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.

 

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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.

Lonely Authors

ajalia on dragon for blog

I went to a visiting artist lecture a long time ago. The guy wasn’t technically an artist; he was a famous critic from somewhere important, and he came to a museum event and gave a talk about art, and working towards developing your style.

He Gave Advice To All The Young, Eager Art Students

He was  really nice guy, and I liked him. He was sensible, and had kind eyes and a grounded voice. You know how sometimes you meet established persons, and you sort of get the sense that they wormed their way into power by cheating, or squiggling work out of other people?

This guy was a nice, grounded, competent guy who understood art and quality work. He told this extended story, at the beginning of the lecture, about how he got to be a critic in the first place.

It was sort of a sad story, and I’m thinking about it now. Here’s how it went:

The Critic’s Story

Once upon a time, there was a young man who wanted to be an artist, and worked as hard as he knew how. His work sucked, and eventually he learned enough about composition and technique to realize how awful he was. He gave up on being an artist, after an extended struggle with himself, and he knew so much by then about art that he took up evaluating other people’s work, instead of producing his own.

The art critic who gave up. That’s the story he told.

Here’s my interpretation of that guy, and the framework he presented as his excuse for escaping internal fire and torment:

What I Heard Him Say

Once upon a time, there was a young man with sense and ability, who had potential, passion, and a big heart. He came from a screwed-up family, and was too shy and embarrassed to get his background straightened up, or to examine his dysfunctional roots.

He found, as he entered farther into serious, professional-level work, that he was consistently prostrated with shame, confusion, and an inability to face his deepest self. As he attempted to create, and to share parts of his heart and soul through art, he found that he didn’t want anyone to realize how dark and ugly he felt.

He stopped drawing, and he painted boring, technically challenging pieces with no emotional element. He got farther and farther from pure, intense creation, and more and more into hiding and lying about how small and horrible he felt.

At length, the young man gave up on himself, labeled himself as a bad person, with an infertile soul, and became a helper and cheerleader to other artists. Thinking of himself as an artist was too painful, so he reframed all his thinking and told himself that he was a lesser sort of being, a helper and guide to worthier souls.

He became an art critic.

He was deeply unhappy and perfectly satisfied with how he had figured out a consistent method to punish his internal badness.

In Sum:

The art critic was articulate, genteel, well-travelled, and with the secret, hidden emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old boy being beaten on the sly with a leather whip.

He was very successful as an art critic, though. And I don’t think many people could tell at all that he’d been abused so badly. The self-deprecating, vitriolic humor with which he poked tasteful fun at his inability to create was the biggest tell, for me.

I Don’t See Dead People, But I Often See Abuse

I imagine if anyone ever opened up his heart, he’d become a prostrate invalid for the rest of his life. Unless he was given a safe space to paint while he got through things. Someone would have to take him over, and be a parent to him, though, and nurture him for years. He was a nice guy.

Detaching From The Self-Blame

All my actors had problems like that, deep ones that twist through your soul and make you sometimes almost dead all through your heart. The difference between people who give up on art, and people who make stuff, is how much you intellectually detach from the personal nature of the abuse and learn to navigate the physiological after-effects. Professional actors and dancers, singers, too, all do that. It’s not difficult, but laypeople generally have no idea how to begin.

I’ve got to go and finish killing some corrupt gangsters in my book, now. Happy Wednesday.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my book, Gilbert had an unpleasant procedure performed on his body in the small hours. Pops’ fate is still up in the air, though.

The Truth About Story Parameters

Do you follow through on the parameters promised in the overall setup of your story? And does the reader feel they got what they were promised in your opening?

Parameters of the Premise

Every story has an overall structure, a promise of what may happen that either is or isn’t followed through on by the end.

Some plots are so formulaic as to be reducible to a sentence or only just a phrase: romance, murder mystery, etc. Many other stories create individual promises in the opening that are then expounded on throughout the rest of the work.

For Example

There’s that age-old story about the young man setting out in the wide world to make his fortune. He may or may not leave a sweetheart at home, and may be tackling piracy or some more honest method of industry as his approach, but the promise in the story opening is that something will happen throughout the book in connection to the young man’s efforts.

The reader, in short, expects the story to have to do mostly with whether or not the young man succeeds.

Breaking a Premise in the Middle is Ill-Advised

If our tale of the earnest young man transitions, in the middle, to a story about how the forest elves are battling encroaching parasitic beetles, and we lose sight of our hero entirely as we follow their ecological saga, the story has failed. The reader was lied to, for the framing of the plot started out with one picture and went on to illustrate another image entirely.

The Truth About Story Parameters

Staying on topic is paramount, when it comes to following through. What this means, for your actual writing, is that every sentence you write needs to tie back in a clear and logical fashion to the original premise given to the reader.

Fantastical sagas concerning irrelevant backstory, side quests and charming tertiary characters, if they do not reaffirm and highlight some vital aspect of the main parameters, really ought to go.

Examples

Right now I’m working on a series about gangsters and their attached lovers. One of my characters is after a very specific outcome, and so each bit of information given throughout the books has to build and illuminate how his work is going. With each new scene, and each revealed piece of backstory, the reader wants to know, and my job is to tell the reader, if Character A is getting closer or farther away, if his goals are growing clearer or inching out of reach.

Bad Writing:

Bartho the whore was an ethical slut, who never slept with anyone without their paying him in full first. Bartho believed that he was reinforcing decent behavior on the part of his clients, and felt morally superior to all other whores by being exacting in his accounting of his time and energy.

Bartho, in truth, was on a personal quest to improve conditions for all paid sluts everywhere, and he felt firmly in the right when he turned poorly-behaved clients in to the local mob bosses for whatever slights he could dig up in their pasts.

Good Writing:

To be honest, the above example was such a complete waste of time and story effort that it simply wouldn’t come into the novel at all. Therefore, there is no good example of how to handle Bartho, because Bartho, in the parameters established by my opening, has nothing to give the reader in terms of following through.

In Conclusion

Following through on the parameters of the premise allow for easy editing, as in: I am writing about a hunt. Therefore: How are my men doing on their hunt, how does each new piece of information change or affect the status and success or failure of their hunt?

Anything not dealing directly with illuminating or building the importance and impending finish of the premise has no valid place in the rest of the story.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Happy first day of 2018!

The Simple Shortcut To Achieve A Strong Working Session

If you struggle to rock into a consistent rhythm while writing amidst inevitable distractions, here are two steps to cut through to solid work, no matter what the world is doing around you.

How many times do you picture yourself getting your shit together, sitting down in a peaceful spot, playing your favorite working music, and pounding out a solid session of really great prose?

And how many times does that imagined experience translate into reality? If your life is anything like mine, mundanity and irritating obligation do a lot to intrude and destroy your peaceful work habits, and that’s not even including whatever psychological barriers you may be wrestling with at any time.

For example, I’m working on a gangster stairwell scene right now, and owing to the fact that it was really late when I did the first draft and had a slight case of brain sludge, I accidentally flopped the power between the two gang leaders’ personalities and have to start over on the scene today.

Overwhelm, Noise, Demanding Humans, and Money Problems Can Destroy Your Work Session

I used to have pretty rigid conditions for how I wanted to write, and when. Spoiler alert: I got very little writing done at that time in my life. After that, I got a strong dose of reality and hello-I’m-failing, eventually got my shit together, and started to experiment, by which I mean I started to write through everything.

I started to write through money problems, and handle distracting humans while I was tapping little bits at a time. I started to stay up absurdly late or to get up very early, to catch quiet.

I started to train myself to write with a constant, concentration-shattering veneer of noise going on.

I’ve said before on this blog (I don’t remember if that post made the last ye-olde-purge-scythe roll-through, so you might not be able to read it now), that I often write novels while playing Spongebob Squarepants episodes on half of my screen.

Embrace The Right Kind of Chaos

The first time I was ever in a large dance performance, I remember being backstage when the leading ballerina darted into the wings and started to desperately strip off all her clothes. Two or three useful persons descended like rabid hyenas and helped her shuffle manically into her next gossamer tutu.

Not having observed a true down-to-skin costume change involving pointe shoes ever before in my life, I was somewhat startled by her total lack of concern with modesty (which is saying something, because I’ve been doing costume-heavy drama with period garters and stockings for a while, and have assisted a fellow actor with a quick-lingerie change for weeks at a time before).

Having Children Made Me A Much Better Writer

Have you ever gotten yourself set up to write, to have a really great work session, and found that it just–is too quiet? That there’s too much space and attention available for your work and you’re a little set adrift by the way in which you can concentrate?

This is why I started using Spongebob. Well, I didn’t set out to use Spongebob; what happened was that I had to entertain my toddlers while I was working, so I learned how to split my screen and play Bob the Builder or Sesame Street while I typed as quickly as I could.

And It Turns Out . . .

It turns out that a moderate level of controllable distraction does a lot to settle my mind. I started to experiment with pacing and music types, and Spongebob Squarepants has exactly the right pace and auditory combination to keep my prose flowing.

The First Part of the Shortcut:

Find a distraction that works for you. This might be ugly music (I’m serious; the agitation of something that drives you crazy usually helps you type a little faster), or it might be Youtube videos of people wrapping gifts (because apparently, that’s a thing).

The point of this first part is to establish a base-level, white noise distraction that you begin to establish and associate with working. You control the distraction, and you condition your mind to think you’d better be writing while it’s going on.

The distraction works better if you kind of enjoy it, or find it soothing on some level, but don’t do anything that’s going to make you fall asleep. The distraction needs to be an agitating thing.

Part Two of the Shortcut:

Over time, you can teach yourself to associate chaos with deep productivity.

Life, unless you are super special and lucky, is never going to slow down in terms of emotional and psychological intensity. Something is going to be a problem, always, and obstacles are always going to present themselves, whether they are crushing bills, very loud neighbors, or persistent feelings of inferiority or failure.

Part two of the shortcut is to gradually train yourself to control your poison, to get in charge of something that seems to stop you from working.

And then you use that thing (in my example, Spongebob Squarepants), to get a lot more work done.

Most Problems Come Down To Control

If you are having a hard time, and I don’t care if it’s a tiny hard time or a soul-shattering “I cannot do this right now” hard time, much of your resistance to knocking out a solid session of writing comes down to your feeling, deep in your heart, that you are not really in control.

So, in the two-part shortcut, you take back control.

If you’re anything like I was, or like most of the writers I’ve known throughout my life, you’ve been stalling and/or throwing strike-type resistance to combat the out-of-control feelings in your heart.

Having a strike or putting work off gets zero words written.

Our goal here is to write words, and more words, and even more words so that we can learn and grow and become the best writer ever in the history of language. Or to finish a spanking good novel.

In Conclusion

If you’re having a hard time getting regular, strong work sessions out of your available writing time, try this two-part shortcut to settle down and get right to work.

  1. Find a distraction that works for you.
  2. Teach yourself to associate your chosen, deliberate chaos with deep productivity.

Take back control over your process, your exposure to irritating distractions, and your writing time by first

  • acknowledging that there will always be distractions or obstacles
  • accepting that you can’t make all the physical or emotional or psychological barriers go away
  • actively choosing an acceptable, hopefully-pleasant distraction to subject yourself to
  • getting right down to work with a more peaceful and much more productive heart.

You’re reading Victor Poole. It’s not nearly as cold outside as it was forecasted to be, which I’m sort of glad about. My Christmas tree is getting a tiny bit wilty, which I think is adorable.