Why Breathing Is A Better Strategy Than Panicking

mountains

Here is a sketch from me looking at landscapes.

I’m working on expanding my word choice for the current series I’m developing. I’m okay with my general word palette being pretty consistent over the course of one series. My touchstone metaphors and described behaviors are fairly consistent within the universe of each individual series, but I am feeling gun-shy about repeating particular verbs too often.

How Many Times Should A Character [verb], For Example?

On the other hand, I really don’t like it when writers stretch so far beyond the point of casual readability that you feel as if they’re sitting with a thesaurus and making esoteric word choices just to keep from repeating any one word more than twice. I don’t like that either. So there’s a balance I want to achieve.

I’ve been thinking about the time when I, a dancer, was going to my local studio all the time. It was frustrating because one of my important classes got canceled right through the summer that I had the most time to practice, so I got behind on classical training catch-up, and had to practice on my own, which is still good, but not nearly so useful as having a teacher on hand to correct arm placement and all that.

I’m Also Agonizing Over Comma Styles Lately

I was reading a story today where the author made a premise and then jolted into a flashback as a casual way to sneak out of any action happening in the present moment.

I didn’t like that. I thought that author was behaving like a dastardly and sleazy skunk. I’d rather the author gave the premise and then followed through on it, and didn’t squeeze two or three stories into the umbrella of a lie (the lie being, in this case, that all the narrative fits under the original premise). (Because it didn’t! No action happened at all under the original premise! Booooo!)

I think, based on my own experiences, that authors often avoid making action and significant change, and often backtrack and dither. Here’s an example of that:

BAD Writing

Silas pulled out the can of shotgun shells and sorted through for the one he wanted. Today was the day he was going to hunt after that big doe, the floppy black one with big haunches and vicious red eyes.

(Here’s where that sneaky, avoidant backtracking normally comes into play.)

Silas remembered the first time he’d seen old floppy-ears. He closed his eyes as he was lost in the mists of long ago within the confines of his sappy mind.

(Sudden flashback to years earlier!)

He pulled up his jacket and shifted his rifle against his arm as he strode through the empty cars and the discarded clothes and possessions on the freeway. The giant, man-eating rabbits didn’t come out this way often, but it was better to be prepared.

Suddenly! A black do with floppy ears! Her eyes were so red! And her large front teeth sharp, violent! He could imagine those teeth stained with his own blood! Probably the blood from his neck where he thought she would sink her horrible bunny teeth in and chew him limb from limb, or head from torso, really, since it was his neck he was thinking of.

Silas brought his gun up and sighted along the barrel, fully prepared to brutally destroy this fine creature of predatory dominance over the fallen, extinguished-almost race of man! The rabbit looked up! She dashed away!

(Return to present moment.)

That darned rabbit always got away, Silas thinks to himself sadly. He was so depressed about how he’d never caught her before that he gave up on the hunt and went back to bed.

GOOD Writing

Silas pulled out the can of shotgun shells and sorted through for the one he wanted. Today was the day he was going to hunt after that big doe, the floppy black one with big haunches and vicious red eyes.

He felt the shiver of the morning air over his bare arms; the rabbits always went for his biceps, because they wanted to taste skin right away under their awful, slathering jowls, and Silas wore a mask and full-body suit to draw the rabbits onto his arms.

He’d rigged a sort of invisible armor, a kind of electrical system that ran from his wrist cufflets to his shoulder gear, and the rabbit who bit down on his arm was a rabbit that got its brain shocked, hard. Silas had thought when he’d first invented the arm-guards that he would be able to stroll among the bunnies and let them bite his arms and kill themselves, but he had found that his arm system was more of a last-defense, as it ended up stunning a rabbit for three seconds and then turned the animal crazy and rabid. He took the massive rabbits out from afar as often as he could.

Silas stood for a long moment at the mouth of his hideout, looking along the destroyed highway and the many piles of scrap metal, where the bunny families had chewed abandoned cars to pieces. He hoisted his ram-fire weapon over his shoulder, patted the useful shotgun buckled to his body, and strolled out into the early morning air to find the black doe.

She’d left her spoor near the left-hand exit again, and it was fresh. Silas licked his lips as he imagined roasting fresh rabbit over a bonfire tonight. He hadn’t eaten a doe for a long time now, almost two weeks, and he hoped to be able to strip her body and store up rabbit jerky for the winter.

Silas tracked the doe to a cluster of trees and spotted her nibbling at a lower branch. She was fully fifteen feet, from nose to fluffy tail, and her hide was slick, ebony, and looked very soft. I will make her into a bed, Silas thought, and he cautiously unfastened his shotgun and put down his larger ram-fire cannon in the same motion. Die, bunny, Silas thought, as he lifted his gun and aligned the sights with her violent crimson eye.

And So

Following through on a premise is a good way to gain trust and confidence in the reader’s mind. Abandoning a premise mid-story (or anywhere within the story, really), is a rude thing to do.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Dave Tinnels is about to have a very interesting conversation with a dead gangster’s bodyguard.

Advertisements

Emotional Texture

Last night I was thinking about emotional texture underlying words. This is so easy to put in, and is analogous to emotional history work and secrets for an actor.

Richness And  Complexity

When you play a character on stage, the first thing you do to develop the role is say the lines out loud, and feel how they sound in your mouth.

As an author, the first draft is a similar experience, as you feel out how the actions go and see how they lay visually on the page when conveyed in words.

More Practice

(Here is a texture study of an octopus that I am working on. Source photos is here.)

octo

Once you’ve felt out the sounds of the action, or the lines of dialogue, you start to play pretend, and that’s where emotional texture comes in.

I was watching a film the other day and was noticing how the emotional texturing had been completely left out of the dialogue. The characters were speaking first-draft words, and the storied history of the implied exchange was missing, though the actors were doing a bang-up job of pushing a lot of emotional history work in despite the undeveloped writing.

Emotional Texture

Emotional texture is created by regular injections of

  1. Personalized, internally-processed sensory input. One particular character sees, hears, smells, feels, or touches something targeted and specific.
  2. That same character has a past-reflective reaction to the sensory experience.

Basically you’re creating an anchor in the deep past within the character and coating that anchor with present sensations. This makes layers within the emotional feel of the character and gives you texture, history, and depth.

Super easy.

Here’s what it looks like when you leave emotional texture out and then what it looks like if you put the texture in afterwards:

BAD Writing:

Damien shut down the simulator and went down the hallway to the murder room.

“How was it that time?” he asked through the speaker grid.

“Pretty good, I think. Let’s run it one more time with, um, the butane levels up another two percent. I feel like we can get a stronger burn effect over the clothes,” a woman’s voice replied.

“Sure thing. Tell me when you’re set in there,” Damien said. A moment passed.

“Go for it,” the woman said. Damien nodded and strolled back to the master desk to activate the fire jets once more.

GOOD Writing:

Damien shut down the simulator; the black grip of the handle made a soft impress against his palm, and the familiar shoot of excitement traveled down his spine as he thought of what the body would look like this time. He’d felt this way ever since his first experiments on the manikins, and the anticipation never dulled. Damien licked his lower lip and went down the hallway to the locked murder room.

“How’s it looking? Did we get the scorch marks?” Damien asked through the speaker grid. A faint crackle came from the other side where one of the women, Avery this time, was overseeing the facsimile corpse while wearing a protective suit.

“This is pretty good, I think,” Avery said through the speaker. “Before you come in I want to see how we do with a little more heat on the inside of the flame and less burn on the shell. Let’s run it one more time with, um, the butane levels up another two percent. I feel like we can get a stronger burn effect over the clothes with the charring we’re looking for.” Avery’s voice came through with a tinny vibration from the combination of the speaker on her suit and the grid in the wall.

“Sure thing. Tell me when you’re set in there,” Damien said. A moment passed. Damien felt the rush of air conditioning tickle against his face and imagined the sear and stink of burning plastic and formative synthetic flesh that would be filling the murder room right now. Avery would be turning the body, arranging the un-singed half of the corpse against the metallic torch the department was developing.

Another light crackle came at the mesh speaker.

“Go for it,” Avery said. Damien tapped his knuckles against the speaker grid and strolled back to the control desk to adjust the fuel settings and activate the fire jet once more.

And So

When writing, consider emotional texture, and see if you’re putting in the kind of emotionally-satisfying ribbing underneath the character interactions and dialogue that lends richness, clear history, and depth to your words.

Emotional texture requires present sensation combined with past-anchored reactions to the sensation. Easy peasy, and enjoyable to write, too.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and Ashley Kelly’s relatives are turning out to be epic heels and destroyers of happiness and childhood. Also, Catero has adopted another son, and the young man’s name is Esteban.

When To Start Fleshing In World-Building

This is what a first draft looks like:

Jeff didn’t mean to kill his sister. It all started the afternoon the alien overlords made themselves known. Jeff won, or lost, depending on your perspective, the lottery for human tokens, and was taken into the mother ship on a Tuesday.

His alien turned out to be a fat corpuscular vein-ridden white blob who had the vague appearance of a Biblical matron, though Jeff couldn’t tell if this was a result of the big gray beard or the colorful, feminine robes.

The first thing that happened to Jeff was a cosmetic surgery to make him appear female on the outside, and the second was a partial body-replacement to make him fertile and capable of carrying a pregnancy. After those two things were finished, he got fitted with what felt like a pair of blue dentures and a pair of spongey earphones. Jeff was ushered back into the room where the corpuscular bearded alien resided.

“Take off your clothes or I’ll kill you,” the white blob-face said. The alien’s voice came vibrating through the spongey earphones and made Jeff’s teeth ache. He took off his clothes. He was not at all used to his girlish body yet, having inhabited it for less than two days. “Speak,” the alien commanded.

“Hi, I’m Jeff,” he said. The blue dentures clamped down on his teeth and gums, and a different sound came out. He could just hear the echo of his own words through the earphones.

“Jeff. I wanted a girl,” the alien said, in a tone that, to Jeff, spelled clear displeasure.

“I have a sister,” Jeff said. He was appalled, as soon as he’d said this. He had not at all meant to draw attention to the existence of Valerie. Jeff was nervous, and wanted to make a good impression. He’d only tried to make small talk.

As he watched the white blobbish alien open a dark cavity and slaver a pale blue tongue over what appeared to be mushy lips, Jeff shivered. I could say that she’s dead, Jeff thought, but this was a lie that would so easily be found out that he didn’t dare. He held his breath and waited for the alien to speak.

“How old?” it asked.

“I’m twenty-six,” Jeff said.

“Not you. The female,” the alien said. Jeff started to tremble.

Tiny Break For Drawings!

Here are some more practice sketches:

torso

This is when world-building comes into play:

Jeff didn’t mean to kill his sister. It (this word is too vague: what started, exactly? Clues can be added here of when/where this is happening, as well as details that can show who Jeff is [age, situation, general physical appearance]) all started the afternoon the alien overlords made themselves known (this could easily be replaced with a couple of details to give more grounded information about how and why they revealed themselves). Jeff won, or lost, depending on your perspective (the word ‘your’ should be replace with an internally-consistent address, and also, info on who would be pleased to be chosen would be wise to insert here), the lottery for human tokens (what human tokens are needs to be at least hinted at hear, to avoid excess reader frustration), and was taken (by whom was he taken? This is a crazy-good opportunity for powerful world-building, especially as it pertains to the aliens) into the mother ship on a Tuesday (what day it was only matters if it adds tone or give more information on Jeff or the aliens, so this phrasing might need to change, depending on how the world-building in the rest of the sentence goes).

His alien (are they assigned to only one? More detail about how the token human process works is needed) turned out to be a fat corpuscular vein-ridden white blob (this must be cleaned up, and also, commas added in when needed) who had the vague appearance of a Biblical matron (promising phrase, but not clear enough, as we don’t know how big he/she/it is), though Jeff couldn’t tell if this was a result of the big gray beard (what?!) or the colorful, feminine robes (how feminine? Are there curves? Again, what?!).

The first thing that happened (this is an extremely passive phrase; who did it to him? This is essential world-building info.) to Jeff was a cosmetic surgery to make him appear female on the outside (details are needed on this, because it could mean several different things. Also, who is performing the surgery, and is it with alien tech? How long does it take, etc.?), and the second was a partial body-replacement (also intriguing, but what?!) to make him fertile and capable of carrying a pregnancy (why? And an alien kid, or a human one?). After those two things were finished (again, by whom? The timeline is too vague), he got fitted (by whom? There’s a pattern of passive actions that is driving me nuts.) with what felt like a pair of blue dentures and a pair of spongey earphones. Jeff was ushered back into the room where the corpuscular bearded (prev) alien resided.

“Take off your clothes or I’ll kill you,(are human tokens that disposable? Does Jeff know if the alien really will kill him?) the white blob-face said. The alien’s voice came vibrating through the spongey earphones and made Jeff’s teeth ache. He took off his clothes (what was he wearing? More potential world texture, for how the aliens have dressed him). He was not at all used to his girlish body (what does it look like?!) yet, having inhabited it for less than two days. (Okay, here’s some timeline, but too little and too late in the action. This should be earlier.) “Speak,” the alien commanded.

“Hi, I’m Jeff,” he said. The blue dentures clamped down on his teeth and gums, and a different sound came out. He could just hear the echo of his own words through the earphones. (Can he hear his English words, or only the alien translation?)

“Jeff. I wanted a girl,” the alien said, in a tone that, to Jeff, spelled clear displeasure.

“I have a sister,” Jeff said. He was appalled, as soon as he’d said this. He had not at all meant to draw attention to the existence of Valerie. Jeff was nervous, and wanted to make a good impression. (Why does he want to make a good impression? What are the relations between humans and aliens at this time? Is he some kind of ambassador?) He’d only tried to make small talk.

As he watched the white blobbish alien open a dark cavity and slaver a pale blue tongue over what appeared to be mushy lips, (I still want more of an initial description of the alien earlier on, so I can imagine the mouth and tongue better, if it looks like a mouth.) Jeff shivered. I could say that she’s dead, Jeff thought, but this was a lie that would so easily be found out that he didn’t dare. He held his breath and waited for the alien to speak.

“How old?” it asked.

“I’m twenty-six,” Jeff said.

“Not you. The female,” the alien said. Jeff started to tremble.

And now, with world-building:

Jeff didn’t want to kill his sister. The whole ugly mess, and Jeff’s descent into murder, began one quiet, snow-carpeted Tuesday when Jeff was preparing for his dissertation defense in the university library.

If he hadn’t been fixated on his graduate work, he probably would have heard a lot sooner about the fact that aliens had revealed themselves to the human race, and announced that they were prepared to become benign overlords and advanced mentors to the people of Earth.

Unfortunately for Jeff, he had arrived at the library at five in the morning, his dark blond hair shoved under a cap and his ears muffled already in noise-cancelling headphones, and he remained in a secluded study nook until well past midnight. He missed the entire day’s events, and walked home through the fresh-falling snow without once looking up from the slushy sidewalk.

Jeff only realized something was different when he climbed the concrete steps to his apartment building. His eyes were on the ground, and he saw a thick cluster of boots and shoes lining the higher steps.

Jeff looked up. It appeared to him that most of the residents of the building had attempted to squeeze onto the tiny staircase. More people were crowded in the entryway beyond the open double doors. His first thought was that it was too cold to leave the front doors open. He recognized Mrs. Henaly, and her expression was so tight and pinched that he glanced around at the other faces. They looked excited and afraid. Jeff blinked and looked down the darkened street.

A second crowd of people were jammed into the next door building’s front stoop, and Jeff turned and saw a third collection of gawkers at the steps of the building on the other side.

They were all staring at him. Jeff looked back at them, and no one said a word. Jeff suppressed a shiver and continued up the stairs. He had expected the crowd to part. My grandmother is dead, probably, Jeff told himself, though he knew this was a very unlikely excuse for the kind of attention so many strangers were lavishing upon him. None of the residents of the building moved at all; they formed an impenetrable barrier of bodies.

“Can I get through, please?” Jeff asked. He reached up and pulled his noise-cancelling earphones down to hang around his neck.

As soon as they headphones shifted from over his hears, Jeff heard a load, raging echo, like the thunder of stampeding beasts. The sound filled the air, and seemed to throttle right into his heart, and shake him. He couldn’t imagine how he hadn’t heard it at first, for the noise made his body tremble. He realized, after a moment, that it was not the volume of the sound, but a sibilant quality of portentous rumble that made him vibrate.

I’m afraid; it isn’t loud, Jeff told himself, and he looked around to find a causation for the sound. He could see nothing but the dim shadows of the crowded people at either neighboring building, and when he turned to look at the street, several pairs of hands reached out and pushed him hard from behind.

Jeff stumbled down the concrete steps and fell down in the slush and fresh-fallen snow.

“Hey!” he said, twisting to see who had pushed him.

A personage that Jeff could only describe to himself as an alien stood between him and the stairs.

“Your people have cooperated. They keep the curfew. We will not enter on their steps,” the alien said. The creature was fully seven feet tall, dark blue, apparently naked, and very gracefully-thin. Jeff couldn’t see the eyes at all, but the face looked vaguely humanoid.

“What’s going on? What’s–what is this?” Jeff asked.

“Will you come in good peace, or shall I take you by force?” the alien asked.

“Where am I going?” Jeff asked. He tried to see the faces of the people on the stairs of the building, but many of them had retreated into the apartment complex. Mrs. Henaly was still by the open door, staring at him with an inscrutable expression in her eyes.

“Up,” the alien said, pointing to the sky with one long blue finger.

“Do I have a choice?” Jeff asked.

“It would seem you are of low intelligence. Unfortunate,” the alien said, and it crouched and laid hold of Jeff’s shoulder.

“Well, wait!” Jeff shouted, but his body was disintegrating, and the street pulled away from his view.

And then the story keeps going towards the information already established in the first draft

When writing fiction about strange worlds or creatures, I find it best to start with an encapsulating action through-line, and then to go through the draft again and add the padding necessary to create a lush and desirable world.

World-building, to me, doesn’t work very well when you begin with charts and details about cultures. Characters reveal culture, and when you start with strong characters, the culture becomes resonant and living, as you world-build around an established core thread of action and character relationship.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current book, one of Crikey’s employees is having an awkward conversation with his wife right now.

Characters Being Kind To Each Other

I’ve been reading several stories to explore relational dynamics in people’s fiction. Something that keeps catching me off guard is how rude characters regularly are to each other. What surprises me is when the author cloaks acerbic bitterness in the guise of cleverness or an attempt at humor.

Because A Well-Formed Zinger Is Amazing

People being unnecessarily rude to each other is not entertaining or fun. That kind of dynamic is immature, toxic, and unpleasant.

I worked on group dynamics for a while as a director and theatre producer (super small time). I hope you guys don’t think I’m being all pretentious and shit. We were doing community theatre type stuff, but the experimental performance work I was doing with my actors was awesome. Anyway, I explored a lot with managing and shaping group dynamics.

To See If I Could Create Sustainable Magic, Interpersonally, Between The Actors

I had an actor once who gradually turned into such a problem that we had to fire her. The day after she was let go, the rehearsal was incredible. The difference that her being gone made was frankly unbelievable to me. It was as though eight people were missing, as far as needing to carry relationships and maintain goodwill between all the actors.

I don’t actually think it was her (the actor’s) big actions that caused so many problems; it was her constant, never-ceasing way of trying to be funny (and really just being mean). Once the grating, continuous agitation of her ill-advised attempts at humor was gone, everyone got along easily and had a pretty peachy experience.

In Her Absence, Bonding Skyrocketed

I think, and this is just my personal take, that most novel problems are not actually big plot or writing issues; I think most fiction issues stem from commonplace rudeness between characters.

Examples

Characters Being Rude

Bianca waved her magic fan, and a huge spiral of golden dust sprang up from the desert and formed into a hard tower of pure yellow stone.

Good, she thought, pushing back her ebony curls and indulging in a satisfied smirk. Let’s see Bart ignore this, the self-serving jerk.

Bianca’s thick green skirts made a swish against the sand as she swayed into the bottom entrance to the tower and began to climb the stairs.

Bart, the government inspector of all magical structures colored yellow, soon appeared and knocked on the tower door.

“Bianca, you’ve got at least sixteen code violations on this new piece of spellwork,” Bart shouted.

Bianca leaned out of an upstairs window of the tower and beamed.

“Oh, it’s clumsy old Bart! Are you coming to take my tower down?” she asked.

“No, Bianca, but to start with, you have to change the shape of the stairs, and your walls are two inches too thin for the height you have going on here.”

“You’re two inches too thick, silly Bart!” Bianca called down with a ringing laugh.

“Oh, Bianca, you know that I’m in love with you. Please alter your tower. I hate doing the paperwork for a seizure of private magical property,” Bart said with a slow sigh.

“Get your ugly face up those stairs, and negotiate with me in person,” Bianca said. Her eyelashes made a flutter. Bart blushed.

Remember, most people want to be around pleasant folk. If your characters consistently lack common courtesy, re-examine whether it is effective characterization or completely unnecessary jibing. Because narratively-unsupported jibes and take-downs aren’t pleasant.

Characters With Courtesy

Bianca waved her magic fan, and a huge spiral of golden dust sprang up from the desert and formed into a hard tower of pure yellow stone. She’d been planning the structure for weeks, and designing every inch.

Okay, she thought, pushing back her ebony curls and feeling a wave of nerves. Let’s see what Bart has to say about this. Bianca had a crush on Bart, and, to fabricate an excuse for a visit, she had just made several major code violations on her new, ostensibly vital tower.

Bianca’s thick green skirts made a swish against the sand as she went into the bottom entrance to the tower and began to climb the stairs. Her fingertips were trembling. Her mind was on Bart’s green eyes and stodgy expression. Bianca held in a sigh.

Bart, the government inspector of all magical structures colored yellow, soon appeared and knocked on the tower door.

“Bianca, you’ve got at least sixteen code violations on this new piece of spellwork,” Bart shouted.

Bianca leaned out of an upstairs window of the tower and felt like she was about to throw up.

“Oh, it’s you, Bart! Are you coming to take my tower down?” she asked, her insides on fire.

“No, Bianca, but to start with, you have to change the shape of the stairs, and your walls are two inches too thin for the height you have going on here.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Bart! I’ll get right on that!” Bianca called down with a gasping laugh.

“Do you want a complete list of the problems, Bianca? I’d hate to have to come out again. Your work is usually top-notch,” Bart called.

“Would you like to come in, Bart?” Bianca asked. She waited for his answer and felt ready to explode with heat.

“Well, your floors are showing up as layers of compressed sand, Bianca, down in the office. I’d rather speak to you outdoors. I don’t want anything to collapse on me,” Bart explained.

“I’ll be right down!” Bianca cried, and she almost started to sob as she ran for the stairs. Now, she reflected with abject misery, he will think I’ve lost my mind and become incompetent. I should only have made two violations. Darn!

Conclusions

Readers, in my experience, are very sensitive to rudeness, coarseness, interpersonal cruelty, and advantage-taking of any kind.

Ill manners are like a very strong, distinctive color on a paint palette; indiscriminate use of poor behavior mars the work as a whole and turns off most readers (the majority of whom have an intuitive grasp of gentility).

Just as with a neon green or a harsh, burning yellow, rudeness can highlight and set off a piece of fiction. Often, the rudeness of one character, or in a particular part of a scene becomes the distinctive turning point of an entire story. Highlights only work when they’re used very carefully, and kept out of the rest of the work. Be careful of what your character’s rudeness is communicating to the reader, and make sure zingy snips of humor are actually funny, and not subtle put-downs, because those add up over time and leave a sour taste in the reader’s mind.

ris2

This is a super rough sketch of a character from a story about centaurs. This guy is a leader from the Tree Islands, and he’s in love with my main character, Eueen.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m rewriting a section from one of my manuscripts where my main character, alas, was being unforgivably rude for no reason at all. Bad writing on my part. Also, today is Tuesday.

 

How To Prevent Gaping Plot Holes

Writing a novel is a complicated business. The last thing you need, as an author, is a gaping plot hole. Want to know how I avoid them?

I Feel So Silly

I feel silly talking like this, you know, because I have about twenty completed manuscripts, in various stages of editing, but only two works published right now. So here I am, talking about how I’m managing things, and I look like a kid who dashed out a couple of novels last year sometime.

But I Do, In Fact, Finish Books

My background is in acting and performance, so I care a lot about presentation and overall effect. Ergo, I’m sitting on a lot of completed work and shoving it around in different ways until I feel it has the proper zing, as a body of work. You know. Because I’m vain.

Anyway, Plot Holes!

To me, there are three different kinds of plot holes:

  1. Emotional Plot Holes
  2. Actual ‘Plot’ Plot Holes
  3. Thematic Plot Holes

Emotional Holes

Emotional holes are where a character’s motivation is missing, or a whole social group’s mindset is too convenient, or shaped against what would feel natural to the reader. Any kind of authorial cheating, in an emotionally justifying sense, is a plot hole, to me, because that kind of skipping or bending the natural progression of emotions creates a blank space in my mind, where I can’t follow the next part of the story.

Regular, Plain Old Plot Holes

Actual ‘plot’ plot holes are the conventional ones that everyone hears about, or that you probably think of when you hear “Plot Hole.” You know, a literal gap or inexplicable (or unjustifiable) blip in the structure of the storyline. This is a problem in the literal events or described actions in the plot.

Theme Holes

Thematic plot holes are, for me, the most common and irritating problems in a story. This is when the author changes core themes in the middle of a story, or, more usually, right in the last few chapters or scenes of a book.

People do this (thematic holes) all the time when they write stories, and I hate it. I hate it!

Let’s look at some examples, and then I’ll give you my two-step process for keeping glaring plot holes (all three kinds) away for good.

Examples

Setup:

Gobo, the last surviving chieftain of the blumbeheads, was the first and the last of his people to take up the wind spirits on the offer to become fully materialized in bodies of flesh and blood. Before Gobo took flesh, his people’s bodies were composed of soft, silky bubbles. They easily burst and often died by accident in the breezy flurries that came over the mountains and drove the blumbeheads down against the pointy grass.

Gobo’s people were not extinct, because they reproduced so easily and quickly. Many times, a blumbehead gave birth to thirty little ones in the morning and perished quietly in the mid-afternoon. Gobo’s particular forefathers, the ancient chieftains, had been thicker than the others, less easily destroyed by the natural obstacles all around them, but Gobo, seeing by the increasing breezy turbulence that he was probably going to die really soon, went to the top of Mud Mountain and asked for a coating of flesh and blood.

This was the beginning of man. Gobo was lonely, of course, and so he scraped off some of his still-soft new body and slapped it over a bubble that was drifting around nearby. Now there were two, Gobo and his friend. Their bodies hardened soon, and Gobo could no longer make new bodies by taking off his own flesh.

Before too long, all the blumbeheads were contriving to roll in mud or tar, and soon there were no true blumbeheads left at all. Most of Gobo’s people died in the pursuit of fleshy forms, and not one of them thought of climbing to the top of Mud Mountain to ask the wind spirits for a physical body.

BAD WRITING: Emotional Plot Hole (the “why” of continuity is completely absent)

After Gobo realized his superiority to the group, he chose out several followers, murdered the rest of the mud-people in their sleep, and traveled up the mountain the kill the wind spirits, too.

He led his new, savage folk to the edge of the sea and they took up fishing and learned how to eat food instead of air.

BAD WRITING: Actual ‘Plot’ Plot Hole (pieces of this plot are missing . . . )

After Gobo was substantial, and had gained a fellow fleshy person, he decided to go over and join up with the other physically-sturdy living things on the land just next to the blumbehead’s ancestral fields.

Gobo’s best friend said they really ought to go after the wind spirits, since the war between the wind people and the blumbeheads’ creators was getting so bad lately.

The war was over quickly, and everyone got back to normal life, except that Gobo’s son was really angry about how the final battle had gone, so he killed his father.

BAD WRITING: Thematic Plot Hole (the deep subject matter changes suddenly)

Because none of the other blumbeheads climbed up Mud Mountain and requested help from the wind spirits, but mashed clumsy bodies for themselves from mud or tar, the wind spirits grew weary of helping protect them, and blew away to the other side of the world.

Abandoned to themselves, Gobo and his true-flesh friend looked over the clumsy iterations of men the blumbeheads had formed themselves into and found themselves disgusted.

“We are different to these creatures,” Gobo’s friend said to him.

“Let’s go and figure out how to conquer all the world, since we’re better than everyone!” Gobo exclaimed.

“Wow, excellent plan!” his friend agreed.

GOOD WRITING: No Plot Holes of Any Kind

The wind spirits, disgusted by the disobedience and ingratitude of the blumbeheads, blew far away, and Gobo found himself all alone with his fleshy friend, and the ruler over a vast array of monstrous tar- and mud-formed people.

Gobo didn’t like this state of affairs, and one night, he had a whispered conversation with his friend, who was a man called Pecko.

“Let’s chase after the wind spirits, and ask for help to make equals for us,” Gobo said.

“You mean, to form mates, and have progeny?” Pecko asked.

The blumbeheads, having mashed themselves into physical forms without the help of the wind spirits, could no longer make children. Gobo and Pecko were sure they were capable of some manner of procreation in their new and interesting bodies, but they were both male.

“You really should have thought of that, when you put your malleable flesh onto another blumbehead,” Pecko added. “You might have chosen a female.”

“I realize that now, but I still like you,” Gobo said politely.

“Well, let’s go and see if we can find the wind spirits, and we’ll ask for help,” Pecko agreed.

Gobo and Pecko stole away that same night, and covered the signs of their departure. Without their chieftain, the clumsy mud people who had once been beautiful blumbeheads got into petty fights, destroyed each other, and soon became extinct. Their half-formed bodies of earth and tar crumbled back into the ground and no sign of their existence showed.

Gobo and Pecko journeyed for many months through mountains and over rivers and into dense forests before they found a the leftover scent of a true wind spirit’s presence.

“We will find them soon,” Gobo assured his friend. Pecko nodded, and they went on.

Two Useful Ploys to Avoid Any Bad Plot Holes

First: Follow the first idea all the way to conclusion

Stick with that idea, and don’t add to it, improve it, or try to fancy it up with extra notions. Clean, powerful story comes from rhetorical simplicity and focus.

Every story, no matter its length, begins with a flavor, a rhetorical spark, an initial impression. If you follow that actual idea all the way to the ending point, and into whatever new forms of fresh idea that such an ending inevitably produces, you won’t have thematic plot holes, and if you are faithful to the nuances produced by the idea, you won’t have ‘plot’ plot holes, either.

Emotional plot holes are tricky, and often require outside input to avoid, but as long as you have one or two trusted readers who will be brutally honest with you about when your characters stop making sense to them, and as long as you get really good, over time, at understanding vulnerability and coherent characterizations, these should be taken care of as well.

Two: Listen to your readers

You’ve got to find someone who understands you, cares about story, and wants a good book more than they want to be friends with you. You can’t make a great story without feedback, but you have to have the guts to listen to unpleasant things about how poorly your story is communicating in the weak parts.

Really good readers are hard to find, but they’re the best way to avoid plot holes. An excellent reader will get indignant and somewhat incandescent with rage over blips in the story.

Over time, hopefully, you get better at sensing potential plot holes yourself, and have fewer issues with initial drafts.

In Conclusion

I think there are three different kinds of plot holes.

  • Emotional plot holes (inconsistencies within character or social reaction)
  • Actual ‘plot’ plot holes (problems in the construction of the sequence of events)
  • Thematic plot holes (changes in deep subject matter of the plot at any point within the story)

Plot holes are avoided by remaining faithful to the rhetorical core of the initial story idea, and by listening to the brutal honesty of your best readers.

You’re reading Victor Poole. In my current novel, Crikey just got a new bodyguard this morning, and some of Crikey’s uncles’ guards are coming later tonight to see if they can integrate into Crikey’s household. Some of Crikey’s uncles are talking about moving in to his building permanently.

What Would Happen If You Wrote Happy Endings?

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

They Were Both Fantasy Writers

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

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

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

horse

reference here

But They Wrote No Happy Endings

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

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

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

Examples

Bad Writing

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

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

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

Good Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

Ignoring Social Power Networks Could Ruin Your Novel Construction

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

Morals and Power

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

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

Bunch-Backed Toad

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

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

He Says Dogs Hate Him, Too

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

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

Examples

Bad Writing (No Social Grounding)

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

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

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

Good Writing (Social Framework)

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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