Why Cranky Old Characters Make The Best Sounding Boards

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Often in the world of my novel, I may find myself in need of a chatty Cathy character, a personage with whom my more illustrious characters can pass the time and discuss vital plot points. I may even find myself indulging in a spot of comedic relief with such elderly talkative Toms.

Like The Wild Old Man In Tom Jones

Okay, he isn’t totally wild, but there is a feral geezer in a cabin who takes in Tom and his pal for a brief respite from the elements. There is also the long-winded porter in Macbeth, the maiden aunt in Learned Ladies, and that adorable, if quixotic lady who knits beside the guillotine in Scarlet Pimpernel.

Elderly Characters Can Be Useful

Sometimes I need to talk about something interesting, and sometimes a main character needs a little nudge of wise perspective (or a distraction from the tragedy of their unfolding adventures). In these cases, consider the use of an aged body. “Old people are the greatest,” in the words of the Sponge, “they’re full of wisdom and experience!” Elderly characters are also given greater range on the cantankerous and whimsical fronts, and so can be entrusted with more naturally-implausible narrative tasks.

Like The Old Guy Wearing A Nightdress In Harry Potter

When I find myself at such a critical juncture, I say to myself, “Victor, what you need right now is a suitably aged personage to carry along the conversation.” And then I find a scrap of vivid energy, slap some clothes and a backstory on it, assign it a gender, and I am off, metaphorically, to the races.

Examples

No Old Man: 

Samuel walked down the sidewalk, thinking about the lady he’d met at the bus stop. He thought about whether she’d call as he unlocked his door, and he dwelt in his memory on the lurid shad of her hair, and the unnatural flaccidity of her cheeks as he stared at the bread and old ham in his miniature fridge. He wondered if he might meet that lady again, and imagined a flower-strewn wedding with cheap suits and fitted white gloves.

Cranky Old Man:

“I met someone,” Samuel said to the man who lived in the first room of the Tavern Motel.

“Mmphfft,” said the man who lived in the first room. His door was wide open, and he was sitting on the pink plush chair provided by the Motel for the use and enjoyment of its residents.

“She might be the one,” Samuel said meaningfully. He raised his eyebrows, and nodded solemnly.

“Go away,” said the man who lived in the first room. “You are disturbing my peace and quiet.”

“Then I’ll go and plan our wedding quietly by myself, shall I?” Samuel asked.

The man in the first room of the Tavern Motel glared out at the thin sunlight that streaked the shallow block of grass in front of the rooms, and did not answer.

Sometimes Old Characters Are Excellent Mouthpieces

When I find myself against a thorny narrative juncture, I often fall back on a personage of experience and whitened hair to serve as a sounding board of sorts to my plighted main character. Perhaps you may also find this device of some use in your narrative journeying.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Copernicus is a dead man (excessively old, though not in appearance) in this book. Some really competent optometrists would like my blog if they read it on their lunch breaks.

Why Clarity Isn’t Enough In Today’s Fiction

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It isn’t enough for the reader to be able to follow the action, or even for them to feel in sympathy with your main characters. You need more; you need an element of snazz and sparkle, and you must have a sharply-intuitive grasp of some emotional reality (upon which you competently comment throughout the work as a whole).

Amleth, or Ur-Hamlet

For example, we look at Hamlet, that pilfered tale of incestuous murder and woe. The summary of the original, which you can find on any humdrum internet street corner, consists of an action-packed zest-fest of secret cave-sex, performative lunacy, and eventual murder. What did Bard Will do that made this plot so much better?

Aside From The Sparkling Rhetoric, Of Course

Bard Will took the basic story and cinched it into a plain and unadorned parallel: two mature men, each of whom has a desirable lady-friend on the side, are pitted against each other over the matter of a kingdom. One is willing to murder, and the other one has stout morals. The aftermath is messy, cathartic, and deeply satisfying.

People (Dumb Ones) Get Distracted By Bastardized Scripts

This is slightly off the point, but I am letting you know right now that Hamlet is not mad, has never been mad, and cannot be reliably shown to be mad from the authentic text. And Ophelia is pregnant, and commits suicide. Back to the subject, which is that Shakespeare isolates and myopically focuses on one emotional reality; justification for murder.

Let Me Toot My Own Horn Now

Cyrano, transcribed in the voice of Rostand, explains the occasional necessity of praising oneself, and I here shall note that my Eastern Slave series is successfully modeled upon this structure (the examination and follow-through on one emotional reality). I dare say that reading one or two of the books in the series would be a small satisfaction compared to the payoff you get from reading the whole thing. I get warm fuzzies from reading those books, and I wrote them.

Now, Back To Work!

Hamlet successfully isolates one emotional reality: when and where and how is murder justified? (Suicide is covered pretty well, too. Hamlet himself calls this “self-slaughter.” Sadly, it is the death of Ophelia that eventually brings Hamlet (and the play) to the conclusion that destruction of evil is justified. One of the things I like most about Shakespeare is how directly he deals with the victims of corruption.

Examples

Bad Writing (Emotionally Scattered Subject):

Like many of the plain folk residing internal for the broad grasslands, her two parents professed freedom and social good. She learned from her infancy of the similarity between peoples, and to discount tales she heard of children being peddled here and there, like unpaid servants. She thought she would be like them, free in the open lands, until her father traveled away, and her mother became very poor indeed. Then she learned the craven nature of a lying heart.

Well, anyway, she had said this kind of story to any who asked her about the past, even though it wasn’t exactly true. She didn’t want to think about what had happened between her parents, and the slaves in the farther reaches of Leopath were treated with more egalitarian mores than she had been taught to expect, so it was well enough, and she had plenty of good clothes now. Her mother had dressed poorly.

Good Writing (One Emotional Reality):

Ajalia’s parents had been anti-slavery people. They had taught her from the cradle that Leopath was riddled with corruption, and that the answer to the ills of their lives lay in the easy, albeit impractical solution, of abolishing slavery once and for all. Ajalia had believed her parents, or at any rate she had believed that they thought what they said, but when her father had left, and her mother had begun to realize the economic practicalities of life, Ajalia had been sold.

This was the lie that she told herself. The truth was worse, but this was the story that she told, when a story was requested, and if the details changed every year or two, no one was close enough to her to notice. She knew that she lied, but she did not care to remember the truth, and it lay, quiet and unnoticed by the people around her, in the darkest shadow of her heart.

And I’m In A Good Mood, Too

I almost didn’t write any blog post at all today, because I’m learning to be happy, and now I have actual feelings about how I would like to spend my time. I didn’t know there were people in the world who actually felt pleasant a majority of the time. You learn something new every day, sometimes, unless you’re super depressed like I was, and then you don’t.

You’re reading Victor Poole. My books can be found here. I am pretty awesome, and my cat loves me.

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!

Why Re-Writing Your Novel Doesn’t Work (And What To Do Instead)

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I just finished another cleaning sweep through the first two books in my fantasy series. I caught a couple of typos, and several phrases I wanted to tweak a bit. I think I cut one sentence this time. I get the impression, from reading about other writers, that I edit differently to everyone else.

Most Of You Chop Things To Bits, I Hear

I’ve talked about this before on my blog, but a couple of years ago I wrote a novel. It’s one of my editor’s favorites, but I haven’t published it yet. I thought, when I wrote it, that I would need to cut it all to pieces and rewrite it from scratch. I even tried to do this, several, several times. Having been around the creative block more than once, I had the perspicacity to save a copy of my original draft.

Months Passed; I Hammered At Re-Writing

And the novel, you know, just kept getting worse. It was as though, with every new tweak and alteration, the heart of the writing skipped farther away from me. Finally, after months of “progress,” and feeling a little bit jaded from my seemingly-fruitless efforts, I pulled up my last-edited file and put it side-by-side with my original draft.

I’ve Learned This Lessen Several Times; It Didn’t Stick At First

I found, as I looked at the original and at my painstakingly-improved draft, that the story I had written down first was stronger, more playful, and contained within it an unbroken chain of impulses that drove the action forward.

My edited draft was like a cup of lifeless nails. There were words describing actions, but no heart within the writing, and no flow inside the plot.

The Impulses Are Key, Here

I’m an actor, and a director, and my job, in that area, is to unblock and link together organic, deeply-human, aesthetic impulses from within human bodies. In a way, I have an advantage over many writers because I’m approaching my prose with an eye to the overall performance aspect. I know how to follow organic impulses, and how to drive the action into the heart of a scene.

It’s Called “Getting Work Out Of People,” In Theatre

Getting work out of people means that I take actors and crack them open, artistically, and make sure they have the framework they need to essentially bleed, emotionally and spiritually speaking, on the stage in visually pleasing ways. There’s a reason acting is cathartic; it is the act of unearthing from within yourself a deep humanity, and offering it freely to the audience.

In Writing, I Get Work Out Of My Characters

When you edit your work, your natural impulse is to hide yourself behind an unbreakable facade of cleverness, emotional depth, and know-it-all maturity. This results in dead writing, in that no organic impulses are left inside the work. And no reader wants to read (see, consume) dead work.

Impulses Are The Life-Blood Of Performance

You may be over there thinking to yourself, “Yes, but Victor, you’re a nobody! You have lousy rankings on Amazon. You have a huge series that nobody reads. Are you an idiot?” You might be thinking that, and I’m not going to defend myself to you, because I’ve been around the block, artistically and business-wise, and I’m digging a foundation for myself. I have a plan. I’m aiming for long-term sustainability.

When You Edit, Make Sure You Aren’t Disrupting The Embedded Impulse-Chain

Editing while preserving the inside of the story, the throbbing chain of impulses that led you to write what you wrote in the first place, is very difficult. I’ve been studying the creation and preservation of impulses for almost fourteen years, and I still have to stop myself from tearing parts of my work to pieces. The desire to protect yourself, and to look invulnerable and perfect to others, is very strong.

Examples

Original Draft:

Bruno was the very first person to see the aliens arrive. They had spatial transponders, and vibrated into being on the sidewalks, and in the center of public parks. He had meant to be at work early that morning, but the cat had spilled his orange juice down his suit, and then the dry cleaners had a line, which Bruno thought was absurd at seven in the morning.

He had to wear his second-best trousers, and the jacket that was a shade too dark. He hoped the client wasn’t going to notice the difference, but today was the Fishars, and he was sure they would.

Bruno was just running down the steps to his first-floor lobby to unlock the case files when, with a crackle that threatened to shake the windows free of their moorings, a long, tall shadow of murky green appeared in the street outside.

Bruno went to the double doors, and pressed his nose to the glass. The shaking grew, and the shadow became solid. A row of brilliant red eyes, arranged in a wide circle around the being’s head, stared straight at Bruno; he dropped the keys, and they made a slight jingle when they hit the floor.

Destructive Editing:

Bruno saw them first. Their green discs in their hands seemed to be a machine that allowed them to appear at will.  They came first into the wide avenues and busy sidewalks of the city, each of them holding one of these ominous devices. Bruno saw them first, and he was immediately sure that the world was over. He saw them first because he had a series of unpleasant accidents through the morning, one of which involved juice and a busy dry cleaners.

His suit didn’t match, though the aliens would not care about that, and he had been in a knot of anxiety about his clients, the Fishars, who were picky about dress. They felt that the snazziness of their attorney merited respect, and Bruno dreaded the looks he would get from Mrs. Fishar in particular.

He was on the steps to the bottom floor when a buzz in the windows made him stop. A premonition in his spine made him look up, and he saw a weird smudge out the window. What could it be? It reminded him of his unpleasant childhood.

He went to the glass doors and looked out. The aliens looked like nothing he had ever seen before. He was sure the being was staring right back at him. He dropped his keys.

Excellent Editing:

Bruno was the first person to see the aliens arrive. They had spatial transponders, and they vibrated into being on the sidewalks, and in the center of empty roads. Bruno had meant to be at work early the morning of the invasion, but his cat had knocked orange juice down his suit, and when he brought the wet clothes to the shop around the corner from work, there was a line, which Bruno thought was absurd at seven o’clock in the morning.

Bruno had changed into his second-best trousers, and a jacket that was a shade too dark. Most of his clients weren’t going to notice the difference, but this afternoon he had the Fishars, and he was sure they would.

Bruno, keys in hand, was just running down the last steps to the ground floor to unlock the day’s case files when, with a crackle that threatened to shake the windows free of their moorings, a long, tall shadow of murky green appeared in the street outside.

Bruno saw the shadow; he went to the lobby doors, and put his hand against the glass. The vibration grew, and the shadow turned solid. Elongated limbs, lean with muscle and glistening green skin, supported a strange figure. The being was tall and thin, like a rod of coarse stone, and a flat head lay atop a narrow neck. A row of brilliant red eyes, arranged in a wide circle around the being’s head, stared straight at Bruno; he dropped his keys, which made a harsh jingle when they hit the floor.

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My books are here. My cat, Rose, has been staring at the neighbor’s dog with her ears laid sideways lately; she looks like a small, furry window guardian.

Almost There

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“I have heard the most extraordinary thing,” the queen of Old Laffet said.

“You have heard that your husband proposed to marry me,” Claire supplied.

“Why, how did you ever guess?” Lysette asked, clapping her hands. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes glittered. “I also heard that your response was not so decidedly negative as I would have liked.”

“It was in no way negative,” Claire said. “I accepted him.”

“And in this little agreement,” Lysette asked, “had you reached any conclusion as to what was to be done about me?”

“To me,” Claire said, “you do not really count.”

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My new book is nearly finished. I’m getting the files ready for paperbacks of my previous series.

The Good Fairies Of Writing Don’t Exist, But Your Ingenuity Does

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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.

Squirrel!

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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!

Examples

Bad Writing:

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.

Good Writing:

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.

Why A Healthy Sense Of Boredom Leads To Better Plotting

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You may be wondering (or not) why I am writing a blog. Why are you writing a blog, Victor, you might ask. Why don’t you spend more time at your job, or lifting weights? Well, gentle reader, I’ll tell you why.

Oh, Wait! That’s Off-Topic. Update Time!

My novel is progressing soooo slowly, because I’m being careful. I have a lot of moving parts in my current work, and I don’t want to let any of them spiral out of control. And my last five chapters are coming together on my dragon novel. I made an experiment for a different cover (I’m on the fourth or fifth design now), and it was looking pretty nice, but when I made it a thumbnail to check how it worked, the color scheme and lighting were awful. I’m glad I checked it early, before I invested too much time into the texturing and details.

Because A Thumbnail Reveals Shoddy Contrast

I’m getting through the scales on my dragon, and I have another three books that I’m mulling over. I need to get through the paperback files for the Eastern Slave Series. Making the paperbacks is a lower priority, because I know I’ll end up tweaking the text on the cover files, and that will take time. I’m working over the blurbs as well.

And Now, A Word About Plotting

It’s often a great idea to embrace your short attention span, if you have one. (If you haven’t got one, try to cultivate impatience and a jaded spirit of “seen it all” –ism.) Why, you may ask, should you do such a thing?

Your Readers Browse Bored

Have you ever flipped channels on a television? If you are an exceptionally patient person and you haven’t, have you seen someone else determinedly flip, flip, flip? Readers often approach new books with the same kind of lackadaisical whimsy, and it behooves us to remember their limited give-a-hoot-ometer.

Plot Relies On Regular Velcro

Something needs to stick; some amount of action, or of wonder, or hooked premise must incentivize the reader to go on for another sentence, or another paragraph. People’s attention spans aren’t shorter than they used to be, but we’re all used to better presentation and condensation of information, and we consequently give fewer chances.

What Is This Velcro Of Which You Speak, Victor?

Have you ever passed a car accident on a highway? Did you look to see what happened? If you ever had drama-prone neighbors, did you begin to take an interest, however begrudging, in the day-to-day happenings of their lives (if only because you were hoping for peace and quiet)? When my first kid was born, we lived in the bottom half of a split-level house. Above us was a screaming person with anger problems, and we moved as soon as we could to a new place with nearly-invisible neighbors. The point of interest in my story is that I found myself, when we lived under this loud person, making constant notes of her habits and comings and goings, in an attempt to avoid the unfortunate scenes that unfolded upon occasion.

Books Don’t Have To Be Pleasant; Only Compelling

Really good writing often has an element of “is this really happening?” to it. This is sort of similar to the can’t-look-away nature of bad road accidents and surreal reality shows. We look at these unfortunate happenings not because we are horrible people, but because we want to know. We want to know what happened to cause the absorbing circumstance, and we want to see what happens in the end.

Examples

Bad Writing:

The bond was too strong for humans to understand, or even to grasp with their weak and impermanent minds. They were not strong enough, and they knew that their relationships ended only in familial setups and romantic ties.

His need was deeper than he thought it was. They were like plants growing together. Mary was close to him, and he watched her very often with the idea that she would go away when he had not remembered to look for her.

When he was made into a cyborg, she hadn’t really thought of where he was because she hadn’t known him then, or known that he would become a part of her life. She had almost died, and that hurt his heart, but when they had spent some time together he wanted to get away. Being close to such a weak person put pressure on him to live and be strong for both of them.

Tenu Nagoss had places hidden away where he could take him, when their partnership was found. He knew they would come, and he was sure they could find him without any of the fuss that could have lengthened the time between the searching and when he was caught.

Good Writing:

He had told her that he would rather die than be away from her, but he did not know, from one moment to the next, if he meant it. His devotion was like a yearning tendril of young growth, the yellowed stretch of plant that promises to grow thick and green with time.

He had not yet been separated from her in any meaningful way, and he was growing comfortable with her constant proximity. He did not understand the strength of the bond that tied him to her. He had felt it clearly enough when she had been dying, but his idea of the permanence of their relation to each other was immature and short-sighted.

A part of him looked into the future and saw, with the inevitability of the sunrise, his absorption into the alien empire. His master would come looking for him; he knew this. Mary would die, if he was unable to kill his master, and he would be whisked away to one of Tenu Nagoss’s hidden workshops.

This knowledge of what must be rested, like a subterranean building, beneath Ethan’s movements as he drew the flimsy fabric over his blood-stained skin. The robe, having been designed for humans, was too small for him, and his newly-restored inserts made shining bulges beneath the white cloth.

Drama: Fodder For Fiction

We can remember that there is nothing so compelling to the human mind as story, and we can comfort ourselves with the reassurance that ugly and embarrassing stories suck us in as easily as intellectually-stimulating writing. Your audience is often bored; if you embrace the help of your own hopefully-limited attention span, you can exploit the potential of your characters and situations to make an artistic train-wreck that many readers won’t want to look away from.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books are here. I have a lot of work to do, and I’m avoiding some of it because relaxing is a new skill for me (and I’m enjoying myself).