The Beginner’s Guide To Reverse-Engineering A Successful Story

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A powerful way to improve your storytelling is to study (and deconstruct) the successful books that have gone before.

How To Reverse-Engineer Story

What you want to do first is take apart the emotional components. A successful book will generally have a limited palette of emotional tones, and the energy choices will be harmonic. (You know, I think many manuscripts are rejected by agents and publishing houses precisely because no attention has been paid to the energetic composition or emotional colors of the piece.)

What The Hell, Victor Poole? Colors?

Yes, yes, I know, I sound like a raving lunatic, but what I say, alas, is possibly true. For an example, let us look first at a book, and then at a recent film.

You’re Crazy, Victor

Thanks, dear friend. Let us press on in an investigatory spirit, and learn more about my off-the-wall ideas. For our book example, we shall examine The Little Prince, and then we will take a look at the new Tom Cruise film, The Mummy. Our overview, alas, shall be incredibly brief, because I have to get back to work in five minutes.

The Little Prince

This book is an energetic wonder; it is written with golden energy, and has glinting fragments of diamond-like white and blue throughout. Harry Potter has some gold filigree through the center, but The Little Prince may as well have been dipped in a pool of molten gold. It is incredibly rare to find any story with so much precious light in it.

Gold Vs. Yellow

I may as well take a moment here to explain the difference between yellow emotional tone and gold. Yellow, bright, unmitigated mustard-color, is jovial and unapologetic and exceptionally irreverent. It’s got the energy of a squeaking helium balloon, and irritates more natural colors. Gold, on the other hand, is the manifestation of idealized human destiny, and is an emotional tone that is extremely rare, both in people’s energy fields and in stories.

You Said You Couldn’t See Auras, Victor Poole!

I don’t see colors. I have never seen colors. However, I can see energy movement, and my brain processes the different qualities of energy as color. So, when I see someone, I see just them, with no accompanying clouds of light, but then when I describe what their energy field was like, my mind interprets the qualities of movement in terms of color.

The Mummy

The overall effect of the new Tom Cruise film, energetically, is a dark red tinged with burned (false) gold leaf, almost orange, and eaten away by navy blue that is meant to be seen as black.

Now That We Have A General Impression, How Do We Deconstruct Further?

Let’s begin with The Mummy. Navy blue is used when a story is attempting to portray evil, but has been written by people who are cloaking themselves in denial, usually because their bosses actually are evil. Most Hollywood films that approach evil do so with either a rusted-blood red-brown (which does not remotely approach black), or with an intellectually-lazy navy blue (which is much closer, but still a lie).

Interestingly, the color black does not represent evil at all; black is the color of death, which is friendly and warm. But that is a topic for another day, and I am not going to describe to you the colors of evil (which are not black).

To dig deeper into the way The Mummy functions as a story, we must look at the harmony of the emotional tones chosen to convey meaning. The colors at the beginning of the film are muted, almost washed out, like watercolor with too much water thrown in. As the film progresses, the emotions approach deeper and truer tones, until, in the final few minutes, the richness of an untempered acrylic, or a thinned-out oil appears.

Victor, Your Words Make No Sense

Too bad for you. Let us look at an example of imitating this story construction; light, watered-down emotions building to a truer, richer pigment.

Faint Color:

Horace lifted his shovel to his shoulder, and trudged through the dying grass towards his shack. The sun made a colorless burning over the sky, and Horace felt, as he usually did, a deadening silence through his whole soul. He was so bored.

Strong Color:

He drew his rifle, and fixed his eyes on the thundering monster, which had three bronze horns, and a pair of silver wings raised above its back. The beast roared as it leapt forward; Horace’s bones shook within his frame. He fired; the shot cut through the noise with a deafening clap.

Now, The Little Prince

You will probably not be able to follow any description I make about this story’s construction, or you will say I’m crazy, so I will describe it in shorthand.

The Little Prince is written as a gradual unravelling of the core energy entwined around every biological human’s lower spine. This is the segment that can be hooked into higher meaning (God, if you will), and also the area most often targeted by professional soul-eaters.

Wow, You’re Crazy!

I told you so. Let us examine a method of writing that imitates this style. Remember, unless you are in a place of deep soul-clarity, you will be unable to write like this. Or, if you have a very healthy subconscious, and are really good at compartmentalizing. Then you’d be all right, if you are in decent shape, energetically speaking.

Normal Writing:

In the center of the world was a cave, where a secret diamond slept. At the heart of the diamond was a tiny egg, which had been miraculously preserved, and which slept now, destined never to wake at all. Until the magical fairies came down, and discovered the diamond! And cracked it open! And used their time-control powers to awaken the tiny egg!

Unravelled-Core Writing:

Sarah was a fat girl, with very long, dirty blond hair. It was not dirty because of the color, but because she washed it with too much conditioner, and the oils soaked into her scalp, and gave an unhealthy sheen to the locks that drifted, in strangled tangles, to her hips. She was in love with her best friend, and wore glasses that often fell down to the tip of her nose.

You’re reading Victor Poole. My books are here. I really thought yesterday was Wednesday, but it was Tuesday. Today, however, is Wednesday.

The Invisible People

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Leed is a little boy; he was born in Talbos, and sold by his parents when he was five years old. The sale was managed by Leed’s uncle. Leed was planted as a child laborer in the quarries of Slavithe.

Leed, The Child-Spy

He was to live as a faux-Slavithe boy there, and to be gradually promoted into higher circles of ranking Slavithe households, and to serve as a spy under the direction of his uncle, who carried information to the network of government spies answering to the king in Talbos.

King Fernos Is A Piece Of Work

Leed’s nasty uncle, his father’s brother, lives as a robber on the road between the cities of Talbos and Slavithe; when Leed obeys Ajalia, instead of his sleazy uncle, his uncle beats him.

An Excerpt:

Ajalia vows to take revenge on the man. This is an excerpt from Into the East:

“What don’t I know?” Leed demanded.

“Things,” Ajalia said.

“That is also nonsense,” Leed told her sternly. “You are avoiding telling me things.”

“Yes, I am,” Ajalia said. Leed gave her a long and offended silence, and then he drew an important breath.

“You are being very dismissive, and rude,” Leed informed her. Ajalia nodded. “You are not allowed to nod, and agree with me!” Leed cried. “You have to fight back, and tell me that I’m wrong. You can’t admit that you’re being rude!”

“I’m being very dismissive, and exceedingly rude,” Ajalia said calmly. Leed stopped on the brightly-lit mountain, and stared at her. When he saw that Ajalia did not stop and come back to confer with him, his face reddened, and he chased after her.

“You are supposed to be nice to me,” Leed told her. Ajalia waited until Leed was just behind her, and then she turned without a word, and caught Leed under the arms. She threw him onto the ground, and caught him just before his face hit the rocks. Leed did not cry out, but his whole body stiffened, and his shoulders and arms spread reflexively. Ajalia felt the breath leave the boy’s body in a long gasp of fear.

The Abuser

Leed is afraid of his uncle, because his uncle is a violent and unprincipled man. Leed is also used to being invisible, in that he is expected to function without any care being taken of him as a person with thoughts and feelings of his own. Leed has never been treated, by anyone, like a child, and he has consequently grown into a functional, invisible entity.

Leed Does Not Think Of Himself As A Person Who Counts

In Western therapy, this phenomenon is called “the forgotten child,” but that is hardly a fulsome description of the experience of not existing.

How Did Ajalia Get Him?

Ajalia wrested ownership of Leed’s labor from a grafter, Gevad, early in the first book of the series; ever after, Leed becomes Ajalia’s right hand and trusted confidant, because she was used in the same way; Leed and Ajalia understand each other.

He Asks For A Knife

Leed, some way into their relationship, says that he wants to learn to defend himself. Ajalia, you see, carries a knife, and uses it when she feels it necessary. Leed lusts after the knife, and the safety he believes it represents.

He Is Working With Philas When Ajalia Begins To Teach Him

Leed has to learn the difference between people who care about him and people who hate him, and he has to become angry on his own behalf. In the beginning of the series, Leed is deep in the culture of his people; he feels obligated to his uncle, and fears the existential consequences of being bad. Because he has been taught that he is not really a person, Leed sees badness as synonymous with standing up for himself, or defending himself from the abuse of his captors.

Leed Doesn’t Want To Be A Bad Person

When Ajalia sees that Leed earnestly desires the self-possession that she has, she strikes a deal with him: she will teach him to defend himself, if he takes revenge on his uncle himself. Ajalia meant to hunt Leed’s uncle herself, but Leed accepts the bargain, and she goes to work.

How Does Ajalia Teach Leed?

She begins by attacking him, but never harming him. Leed, for a long time, is violently indignant. He sees that Ajalia is like him, in that she has also been conditioned to serve others as an invisible nonentity. According to Leed’s ingrained thinking, it is wrong, for either Ajalia or himself, to stand up against any kind of abuse.

He Has To Get Mad Before He Will See Himself As Worthy

Ajalia begins to throw Leed around, and to turn him upside down, always taking care to protect him from pain, but causing him great fear in the process. Leed gets angrier and angrier throughout this process; he accuses Ajalia of hating him, and of being evil. She turns his reasoning back on him, and asks if his uncle is equally evil for causing him physical injury. When she says this, Leed goes very quiet. He does not know how to reply, except to say, in essence, that “It is different with my uncle, somehow.”

She Points Out The Dysfunction In His Thinking

Ajalia presses the point. She takes Leed off guard, again and again, until finally, in the wild mountains between Talbos and Slavithe, Leed gets really angry. He starts to watch her, and to mistrust her. Once he has learned to protect himself physically, she goes to work on his mind, but if you want to hear more about that, you’ll have to read the book.

You’re reading Victor Poole. The passage above is from this book. Mop is another boy Ajalia takes on in The King of Talbos, but he is already perfectly capable of protecting himself.

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.

The #1 Rule Of Writing

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As you may know if you read my blog, I went to acting school. I know, how decadent, right? One thing that puzzled me in my time as an acting student was the regularity with which Whitney got acting gigs. I was surrounded by eager and ambitious women who fought tooth and nail for the approximately three good female parts that came available each year (by “good part,” I mean in a respectable production, with costumes and a paying audience, and consisting of more than twenty lines of dialogue). Despite the overwhelming plentitude of women, Whitney always had parts. She flitted between community theatre productions, semi-professional gigs, and school projects like a saturated butterfly of small-time fame.

What Made Whitney Successful?

I knew several talented actors, both male and female, who could not get a part to save their life. Nobody in casting would touch them with a ten-foot pole. Meanwhile, here was Whitney, adding respectable roles to her resume every two months.

This Is Only Notable Because Of The Fifty Women Who Weren’t Getting Parts

The moment that this became intensely interesting to me was when I ended up in a class with Whitney, and I was able to observe, firsthand, her regular process. (Before you get all worried about me being cynical, please remember that I am speaking of her habitual patterns and not her native talent or potential.)

Whitney, It Turned Out, Wasn’t The Best Actor

Whitney was a shit actor. I remember watching her perform an audition song for the class (we had to work our material regularly in front of each other–because, you know, it was acting school). It was some seductive, happy-go-lucky party type song, where the character was meant to be exceedingly worldly and experienced. Right-o?

The Audition Song

Whitney performed the piece after the manner of a vestal nun wearing fifteen yards of stifling linen. The teacher of the class kept blinking hard, and hesitating, as if unsure of how to address this gap between sensibility and material.

So Where’s The Secret? Nepotism? Politics?

Why did Whitney keep getting all these juicy roles? And, lest you think I am basing my evaluation of her working habits purely on this un-sexy song, I shall add a short litany of her other offenses to actor-kind: Whitney was routinely late, poorly dressed, badly prepared, and got most of her material from those books you can find in the library called, “The Best Women’s Monologues Ever!” (which, if you aren’t from the acting world, are so over-performed by virtue of being easily accessible that they are generally anathema to decent folk in theatre). She was not sensitive to her partners in scenes, was not particularly good at memorizing her lines, and did not respond readily to direction.

What Does This Have To Do With Writing, Victor Poole?

So what is the #1 Most Important Thing in writing? The answer lies in the mystery of Whitney’s success. She was a terrible actor. She had mediocre habits, and lackluster sensibility. I studied Whitney, and the other actors like her, for several years. Why, I asked myself, did these people keep “winning” in theatre? At first, it didn’t seem to make sense to me.

The Turning Point For Me

It was not until I started to direct theatre that my mind expanded, and I learned the value of an actor like Whitney. It was as a small-time producer that I solved the mystery of the mediocre actor who succeeds.

Yes, And?

What does this have to do with writing?

There are writers who work rather like Whitney did. They write stories, and they either sell them directly to readers or to publishers. They have impressive publication credits, and some manner of fan base. They may or may not make a living at their work, but they are irrefutably writers, because people read the things that they write. They may not have stellar work habits, and their writing may be lacking in sensibility, or in erudition. Sometimes their editing is subpar, or their plots are predictable.

Those Scoundrelly Success Stories!

To people on the outside, writers like Whitney are maddening, like a gadfly that is permanently and obnoxiously attached to your brain, stinging you. “Why are they published already?” not-yet-successful-writers may wail in despair.

I could tell you what Whitney was doing in a word or two, but you would not understand. I will tell a short story instead.

The Allegory Of Flynn And John:

Once upon a time, there were two space cadets at the Academy of Super-Pilots of the Future. John was two years older than Flynn, and he (John) was determined to make a splash as the greatest space pilot of all time. He (John) wanted to have a wall full of awards and trophies; he wanted to be mentioned constantly in the news-bulletins of the Allied Galaxies. John had hardcore ambition, and he worked constantly at his lessons. You could see John, of a Sunday afternoon, hammering himself into exhaustion in the simulation cruisers, while his acquaintance, Flynn, was relaxing in the local booze-gardens.

Flynn had tumbled into the Academy almost by accident. He was not overly ambitious, and had no illusions about the mundanity of the work required of a space pilot. He read holo-comics more than his textbooks, and generally scraped through exams with just-above-passing marks. He only used the simulations when he was required to, and his free time was spent either drinking, sleeping, or staring lazily out the windows of the Academy’s deck and imagining great adventures in the farthest reaches of space.

John graduated with the highest honors, and was placed into an advanced pool of candidates for interviews with the Galactic Merchants alliance. John was sure he would be hired right away, and drive the biggest, most expensive cruisers in existence.

Flynn graduated at the bottom of his class, and started to read the Star Gazette circular while he worked part time in his uncle’s scrap shop, driving beaters in and out of the lot. Flynn applied to the jobs that had the pay he was looking for (just enough, and no more), and he soon got a contract to pilot freight cruisers between the moons of Cycadia.

John got three job offers from industrial corporations who wanted him to serve as a janitorial assistant in the piloting chambers. John was deeply offended; he had not gone through years of schooling to scrub air filters and wipe grunge from the buttons he should be controlling! John went home to stay with his parents while he waited for something better to turn up. His mother pointed out that the industrial companies paid well above living wages, and John, tipping his nose in well-trained disdain, applied for teaching jobs in the local flight school.

Meanwhile, Flynn fulfilled his contract for two years, and was asked by his supervisor to return as assistant pilot to one of the experimental ships the corporation was going to use to mine asteroids. Flynn agreed, and received a small pay raise. He joined the crew of the new ship, and set out for the farthest rim of the known universe.

John got a job as an assistant instructor in the community flight school, and told repetitive stories about his exploits as a hotshot pilot in the Academy. After a year and a half, he was recruited by a new company who wanted a qualified pilot on the team to make their loan application for a ship look more legitimate. John agreed, and spent another six months waiting for the details to be worked out.

Meanwhile, Flynn advanced from contract to contract, and became, after fifteen years of continuous work, the head of a prestigious firm in the Galactic Merchants alliance. He still spent his free time drinking and sleeping, and his shelf was dominated by glossy holo-comics (the expensive kind now).

John bounced from short-term gig to sketchy partnership, all the while turning down occasional bids for his piloting services from the lackluster construction and janitorial sectors. After many years, he applied for a position at the Academy of Super-Pilots of the Future, which had become a has-been school. John was once more among the scenes of his early exploits; he told himself that he had finally arrived. Instead of awards and news-bulletins, John adorned his walls with graduation certificates and photos of his students performing flight simulations.

I See Where You’re Going With This, Victor Poole!

Whitney, and actors like her, had a fundamental understanding of the drudgery, and the actual work of acting, that most actors around me missed. They understood their relationship to the directors and the audiences they performed for, and consequently, once they started working, they never stopped. Acting was, to them, a job, much as cleaning floors or frying noodles is a job for which one can be paid.

Those Poor, Sentimental Actors Who Failed

To the other actors, the ones who could not get roles, acting was a magical fairyland of praise, play, validation, and adventure. They did not understand the work of acting; they could not tell you what the exchange was that occurred between an actor and his audience.

What Kind Of Writer Are You Today?

If you do not understand the job you are required to do in an industry, it is unlikely that you will be hired, or that you will be able to find continual work. Many writers have a fundamental misunderstanding of the exchange occurring between the reader and themselves. They look at writing, and they see a magical fairyland of adventure, ego-stroking, and play. They do not think of writing as work, and they see this attitude within themselves as a mark of superiority. Writers who do not understand the fundamental work of writing have a very difficult time establishing a sustained audience of readers.

Are you, as you are today, a writer who is more like Flynn, or are you more like John?

You’re reading Victor Poole. My fantasy series is designed to make you really, really angry, and simultaneously enhance your ability to create. Copernicus is a man of golden light; he walks over a blue moon with the hero of this book.

The 2 Worst Mistakes You Can Make When Editing Your Book

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I’m working through The Last Cyborg manuscript right now. The process is fraught with pitfalls. I wrote from an outline, but I was not very experienced at the time that I wrote it, and so the balance between preserving the storytelling and altering the word choice requires close attention.

Two Common Errors Often Made In Editing

  1. Disrupting the original chain implied in the story
  2. Cutting character emotion, because “It’s too much; people will make fun of this.”

But Rewrites Are The Life-Blood Of Editing, Victor!

Writing down a story involves the laying down, within words, of a hopefully-unbroken chain of energy impulses. When a writer inserts new words, or cuts old ones without creating a careful bridge over the gap, the work becomes like a crusted bowl of chopped spaghetti.

Ew, Gross!

I talked briefly yesterday about cleaning your transitions; editing is a time when many, many good stories become garbled,  energetically nonsensical, and broken. Merely creating sense from words is not enough; the words must incorporate the same flavor and intensity of energy as were contained in the original draft.

Each Edit Becomes A Potential Transition

Beware, good stranger, of indiscriminate removal of sentimental or weakly-expressed phrases. Unless you are closely monitoring the internal energy chain of thought and meaning within the story, your editing will lessen the writing’s impact.

And Now, Thing 2

Many first drafts are enthusiastic, and contain expressive descriptions of how a character feels. These explorations of emotion are often targeted and axed in the editing process, because they seem too fluffy, or because a writer feels that such pure sentiment will open their work to ridicule.

Sentiment Has A Place In Fiction

Though overdrawn and bombastic emotion is unnecessary, a stoic set of characters is not much fun at all; they seem dry. When you are editing, and you come across a passage of emotion that seems too much, pause for a moment, and ask yourself if you are looking at the overall tone, or if you just want to avoid vulnerability.

Examples Of Editing

Original Draft:

Azua felt horrible. If she had woken up without the dreams, she thought, she would have been able to cope with the webbed monsters and their needle-like teeth. It’s all Harold’s fault, she reflected, as she sliced through the neck of yet another hurtling beast.

They were the size of engorged frogs, and their flailing limbs slapped against her legs with irritating regularity.

Poor Editing:

Azua roared and whipped her sword around her head. The green animals whizzed at her face, their needle-like teeth bared. Azua cut through the neck of a hurtling beast, and stomped hard on the face of another. Her hair fell damp against her cheeks.

The monsters snarled as a group, and their flailing limbs slapped against her legs with irritating regularity.

Better Editing:

Azua’s brow ached, and her skin was slick with a fevered sweat; she felt horrible. If she hadn’t dreamed of Harold’s rejection last night, again, she was sure she would have been able to dispatch of the webbed monsters and their needle-like teeth with relative ease. It’s all Harold’s fault, she reflected bitterly, as she carved through the neck of yet another hurtling beast.

The creatures were like enormous frogs, and their flailing tongues slapped against her legs with irritating regularity, making her feel as though she was in a sea of stinging mouths.

Beware These Two Mistakes in Editing

Watch out for cutting emotions, and for removing passages or adding new ones without paying close regard to the energy already flowing through the sentences. Remember that the original feel of the piece will be more valuable if its flavor and charm remain intact. Preserve the heart of your writing, and edit with care.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Here are my books. If your Thursday is going well, this novel will make it even better.

The 4 Things You Need In Order To Protect Your Work

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I worked for a couple of years with an actor named Chris. He was gangly and thin, and had a face that, in the words of my film teacher, was great for television. Chris went to an intercollegiate festival his senior year, and most of his teachers expected him to do well.

Did Chris Protect His work?

He didn’t. In the competition, he did extremely poorly, and came home in disgrace.

Chris, when I knew him, was one of those nobodies who could have been a somebody. He was not a blistering comet of talent, but he had sufficient aptitude and sensitivity to get himself places professionally, with a measure of hard work and strategic planning.

How Did He Fail To Protect His Work?

After I had known Chris for a while, he started working on a Shakespeare speech for a competition. Chris, in preparation for this speech, had not read the play, and did not understand anything about the character’s relation to any of the other people in the play. He was convinced that he would do well anyway.

He did not do well.

How Can I Protect My Own Work?

What is the purpose of this story about my acquaintance Chris? Well, I will tell you. Some time before I closed up my theatre business and moved away, I collaborated with Chris on a small directing project. He had studied acting; he would, I was sure, have the sense to function reasonably well as a director when I was not present.

I came back to see how the project was going later on. It was an unfortunate mess. The actors had zero protection. I was engaged in damage control for weeks afterwards.

You Should’ve Paid Attention To His Lousy Work As An Actor, Victor!

When you present any kind of creative work for public consumption, you risk exposure, ridicule, and outright abuse. There exist in this world unpleasant people who gleefully take advantage of vulnerability and weakness. When you write fiction, you create of yourself a great, throbbing target, and the assholes of the world lob poisonous arrows at you.

Isn’t That An Exaggeration?

If you are not prepared for attack, you may not have a pleasant experience as a writer.

Let us get down to brass tacks, as it were, and look at four things you need to have in place in order to protect your work.

The Four Things You Need:

  1. Clean your goddamned transitions, for the love of all that is holy.
  2. Remember that the most vocal critics are so creatively blocked that they’re marinating in a toxic stew of self-hate and jealousy; no exceptions. Anyone who is tearing you down or making barbed remarks about your work has poisoned their own creative process and lacerated their potential.
  3. Build an impenetrable shell of reducible ideological armor over each piece of work; if you cannot deliver a brief, unassailable quip about the message of the piece, keep the work to yourself.
  4. Disengage your personal self from the work; this is essential.

No. 4

Starting with no. 4, how, you might ask, can you disengage your private self from the things you write? This is an oft-neglected aspect of yogic philosophy; the self is a brilliant, expansive coalescence of light that exists slightly behind your physical form. When you divorce your understanding of yourself from your visceral experience of life, you become able to make more informed choices, and your priorities tend to organize themselves (because the impermanence of mortality becomes clear).

Yogic Philosophy, Huh?

Many, many–in fact, shall we go ahead and say all? All amateur creatives feel that their true selves are inextricably incorporated in their work. They think they have woven their true souls into the words, or into the music, or into the dance. They genuinely, in their most secret hearts, think that they are different to and better than professional creatives, because, in their way of thinking, they “really mean it.” It, in this case, being the act of creation.

No. 3

Now, let us move towards no. 3, and examine the white shell of impenetrable energy required to protect legitimate creative work. (In this case, your fiction writing.)

Aside:

Many people I have known would grow quiet and enraged at the use of my word, “legitimate.”

“All creativity is legitimate,” they might say or think. Their minds would close off, and they would feel thoroughly superior and educated in their hearts.

Not to burst your benevolent bubble of superior integrity, but there are creative exercises that are destructive, toxic, and inherently manipulative. These malicious acts of creation I would not class as legitimate.

Additional Note:

Illegitimate, or dastardly pieces of creativity are like destructive bombs, or like poisoned darts. As such, they require no protective shielding. Their expression is often as exposed and naked as possible, to ensure maximum penetration and disruption of the intended audience.

The Protective Shell

How to create this protective shell? This is impossible to do without an internalized moral framework. Fear not, dear internet stranger, you already have one, ready-built in your unconscious mechanism, and tweaked by life experience. To draw the moral framework to the surface, think for a moment of some childhood wrong you endured, and allow yourself to get steamed about how unfair it was. Ta da! There is your internalized moral framework! When you lay your moral framework (this is what you believe about fairness, good/bad, and right/wrong) between the writing and the audience, you have your protective shell.

Secondary Aside:

The protective shell is white and impenetrable because internalized integrity burns very hot, and coalesces a plane of hard energy just outside your vulnerable areas. Terrifically-bad people will attempt to talk you into taking apart your own energy, because if you don’t take it down, they can’t get in at your true self.

No. 2

We come now to no. 2: the soured character and distorted creativity of lame-ass critics. When a person has rejected and deformed their own ability to create, to dream, and to imagine, they begin to starve to death in their personalized energy zone. In order to survive, they feed on unprotected creatives. To use the creative impulse to destroy a pure impulse, or to gnaw on the exposed soul of a beginning writer, is to destroy your own ability to make anything worthwhile at all.

When you remember that people who attack you are literally dying in their souls, it becomes easier to let their attacks and undermining criticisms roll off your shoulders.

An Example Of Soured Creatives:

I am excessively attractive, to the point of being one of those sizzling-hot people who irritate failed actors. I know it sounds like I am really tooting my own horn here, but without this preface of my personable qualities, this story would not make as much sense.

Long ago, when I had not learned about family dysfunction, and when I thought that all attractive people were treated like home-grown sex workers by their families of origin (don’t worry, I escaped after much drama), I worked for a couple of women who were directing a show.

Ah, Theatre

Gee, those women hated my guts. I was perhaps sixteen at this time, and did not realize that two of the teenagers in the show (one of whom was supposed to “belong” to the first director’s progeny) were pining after me.

Water, Please

One day at rehearsal, the first director told me to adjust one of my lines (I was supposed to say “coffee,” but we had some water on the stage). Being an obedient performer, I gave the line as directed the next day, when the second director was there.

Sacrilege!

You would have thought I had sacrificed a baby goat on the stage and yodeled as I flung the blood over the set dressings. The first director was there, and she sat beside the conniption-having second director with a smug smile on her face.

What Happened Next?

The show was so-so in performance, and one of my heart-broken admirers got together with my best friend by way of consolation.

Wow, Victor, That Story Was Really Long

My first and second directors were upset that I was hot, talented, clever, and responsive. They wanted to tear me and my creative ability apart because they were divorced from their own inherent abilities to create original material.

There are a lot of people like this. When you create original material, people of this ilk are going to pop out of the woodwork and try to cannibalize you and destroy your ability to create.

Gosh, Victor, You Sound Pessimistic!

If you choose to see the vitriol of sour-grapes as an inevitable response to authentic creativity, you can see it as a compliment, and as a definite sign that you are doing something very right.

No. 1 (Hooray, The End!)

And now we shall look at no. 1, where I exhibit poor judgment, and swear excessively. Clean your transitions, and keep them clean. Messy, slow, disorganized transitions are just the worst. Look after your transitions, and don’t waste your reader’s time and energy. Keep them clean.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Working from outlines and character charts makes for seamless scene transitions. Monique carves her initials under the bumper of Caleb’s Jeep with her keys in this book.

The 7 Realizations That Dismantle Writerly Entitlement

curling wave

A major roadblock to success as an entertainer–and what is an author, but an entertainer of words?–is a sense of entitlement to the readers’ attention, money, and adulation.

What? I’m Not Entitled, Victor!

Most people are entitled in a variety of ways, but don’t realize it. They generally frame their feeling of entitlement in terms of “reality,” or “the way people are supposed to act.” The problem, of course, is that everyone has a different expectation for social exchange, and as a result, many of us end up feeling like we get the short end of the stick most, if not all of the time.

Step 1: No One Owes You Anything

People really don’t have to be nice to you (or to me), and they don’t have to look at your book, or review it, or pay for it. If you aren’t writing something that people go, “Wowza, must have that! It’s gonna give me what I really want!” about, you might not sell anything at all. And that doesn’t mean that the internet has destroyed books, or that your ideas are stupid, or that you should go get a better editor (unless you find a really, really fine editor who will coach your internal process and shape it on the page, in which case, hooray for you!); it means that you aren’t offering something people really want. So try something else.

Step 2: A Significant Portion Of Your Audience Is Entitled

So you know how we started out with me telling you that you’re probably entitled and you don’t realize it? Yeah, everybody else is too, and that needs to go into your expectations for how to write stories.

Step 3: People Steal

Ah, the sweet, naive days of my youth! Here are two stories to illustrate my point:

Story One:

I wrote a book about aliens who tinker with [cool idea], and gave it to a beta reader, who read it, sort of hated/loved it, and immediately started brainstorming a book idea of their own about an alien race that [same cool idea].

Story Two:

Not yet having learned my lesson, I exchanged drafts with another author for feedback. I read his first, and gave him detailed and copious notes. I also fixed a couple of glaring issues in his story construction. He was excessively grateful for the help. He read my draft, and gave me a garbled, nonsensical pile of contradictory criticism (he literally made up details that weren’t in the draft, and then shouted at me for the imaginary issues). Immediately after this, he began work on a new book that lifted about six elements straight out of my draft that he had seemed to loathe so heartily.

Step 4: You Can’t Win

No one is ever in a million years going to give you the kind of recognition, as a writer, that you secretly long for. It’s never going to happen. You can give yourself that kind of attention, but no one outside of your head is going to nurture and build you up the way you need in order to grow.

Step 5: Evaluate Your Current Skills

Imagine, for a moment, that you are going to get on a plane this afternoon and go try out for the Olympic gymnastics team of whatever nation you call home. And you’re just you, as you are today. Do you have any prayer of competing with the lithe and muscular bodies that have been prepared from the days of their childhood? Are you strong, flexible, and knowledgeable enough to hold your own amongst such people?

Professional writing is as competitive and ruthlessly demanding as international gymnastics. Many, if not all, people who are not professional writers think that writing is really easy; that’s why so many people want to be writers. Get paid for not much work, people say to themselves. Get lucky, people think.

How flexible is your soul? How dynamic, powerful, and hardened is your mental process? Do you know how to navigate the toxic and occasionally back-stabby waters of open competition with people who cheat? There are people who take writing and marketing their work this seriously; those are the people you are up against if you want to make a go of professionalism as a writer.

Step 6: Come To Grips With Your Competition

Unless you’re currently selling things, you may want to look at your blind areas, the things about your process and material that you’re kinda-sorta ignoring because they make you feel squelchy and uncomfortable inside. Focus on those things for a while. Your competition has found ways to cope with their blind areas; you aren’t going to out-pace them until you also cope with the parts of writing that terrify you.

Step 7: Depersonalize The Writing Process

People are going to bond to your characters a whole lot more clearly than they’re going to bond to you; most readers, even if they say they love an author ever so much, care about story and characters. If you can disentangle your idea of self from the storytelling, you can learn to write with an easier, less stressful process.

Remember, Most Writers Don’t Finish Their Writing Projects!

When you keep in mind that, by finishing stories, articles, poems, and novels, you are already ahead of the pack of people who dream of writing, you can push onward in the journey of becoming a real idea-maker in the world of genre fiction. People who write, and finish what they write, have a good shot at building a body of work that communicates clear ideas, and the sharing of clear ideas is a big step towards gaining an audience. This is the foundational part, where you’re a writer. To become a professional writer, you start working yourself ruthlessly, on top of finishing your projects.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Kedar, the ancestral king of the East in this book, is inspired by a football coach I knew in my old high school. If Brazilian soccer players had heard of this book, they might tell you to read it, too.