Diana Vassel,” the alien said.

Diana winced so hard that she nearly burst out laughing, just to relieve the stress she felt from how horrible the noise was. Diana had laughed at awful things ever since she’d been a kid; she barely held in a peal of giggles now because she was so taken aback.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Diana said, straightening out her face and trying to look sober. She could feel Stuart glaring at her, and she was completely sure he was thinking hard thoughts at her for wanting to laugh. “Hi. What do you want?” Diana asked the huge alien, which tilted its head to one side and narrowed its four lopsided eyes.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I just made some noodles and eggs. Also, in my current novel, Barton is streamlining the dynamics in his team. Barton’s the head of security for a gangster.

Me, and Whatnot

So you may have noticed that I haven’t published a book for a while.

Yup.

I made a deal with myself that I would not embarrass myself unduly with performance energy that wasn’t at the reasonable place I could expect from myself. So I’ve been scrubbing up my writing skills gradually.

Also I really don’t want to be in a place where I’m working on books in a series and have only the first few published. I hate that. So I’m finishing some very, very long series all the way before publishing (and occasionally I make character choices partway through a series that require backwards renovations that wouldn’t be possible so much in an already-published book). So there’s that.

Anyway, for my own satisfaction, here are some of the projects I’m working on right now:

The biggest one is the series I keep writing little notes about at the bottom of my posts, about what’s happening in the novel(s) lately. That one is a science fiction bromance flick with a ton of steamy parts. It’s funny because I meant to write an adventure story with a few kisses sprinkled here and there, but after I’d composed the main characters, the, um, overall subterfuge turned hilariously sexy.

The main characters, you see, are in the power of some very cranky old men, and those cranky old men are all sort of obsessed with the one main character procreating so that they can have foster grandbabies to dandle about and coo over.

So there is sexual distraction to foil the deviousness of these old men while the main characters work on escaping their power.

I don’t know if that sounded overly complicated, but that is the very long and delectably steamy series I am building right now.

I have another book that I’m exceptionally fond of about a young man who dies–the book is essentially a zombie novel, but the zombies are shiny, healthy-looking people, and they eat emotions instead of flesh from regular humans, so that’s very interesting to work on.

The first part of that one (technically I would call it a paranormal book, I think) is finished, but I want to spend quite a lot of time fleshing out the narrative tone so that the reader can fully inhabit the main character’s internal journey as the plot unfolds. Right now for most of the book, the voice is focused more on the action and less on the reader’s reception of said action, so I want more padding as far as tone.

Then I’m working on that beast of a partial redraft, the dragon book.

Sigh.

My issue with the book is purely psychological. I’m making slow, steady progress, but it viscerally hurts to work on it because of some structural issues I accidentally put into the damaged areas (the original draft was the second? third? book I ever attempted to write, so there are some genuine weaknesses to be culled out in the second act).

However, the first part of the book is stellar, so I am pushing through. Carefully.

I have a bunch of other things on the back burner, currently. I’m focused on clearing the queue, as it were, and freeing up some space in my mind while building out the eventual bookshelf of finished things.

Slow, slow, slow, but the tortoise perseveres and all that.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Carrie the invalid is heading back into medical supervision for the second time in one afternoon.

The Actress Who Would Make A Good Mouse

I worked with an older man a long time ago on a student project. The entire scenario was a mess; he wanted to produce a classical piece, had neither the chutzpah nor the balls to make the attempt, and reverted to a weird blend of neo-dadaism and theatrical posturing to avoid the question.

In plainer language, he really thought that he ought to play Hamlet, couldn’t talk anyone into using him for a real production, and so wrote a very strange half-experimental mish-mash of soap opera nonsense and called the main character Hamlet.

He played the main character.

Anyway, I dropped out of the project partway through for fairly obvious reasons (namely that he was a mess, the project was a mess, and it was a big visual accident waiting to happen), but the guy had the very rare ability to talk coherently about script construction, so I worked with him for a while on doctoring his (very strange) script.

I should explain, I was in the project at first as an actor. This guy was weird.

The reason I’m writing this now is that I’m thinking about something that happened in auditions and then callbacks for the project.

This guy wanted to use a redhead I knew as the Ophelia character. His reason for choosing her?

“You look like a little mouse, cowering into the corner.”

When being yelled at, she cowered in a way he liked, and he felt this was an appropriate flavor for Ophelia.

Yeah, he was an awful man, and I stopped talking to him after a little while, but the actress was flummoxed by his attitude.

This guy, like a lot of male and female directors I worked with over the years, observed female-presenting actors as mere props to be used in shows for the reactive emotions they could display.

Like being a mouse cowering, or having a good and dignified ‘classical’ face.

I pondered this phenomenon for some time, being in the very odd position of a bio-girl taught to act like a boy and present as a trans-male. My life was complicated. Anyway. I thought about this a lot, and I had grown adept, over the years, at mimicking and creating convincing reproductions of a variety of gendered behaviors.

Because of my background, I approached theatre production with an idea that I could use the leftover actors, the actors that no one else knew how to use or was willing to use.

I picked up the scraps and started to teach them things that I knew how to do.

Off-topic: Here’s a practice sketch for motion.

dressage

The reason I’m thinking about this today is that I’ve come, more and more over the years, to see writing as belonging to two general camps: 1. Writing produced by abusers and 2. Writing produced by good people.

Note: Many people who have been abused (and that’s everyone) reproduce abusive attitudes in their writing without at all meaning to; these people are not abusers, and the abuse floats within the writing and is easily fixed.

There are tells everywhere in a genuinely abusive person’s work. The way they strip volition or dignity from some characters while building up the import or abilities of others; the tone they take in describing locales or emotional events; and last but certainly not least, the attitude conveyed by the narrative tone when it comes to disaster.

I’m not going to talk about any of those things right now because reasons, but what I am going to talk about for two more seconds is how to discern whether you are, unwittingly or not, writing abuse into your novel.

Big question, right? Seems like a sweeping overgeneralization, yes? Probably bit off more than I can chew with the proposition, hm?

Well, here’s how to tell, and it’s super easy, and it takes about four seconds.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

See, that’s how long it would take to know if you’re writing abusive prose or not.

Curious?

Here you go, and once you know the procedure, it’s simple and straightforward.

First, you fix your mind on the main character. If you write omni-POV or something, focus your thoughts on the central crew whose thoughts the reader inhabits, or whose actions form the primary connection to the reader’s experience.

Once you have a good emotional hold on the feel of the character or characters, close your eyes and thrust the heat of your heart forward in time, towards the end goal.

Every story has an end goal. Every single one has a purpose, an emotional state that is the finishing picture of the words. Even something vague and fantastical, experimental and seemingly structurally formless, has a distinct and meditative emotional state as the clear end goal.

There is an emotional goal of communication you are attempting to achieve in the reader by writing down words.

If you learn to do this for yourself, you can also apply the trick to any story you pick up or absorb through any means; look for the ending, the panache of “I am complete!” within the progression of the words and doings of the main character or group of characters.

Once you have focused your mind on the main movers, and cast your heart-energy forward into the future, towards the ending and coalescence of the emotion conveyed within the work, ask yourself:

“Up or down?”

Is that eventual, tentative emotional conveyance moving your internal energy up and out, or is your energy moving down and in?

If your internal substructures of energy and soul move in and down, your body and mind are telling you to retreat, to hunker in and protect yourself from harm. If your energy moves out and up, expanding towards the verge of your skin and possibly even extending towards the outer world, beyond the boundary of your physical being, then your body and mind are saying, “Yes, I can grow, I can relax; I am safe.”

Now, that is the four-second test, and here is how you evaluate your results.

If you are looking into your own writing, at a particular story, and your energy moves down and inwards, you are flinching in preparation for kickback from potential readers because you know in your heart that you are deliberately hurting people, and you’re preparing for a fight.

If, when you look into your main characters and cast your heart forward to the emotional end, your energy moves up and outwards, you are sharing your true inner self with genuine, human desire for connection and communication.

I’ll give you half a guess which response indicates abusive writing, and the half-guess doesn’t count.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and today in my current novel, a former prostitute is facing demons with a murderer. There is chocolate involved, as well as doctored identification documents.