I fixed up Tula-for’s face this afternoon. I think he looks quite handsome.
No long harangue today; I’ve got some things to do.
(Tomorrow’s Friday. Yipee, etc.)
You’re reading Victor Poole. My figures are improving. : P
I fixed up Tula-for’s face this afternoon. I think he looks quite handsome.
No long harangue today; I’ve got some things to do.
(Tomorrow’s Friday. Yipee, etc.)
You’re reading Victor Poole. My figures are improving. : P
When I did theatre, the directors, most of them, were fascinated with the idea of raw, shocking emotion. They wanted to abuse the audience, essentially, and force many bodies to feel unexpected (and unpleasant) things.
Good theatre, of course, is like great sex; two people (one of whom represents the actors, and the other the audience) come together and do interesting things to each other, and end by feeling cozy and close in their hearts.
There’s a clear emotional exchange; just as in sex, theatre can turn ugly very fast, and physical brutality, aggressive sexuality, and general indecency of language are the usual methods employed by terrible directors and shitty producers.
On the other hand, raw intimacy (hand-holding, bodies wanting each other, but not quite touching, the promise of a kiss without the act), choreographed violence (vicious fights, sudden actions, and vivid physical motion), and authentic sharing (true language, however swear-y) are the opposite, very good side of this potential bad, and make for glorious, unforgettable theatre.
To see how you are handling your violence, sex, and coarse language, it is important to first examine the reason for it being there.
I imagine you’ve seen films before where a lady is unnecessarily undressed, or a person hits another for no other reason than that the director thought it would make things pop more.
Shakespeare brought heads onstage, and severed limbs; he gored out eyes, and openly referenced incestuous rape and the dismemberment of women and children. One of his plays occurs almost entirely in a brothel, in fact, but you will find, in any worthwhile production of Shakespeare, that there is no immodesty in his language, or in his actions directed for the stage. (Embedded stage directions; it’s a long story.)
People, shitty people (yeah, I’m looking at you, buster-oldy George) love to mangle Shakespeare, to add brazen fondling and breasts, and weirdly orgiastic violence that is not in any of the plays. They also like to add little scenes–to make the action more realistic, or more compelling to the modern viewer, they think.
Now, on to the subject of the day (or night, as the case may be): raw gore, and the manipulation of flesh in the service of whole fiction, is cathartic and pure, when it is handled with grace and modesty.
The Greeks, for all their blatant phallic pieces, had dignity and respect for suffering in many of their tragedies. The purpose of Oedipus putting out his eyes, and Jocasta hanging herself, is to bring the audience to a pitch of pity and existential terror.
And now, since the Greeks and Shakespeare do not always scratch the itch of contemporary genre fiction, here is some blood, and a bit of gentle violence.
Ethan the cyborg, having cut his metal down, is carving up a couple of his fellows, and stealing their alien inserts. Observe:
“What you are holding is a base insert,” Ethan said, grimacing as he began to wedge the other cyborg’s insert into his own thigh. Mary’s eyes widened, and her lips parted. He seemed to be working the insert in between his own muscles; the shape of his thigh moved in deeply unnatural ways as he worked. “I already have base inserts; I need the top pieces.”
“You put your top pieces into me,” Mary guessed.
“Not all of them, but some,” Ethan said with a smile.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” she demanded, watching him force the end of the insert deeper into his upper thigh.
“Not as much as you’d think. You get pretty numb, after the first four dissections,” he said. He made a small sound, like a tense man relaxing into a bath, and the insert folded neatly into the top of his thigh. Ethan sighed and pushed the bottom of the piece the rest of the way into the slit. Mary thought that it was like watching someone try to move a large piece of furniture through a narrow doorway; first the top made it in, and then the bottom was swiveled and forced into the opening.
“Are you all right?” she asked. She began to feel increasingly squeamish.
“I’m fine,” Ethan said. The insert went in with a strange click, and he extended his leg with a deep sigh.
“And now the next one?” Mary asked. Ethan’s restored leg looked oddly out of proportion to the rest of his reduced body. He began to cut open the second cyborg’s other leg, and Mary went to the first cyborg and stared down at his open eyes. “What about them?” she asked. The squelch of the knife in the second cyborg’s leg made a wet echo in the corridor.
“What about them?” Ethan asked. He put the knife in again, and then again.
“He’s still alive, isn’t he?”
“He’ll be dead soon,” Ethan said, as if commenting on the weather.
“But he’s a person,” Mary replied. She felt a hollow outrage, and she could not bring herself to do anything about it.
“They aren’t people, Mary. I keep telling you that. I’m not a person, either.”
“You’re a person,” she said angrily.
“Well,” Ethan amended, working his hand into the cyborg’s leg, and beginning to wrench the insert loose, “I wasn’t a person before I met you.”
“I think you’ve always been a person. And I don’t know what you mean by saying these men aren’t people. They’re alive.” Mary felt a hot flush of fear and anger on her neck; she felt powerless and irritated, and she didn’t know how to stop the bloody work and still get the old Ethan back. “Can’t we use the dead bodies of the other cyborgs?” she asked.
“No,” Ethan said.
“Why not?” she asked.
“I would have to prime the metal,” he said. His voice made a squeaking whine in the middle of the words; he had freed the top of the insert from the cyborg’s base now. Mary took the bottom piece, and Ethan pushed the top of the insert into his other thigh.
“That looks so painful,” she said. The two insert pieces she held were hot and slick in her hands; she found, quite suddenly, that she didn’t mind the blood, but she minded the heat.
“It’s very good to get my old shape back,” Ethan grunted, working the metal deeper under his muscles.
“What do you mean when you say you’d have to prime the metal?” Mary asked. The top of Ethan’s new insert locked into place, and he began to work over the bottom half.
“To prime the metal means exposing it to blood, and live pain,” he said. His voice still sounded tinny and strange.
“Why do you sound like that?” Mary asked. Ethan groaned, and forced the rest of the insert into place. He stood upright, and looked down at himself.
“That’s better,” he said. He sounded ready to laugh with giddiness. “I have deep machines running, to keep my inserts open,” he told her.
Interestingly, tasteful swearing, and modest use of nudity, violence, and raw language and action opens the reader’s heart, and makes them receptive to the story, and the characters. I am not in any way suggesting that you take your gore out; in fact, you probably need more of it, and the other things.
What I am saying, most emphatically, is that the gore must serve a core plot purpose, and be fully justified. Gratuitous violence, and all the rest, cheapen your work. If you need to cut someone’s head off, and prance around the page with the blood, make sure you’ve paid for the privilege of violence with narrative context.
Gore is a necessary part of deeply-cathartic fiction, but just as in deeply intimate bonding, respect for your partner (in this case, the reader) is paramount.
You’re reading Victor Poole. I have to rewrite almost the entirety of my cyborg sequel, because Vicard turned interesting, and developed unexpected backstory that I now get to incorporate through the threads of the previous parts. Reading my self-published fantasy series is almost guaranteed to make your editing-brain bleed; you’re welcome.
Look, guys, I’m talking about sex again! (This is a study I made of a whale. There are cute little silver fish, too; you can just see their fins and tails.)
So a long time ago, I started directing shows. Super small time, you haven’t heard of me, there’s very little evidence. But I was good. So good that old ladies and mid-level managers occasionally tried to throw free marketing at my face after they saw me work.
Yes, yes, I know, but I was working on something much more important than “big success right this very minute!”, and pushing growth without a foundation is really dumb, and a good way to destroy your long-term career.
I decided to think long-term very early in my life. But we aren’t talking about my childhood right now; we’re talking about sex. Ha ha! What a segue, am I right?
He had them everywhere, didn’t he? Shameless, but oh so effective. Here is Dick, the serial killer, worming his way into Lady Anne’s knickers:
ANNE. Thou was’t the cause, and most accurst effect.
RICHARD. Your beauty was the cause of that effect:
Your beauty, that did haunt me in my sleepe,
To vndertake the death of all the world,
So I might liue one houre in your sweet bosome.
ANNE. If I thought that, I tell thee Homicide,
These Nailes should rent that beauty from my Cheekes.
RICHARD. These eyes could not endure y beauties wrack,
You should not blemish it, if I stood by;
As all the world is cheared by the Sunne,
So I by that: It is my day, my life.
ANNE. Blacke night ore-shade thy day, & death thy life.
RICHARD. Curse not thy selfe faire Creature,
Thou art both.
Here we see Richard retreating while saying intimate things, right up until Anne rushes at him in anger. Then we see Richard step smoothly up into her face and get too close and too calm. This is a recipe for an insta-crush, which Anne immediately develops (and is understandably upset and confused by).
People usually vilify Dick, seeing as he cuts short the lives of several people in this play, but Richard is an honorable man and uses his pure soul to attract Anne into loving him (she dies in misery because of him, but she is super-duper turned on anyhow).
How, might you ask, is Richard honorable? You know, seeing as he kills a whole bunch of innocents and then does his best to secure a little girl as a second wife.
Shakespeare does something wonderful in his plays; he writes on occasion about honorable men who fall (or are led) into evil ways, and he marks their progress pretty studiously. For example, Claudius (Measure for Measure) is not a bad guy when he is imprisoned; he has gotten Juliet with child, but they entered into a common law marriage, which was an acceptable practice at the time. He turns into ugly places when he tries to pimp out his sister to save his life, but he is not quite a murderer.
Dickie, on the other hand, pushes and lies to get people to murder each other. He doesn’t, as far as I recall, shed blood by his own hand until the end of the play, which is when the darkness overtakes him and he becomes genuinely evil.
But, you may exclaim, you promised to talk about sex today, Victor! And now I will explain what growing towards evil and sexuality have to do with each other.
You see, romance–that genuine, fluttery, hot-flashing, touch-me-now feeling–springs from the exchange of internal energy between honorable beings.
When a man or a woman extorts intimacy from the body of another, romance dies, and the interaction becomes abusive and ugly. When, on the other hand, the exchange of internal self is autonomous and self-willed, romance abounds.
The more volitional the exchange of selves, the stronger the heat of sex. Now for some examples of what I mean (because intoxicating writing generally does well, commercially).
Valerie hung sheepishly behind the butcher’s; she heard someone coming, and held her breath. Old man Hans came around the corner. He laughed when he saw her, and winked; she ducked her head and studied her books.
“You’re following that young man again,” Hans said.
“Am not,” Valerie said.
“You’d better hurry and slide against him then,” the old man sneered, and he patted Valerie’s arm with his gnarled hand. She waited for the old man to go away, and then went and looked at the bridge.
Frank was standing on the crossing, one leg stretched forward and both arms on the stone balustrade. His dark hair fell in thick curls over his neck. A bouncy woman was just beside him, her hand laid on his arm.
“We’ll see about this,” Valerie growled. She put her shoulders back and stalked towards the pair.
Valerie waited around the corner; she heard approaching footsteps, and held her breath. Old man Hans came into view; she ducked her head and pretended to arrange her books.
“Morning,” Hans said.
“Mm,” Valerie agreed. Her heart throbbed painfully in her chest. She waited for the old man to hobble away, and then crept to the edge of the wall and peered around the bricks.
Frank lounged on the bridge, one knee knocked forward and both arms stretched along the stone balustrade. His skin was like sun-kissed gold, and his dark hair fell in thick curls over his neck. Bridget O’Malley stood in front of him, her whole body hooked forward, as if she thought she would magnetize the young man into falling on top of her.
“Hussy,” Valerie said under her breath. She put a wide smile on her face and swung around the corner, her bundle of books slung carelessly under her arm as she approached the bridge.
Fledgling arousal and romance is best built up by scrupulous attention to the freedom of interaction between the soon-to-be-smooching characters. Extortion kills romance, (and is great, if carefully used, for thrillers and scary bits), and autonomous sharing of the inner self is what builds the anticipation.
Guys, Pinterest has some great resources for studying anatomy. I’m working on shoulders and hands right now. I’m like a has-been that never fully was. Oh well. Anyway, today I want to talk about how to dredge more juice out of your characters.
An odd thing happens when you have a familiar character about whom you write; you both know them well enough to feel cozy writing them, and frustratingly distant enough to be unable to force them to do what you need them to do in the story. (Kinda like when you’re the boss, and your underlings are stubbornly and slipperily evasive, instead of tractable and easy to command.)
I’ve heard people talk fondly about stubborn characters before; to me, they are nuts asking to be smashed open with a hammer. See, below:
Vince aligned the sights along the barrel of his ZQ-Bombast rifle (limited edition chrome) and waited for the fallow-parling to stand up from its nest. He fired, and the alien shrieked and crumpled out of sight. Vince slung the rifle over his shoulder and hoisted himself up the trunk of the F-aklen tree, which had oddly-curved rocks embedded in the bark.
He reached the nest and glared down at the bleeding parling; it was a female, and half her left shoulder was blown open. Vince dug for a bend-chip in his belt and knelt over the crying parling. She beat at him with her right palm, but her limbs were weak, and he pinned her and slid the chip into the opening under her skull. Her cries morphed slowly into words.
“Foolish ugly man-child,” she complained, “and after the season, you’ll be hunted by my brothers! They will strip out your lungs and use them as toys for our bargels!”
“That’s as may be, but I want your bones,” Vince said. She breathed in sharply, and her body grew still. Vince smiled at her, and pink tears sprung into her eyes.
“Mama!” she shrilled, her voice echoing through the copse with a ringing jangle.
“They can’t understand you anymore, darling,” Vince said. He pulled a leather belt out of his bag, and bound up the parling’s shoulder until the skin pinched white.
“No, no!” she screamed. “You must not take my wings.”
“Only your arm, lovey,” Vince soothed. “It’s hardly anything you’ll miss.”
“Mama, save me!” she howled, as he pinned her neck under his knee and unfolded his lapse-saw.
Here we see Vince wrecking mayhem on a winged lady on the planet Vhuar, and he seems quite a villain (from the perspective of the parling).
Now, if we tell Vince to let the lady go, he will laugh in our teeth and take her leg just to show that he cannot be controlled.
I won’t crack him in this scene; this would necessitate the addition of a third character.
We shall take him in a later scene, after he has obtained his ill-gained parling bones and is in the process of selling them on the Obloogo black market. We find Vince meeting with a new character, Hole.
Hole shall serve as our metaphorical hammer, and I shall bring him down resoundingly upon the unsuspecting Vince. See, below:
Vince threw the black bag onto the table; the delicate objects within made a musical jangle.
“How many?” said a deep voice from the shadows.
“Five pieces,” Vince said. His eyes combed through the darkness; he could not see Hole, but he knew the ugly man was there.
“Three arms, one leg, and a whole tail extension,” Vince said. He folded his arms; his Perso-fin pistol made a snug bump against his left hip. “All female, and pure through,” he said.
“They’ve been asking for the male bones particularly,” Hole said, coming into the light and lifting the bag. “Harder to fetch in the males,” he added, glancing up with a smile.
“I’ve no interest in killing,” Vince said.
“But at maiming, you excel,” Hole mused. He lifted an exquisite golden bone from the bag. “How did you clean them?” he asked.
“Trade secret,” Vince said at once. Hole fixed him with a beady eye, and snorted.
“I told Crikey you’d come in soon,” the hideous man said, as if offering a pleasantry. Vince’s shoulders drew together, and his palm twisted towards his gun. “It won’t work in here, my friend,” Hole remarked. He nodded at the pistol, which was disguised as a utilitarian flashlight. “These are wonderful, all of them. I’ll take the lot, and in exchange, I won’t kill you for Crikey,” Hole said. Vince launched himself forward, and smashed against a translucent force field. “Oh, these are new,” Hole said with a smile. He pointed at the ceiling, where a hint of green illuminated the boundaries of a square. “Thank you for the bones,” he added, dropping the delicate pieces back into the bag.
“He’ll kill me!” Vince shouted. His eyes had gone wild, and a peculiar, animal-like fear was in his whole body. Hole paused over the table, and took in the vivid terror in Vince.
“Yes, I think you’re right. But I’ve been promised a great deal of work out of you first,” Hole replied. “Rumor has it, Crikey is going to train you as a retrieval hound, and send you out hunting.”
“Hole!” Vince shrieked, throwing himself at the invisible barrier. It held like iron beneath his blows, and Hole chuckled as he turned away.
“I’m sure you’ll look very handsome as a hybrid,” the ugly man called.
The key to breaking down a recalcitrant character is to force him (or her) up against the most formative, purely-instinctual fears in his physical being. Once your man (or woman, or thing) is in emotional shambles, you can build a great story around them, and use them without any holding back or irritating unwillingness on their part.
May you have much luck in your own smashing endeavors!
You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books are here. I’m about to fry some homemade burgers, with cheese and pickles on top.
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.
I am exceptionally good at tearing apart characters, and getting to the bottom of social interactions. It is why my dialogue is so fresh.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
(If your eyes bleed at bad writing, skip down to the good example. Really. Just go straight down there. Okay?)
“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!”
Zed put his chin into the air and stomped away. She will be sorry, he told himself, his lips curled in anger and fury.
“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 sour 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.