It is important for the events in your book to have a certain charm; an element of coolness, or of social suavity builds the reader into a mental state where they want to be where the book happens. They want to hang around the characters, and they want to be part of the various adventures a-happening in the work.
Who’s The Coolest Person You Know?
What makes people cool? And that means, what makes the characters seem like the sorta people you would pay to stick around and stare at (because this is what paying for a novel and reading it means)? We don’t usually talk about making our writing cool, because many of us are trying to prove ourselves to Mrs. Hornswaggle from fifth grade who told us we would never write a whole book, or we’re secretly aiming for a prestigious award from the old people who have “arrived” on the literary authority scene, or we just want people to coo about how poetic our descriptions of the moon really are (in paragraphs, and publicly).
Oh, Victor, I Don’t Want Any Of Those Things!
But you want to be one of those authors who are mentioned in the big newspapers, and you want young people to call you and email you, begging for encouragement and advice, and you want to have a foreign bank account and a team of lawyers who are negotiating a TV contract for your latest novel. Right?
Okay, Maybe You Just Want A Tidy Book Deal
And an agent, and a fat advance with talented designers scurrying over your book . . . right? How do you actually, in real life, go about getting those things? Most people whom I have spoken to on the subject believe that such golden circumstances fall into individual laps by the grace of the good writing fairies. There is a moderate belief, in the people I’ve known, towards hard work and perseverance, but the main thing in their hearts is good old dumb luck and happenstance.
Happenstance Means Stagnation
There is work that makes a character cool, but there isn’t exactly a guide anywhere about, because if anyone had figured out how to reliably make people cool (and characters similarly cool), they would probably be selling their awesome methods. Right? One of the key draws of smoking, according to a book I read many years ago, is the sexually-slick aura of cool, older teenagers smoking around the vulnerable youngsters, who absorb the idea that cigarettes=awesome, and later take up the habit themselves.
I Knew An Actor Who Carried A Pack With Him For Fun (He Didn’t Smoke)
Smoking doesn’t make someone cool, but their energy carriage, style of hygiene, and attitude towards sexuality does. How can you impart some of these qualities to your main characters, in order to lure readers into a secret fascination with your creations? Huh. I got all the way down here, and I don’t want to explain this to you now. How awkward.
Ah, well. You know, I once spent half a shift in a casual dining place teaching my coworker how to pick up dates. He carried himself like a little boy, and had never learned to open his sternum or balance his shoulders over his hips. He had great hair, though, and he was popular. If he diligently eased himself out of the slouching posture of a ten-year-old boy, I was sure he would find romance easily enough. I had another lady come to me several times for work on her writing (she wanted to write plays). She was a puzzle, because I could never tell if she was genuinely stupid or really stubborn. I took a chance on her intelligence, and told her what I thought (which would form the subject of another blog about mixing gender types). Turns out, she was stubborn, not stupid, and though her dating life began to make marginal progress, she was unwilling (see, stubbornness) to apply any changes to her writing process.
Or You’re Wrong About Everything, Victor!
Always a possibility, my friends. Always on the horizon, the possibility of being a redundant old crank, but let’s get back to the topic at hand: attractive characters with a thick veneer of “cool.” To begin with, let us remember that a majority of persons in the world are heavily resistant to the influence of “cool” people, because of feelings of rejection and un-coolness, among other things. So if you’re aiming for attractive, emotionally-edible characters, keep in mind that much of your audience kind of hates attractive and awesome characters. You must therefore prepare yourself to overcome many objections (unconscious ones), and deep emotional resistance to your awesome characters.
Well, Where’s The Part Where You Tell Me About Characters, Victor?
I’m starting to close my systems up. I haven’t had a sealed system for a long time, you know. Constant tinkering, and active grafts and dilutions of pre-installed toxicity have motivated me to operate with an open core for years now; transitioning to genuine privacy is definitely a challenge. I don’t know if you have any idea what I’m talking about, but hey, hey! Let’s get straight to some examples!
Ocher, reclining beside the delicate female, made noises that attracted her sincerest attention. He seemed not-knowing what to say afterwards. He thought about mentioning the weather and the lack of a bright sky.
“It was not long ago when the two persons we were, you and I, had met,” he said.
She was silent, like a daisy reflecting on the purpose of life, and her eyes turned becomingly towards the pavement, broad and deep.
Ocher noticed each detail of her eyelashes. If only I were not married! Retribution in the form of middle age crept upon him, as it had been for much time now, and he felt twisted by the inevitability of his rejection by pretty girls he met who were in such a younger mental space than he was.
He regretted his similarly-middling wife, but she, alas, was not to know of his traitorous thinkings, as she was not present, and had been absent from the thoughts of his heart for many months now.
She turned her gaze on him, and if he had not already seated himself, the force of her glittering eyes would have cast a well of immediate gravity over his body, dragging his aged sinews now down to the seat where, already, he sat.
They sat for a very long time without speaking. She thought about things, and he tried to figure out if there was any hope for his tender feelings before the judgement of her bright eyes. Sigh. He thought. Her bright eyes.
He could not bring himself to speak to her of his feelings, and they two sat, thinking of different things. They thought of different things entirely. So different that they might have been from very different places. He remembered that they were.
Ocher sat down on the steps near Ajalia, uttering a weary groan. He put his elbows back on the stone steps, and looked up at the sky.
“Are you usually that hard on him?” he asked idly.
“No,” Ajalia said. “Usually it’s coddling and kisses on the cheek, but he’s been temperamental today.”
“The new clothes must be going to his head,” Ocher said with a laugh. Ajalia looked at Ocher’s thick beard, which concealed a grim smile.
“Why do you stay with the Thief Lord?” she asked. Ocher did not look at her. She thought that he was avoiding her eyes.
“You’re a very uncomfortable person,” he observed.
“Goodbye,” she said pointedly. He looked over at her, and the smile had gone away. An expression of reaching, or of longing for something long lost, was in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“You’re not,” she told him. “You’re sorry that I don’t lie.”
“I’m sure you lie plenty,” Ocher said easily, resettling himself on the steps. “Just not about old men like me.”
“I don’t lie about anyone,” Ajalia told him.
“You lie about that young man,” Ocher said at once, his eyes fixed on the direction Delmar had gone.
“You don’t know that,” Ajalia said.
“He’s in love with you,” Ocher said. He sounded jealous.
“You’re guessing, aren’t you?” Ajalia asked him. Ocher laughed bitterly, and rubbed at his chin.
“I think he’d be a fool not to be,” Ocher said.
“Why, because I’m lovable?” Ajalia retorted. Ocher looked at her, and Ajalia did not enjoy the kind of fire that sparked in his eyes.
There Are No Writing Fairies
A lot of people (that I have known, who write) hide behind authorship as a way to avoid the whole popularity contest of life. They figure that they don’t have to become suave and desirable, because they can channel their wonderful personalities into their characters. What actually happens is that your characters reflect your inner level of social adeptness, so hiding behind what amounts to a reflection of your deepest insecurities won’t actually work. Energy carriage, style of hygiene, and attitude to sexuality; these are the broad categories that determine how cool you are. The very good news is that all these areas are highly receptive to alteration in every stage of life.
You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My editor says Ocher is really cool. Your next vacation will go more smoothly if you bring a nice book along.