Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Some of you may recall that back in 2015, I started writing a short story that was about a human Barbie doll. This story was inspired by a news article I read about a young woman in Russia who looked exactly like a human Barbie, all without any surgeries (as far as we’re aware), and with the help of her parents as well. The story boggled my mind, and I wondered what would cause anyone, let alone their parents, to want to try to pursue that aesthetic to such a degree. After all, studies have shown that if Barbie were real, she’d have a pretty miserable life because of how strange her body is.

Thus started my work on “A Project in Western Ideals,” (alternatively called “My Perfect Body” at one point), about a teenage girl who is molded by her guardian figure into becoming a human Barbie doll.

Problem is, I was never satisfied with the story I was producing. No matter how many drafts I churned out, I always ended up rewriting it or going back or stopping in the middle of writing to wonder why this story wasn’t clicking. This cycle continued on and off for three whole years, mainly off because I was working on other projects.

And then, a couple of months ago, I had an idea on how to fix the story. And then I began to work on it again and more ideas came to me. And finally, this story came into focus. It clicked with me, became better than average.

And tonight, I finished the damn thing. I finished a draft of “A Project in Western Ideals” I feel proud of, that I could show an editor and say, “It’s not completely ready for publication yet, but it’s a start, and I think it’s a good one too.” And at 49 pages and 14,062 words, it’s a decent-sized novelette too. That’s a bit long for some publications, but I think I might still be able to find a home for it. As this past year has shown, a lot of hard work and persistence can lead to amazing things.

But for now though, I’ll leave this story alone for a while. I’ll come back to edit it when I’m able to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. In the meantime, I’ll work on a few other stories, and see what else I can produce.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for reading my late-night progress report. I’ll probably have at least one or two more blog posts out this week, so keep an eye out for them. Until then, time for bed. Goodnight, and pleasant nightmares to you all.

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Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?

I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.

Reborn City, Book 1 of the Reborn City series.

I didn’t realize until the work day was almost over that it’s been exactly five years since Reborn City was published. And wow, does it feel like five years. So much time has passed in that time, and I’ve learned so much. Much of what I’ve learned has been thanks to writing and publishing RC, as well as its sequel Video Rage. I’m glad I remembered that today was that important day.

So in case you weren’t aware, Reborn City is a sci-fi novel I wrote in high school and which I published midway through college. It was my first self-published novel and my first published novel overall. It’s sequel, Video Rage, was released in 2016. Here’s what the series is about:

Zahara Bakur is a Muslim teenager recently moved into the gambling town of Reborn City. After her parents are killed by gang violence, Zahara is forced to join the Hydras, an interracial gang whose leaders have supernatural abilities. As the violence in Reborn City escalates and Zahara becomes closer to the Hydras, including the quiet but stern Rip, she finds herself drawn into a dark conspiracy involving the origins of the leaders and the shadowy corporation that rules over Reborn City.

When I wrote the first book, I wanted to write an action-filled series that explored both the idiocy of prejudice and the power of overcoming the negative thoughts people have of you and you have of yourself. And while it is told with the (arguably naive) viewpoint of an idealistic high schooler, I think I accomplished just that. People have told me they enjoy the story and couldn’t put the story down. Some even found it heartwarming.* To this day, it may be my most popular work (though I hope Rose might change that when it’s published).

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some of the people on Amazon have said:

It’s a neat exercise in trying to see through the eyes of someone different from oneself. It incorporated a lot of fly comic-book-esque tropes. A good beginning effort of an up an coming new author who has some cool ideas to explore.

–Amazon Customer

This is an extremely commendable effort by a new young writer, whom I believe we will see much more of in the years ahead. Rami Ungar’s vision of a frightening dystopian future is peppered with those elements that make us all human. There are quite a few surprises in the book, and I am anxious for the next volume in the series to be released.

–Marc M. Neiwirth

This is not a genre I typically delve into, but I took this book on vacation and couldn’t put it down. The plot had me turning pages at quite the clip. The characters were unique and interesting and the imagery had me creating my own visual of what Rami’s interpretation of the future looked like. For first time novelist, Rami Ungar, this was an outstanding showing of talent and commitment to his passion of writing. Looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next!

–Michele U

Video Rage, Book 2 of the Reborn City series.

While I do love tooting my own horn, I’ll stop here. If you would like to check out Reborn City and its sequel Video Rage, I’ll leave the links below for you. And if you do end up picking up either book and reading it, please leave me a review to let me know what you thought. Positive or negative, I love a review, and they help me out in the long run.

Oh, and as for Full Circle, the final book in the series, I do plan to get back to work on it at some point. However, I need to make sure the story is worthy of an ending chapter to the trilogy. The current version I was creating didn’t feel worthy after RC and VR of ending the story of Zahara and the Hydras. So until I can come up with a better story to finish the trilogy, I’ll be working on other stuff (they say distraction is one of the best cures to tackling a difficult problem).

Sorry if that upsets you. But hey, would you rather me bust something out and be terrible, or wait as long as a George RR Martin fan and get something worthy of your time? I know what I would answer.

Well, that’s all till this weekend, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Reborn City: Available on Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & NobleiBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

Video Rage: Available from Amazon, Kindle, CreatespaceBarnes & Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo

*I know, right? Something I wrote described as heartwarming. Who’d have thunk?

You ever find yourself reading a story, particularly a horror story, and particularly one of the shorter variety, and it gets really tense? And then something terrifying is revealed? And then–that’s it. The story just ends there. And you’re like…what? What happens next?!

Yeah, this happens quite a bit in fiction, though I notice it more in horror stories than anywhere else. A famous example is Stephen King’s “Boogeyman.” The story follows a man who tells a therapist about how his three children were all killed by the titular entity. The therapist convinces the protagonist to come by for further sessions, but the moment the protagonist turns around, it’s revealed that the therapist is actually the therapist wearing a mask. And that’s how the story ends. No fight between them, no death. It just ends on that revelation.

Why? Why do authors do that? A story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Why does the end seem so abrupt? It can be really frustrating sometimes!

Well, I’ve done this myself a couple of times with my own stories, so I have a few ideas on that. One is to get the reaction I spelled out above. The “Oh my God, what happened next? Why is it stopping so soon?” reaction. Why? Because you’re more likely to remember the story with that reaction. You’ll keep thinking about it. Maybe you’ll even vent your frustrations to other readers, which may encourage them to continue reading. Or maybe you’ll continue the story from there in a fan fiction, one you may share with friends and blog followers. Or maybe you’ll finish the story in a blockbuster movie someday that pulls in millions of dollars at the box office (unlikely, but one can dream). The point is, the story ends that way because the author wants you to remember the story.

Another reason is that the author feels, for whatever reason, that’s a good place to finish the story. As my old high school English teacher Mr. Guinan would say, “A story is never perfect; it’s just done. You can’t do anything more to it to improve it, it’s just done.” In this case, the plot can’t be furthered or worked on anymore. To do anymore would be a disservice to the story and bring down quality. It’s just done, and that’s why the author finished the story at that crucial moment without giving the resolution a reader might be looking for.

And finally, the story might end there because the author themselves can’t imagine what comes next. They try, but for some reason, they can’t see beyond that critical moment: the reveal of the monster, the corpse under the stairs, the woman being pushed into moving traffic (man, I’m disturbed). It’s most likely the rarest reason, because authors generally have an idea of how a story will end when it’s published, but I’m sure it happens.

In any case, whenever an author does this, they don’t do it with any malicious intent. Authors often treat their stories like their babies, and want them to be the best they can be. So when you come across a story and it seems to end abruptly, don’t take it personally. Even if it frustrates you, just know that this is the author’s way of making sure their story is the best that it can be. Because if they’re not making sure their story is the best it can be, are they really doing their job?

At least blog posts don’t end that way. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were reading a blog post, and it was getting to this important point, and then it just

It’s a little after three in the morning (the Devil’s Hour, how fitting) and I just finished a writing marathon. I told myself I wouldn’t go to bed until this story was done. And lo and behold, I finished it. Thank God I don’t have work in the morning, or I’d be a zombie in the morning. What a way to finish off an already action-packed day (got my first car as well today. How exciting is that?).

So if you weren’t aware, for the past couple of months I’ve been working on a story, which I decided to call River of Wrath, I started some time ago while in-between drafts of Rose. The story is inspired by both Dante’s Inferno and by events of the American civil rights movement, and both influences are very easily seen. I had to stop when it came time to edit Rose again, but after the most recent draft of that I got back to work on River. And boy, did the story start coming along! Once I figured out where I was going with it, I sometimes got as much as three thousand or more words out a night. All leading up to tonight, where I put in the last three or four thousand words and called the story finished.

The crazy thing is, I never expected River to get beyond twenty thousand words. I totally expected it to be a novelette. And if it did somehow get beyond twenty-thousand words, I figured it’d maybe get as long as thirty thousand. Thirty-five thousand if things got really crazy. Imagine how surprised I was when it passed thirty-five thousand. And then forty thousand words. Around forty-six or forty-seven thousand, I realized that this was becoming something more. River was becoming a novel.

And now that it’s finished, guess how long the first draft is? In terms of pages (8.5″ x 11″, 12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced), it’s a total of 192 pages. And in terms of word count, that’s also a whopper: 60,059 words. That’s about seventeen thousand words shorter than the first Harry Potter book, but still long. And definitely a novel by some publishers’ standards, and by mine. And a hell of a lot longer than I thought it was going to be.

And if that’s not crazy enough, get this: I started this story on October 29th, 2017. And I finished it in the early morning of October 30th, 2018. And the events of the story take place on October 30th and October 31st, Devil’s Night and Halloween. Now that is a crazy, unplanned coincidence. Totally did not intend for that to happen. It’s cool, as if it’s a kind of sign or something, but still, totally unplanned and weird.

So what’s next? Well, I’m going to crash into my bed and not wake up for a very long while. After that, I’ll have some beta readers look at the story and give me some feedback. And after that, depending on my schedule, I’ll give it a good edit. And after that…well, hopefully Castrum will take a look at it and maybe want to publish it. Fingers crossed, right?

But like I said, I’m going to bed. It’s late (or early, according to some), and I’m tired. I need some sleep. So I’ll head to bed now, and when I wake up, I’LL BEGIN MAKING THIS HALLOWEEN ONE TO REMEMBER, LEAVING NONE UNAFFECTED! MWA HA HA HA HA!!!

So good night, my Followers of Fear. And until next time (hopefully very soon), pleasant nightmares and Happy Halloween!

I just published my latest post on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. And I’m sure I’m going to be stepping on a few toes by posting this one: Writing a Sex Scene. Yeah, I went and wrote this article. I can already feel gray hairs sprouting on the heads of people I know who either still think of me as a funny, if somewhat wild child, or who just didn’t think I could find a way to give them cause to worry.

But I felt it was necessary to write this post. As much as we try to ignore or laugh (or even disparage) at any mention of sex in our media, it’s become quite common to depict sex in our work. And that includes our literature. Surprisingly though, not a lot of time is devoted to actually showing people how to write those scenes. Not as much as could be, anyway. I’ve written a couple of scenes involving sex, so I thought it would be good to write an article with some tips on how to write those scenes. And surprisingly, this article is cleaner than you would expect.

If you’re at all curious, please take a moment to check out the article. And while you’re there, check out the other articles on the site. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site devoted to helping authors of all genres, backgrounds and experiences to write, edit, publish and market their work effectively and without spending a fortune on it either. I’m not just a contributor, I’m also someone who has been helped immensely by the site, so definitely check it out if you have the chance.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got plenty to do today, so I’ll check in another time. Until then, pleasant nightmares!