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!

magic detail

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.