The Suitably Anti-Social Writer

I used to think it was a huge liability that I don’t get along with a lot of people in casual, everyday conversation.

Turns Out, I Just Like Getting Work Done

It’s not that I can’t so much as I find it kind of sort of a complete waste of time. Unless, of course, I’m practicing my group management skills or researching character types.

I just hate casual chitchat. Such a waste of time. When I was a kid, I saw how people did this weird thing where they “hung out”, or just, you know, sat and talked about nothing at all and seemed happy about it.

Shooting the Breeze

Like a naturalist among an alien species, I hunkered down to figure out what the shit was going on.

Because why didn’t each of those individuals peel off from the nonfunctioning social group and go into a corner to write? It was so strange to me.

That’s What I Liked Doing

I went through a long period as a young person where I decided there was something wrong with me for not taking satisfaction out of wasting time, so I tried really hard to fit in and do like the other people did. I tried to waste time, you know, and talk about popular whatnot.

It was so boring. Also, I got very little work done. Ugh.

Super Non-Productive

Then I got more into directing and found out (hurray!) that it’s a lot more interesting to play God in a group, and that most people are also bored and want to play that sort of conversationally-directed game.

When I say play God, I really just mean that I took control of the conversation whenever appropriate and made it functionally useful. You know, like actually about reality, and/or about actual emotional phenomena inside me or the other people present.

Like Public Improv

That turned out to be great for character research, for making lasting friends, and for being not-bored. Plus, after a long conversation like that, writing is exciting and fun (because you’re all revved up from actually meeting new people and knowing what they’re like on the inside.)

Anyway, the point of today is that if you, like me, find social groupings sort of useless, perhaps you will also find, like me, that going with the general flow of boring, staid behavior leads to an enormous drop in your writing production.

Like, A Big Drop

In short, if I try to be conventionally social, my word count plummets. And I don’t mean, “oh, I got a few less words written today!” I mean, like, “Oh, my usually quota just eked out to a measly ten percent, and I don’t even care because life feels meaningless.”

Which, over the course of several days, adds up and means a lot less completed work. Ugh.

And Less Usable Work

If you’re wondering why I talk about writing so much, and I only have two books out, that’s because I want to make a good impression, and I have twenty-some-odd complete manuscripts that I’m sitting on that are, for various reasons, not yet satisfactory for public consumption, and I’m tinkering on my official publication style. Luckily, I have an excellent editor.

Anyway.

So, In Conclusion

Avoid other people at all costs, unless you’re prepared to take charge of your interactions and use them to further your craft. Investigating human nature, discussing reality, or actually getting any kind of relaxing social good out of interaction is great, but if you’re just hanging around because you’re supposed to, out of some perceived need to fulfill social obligation, run away!

You’re reading Victor Poole, and no, I’m not really a hermit, but maybe I will be when I’m old and rich. Tee hee. In my current book, I think Gilbert’s gang trial is not going to go super well today.

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Dysfunctional Families Are Wonderful Fodder For Fantasy

Today I’m thinking about Delmar’s uncles in Talbos.

Uncle Thorn, Uncle Elan, and Uncle Fallor

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about uncles lately, without at all meaning to. Apparently that’s a theme in my current work. Delmar’s got, um, three . . . four uncles. One of them is a leechy hanger-on married to his aunt, so hardly counts as far listing out a family tree.

Delmar’s youngest uncle is the worst, but the two in the middle are quite nice. One of them, the man in the middle, is in charge of the city guards, and the older one is in the awkward position of handling power without having any right to it.

The Fourth Uncle Is The Kind Of Guy Everyone Ignores

The thing I love about dysfunctional families is how quickly everything changes when one person lays hold of a new romantic partner.

Fresh blood, emotionally speaking, disturbs the dynamic between all the older predators, and the younger, weaker people jostle to see how many scraps they can collect for themselves.

Power, Control, and Status

Have you ever watched a herd of horses assimilate a new member? There’s a lot of biting, and squealing, and chasing of the new horse into corners to be beat up and cowed. Ha ha! Horses being cowed. That’s funny.

The same kind of procedure happens in an unhealthy family (and let’s face it, a lot of families are run on poor authority and corruption). A new body shows up, connected to an existing member, and the head honchoes start to sniff around and pick fights, testing the waters to see how much they can get away with.

Delmar goes to see his uncles in Talbos, and he brings Ajalia with him. Chaos ensues.

Examples

Clumsy Construction (Bad Writing):

“Do you think your grandfather will come to see you?” Ajalia asked.

“No,” Delmar said. “He will send my uncle.”

“Who is your uncle?” she asked. “The one who manages the guard?”

“Yes,” Delmar said. He gestured with his chin to the entrance that lay ahead of them. “That is him now. His name is Elan. He is my father’s youngest brother. I do not think he will like you.” Delmar clammed up now, because Elan was drawing near.

Ajalia saw that Delmar’s uncle was near him in age; Elan wore a trimmed brown beard, and had eyes that were reminiscent of Simon’s hard dark eyes. Delmar’s blue eyes, Ajalia thought, had come from somewhere else in the family, since he resembled neither his father nor his mother. Coren, Ajalia thought, had looked rather like Simon, like Elan did.

Elan strode through the courtyard towards Delmar. He spared a glance for Ajalia, who was partially out of view behind the horse, and then turned his full attention to Delmar.

“What do you want, Delmar?” Elan asked sharply. Ajalia saw that Delmar’s uncle put little store in Delmar’s new position; she looked at Delmar out of the corner of her eye, and saw that Delmar was not embarrassed by his uncle’s rudeness.

“I’ve come to negotiate a renewed succession with the king,” Delmar said. Ajalia was quite impressed; she had thought, ever since Delmar had frozen up during the confrontation with the guards, that Delmar would be a mute accompaniment to her negotiation, but she saw now that Delmar was going to take the lead on the matter. She hoped that he was prepared for how ugly things would turn, if Elan did not like what was said. She began, very quietly, to gather up long veins of magic in her hands.

Elegant Construction (Good Writing):

“Will king Fernos agree to see you right away?” Ajalia asked. She was standing just to the right of the black horse, her hands folded and her best slave-face in her eyes. She looked exotic, expensive, and very discreet, even with her clothes wet through from the rain.

Delmar, astride the horse, glanced down at her with a smile, his hair and fine clothes still damp from the recently-ended downpour.

“No, my grandfather doesn’t see me officially. Now that I’ve come for an actual audience like this, he’ll put me off as much as he can. I imagine he’ll send one of my uncles, to see how much of a mess I am.”

“Your poor uncles,” Ajalia said softly. Delmar laughed and shifted in the saddle. Ajalia’s black horse made a heaving sigh that jostled Delmar. “You’re sitting well,” Ajalia murmured in the old Slavithe tongue.

“Thank you, darling,” Delmar replied in the ancient tongue, his mouth twisting in a grin and his reddish-gold stubble making an alluring shadow over his jaw. “Oh, here he comes,” Delmar said, switching back to regular Slavithe and nodding towards a young man stalking with clear impatience through the farther arch of the courtyard. “That is Elan, third son of the king, and master of the guard. He’s probably going to hate you,” Delmar whispered.

“Thank you,” Ajalia said, and she sank into foreign-slave mode entirely, her expression smoothing into a pleasant, docile kind of readiness. She saw Elan glance irritably at her as he drew near the enormous black horse and exquisitely attired rider.

In Conclusion

Embrace dysfunction in the families of fantasy environs. Humor and drama lie therein, and however awful bad families are in reality, they make wonderful fodder for fiction. Exploit them. (Bwa ha ha, etc.)

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m in the midst of stylistic rewrites. Come back soon for more novels. Like, a lot of them. Cough, cough.

Delmar, And Where He Comes From

So I’ve been working on a really cool fantasy series, complete with languages and all, for most of my life. The main guy is Delmar, and the girl’s name is Ajalia. I couldn’t figure out for the longest time what she really was, or where she came from, but I knew they both ended up together as young adults, and there was always a shadowy third figure, another man whose name I could never pin down.

Ajalia the Slave, Delmar the Inheritor, and Halez the Lost Prince

The whole story has always been a nebulous something-or-other, like a complete world that has existed at the edge of my consciousness ever since I started to try to write.

Luckily for me, it turns out that my training in theatre and classical rhetorical structuring opened up my access to my subconscious, and the world is now writable. I mean, I have written it, the first part.

Because Halez Has More Adventures With Them, After This Series

I self-pubbed the first section of the series last year? The year before? But as I said earlier somewhere on my blog, my editor (love you, Mr. Editor!), who is a genius, got upset at some emotional hiccups in another manuscript, and we had some very productive discussions about my shitty way of letting down my female characters.

Turns Out, I Repress My Females Once In A While

Anyway, Ajalia had the same problems that were showing up in this other book, so I pulled the entire series and am working on fixing up things now.

It’s so super exciting, because the framework is all there, and all I have left now is visual cleanup and repairing the structural damage to her characterization.

Sigh, etc.

Anyway, I promised to talk about Delmar, and where he comes from. He’s always been the clearest character, in my mind. Ajalia has powerful magic, but Delmar is more of the straightforward, innocent dude who learns that he really needs to stand up for himself and take up the mantle of protecting his people.

Delmar is a prince, of a sort, but without a kingdom, really. He’s the eldest child of a match between the disinherited crown prince of Talbos and the only daughter of Tree, the ruling dude over Slavithe.

Tree Is Called the Thief Lord, Because the Founder of Slavithe Stole Thousands of Slaves, and Became Their Lord

Slavithe is the original city, founded by a mass migration of runaway slaves, and shortly after Slavithe was established, the political shit hit the fan, and a lot of the ruling elite among them moved over a chain of black mountains and established a second city, Talbos.

Talbos and Slavithe depend on each other, as they’re mostly isolated from the rest of the continent, but both cities pretend the other doesn’t exist. They’re like uncomfortable symbiotic parties who trash talk each other at every opportunity, and feel superior and shit.

Talbos Is Much More Civilized and Formal

Delmar should technically be in line to inherit the ruling position over Slavithe, but he’s been scorned and rejected by his father all his life, because Delmar is good-looking and clever and popular, and so his mom and dad, being jealous, slimy, and unpleasant people, have half-starved him, and neglected him, and made him into a family clown. Delmar’s dressed badly, when Ajalia meets him, and his hair looks awful, and he truly believes that he’s too stupid to inherit.

Delmar has two younger brothers, and the second oldest brother, Wall (yes, that’s his name), is slated to take over Slavithe someday. Delmar, in the beginning, having swallowed the Kool-aid, and being a genial sort of person, thinks this is a natural and lovely outgrowth of his own stupidity.

Ajalia Gives Delmar A Haircut, Of Course

Ajalia shows up in the city, finds out who Delmar is, and gets to work on him. Delmar’s father isn’t too happy about this, and his mother . . . well, Delmar’s mother turns out to be a very powerful, dangerous sort of person, and Ajalia has to match wits with her.

But we’re talking about Delmar today. So on the one hand, he’s the eldest son in line for Slavithe, and on the other, he’s the firstborn child of the former crown prince of Talbos, and grandson to the current king (who is a very interesting person).

That King’s Name Is Fernos

Delmar’s father, the former crown prince, really wasn’t supposed to be trouncing around in Slavithe and seducing Tree’s daughter, and this led to Delmar’s father being banished from Talbos, and disinherited.

Luckily for Delmar, and for Ajalia’s sneaky plans for political takeover in both cities, the next in line for the Talbosian throne is a washout, and the king of Talbos proves amenable to persuasion on the topic of reinstating Delmar’s genetic right to the throne.

Because Delmar, When Cleaned Up And Given Moral Lectures, Is Awesome

There’s a long heritage of magic in Slavithe, and in Talbos, for both cities were founded by people who practiced nature worship and shaped the stone and earth. The peoples in both cities have faded in their knowledge of such powers, and most of the Slavithe priests can’t do magic at all anymore. The Talbos priests hide out in the black mountains, and many of them have been captured by the king of Talbos, who is doing shifty things about using magic in secret.

That’s all a very long and interesting story, but the pertinent part, for talking about Delmar, is that he is a joining point between the ancestral magic of both Talbos and Slavithe, and has a generational claim to the power of the prophet who founded Slavithe and the great leader who built Talbos.

The Original Thief Lord, and the Falcon Who Begged Magic From the Sky Spirits

Ajalia doesn’t believe magic is real, when she meets Delmar, but he uses his basic, rudimentary powers to save her life, and she wakes up to the reality of magic pretty soon after that.

My fantasy world is so cool.

Anyway, I have to go back to work now, but that’s a little bit about Delmar, who is eventually (SPOILERS!) the Lord of Slavithe, the reigning king of Talbos, and the prophesied Dead Falcon who ascends into the sky kingdom and restores balance between the spirit people and the land below.

SIGH

He also falls in love with Ajalia along the way, but that was sort of inevitable from day one, as her eyes are so intense.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and the third character in their group of adventurers is Philas, whose true name is Halez, the lost prince of the neighboring kingdom of Saroyan, across the sea.

 

Universal Theme

I went to a little library over the weekend. I used to sort of live part-time at libraries, but for a variety of not-very-interesting reasons, I hardly spend any time at all in such places anymore.

I Went To The Library

I saw a book about tortillas. It was one of those probably-charming, coming-of-age stories where a minority character (most likely a pre-teen) has a little arc and overcomes some sort of internal tantrum over the harsh realities of life, learning more about his/her cultural heritage along the way.

I’m sure it was an okay book, probably, but it looked really, really boring.

Bland, Inoffensive Hedging Material

Have you ever read that one, the book by what’s his name? Um, Thomas Hardy. That last book he wrote, the really horrible one that everyone pointed out was awful, and Hardy got offended and quit writing?arm

Hardy Enjoyed Exploiting Female Characters To Make A Point

I read his last book a long time ago. (Jude the Obscure, if you’re wondering.) It sucks, and the main female character and her children are used, literally, like sock puppets for Hardy to throw a public tantrum with. The characterizations are so blatantly shallow that the book is genuinely offensive on many levels..

I’m sort of glad Hardy stopped writing, because at the time I was chewing through the acceptable classics (the not-damaging ones), and his work was really boring. Mayor of Casterbridge is good, and Tess of the D’urbervilles is insightful, but God, Hardy refuses to let anything really nice happen to any of his characters, and it gets old really fast.

Because In Excellent Fiction, Some Characters Actually Think Forward And Avoid Disaster!

Anyway, back to my trip to the library. I often, in my later forays through the library shelves of various institutions, started to skim through shelves and look for anything, literally from any section, that made any active commentary on society or used universal themes.

I was constantly disappointed.

Safe, Boring, And Without Theme

Let’s talk for a minute about books that are worth writing.

(Yes, that’s right, Victor Poole is mounting ye olde soap box once again. My actors had this adorable “Oh, no. Here it comes!” face that they all wore when I climbed onto my soap box.)

I had a director a long time ago who understood universal theme. He was one of only two I’ve ever worked with who grasped the pertinence of using theme in his work.

Everyone Else Hedged, Lied, and Used Abstract Fluff To Hide Their Lack Of Significant Theme

Dear reader, I’m pretty sure, statistically, that you are not consistently using universal theme. This tortilla book I was speaking of did not touch on universal theme, though it chickened out and defrauded the innocence of childhood to scrape by on universal sentimentalism and that peculiar space adults go through mentally in their forties, when they start to regret not choosing anything significant to adhere to in their hearts.

Universal Theme:

Making a value comment on human social interaction and supporting your position with specific emotional examples.

Here, let’s cut straight to the chase. I’ll show you a typical sample of cowardly, non-theme-containing work, and then I’ll show you the same story with an internal framework of theme.

Examples

Terrible Writing (No Theme)

Diedre crossed the street and waited with impatience for the municipal bus to arrive. There was not a lot to do at the bus stop. Diedre was pregnant and didn’t want to be. Diedre stared at noisy birds on the telephone line.

She waited and waited, and then finally the red vehicle approached. The bus lumbered down the road towards her stop, looking like a lumbering crimson whale and emitting persistent bursts of smoke from the back exhaust. Diedre waited for the doors to open.

Diedre paid her fare and climbed to the second floor of the bus. She perched at the back left corner and stared at the shops as the bus pulled away. When she reached her destination at the abortion clinic, she disembarked, went straight past the doors of the clinic, and began the laborious process of walking home.

Good Writing (Theme)

Diedre’s heart made a thump-thump that seemed to echo through her abdomen. Not today, maybe, she thought, her throat full of the coming moment when she would have to go, have to speak to the doctor, have to face the inevitable, disturbing procedure. Diedre was with child, and hadn’t meant to be. She had to do something about the future, and didn’t want to make any decision at all.

The birds chirruped a pleasant rhythm on the telephone lines, and the bus, when it rumbled down to Diedre and heaved to a noisy stop, reminded her of a big red whale. Diedre imagined the crimson beast roaring and swallowing her up as she mounted the dirty metal steps and slid into the farthest seat in the back.

Maybe I’ll go in tomorrow to make the appointment, though, Diedre thought, and the idea brought her so much immediate relief that she slid to the front of the bus aisle and disembarked at the next stop.

Her hands in her pockets and her heart pounding a relentless, dizzying rhythm under her breastbone, she pictured the big red whale spitting her out, along with the bud of new life in her depths. I could escape like Jonah, Diedre told herself with a smile, and she began to think of running away instead of doing the other thing.

In Conclusion

I have a number of completed books I’m sitting on, because I had a sequence of interesting fights with my editor, and the manuscripts have some issues I can correct easily enough. Just takes time, and my life is (mundane, mundane, etc.) right now, so catching up on basic work is #complicated.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m currently inserting chapter breaks and pondering on the ethical conundrum of positioning commercially-viable razor hooks in the mental landscape of my fiction.

Abuse Handled Incorrectly In Fiction

Abuse works when it’s explained.

I was reading someone’s story today, and I put it down after the first chapter because the key moment, the whole pivot of the character development, fixed around some badly framed child abuse, and I didn’t want to read a story that had such a clumsy approach to abuse.

So As A Reader, I Jumped Ship

My current series has a lot of abused characters. I’ve got a man who was neglected and beaten as a child, and several old men who were used as sex slaves when they were teenagers. Their backstory shapes a lot of the action in the book, and has everything to do with the choices they make and the way they turn out in the end.

Plus, They’re Gangsters

I have no problem with reality; I have a big huge problem with stories where abuse is handled with implicit approval, or is handed on towards the reader without any groundwork or framing at all. For example, in the story I was reading today, a mother slaps her child, and it forms an awful root of shame in the kid. The slap itself should have been fine, but the mother had been framed previously as a good character (a protective, helpful person to the child).

That’s Terrible Writing, And Poor Storytelling

Changing lanes in the middle of a scene, and giving previously protective characters actions that are outright damaging and abusive, without any framing or contextual buildup to the harsh action, is disruptive and bad storytelling.

Example

Terrible Writing:

Lena made the soup and laid out four little bowls. The children came in from playing, and she helped each of them wash their hands at the kitchen sink before ladling out the stew and giving each tyke a lump of bread to dip in their soup.

“Martha stole all the pebbles,”  the oldest child explained.

“I didn’t!” the littlest one snapped.

“She did, and she ate one of them,” a middle kid proclaimed.

“Martha, give me those rocks,” Lena said, her voice stern and kindly.

Martha delivered up colored glass pebbles with an impatient sigh, and Lena … (add in violent action that I am unwilling to write because it damages the reader to drop unframed abuse into a scene).

Good Writing:

Lena stirred the soup and leaned out the kitchen window.

“Martha!” Lena called sharply.

“He made me!” a childish voice screeched back.

“Put the rocks down, Martha. Don’t! No!” Lena said. The sound of high-pitched squeals, and a long, drawn out shriek of indignant agony flooded through the air. Lena sighed and put down her spoon. She went out of the kitchen and returned in a moment, holding a struggling girl of three.

“Jill said all the blue ones are mine! She traded me!” the little girl shrieked.

“You cannot throw rocks at people, sweetie,” Lena said.

“I will kick you in the face, Nana!” the girl cried. Lena sighed and carted the child away to a farther room.

When the kitchen was empty, a boy of nine poked in his face and looked around.

“She’s gone,” he hissed. He and another little boy with very dirty hands crept into the kitchen, laid hold of a basket of rolls, and departed with stifled giggles.

Lena came back into the kitchen, glanced at where the rolls had been, and went outside.

In Conclusion

Reality is better than artificially contrived abuse, and violence is always acceptable when framed appropriately, and when it is either coming from an immature person or an evil, depraved entity. Unframed, floating abuse does not make for compelling backstory, and characters really perform poorly when made to do violent acts purely for drama in the plot.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current project, Crikey’s uncle Pops is coming to visit today. Pops is in the bad practice of mixing barbiturates with alcohol, and Crikey doesn’t know Pops is a booze hound. I think Crikey is going to find out today, and Crikey and Pops are going to have a falling out. I’m excited about that.

Simple Plot Development That Doesn’t Plod

If you ever struggle with plotting, or feel as though your planning process is going kind of slow, here is a method to help you ease with swift, speedy awesomeness through the process.

Plotting That Plods

When you sit down and tell yourself to come up with an interesting plot, you may find yourself running dry of fascinating devices.

It’s hard to be clever on the spot, or to draw up complex, intriguing plot sequences on command. The end result, sometimes, is plotting that plods along and is boring to plan and boring to read.

Snappy Plotting

The opposite of boring, staid plotting is snappy, intriguing plotting. How, though, to come up with a snappy plot?

The key here is use where you are and what you are to serve your creative purposes. Have you ever heard that old adage, “Write what you know”?

For the purposes of plotting, this doesn’t mean so much that you need to write whatever you actually live, but that you follow the surge in natural impulses and curiosity in your spirit and mind.

Ask the Questions

You can always come up with a great plot if you start out with a good question. A ‘what if’, if you will. I like to begin with a short character sketch and then stretch the parameters of the implied scenario into a plot.

Once I have one scene (which gives me a character, some supporting people or locations, and a base premise of what the character is doing and why they are where they are), the rest of the plot can be formed around that initial starting point.

I do this, and it can easily be done, by asking pertinent questions about the information you’ve already established.

Urgent Topics

If we start with a base character and a scenario (for example, Dina has three days to procure the miracle drug Finfanfu and save her own life), then we turn our minds to the first, most interesting question that presents itself, which forms the most urgent topic at hand.

The first question is: what’s wrong with her, and what will the miracle drug Finfanfu do for her?

Once we answer that first question, we’ll have uncovered mounds of new topics, contextually connected scenarios, and related characters, which will lead to many more useful and urgent questions.

Once we have a strong question leading to a satisfying finishing answer, we can form a plot.

Examples

Really Bad Writing

Dina’s face was not doing well. Her arms, also, were doing unwell. Dina figured that she would be able to hang onto some of her skin for another two years, as long as she held to the best-recommended practices and wore her protective coverings all the time.

She wore them at work. She wore them at her few free moments of play. She even wore them when she slept at night, and the scrubbing, dull feel of the scarvel cloth made her insides squirm with discomfort.

She had never been happy at home, and she was least happy now than she’d been before because exciting things were starting to happen in the city.

Dina was sick, but her doctor was pretty sure they could keep up the treatments and make her live longer. He thought there would be a breakthrough, and she would not die at all, because the social-sharing method of medical advances, when they came, was so fair and sound that Dina was sure everyone would help take care of her.

She was pretty sure she wouldn’t die at all, even though she was in the process of dying now.

Good Writing

Dina’s face and arms were literally falling apart. She kept herself wrapped in silky gauze, and moved as little as she could when she went home at night. She had to move during the day, but she kept her artificial skin coverings on religiously, and only used her gun when it was really necessary.

As an enforcement officer on the western Strand, Dina could not afford the replacement skin treatments that could have preserved her flesh for a few more years. There was no real hope for her; she was rotting away, losing flakes of her skin every night and getting gradually more pink and raw.

On Tuesday, the night after Dina had gotten drunk and thought about living more dangerously in order to eke some enjoyment out of her shortening future, an announcement came over the subway intercom that she hardly listened to at first.

“That would be good for you. Will you go in for the trials?” the women next to Dina asked.

“What?” Dina asked. Her voice came out muffled through the heavy artificial skin.

“That new drug. Weren’t you listening?” the woman asked.

In Conclusion

Start with where you and use what you are to ask basic, driving questions about your character and the scenario they’re in. These pertinent questions reveal theme, create obvious plot points, and eventually form all the plot you’ll need for your snappy, awesome novel.

You’re reading Victor Poole, and I’m starting work on a science fiction blurb.

The Fool As A Touchstone In Plot

A nonsensical, foolish character is a valuable tool to illuminate and frame morality and provide context and perspective to a novel’s plot.

What is a Fool?

Stupid characters are delightful, even more so when they are able to be laughed at without emotional pain.

I knew a kid a long time ago. He was blind, because of an accident with a gun. He was a very nice kid, but very stupid. I never made fun of him, and I never saw anyone else make fun of him, either.

On the other hand, I knew another boy who was not blind and who made a game of trying to give himself homemade piercings with safety pins.

Lots of people made fun of that kid (I don’t generally make fun of people, so I didn’t, but other people did). No one, including the piercings kid, got particularly ruffled over the process, because he knew he was being stupid and didn’t care.

Shakespeare’s Fools

Bill of the pirate-style earring had a knack for using smart, morally sound people as fools, which does a couple of things to his plots:

  1. Using a morally clear character allows the fool to act as a frame of reference for the plot as a whole
  2. Everyone in the whole story says whatever they are really thinking to the intelligent fool, because there’s no social pressure when you’re talking to a walking dumpster fire

Fools in Contemporary Fiction

How can you make your very own walking dumpster fire? There are a few key elements here.

  • Your fool should be more damaged, in terms of past abuse, than any other character
  • Drinking helps
  • The fool must have processed, in a healthy manner, nearly all of his own emotional pain
  • Some reference to sexuality is usually wise

Examples

Terrible Fool

Rodgen drew the covers of his bed over his face most comfortably and sighed as he slept heavily through the alien alarm.

His roommate, Baris, had already gotten up and was almost ready to put on his shoes. Baris had no idea how Rodgen could sleep through noise like this. I wish I could, Baris though, and he pulled on his sock. The alien slave ship made an uncomfortable rock to the side, and a wave of alien water leaked through the door and crashed over the whole room, spilling into Baris’s open shoes.

Rodgen, not waking up much, spat some drips of slippery alien water out of his mouth and turned over to go back to sleep.

“Rodgen, my shoes got wet!” Boris said irritably, looking down at his soaking shoes.

Rodgen, being asleep and very wet, did not reply.

Baris was tempted to throw a soaking shoe at Rodgen’s head, but he put the wet shoe on instead, and felt angry at himself for not leaving his shoes in the cubby where they would have been dry.

Excellent Fool

Rodgen pulled the covers of his bed over his face and pretended not to be hearing the blasting alarm. He knew the aliens would dump something wet on him if he didn’t get up this time. They’d warned him, and he didn’t care.

Damn, how I hate Monday mornings on the alien slave ship, Rodgen thought, as he braced himself against the inevitable bucket of amniotic fluid that crashed over his head when he didn’t get up in the first minute.

Rodgen spat some drips of burning alien fluid out of his mouth and tried to go back to sleep.

“Rodgen!” his cell-mate roared.

“I’m tired,” Rodgen said from under his blanket.

“You got my fucking shoes wet, Rodgen! Seriously, get out of bed and take a nap on the floor next time! Shit!” Baris threw a soaking shoe at Rodgen’s head, and the impact was, at last, enough to motivate Rodgen to remove himself from his soaking bed.

“I don’t like living here,” Rodgen said with dignity.

“Gosh, and here I thought you were on vacation in the fucking Ritz. Jesus, Rodge. Give me your shoes. Are they dry at all? I’m taking yours.”

General Qualities of a Fool

  • A quality fool has foundational morals and an unerring grasp of sexuality and interpersonal ethics
  • The fool has extensive personal history of abandonment, addiction, or abuse
  • The fool is absurd and/or funny
  • The fool is emotionally detached enough to make commentary on other characters
  • The fool becomes the touchstone of the plot when they encapsulate the essence of the theme in a living body and become, for all intents and purposes, a mouthpiece for the novel’s intent

In Conclusion

If you haven’t got a fool in your current work, think about utilizing one in your next piece. Fools are charming, pleasant things, and if you make your fool the central character, you might accidentally end up writing Hamlet.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Your pediatrician probably hasn’t read this book, but you could read it this weekend.