Why You Repeatedly Embrace Failure (And How To Write About It)

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Adequate fiction takes a fold of the human consciousness (yours, preferably), pulls it apart into pieces, and arranges it into a coherent line. Real life is chaotic; many things happen simultaneously, and unless you are a very clever worm, like I am, you will never adequately parse through the levels of concurrent emotional action that unfold through your personal story.

Remember How I Have An Imaginary PhD In Human Nature?

I am exceptionally good at tearing apart characters, and getting to the bottom of social interactions. It is why my dialogue is so fresh.

A Sample Of Fresh Dialogue:

“Are they all mine?” She saw that he knew what she meant. She could not see his eyes clearly, but she saw his jaw tighten.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“All six babies,” she said. “Are they all mine?”

He considered her. His eyes were blank.

“No,” he said.

“Have you done this before,” she asked, “to me?”

It took him a long time to respond.

When you write a story, and it comes from inside your body, you set yourself up to replicate the relational patterns from your true experience of life. This means early childhood. Most of us stop having any authentic emotional experiences after about the age of six, when we enter the natural development of the ego. Very few people integrate fully after this point, and some of us (not very many) never even get that far.

And Now, For A Word From Our Sponsor

If you’ve ever noticed how strangely funny and pathetic I seem, in my writing, it is because I am a dead person, functionally speaking. I ought to be physically dead as well; most specimens of my type are decimated early, and then reformed into facsimile humans. Slave-zombies, if you will. I was not successfully converted into a thrall, and am therefore a floating, autonomous nonentity. My ambition is to become real; according to the mythology of Yeshua, this manner of energy transference is theoretically possible. Yes, I am aware of how I sound. And if my experiments are successful, I will become a person and stop talking so much about energy and such esoteric things.

My current non-person status means that I cannot hang onto physical possessions; I also have extraordinarily porous boundaries (which makes me both an excellent listener and the best director I’ve ever seen). Yes, I know how that sounds. No, I’m not completely insane.

Your Temporary Framework, In Terms Of Your Soul, Is Based On Rejection And An Inability To Achieve Intimacy

All humans require a bedrock of acceptance and admiration to function in everyday life. I provide just such a foundation, but there is only one of me, and far too many (see, all) people steal and piss on resources, which makes me like an overeaten corner of the commons.

I can convert the people around me into extraneous engines, replicating my abilities, but the setup is expensive, time-wise, and I end up in the same place I started: overused, worn out, and eventually discarded. Avarice, you know, and short-term thinking.

Not Being Insane, I Am Trying Something New

I have been experimenting with different formats for my childishly generous nature, and have so far found no sustainable ways of improving life for everyone. There is only one of me, you know, and there are so many of all the rest of you.

I thought for years that I would eventually stumble upon another of my kind, but each almost-meeting of the minds turned eventually into yet another extortion of my invaluable whatever-ye-call’t.

I have determined that my spirit, having stalled in a state of infancy, requires further parenting, and have therefore been turning my inward eye towards myself.

An Experiment That Will, I Hope, Prove Fruitful

So I’ve taught myself to write books, and I am now painstakingly reconstructing the stalling points at the verge of my consciousness. I have been alternating between male and female protagonists, in order to balance the development of my adult persona. Harmony between the parts of self, and all that.

Throughout this process, I have been careful to preserve a sense of whole energy within my published works. There is a great deal of violence, perhaps more than someone like you can handle, and it is conveyed realistically, which will cause your own early traumas to erupt through your consciousness. Being a responsible and conscientious guide, I have provided secure frameworks and rebuilding analogies directly after each of these violent incidents, so that there is no danger of a negative outcome in your inner self.

Dostoyevsky Irresponsibly Disseminates Mental Plague, And Dickens Seeds Self-Loathing, The Cad

First part:

Ajalia wanted to escape, and there was no escape. She wanted to escape from the way that she lived, from the place that was her experience within her own skin. She wished that she could go home. A niggling doubt rose up in her mind at this thought. Did she mean the East, she asked herself, or did she mean the place she had come from? The East, she answered herself quickly. She did not want to go home.

Home meant the narrow, cluttered house, with the dirt in the corners, and the crooked, uneven floors. Home meant her little brother, and the endless, relentless, continuous series of days that did not change. Home meant trying to make her mother and father happy, trying to make them peaceful, trying to make them satisfied, and failing, and failing, and failing.

Ajalia closed her eyes, and tried to press the memory of the dark, shadowy closet in her childhood house out of her mind. She could not. The closet was dark, and it smelled of musty clothes, and everyone had known she was hiding there, but it was the only place with three walls and a door, where she could close herself in and pretend to be hiding.

Second part:

“Are you all right?” he asked. She could feel the whole world throbbing and spinning around her in crazy circles. She told herself that she was going to throw up, and she stumbled to her feet and went to the door. Ajalia’s eyes were covered over with sparks of light; she could only partly see. She heard Denai speaking behind her, but she didn’t hear the words. His voice made a soft murmur to the loud thunder of her heart, and the heavy bellows of her breath. She thought that she would be able to breathe, if she made it outside. The darkness was all around her, and within her. She was made of darkness now. She pictured herself as a creature of night, with darkness and the studded night sky all over her arms and her legs. I want to be dead, she thought, and she stumbled towards the dim moonlight that showed the entrance to the dragon temple.

Denai was following her; she still could not understand the words that he spoke. She wished that she had still the slim leather book; she had hidden it away in the forest, when Delmar had been unconscious. She had not wanted him to read anymore of the book, and she wanted to study it herself. She had thought that she would have settled her house by now, but things, she told herself wildly, kept happening. Stop happening, things, she shouted in her mind, and tried to laugh. She stumbled out into the moonlight, and half-fell down the steps. Denai put his hands on her arms, and guided her around the corner of the street.

Third part:

Ajalia reflected on the way that Delmar was looking at her now, as if he had a right to her. She remembered the way he had lied to her, and kept money from her. She remembered how he had hidden facts about the magic from her, and how he had tried to keep her from knowing about his grandfather in Talbos, and his father’s status as a slave. Delmar is bad for me, Ajalia thought, and she remembered her father. A recoiling disgust flung up against Ajalia’s throat, and she wanted to empty herself out in a heap, and burn herself away. I hate being me, Ajalia reflected, and she smiled.

“What are you doing?” Delmar asked suspiciously.

“Purging my father from my soul,” Ajalia said in Slavithe, without opening her eyes. “I am going to get rid of my father,” she said, “and then I won’t have any use for you.”

If You Try To Succeed, You Will Fail

Not to burst your bubble and be the ultimate shatterer of your dreams, but you are probably not dead, like me. If you are not dead, you cannot do what I do, because I’m moving through energy hell. Essentially. And that would kill you. It doesn’t kill me, because I’m already dead. See how that works?

You are, however, probably mired in a lot of confusion and stifled impulses. If you are a decent soul, you long for internal freedom, and the power to know yourself, and become what you secretly hope to be. To find yourself as, in the end.

Reading my books is hard, because the impulses are conveyed with accuracy. I also did not skip any steps from one stage of emotional development to the next. I wrote without giving you any help, for the most part. Particularly with Ajalia and her cohorts, I never stopped to explain things. If you are not able or willing to dig into the circumstances, and to be a novel-detective of sorts, some scenes will appear, at first glance, to be nonsensical. Harder Than Rocks is the easiest to read, followed by Intimate Death. Ajalia is hard; the depth of internalized action, and the intensity of the character transformation make for a journey that, if you lack empathy, will seem impossible.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. I’m a dead guy, kind of like Caleb, though I have never been eaten by monkeys. If Thursday keeps on being Thursday, it will never be Friday.

Totally Off-Topic Today

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So I was raised to pretend that I had no emotion. Lately, because of yoga and therapy, my emotions are surfacing, and I am all out of sorts. I don’t want to have any emotions, because the mentally ill people that I knew for most of my life prey on people who have feelings. My main protective measure was to not have any. Of course, I had emotion all the time, but it was buried pretty deep.

Too Many Feelings

Therefore, my life currently sucks. Because all the violent feelings of sadness and anger and weird, inexplicable happiness go surging about, and I don’t feel very safe when I have emotions.

Hopefully You Have Nice Parents

I keep telling myself I’m never going to tell stories about my unfortunate beginnings, but then I get stuck, and what, after all, is the point of a personal blog if you cannot, from time to time, talk endlessly about yourself?

But Victor, It’s A Writing Blog!

Yeah, that’s what I told myself this morning. It seems I did not listen to myself. My brain is circling over and around my past, and I am thinking of ways my stories reflect my early trauma. I have weird superpowers, because my parents wanted to kill me, but didn’t have the guts for prison, so they tried to get my violent brother to snuff me, but he only wanted money and attention from my parents (neither of which he would have gotten in juvie or prison, so that never worked out the way my mom wanted), so he just made unfortunate accidents happen around me from time to time. I had a lot of fake-accidental baseballs to the face in my early years.

Oddly, My Parents Really Liked Me

It took me a long time to put together that they wanted me dead. My mother, you see, really wants to hold court over a funeral for one of her kids before she gets dementia. She’s pretty sure to get it, since her mother had it, and she’s been laying plans for the plausibility of such a condition developing at strangely convenient times.

I Was The Most Useful Kid

My mother saw me as the most expendable of the children, because my father was obsessed with me, and because I didn’t complain very much about pain. She tried, more than once, to get me into unnecessary surgery as a child, because she has a thing about doctors, and she also really likes playing at the personality-disordered version of Florence Nightingale. Unfortunately for her, and luckily for me, I am a sturdy person, and she couldn’t justify the expense when my body kept healing from the minor injuries she wanted operations on.

And They’re Too Poor For Optional Medicine

I have several brothers, but most of them don’t speak to my mother anymore. They pretend she doesn’t exist. The strangest thing about my experiences is that only another person who grew up around severely disordered individuals would believe that what happened to me was real. We have ideas, socially, about what grossly abusive families look like, and most of those ideas aren’t accurate, at least for me.

Surely They Didn’t Want To Kill You, Victor!

Well, it’s a lot of things, you know. They tried starving me, but I’m so damn resilient. I didn’t start going through a proper physical adolescence until I was in my late twenties, because I never had access to enough food. There was always a lot of food in my parents’ house, and everyone else ate it. I wasn’t supposed to eat a lot of food. And again, I feel like a crazy person, because none of this was ever said out loud. There were a lot of unspoken rules about what I was allowed to do, and what everyone else could do to me. The one time my parents were pretty upfront with their desires (aside from the unnecessary operations with my mom) was when one of the other kids was trying to cultivate an aesthetic depression. Wait, I should back up and explain.

For Some People, Depression Is A Satisfying Lifestyle

My father’s side is a sort of menagerie of depressive individuals. Everybody is supposed to be depressed, and there are cozy family get-togethers where everyone who isn’t present is stripped down and discussed with all the empathy and affection one might proffer a serial killer. They get hold of the little kids as early as they can, and train them to hate themselves. Mostly with religion twisted upside down.

Ah, Mental Disorder Mixed With Worship!

On another awful note, my father believes he is a god. No, really. He also really wants to divorce my mother, but he is afraid of courthouses because of a misspent youth, and he also doesn’t want my grandfather to cut him off from the inheritance my dad has deluded himself into thinking is coming his way someday. Divorce is not allowed.

They Also Steal And Cheat

My parents live like professional beggars. I don’t really want to talk about this anymore, but my blogging gear is stalled, and hey, backstory is always fun, right? I’ve been trying to write a useful post for several days now, and all I can get out is that I hate myself and I have a lot of problems.

Except I Don’t, Really. Only Kinda

Ironically, I don’t have many problems anymore, but I’ve never let myself feel all the things that go along with people trying to kill you. The goal, you know, was for me to develop some kind of plausible disease that would require endless doctor visits, and hopefully surgery. One of my aunts has a very ill child, and my mother has never gotten over her jealousy. Second best would have been me dying in a car accident or from plausibly-deniable suicide. Fortunately for me, my parents are stupid, and my dad has been afraid of me since I was pretty little. He figured out when I was about five that I would turn vicious on him if he hurt me openly, so he settled in to screw with my head.

Which Worked For A While, As We Can See

Anyway, lately I’m trying to decide if my acting career has been formed on the basis of my parents’ rejection and abuse. You know, am I trying to win acceptance by proxy from strangers? That sort of thing. I’m really not sure. The element I like so much about writing is that I can control the process; I don’t need to coordinate twenty people’s schedules and then coax their personalities into cooperating together. Characters, you know, are less recalcitrant than live persons, and I also have no budgetary constraints for set dressing and properties. Ironically, I have more resources now to do the work I was doing before with theatre, but my will to do so is wavering. It’s just so calm and peaceful in the evenings these days, and no one knocks on my door at nine at night, wanting to hang and chat about their life. Okay, let’s be serious here, no one came to chat about their life; they came for therapy. I’m like a psychology vending machine for surface ills. I am pretty interested in fixing my own problems right now.

On A Lighter Note

I’m trying to work up the nerve to study perspective and composition more thoroughly. One of the rules of my upbringing was that I could never be competent at math, because it made my father feel inadequate. He can’t do algebra. I did advanced maths in school, but I wasn’t supposed to remember or apply any of them. The angles and measurements of perspective work terrify me. Exposure therapy!

You’re reading Victor Poole. This book is the most accurate portrayal of my folks. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be back to writing about fiction. Go me!

What Is The Foundation Of A Meaningful Plot?

I started studying literary construction in high school. I had an interesting AP teacher, and we did a lot of novel-analysis. There was a shift in my mind during this period; I found, shortly after I learned about foreshadowing, symbolism, and theme that poorly-written books were boring to read.

What Makes A Book Long-Lasting?

I started thinking a lot about what made a book worthwhile, because I wanted to write books, and I wanted to be as sure as I could that my books were not boring.

Because Who Wants To Write A Boring Book?

There’s a wonderful scene in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina where the young man, the earnest one who is thinking about Christianity, tells a story about seeing two mature men argue over a point of doctrine. The young man says that they go back and forth, over and around, but that every time they come near the actual question–the real crux of the issue, of whether God is real, and whether Jesus is a person who counts or not, they would swerve away from the point into more innocuous details. He found their disingenuous way of speaking irritating.

I’ve Never Read War And Peace, And I Probably Never Will

I don’t know if I’m getting cynical in my old age (relative), or if I’m less imaginative than I used to be, but I find that many novels avoid the central question, which, to me, is: Why does this matter?

Because The Meaning Of Life Makes Good Fiction

What is a book saying? Really saying? What do the situations, characters, and conclusions mean, and how do they correlate to me, and to life as it is right now? Essentially, I ask myself, what is the moral relevance of the story?

Right And Wrong, Good And Bad

I guess this might sound kind of overblown for a fantasy or science fiction story, but the most enduring stories, for me, in both genres are always those that address real questions, and that don’t shy away from intellectually rigorous philosophy.

I Don’t Care For Nietzche

The first point at which we arrive is death; who dies, and what is the meaning, and the cost, of violence? What effect does violence have on those who inflict it, and what internal judgements have the characters made, within themselves, about the need for killing?

Moral Arithmetic, For Characters!

It is possible to write a fantasy or science fiction story without physical violence, but a world without emotional violence (which is as real as the other kind) results in the sort of eerie dystopia that The Giver or 1984 shows us. The surface of seeming-harmony will eventually peel back, and below is revealed a viciousness, and a ruthlessness that can be shocking (and make great fiction).

Because There’s Nothing Like A Solid Dystopia

There is a balance, and a harmony to human affairs. If you are going to write about a completely alien world and culture, you still have to find some way to make it understandable to us as readers, which means you must translate whatever elements of their relation to each other into terms we, as a violent people, will understand.

But We Aren’t Talking About Aliens Right Now

Our first framework for meaningful plotting is the way we use violence. Who kills, and what do they think of when they kill? It is pertinent to remember that if you do not make choices for your fiction, your subconscious self will make those choices for you, and they will likely be immature and unready for critical examination on an intellectual level.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Hopper used a device in the top of a super-shiny, latest model flying vehicular unit with wheels, which had been taken from a lot next door and covered really fast with paint.

Fog impeded his view as he piloted the very advanced, very impressive craft into the grimy, full air.

“Hey, Maya, where is our new target?” The in-car communicator malfunctioned willfully. Hopper put his ear against his sleeve, activating some technology in his face. “Maya, you there?”

Good Writing: 

Hopper slammed his fist onto the top of the hover car. The engine hummed to life, and he jumped into the vehicle and bolted straight up into the air.

He shifted into the left windstream, and the car shot like an arrow through the steaming clouds of chemicals that lay in spreading blankets over the city.

“Maya, where next?” he asked. The speaker made a rustling crackle, and then died. Hopper tipped his ear against his shoulder, and scrubbed the skin-grafted phone over his jacket. “Maya, can you hear me?”

Those Examples Had No Killing In Them!

Let us remember, as we pursue our fiction goals, that no one cares as much as we do, and there are always more stories to tell. Tell one, and then tell another one, and think about life while you do so. And make sure you aren’t killing people wantonly in your fiction, because . . . well, just because.

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My books are here. My dragon is taking a long time to draw, but he looks really cool.

How To Move Up The Levels Of Success

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If you type in two words expressing interest or curiosity about any profession having to do with creativity into your average search engine, you will immediately be confronted with a plethora of articles that tell you how easy it is! And how simple success is! And how you, too, can retire on a hobby!

Or whatever.

How Do You Become Successful When You’re Not Already?

Mostly, you will find the equivalent of snake-oil salesmen, but instead of literal oil, they are peddling hope.

Do you know why no one is honest about creativity? I’m not going to tell you right now, because you’re probably not interested in the answer, but I will tell you three stories about creativity that will illustrate my thoughts on the matter.

Some Examples

Thing One:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who liked dancing. She had the body and the training to be a professional, and her personality was magnetic. She went to a performing arts school, changed from dancing to acting (so she could spend more time with her alcoholic boyfriend), and, last I heard a few years ago, was paying for mediocre performance classes somewhere in not-LA California.

Thing Two:

Another time, there was a young man who could sing like an angel. He started out studying musical theatre (but the classes were crap), and then changed to an acting major. He graduated at the height of his class as a popular local actor, moved to New York with his wife, and shared a tiny apartment with another friend for a year while he attended auditions. He never landed so much as a tiny anything part, and went back to get a “practical” degree. Last I heard of him, he is living with his wife and two children about as far away from a performance hub as a body can get.

Thing Three:

Another young man did a little bit of professional work before college; he did the minimum to graduate from his BFA program, and then went straight into professional work, landing a great role in a touring show, and a few respectable credits Off-Broadway and in film. He is not by any stretch the most successful actor in the world, but he can call himself an actor, professionally.

Which Brings Us To Me

I started out about as low as it is possible to get, socially and professionally. I mean, I’m sorry, but my parents’ ambitions for me were, respectively, glorious suicide and closeted sex work. (No, seriously. My mother has a dream of weeping copiously over my open casket. Yes, she’s crazy. And yes, he’s evil. And no, I’ve never been stupid enough to cooperate. They tried starving me into submission, but it didn’t really work out for them; I’m tough.)

Laundromat Quarters

I remember the day that I stopped giving out markers of socioeconomic desperation; I went to the laundromat in the wrong part of town (because it’s the closest place to get quarters, when I need quarters), and it was immediately apparent to me that I no longer fit in.

I Moved Up A Success Level!

The people there were no longer my people; I stood out. I looked too middle-class, or whatever you want to call it when a body is comfortably dressed, has money in the bank, and drives a decent car without thinking about how much the insurance costs.

The Work Is Slow, Painful, And Totally Thankless

God, it’s hard to climb up from the bottom. My great hope is that someday police officers will not hate my guts (my theory is that officers, in the past, could read the pimp-ness from my dad and the addiction of my brother on my face, since both my father and that brother dumped on me a lot). I’m probably there already, but I can’t say for sure, because the officers aren’t attracted to my general malaise of miserable poverty anymore. Because it’s not there anymore.

You Will Suffer A Lot, Like Chris Pratt Has Suffered

As an aside, do you know why Chris Pratt is so popular? I mean, aside from his delightfully generous soul and good nature? People like me (and there are a lot of people like me) can identify with him, because he came from a place like us. He’s been like us, and so the hope he represents is genuine. He escaped the prison of non-selfhood, just as people like me hope to.

What?! You’re So Dramatic, Victor!

It is exceedingly difficult to talk about real creativity, because successful creativity is inextricably connected to economic support. If you don’t have a foundation of societal support (in that you belong to the put-together people), you just don’t get anywhere.

Woolf Agrees With Me, You Know!

And it isn’t that you can’t change success levels; it’s that it involves tearing your soul out and remaking it several times. Which feels like dying.

I must be leveling up this morning, because I feel about as awful as I have ever felt in my life. And, well, that’s really saying something.

What About My Journey, Victor Poole?

Being a generous and loving person myself, I have, in sympathy with the plight of those who, like me, are embroiled in economic and emotional poverty, created a pathway of metaphorical death. Both The Eastern Slave Series and My Name is Caleb; I am Dead were written for the express purpose of making a roadmap for someone like you.

If you feel trapped, and without hope of escape, my leveling-up fiction can help. Caleb was written as a novel; it will make you feel things, but is not uncomfortable to read. Ajalia, on the other hand, will make you feel very angry, because I wrote her in a way that deliberately tears your soul up by the roots, and puts it back in an orderly way. You will get fast results with Ajalia, and slow, but real results with Caleb.

You’re reading Victor Poole. My brothers are violent and angry people, like the carnivorous monsters in this book. Monday is an excellent day to resolve on creative soul-death.

How To Write Coercion AND A Super Rough Sketch

On coercion.

Here is a drawing I’m working on. If it turns out as well as I’m hoping it does, I will use it for the cover of book 5, The Magic War. I’m so nervous about my covers!

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What’s The Book About?

Have you ever tried to solve a problem, and you applied a solution, and then five minutes later you realized that you had only scratched the surface of what needed to be done? And a part of you was like, “Oh crap. Now I’m going to spend the rest of my life working on this!”

That is what The Magic War is about.

Time For Another Fiction Example!

Let’s talk about coercion.

(If your eyes bleed at bad writing, skip down to the good example. Really. Just go straight down there. Okay?)

Bad Writing:

“If you don’t come with me to the Xeegun’s gala, I will tear up your favorite Hoori plant!”

Zed’s face was purple with rage, but his hands were still and quiet. He opened his eyes wider, and raised his eyebrows before dropping them threateningly over his sharp gaze.

He breathed in, and then out, and it was as if a cloud of anger and ominousness drifted over his head.

Aloz blinked scornfully at the large space-pilot.

I don’t care if I do love him, she told herself, and wiggled her shoulders disdainfully.

She attempted to stare him down, but his jaw was thrust stubbornly forward, and she blinked, and let out an angry breath.

“I shan’t go anyplace where they wear the skins of my people on their shoes,” she said with reserved dignity.

Zed snarled, and turned dramatically away from her. He sighed loudly, and stomped towards the greenhouse chamber.

“And you leave my Hoori plant alone!” she cried after him. “Or else I will do something really awful to you, to get you back!”

“Ha!”

Zed put his chin into the air and stomped away. She will be sorry, he told himself, his lips curled in anger and fury.

Good Writing:

“We’re going to the embassy tonight,” Zed said, dropping into the lounge beside her, and tipping his head back against the cushions.

“Which embassy?” Aloz asked. Her delicate fingers smoothed over the yellow fur of her thighs, and Zed watched her hands appreciatively.

“Wear your little black thing,” he said, staring at her shapely knees. “The one that goes down in the back.”

Aloz turned to face Zed, her eyes sharpening.

“Zed,” she said. He lifted his gaze to her eyes, and a mocking smile teased at the corners of his mouth. Aloz’s shimmering fur bristled sharply over her shoulders, and her pointed incisors showed between her black lips. “I will not step foot in any house belonging to Xeegun!” she exclaimed. “I will not.”

“But sweet love,” Zed coaxed.

“No!” she cried, tears of distress sparkling in her tawny eyes.

Zed inched closer to her, and she sprang to her feet.

“Aloz,” Zed said sharply, and she froze, her back to him.

“What?” she demanded.

“I don’t want to cause you pain, but they’ve had a bounty out for fresh hides for a month now, and if they realize I’ve lost control of you—” He did not say anymore, but the tension between their bodies was like burning fire.

“All right,” she murmured. Zed watched her go out of the room, her tail lashing softly from side to side behind her.

How Can I Write Coercion?

My dad, when I was a child, often exerted coercion. For example, he would tell us when we were children that we didn’t have to put on fancy clothes for church (my parents were zealots), but he (in the same breath) threatened to drag us there in our pajamas if we didn’t hurry and get our fancy clothes on.

He would do the same kind of thing about schoolwork.

“You don’t have to do your homework,” is a thing he would be likely to say, but we all knew from personal experience the kind of unremitting hell he would inflict on us if we didn’t meet his expectations.

Coercion:

noun the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.

In the first, bad example, Zed threatens to harm Aloz’s special plant if she doesn’t go to the embassy party. This is ineffective coercion because the stakes (Aloz will be skinned and worn as a pair of shoes) are completely out of proportion to the threat (I’ll kill your pet plant!).

In the second, good example, Zed maintains a sense of fellowship and neutrality (I can’t protect you from them if you don’t help me) while touching on the actual stakes (you will be killed, and I can’t stop them), creating a sense of legitimate tension and suspense.

Can You Give Me Easy Guidelines For Making Coercion?

Sure.

First, having a handle on reality is absolutely essential. This is why villains in spy films are often so charming, grounded, and smiley. You can’t scare people unless you have a grasp on the facts.

Saying, “I’m going to hurt you real bad!” when you clearly don’t understand what the other party values is hardly a threat. However, saying, “I perceive you value this thing immensely. I will harm it, or steal it if you don’t do what I say,” is very effective.

Second, the party utilizing coercion must have a track record of following through.

Have you ever known a person who said, “I’m going to go to the gym every day for the rest of forever!” and then they never went? Or someone who shouted at their child, “If you do that again, you will never taste candy again!”

Threats don’t work if everyone knows you don’t follow through.

Saying, “I will put this blaster against your kneecap and pull the trigger,” and then following through instantly gives you a sort of reputation as a dangerous person. The more your character follows through on their statements, the more dangerous they will become to others, and the more effective their coercion will be.

And Finally

Something that makes coercion effective is a light veneer (or a deep dumping-on) of empathy.

“I’m on your side.”

“I’m trying to help you.”

“This is the only way we can improve the situation.”

“I’m helping you do something strong/brave/wonderful.”

You see this constantly in thrillers and in domestic abusers, when the villain (who is often the person using coercion) threatens the other party to force compliance, while simultaneously building up a relationship bond of togetherness.

“We are the same.”

“I’m on your side.”

“We’re fighting for the same end goal.”

“If you would just cooperate, we would both get what we need.”

Summing Up

  1. Stay pinned to the real facts
  2. Follow through
  3. Empathize

Follow these three rules, and you’ll be writing riveting coercion like a pro in no time!

You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. Ajalia uses buckets of coercion against the bad guys in my books, which you can find here. May Thor smile upon your endeavors this afternoon.

How To Pace Your Characters Through A Perfect Fight Scene

Fights are some of the trickiest things to write down; the action must be clear, the moving parts must be tracked easily by the reader, and the characters’ motivations and emotions must engross the reader. When you approach a fight scene with the right tools, you will be able to write clear, powerful action sequences that are packed with excitement and easily followed by the reader.

Strong Pacing Comes from Tidy Beats

Story Units

Stanislavsky, the great Russian collector of acting advice, was fixated on the use of “bits” in stage work. When his students, the elite Russian theatre artists, came to the United States to teach his methods, their thick Russian accents transformed this word, “bits,” into the word “beats.” Today, if you take an acting class influenced by Russian methodology, the teacher will direct you to break each scene down into “beats.” (Now imagine a burly Russian man with an immense beard shaking his hands vigorously, and saying, “You must find out all the beets! Where are the beets?!”)

Moving Pictures in Your Mind

The reader is capable of seeing only one thing at a time. Spongebob, the hit children’s cartoon, and The Emperor’s New Groove, the film about the selfish Kuzco, are excellent ways to study the construction and ordering of isolated beats. In these cartoons, you will see one act, one emotional picture, at a time. Fiction writing easily becomes overwhelmed with things; you may be writing about a sword fight, and you want to convey the clash of the blades, the look of anger on one character’s face, the shadows falling over the area, and the sensation in the opposing character’s heart. You cannot contain all these images and impressions simultaneously in one phrase or sentence; they each must be put in order of significance and timeliness. If you go to one of these cartoons, you may see Spongebob express some striking emotion. In the following moments, Patrick or Squidward will show a reaction, and then we will be shown Spongebob’s reaction to their input. In this way, a successful scene builds on tiny units of action.

Emotional Action Counts, Too

One of the biggest mistakes I see in fiction is the neglect of internal action; a character’s internal experience of the fight scene is in many ways more important to the reader than the action of the fight itself. Too often, we as writers are drawn into the excitement of writing the sweeping conflict, and the pounding, thrilling clash with danger, and we neglect the experience of the reader. Action is only significant when it moves forward the plot, the development of the characters, and the overall meaning of the story.

So, How Is It Done?

Take your fight scene, and break it down into beats (or bits, if you will). These beats may look something like: 1. Cam confronts Gavin; 2. Gavin threatens Cam; 3. Cam draws his sword; 4. They fight; 5. Gavin reveals his secret liaison with Cam’s mother; 6. Cam utters a cry of rage; 7. Cam kills Gavin. Now we will take these steps and begin to write. (Note that when you write from a structured outline like this, the scene will grow organically, and may change dramatically. This is good.)

“I know you’re keeping something from me,” Cam said. He moved his shoulders to block the door. Gavin’s eyes went directly to his face, and Cam saw his friend’s hand inch towards his blade. A bubble of amusement flung up in Cam’s heart. “Are you threatening me now?” he demanded.

“You’ll know it if I threaten you,” Gavin said.

Cam’s mouth and nose wrinkled with anger; he put his hand on his own sword. The edge of the metal let out a ringing noise as Cam drew it.

“I won’t fight you,” Gavin sneered, and he stepped to the side, as if to pass by. Cam moved to block him, and Gavin hissed, and drew back his arm, his hand closed in a fist.

“Tell me,” Cam said. Gavin watched his eyes, his own mouth drawn in a furious scowl.

“You don’t know what you’re asking.”

“Yeah, because you won’t tell me,” Cam snapped.

“I won’t fight you,” Gavin said, darting forward with a movement like a snake. Cam raised his fist, gripped around the haft of his weapon, and brought it up against his friend’s temple. The impact made a sickening thud. Gavin’s sword made a shattering clatter as he wrenched it from its sheath, and readied himself. “Shouldn’t have done that,” Gavin warned, shaking his head, and blinking hard.

“Tell me what you’re hiding.” Cam’s sword came down in a flashing arc; their two blades were like rods of lightning in the darkness. Gavin was faster than Cam remembered; the rush of violence was around them both like moonlight on splashing water. Gavin blocked Cam again, and again, and then moved to attack. Cam took his opening, and brought his blade hard against Gavin’s wrist; a stream of blood accompanied the clatter of Gavin’s weapon as it dropped to the floor.

“Now,” Cam said, breathing hard, and lifting his bloody blade to Gavin’s chest. “Tell me.”

“You’re making an awfully big deal out of this,” Gavin observed. A wrench of pain was in his cheeks; he closed his whole hand over the ugly wound on his wrist.

“If it wasn’t a huge deal, you wouldn’t have lied to me about it,” Cam told him. Gavin’s face betrayed him at this; his eyes flickered to the side, and the corners of his mouth drew down. Cam pressed his blade gently against Gavin’s breast. The injured man laughed.

“I suppose you’ll kill me, when you know,” Gavin said. His jocular tone betrayed the whiteness that was in his cheeks. Cam waited, his blade unwavering. Gavin let out a chuckle, but he sounded distinctly unamused. “It’s your mother. It’s your mother I’ve been seeing on the sly. Your father doesn’t know.”

Gavin’s voice was cut off by a dry wail of rage; Cam drove his blade through Gavin with all the fire of a lion ravaging a kill. Gavin’s cry, and the hideous blossom of blood that spurted from the young man’s bosom, were muffled under the wrenching roar of misery that tore endlessly out of Cam’s throat.

One Step, Followed by Another

The key to writing great action scenes is to line up one moment, one emotion, one strong picture, after another.  Imagine your scene like a chain made of thick iron links; each link is vital to the whole, but only one piece of the chain can be conveyed at once. Focus your mind on one step, and then link it to the next step, and the next. Suspense, excitement, and power will come when your writing follows a clearly-linked chain of events.

Bringing It All Together

Remember, keeping track of your beats, or bits, is the key to writing a perfectly-paced action sequence. Order each individual step according to importance or timeliness, and remember that you can always find more examples of clear action in my novels.

You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. You can ask me questions about writing at victorpoole12@gmail.com. Thanks for visiting!

Moral Framing: 3 Steps To Justify Violence

External moral framing fuels the need to fight.

Well, here are the three steps.

  1. Unify the self of the violent character first. A disconsonant self, or misaligned parts of self, will lead to unforgivable collateral damage to bystanders (see: many scenes in superhero movies where hundreds of people in cars or on the streets are crushed/burned/mutilated during a climactic fight).
  2. Allow the violent character to witness unjustified destruction of innocents. For all you LDS peeps, this is Alma and Amulek watching the women and children burn in the epic conflagration in Ammonihah. For the rest of you, this is that scene in every Wolverine movie where Logan watches a bunch of helpless humans slaughtered, usually after he’s formed pseudo-familial bonds with them.
  3. Have the bad guys attempt to destroy the violent character, without just cause. So, for example, the violent character can’t go ballistic on the bad guys after witnessing the destruction of innocents; you’ve got to wait until the bad guys turn their aim onto the character, and actually attempt to obliterate him/her, too. That is when the violent character can start destroying people, and be morally justified.

It doesn’t much matter why the three steps are necessary; they’re embedded in our social consciousness. Watch films and examine the books you read; you will find, when you experience vicarious violence in your entertainment, that stories that skip steps in the build-up to externally-motivated violence feel kinda empty, and a little gratuitous.

And here’s an example.

Bad Writing (precipitous violence):

Gary watched the entrance of the bar. He was waiting for those two thugs to come out. He didn’t want to attack them on their home turf; there were too many burly women in the bar, and he knew from watching previous fights unfold that these ladies would lay into him mercilessly, without finding out whose side he was really on.

Gary liked his face the way it was; the ladies (not the ladies in the bar, but the women of the world in general) had a particular fondness for the auburn locks that curled, like fragrant petals of some Eastern flower, over his thoughtful brow, and Gary had no intention of damaging the goods, so to speak.

The first thug appeared, a cigarette clutched in his meaty fingers. Gary raised his BB gun, and took careful aim. Just a few shots to the knee caps, and the other thug would be drawn out by the cries of outrage. Then the fun would really begin.

Good Writing (just-so violence):

Gary found, as he exited the steamy bar, that he was being followed by a pair of unsavory thugs. After attempting unsuccessfully to throw off the two men, Gary turned in an alley, and glared at them.

“Whad’ya want?” the first thug asked, before Gary could utter a word.

“He’s thinking it wasn’t fair, what we did to those two old laddies. Isn’t that right, cupcake?” the second man crooned. He had a stubby cigarette pushed between his lips, and his words came out squashed.

“Stop following me,” Gary said. The two thugs laughed, and one of them pulled a pair of brass knuckles out of his jacket.

“I guess them girls is fond enough of your pretty hair, huh?” the second man said around his cigarette, which gleamed red-gold in the twilight air.

“Back off,” Gary said, snarling. The first man pounced, and Gary ducked around his massive arms, and skidded down the alley. He dodged around a pair of cars, and scrambled down the tunnel towards the crowded subway.

“We’ll get youse, next time!” the second thug’s voice called. His words floated, like a venomous banner, over the noise of the city.

Fucking buffoons, Gary thought, as he slid through the turnstile, and entered the first open compartment he came to. He put a careful hand through his gorgeous curls, and checked his reflection in the subway window.

You will note that the good and bad examples are so entirely different as to seem like excerpts from autonomous works.

This is how violence works: when you incorporate unjustified violence into your writing, your work is lessened automatically; it becomes derivative, and relatively meaningless. You strip yourself of the ability to comment on society at large, because you have classed your story among cheap and shoddy entertainment that relies on shock value, rather than legitimate storytelling, to create emotion in the reader.

If you want your work to endure, your violence must be justified.

You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. Here are some of my awesome books.