Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

In my last update on Rose, I mentioned that I was probably going to do a whole lot of revisions and possibly a ton of rewriting, owing to the fact that the flashbacks were deemed unnecessary to the story and I had to throw them out or modify them. Well, I am rewriting a good chunk of the novel. It’s not what I’d hoped for, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. And while I’m still trying to figure out the final third of the novel, I have figured out the second third for the most part, as well as other things that I plan to include in the story. And one of those things I plan to use is something I call mini-anecdotes.*

Mini-anecdotes are something I’ve noticed a lot in fiction, particularly fiction aimed for adults. They’re not like flashbacks or mini-flashbacks, but they’re related. A mini-anecdote is when a character briefly thinks of a past experience, usually something that can be associated with the current moment in the story. It’s not a flashback, as it’s not going into the character’s past in order to show them something. It’s more like a quick summary of a flashback. A good example would be in The Shining (which I’m rereading now), when Jack is doing handyman work around the hotel’s playground and park, and thinks back to the park he went to with his dad growing up. This not only gives us a bit more on Jack’s past and who he is as a person, but also gives us a brief illustration about his relationship with his dad, which we learn further about in the novel.

Other great examples of mini-anecdotes can be found throughout the Harry Potter books. In the first book, we learn how Harry’s life has been strange since he was small: ending up on the school roof, his hair growing back overnight, a sweater shrinking as his aunt is trying to force it on him. This isn’t a full flashback, but it gives us a very good idea of what Harry’s life has been like up until Dudley’s eleventh birthday, as well as what he’s like based on his reactions to the strange things around him. And in the third book, we get a brief glimpse of Harry’s relationship with his Aunt Marge, how she also mistreats him and spoils Dudley, and once let her dog chase Harry up a tree while laughing at his misfortune. It’s an illustrative moment on how awful Marge is and gives us an idea of what we can expect from her during her appearance in the story.

Now, I’ve only just started identifying mini-anecdotes in fiction, so I’m not an expert at using them yet. Just as you can”t really be a great writer even if you’ve read hundreds of novels, you can’t immediately use mini-anecdotes even if you’ve seen them in hundreds of books. However, I think I’ve identified a few things that might make using them in Rose a bit easier:

  • They’re brief. Seems rather self-explanatory, but it needs to be stated. Mini-anecdotes are usually only a couple of sentences or paragraphs at most. The longest may be only two pages at most, but they don’t go on for several pages. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a flashback, and as I stated in a previous post, flashbacks can be difficult to use effectively.
  • Little dialogue or details. Mini-anecdotes tend to be very bare bones. They may have a few lines of dialogue, but no long speeches. And certainly not enough detail like the shape of a building or all the thoughts going through a character’s head. It’s more summary, telling vs. showing, than anything else. Going into anything more would be going into flashback, most likely. And as I said, those have strings attached.
  • They’re connected to the present. Like Harry’s early experiences with magic or his aunt, these mini-anecdotes have to connect to the story’s present, either to illustrate a point, give us further insight into a character, or just to help us connect to them more. Having one for the sake of having one will do you no favors. After all, you wouldn’t want to have a romantic scene that suddenly goes into a character’s dislike of geese, do you?

While these won’t help a writer (let alone me) use mini-anecdotes well, they can be a starting point for their use. And if we as writers can learn to use them well, then we can use them to make our stories better and more memorable to readers. And in the end, isn’t that part of the reason we write in the first place?

Do you use mini-anecdotes in your stories? What tips do you have for writing them?

*At least that’s what I call them. I don’t know if there’s a technical term for them. If there is, please let me know in the comments below.

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I did not finish watching the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, owing to how depressing it was (I like dark stuff, but that show just took the joy out of living!). But in recent weeks, one scene from that show, a surprisingly not-sad scene, has been coming back to me. In a flashback, the main character Clay is critiquing another kid’s essay, and notices the latter uses the word “unique” several times. When the other kid asks why that’s an issue, Clay says that if everything is unique, it means nothing is unique. And on the surface I agreed with that sentiment, but I didn’t realize how it applied to my own writing until almost a year later.

As many of you know, I recently finished a fourth draft of my college thesis Rose, and that I had the novel beta read by a couple of people, including my colleague and good friend Joleene Naylor. One of the things she pointed out was a problem throughout the novel, and which I’ve been trying to avoid in subsequent stories, is repeating words, especially adjectives. Apparently I’ve been using the word “unique” several times in a single chapter or paragraph, though “unique” wasn’t usually the word I used.

Actually, it tended to look something like this (not an actual line from the novel, but I think you’ll get the idea):

Rose stood in place, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Paris placed the book on the table.

See how I used “place” twice? A better way to write this might have been:

Rose held her ground, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Paris placed the book on the table.

See the difference? And I had to do this throughout the fourth draft, identifying where I repeated words in close proximity to one another, and then coming up with a better way to say it.

And I feel like this is a really common issue that writers have to deal with at some point, or possibly at several points, in their careers. Despite our reputations for loving really big words (verbose, callipygian, penultimate, etc), when it comes to fiction, we tend to just use everyday words. After all, we’re normally writing for everyday people, not for a small niche of scholars or people associated with a small religious movement. So if a simple word, like “unique” or “place,” fits the bill for telling the story, we’re likely going to use it. And we’ll use it again and again, if it’s the first word that comes to mind.

But as the above points show, you have to vary what words you use in order to tell a story and not distract the reader. And that’s something I’m trying to learn how to do as a writer. You know, along with learning how to write good short stories. And writing good stories in general. Again, I leave that up to the feedback of my readers. But this is getting a lot of emphasis as well. Because as great as a story is, the language it’s told through can determine how successful it may be. Imagine if Harry Potter had been published and it read like a sixth grader had written it. I guarantee it wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is today and I might not have been inspired to be a writer (unless JK Rowling was in the sixth grade when it was published. Then she’d be the Mozart of literature).

So while I may never actually need to know twelve different ways to say “unique,” hopefully in the future I can avoid making mistakes like the ones above. And if I do (because let’s face it, no author is perfect), I hope I have a good group of editors and beta readers around me to point out those mistakes.

And if you’re an author who makes this mistake, the only way I can think of to avoid it is to do what you’re already doing: think about the words you use. Just do it a bit harder when it comes to the individual words themselves. At least, that’s what I’ve been doing. And I think it’s been working.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Expect another post from me (or maybe even two) very soon. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

I was honored by my friend and colleague, Ruth Ann Nordin, to do a guest post on her blog in honor of the publication of Video Rage. The post is about building worlds in fiction, and has some tips I hope people find very useful. Check it out, and leave your thoughts in the comments.
And thanks again to Ruth for letting me do this. I hope we can work together again sometime.

Ruth Ann Nordin's Author Blog

Quick note from yours truly:

I’ve never had a post about world building before, so I’m really excited to feature someone who is excellent at this storytelling technique.  Rami Ungar is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and if you enjoy thrillers and/or horror, why not check out one of the books listed below this post?

Thank you, Rami, for doing this post for this blog!

Now for Rami’s post:

Building a Fictional World

Setting is one of the most important aspects of writing any story, especially speculative fiction such as fantasy, science fiction, and horror. In many ways, the setting of a story is another character, because it interacts with the characters on almost every level of the story. Doesn’t matter whether it’s modern-day Columbus, Ohio, or Victorian England, or the moons of Jupiter, or the fantastical land across the waters that elves come from. One can’t…

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For a while now I’ve been reading The Complete Collection of HP Lovecraft on my Kindle. I figured it was about time, seeing as I haven’t been very exposed to his work up until this point, and the man has been a huge influence on greats like Stephen King, Allan Moore, Guillermo del Toro, and quite a few more. And since I am always looking to learn from other authors, I figured I should spend ten dollars of Amazon gift cards and see what happens.

Well, you get what you asked for. I didn’t realize that when I bought the collection, that it was 1112 pages! The length in itself is not such a problem, I’ve read books that long before. The thing is, Lovecraft…well, he’s hard to get through sometimes, and for a number of reasons. For one thing, there’s his style, which goes a little something like this:

And as I treaded up the stairs, filled with an anguish that panged the organs within my bosom to no end, I found my wife waiting for me in her chambers, her frown prominently featured upon her face. And I knew that my life had been transferred into a situation seriously detrimental and quite hazardous to my health, for that face on my wife at this hour could only mean that she had discovered my liaisons with Ellen the hotel maid from down in the village. I had endeavored to keep our trysts unknown from all but the walls of Ellen’s room, however it seemed that I was not secretive enough, as evidenced by the porcelain my wife volleyed at my head.

Okay, that’s a bit of a parody, but you get my point. Who talks like this?

Also, some of his early fiction isn’t that good. “Memory” is just a weird little flash fiction piece about a ruined city and a conversation between two beings about the city; “The Street” is about the houses on the titular street killing Communists after the street goes from a nice neighborhood to a slum; “Polaris” and “The White Ship” are obviously both dreams taken too literally, and “The Tree” is just not scary.

Also I noticed that so far, very few women appear in the stories. Several characters are mentioned as having wives, but so far the only woman who has any actual significance is the titular character of “Sweet Ermengarde”, and that’s a story parodying popular romantic melodramas of the day! But given that Lovecraft had a strained relationship with his mother, a turbulent one with his wife, and was dominated by his aunts in the later parts of his life, maybe that has something to do with it.

Lovecraft makes you wonder if maybe this guy is coming for you.

However, while I have my problems with Lovecraft’s early work, I have to admit that some of his stories do hit the mark, and even are a little scary. “The Tomb” is definitely somewhat chilling, as is “Dagon” and “The Picture in the House” (the former bears resemblance to Cthullu stories, while the latter has implications of murder and cannibalism). And I actually very much enjoyed “The Temple”, which was very strange and creepy.

I can’t say about the rest of his work, but for the early stuff I think what makes the successes so great is that they leave impressions on you. They make you think to yourself, “Imagine if that actually happened. That would be kind of creepy…” And then you take a look around yourself to make sure that a slippery slimy creature or some guy with wicked magic or something isn’t near you. Lovecraft is very good at leaving those sort of feelings with you. He makes you wonder, makes you think that there’s something just beyond the corners of our eyes or in the darkest parts of our world that we don’t understand, can’t understand, and that any interaction with that something or somethings would be very dangerous for us.

So there is definitely a reason why HP Lovecraft has stuck around and become well-known as a writer of weird and terrifying fiction. And as I progress from his early work to the stuff that he’s more famous for, like “Call of Cthullu” or “The Colour out of Space” or “History of the Necronomicon”, I’m sure I’ll find more reasons to like this guy (hence the reason this post is titled Part 1).

In the meantime though, I think I’ll take a break from his stuff. Like I said, he’s great when he’s good and I’m already learning a lot from him and seeing some of his influence on my work already, but he’s dense and hard to get through, and after so much of prose like my parody paragraph, I need a break if I’m going to continue someday. Besides, I finished on “The Nameless City”, which has that famous quote in it. You know the one:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

I can’t think of a better stopping point than on a creepy story that has that weird couplet in it. Can you?

Last year Angela released her first book, Jewel of the Thames, about a young woman named Portia Adams who moves into 221B Baker Street and begins solving mysteries happening in London (see our first interview and my review of JotT). Now she’s back, and she’s here to discuss her new book, the sequel to JotT, Thrice Burned and the growing fanbase around her character Portia.

RU: Welcome back to the program, Angela. Now, in Jewel of the Thames, Portia moves into 221 Baker Street, establishes a reputation for herself, and learns some very interesting things about her family history. What can we expect in Thrice Burned?

AM: Portia spends most of Thrice Burned struggling with the idea of becoming a real detective. Up until now, her cases have been small potatoes, brought to her by Brian, or friends or in the case of the missing child on a train, just the luck of being in the right place at the right time. With the full knowledge of her heritage just weeks old in her mind, Portia is truly at a juncture in her young life. Should she follow the easy route and take her law degree, fading into relative obscurity as one of the many barristers walking the streets of London? Or should she step up and take the road-less-travelled and take up the shingle to Baker Street, becoming the latest consulting detective in London? At the same time, other choices are being thrown her way when she meets Gavin Whitaker, a man who stimulates her brain in a way no one else ever has. Annie Coleson inserts herself into Portia’s life and suddenly, she has a persistent new friend (whether she wants one or not). So, in addition to the usual mysteries to solve, Thrice Burned focuses on decisions that need to be made for your young heroine to become the detective we all know she will be.

RU: Has Portia’s character changed at all between the books?

AM: Wow. Yes, it has, dramatically so. Where in Toronto she was essentially an introverted shut-in who did her best to fade into the background, since arriving in London Portia has made friends and developed a rather dramatic habit of getting into trouble. She’s still a very focused girl with introverted tendencies, but she’s starting to recognize when those tendencies move her towards depression and is trying to get a handle on it. She’s started documenting her moods, trying to avoid the extremes that her grandfather Sherlock Holmes experienced and while she doesn’t exactly embrace the lifestyle Mrs. Jones is determined to introduce her to, she does start to see its value and the value of the new friends in her life.

“Thrice Burned” by Angela Misri. Available March 24th

 

RU:  How do you come up with the cases for your books?

AM: This hasn’t changed through three books of writing about Portia. For me, it always starts with the crime – I have an idea for a crime and work outwards from there. In the case of Thrice Burned, I had a cool idea about some unexplained fires in London that could be linked back to a firefighter. In the case of my latest casebook that I’m working on for book four, I had an idea about unexploded mines from the first world war being set off at London train stations. I have a video from my series that explains my methodology (such as it is).

[Editor’s note: Angela has a series of web videos on YouTube called One Fictitious Moment about writing fiction. You can watch the particular video she’s referring to here.]

RU: Portia’s been gaining quite a fan base. She’s gotten some fan art and even appeared in a Wikipedia entry. How does that make you feel?

AM: Incredibly blessed. I still find it surreal to meet fans who know all about my characters and talk about them like they’re real people (which in my head, they are of course!).

RU: How many more volumes of Portia’s adventures can we expect? And what’s next for you personally?

AM: Well, I have at least one more book with Fierce Ink Press (coming out March 2016) but I am well into writing book 4 in the series. I don’t know to be honest. I think as long as I enjoy writing them, I will continue to do that and hopefully find someone who will publish them! In my head I really want to make it to the Second World War in the books, because Brian is going to go off to fight, and Portia is going to have to get involved with the war as well (though I’m not positive as to how yet). What do you think? Keep going or wrap it up at three books?

RU:  I’d like to see some more of Portia. And speaking of which, you were in London recently. Was that mostly research or pleasure?

A little of both to be honest! I haven’t been in London since I started writing this series, so I really wanted to put my eyes on some of the locations I describe in Jewel and Thrice Burned. I visited Trafalgar Square, Old Scotland Yard, Regents Park, Kings Cross station and of course Baker Street. It was kind of a dream come true to take a picture of my first book at 221B Baker Street!

RU: Jealous! Finally, what are you reading right now that you’d recommend to others?

AM: I just started Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz and on the recommendation of a friend I’m also reading The Grammar Devotional by Mignon Fogarty.

Thrice-Burned comes out March 24th, and will be available from Amazon and Indigo.com. Angela will also be attending 221B Con in Atlanta this April as a special guest speaker. And make sure to check out her blog, A Portia Adams Adventure.

And if you’re an author interested in getting interviewed for an upcoming release, head over to my interview page and leave me a comment. We’ll arrange for something to happen soon.

Before I start, I just want to make sure everyone is aware that I’m not actually showing you how to curse someone. I do know how to do that, but I don’t want to share the method lest someone use it on me. That would suck. No, I’m talking about creating a curse for a story, one that would terrify all who read your work.

The thing about curses is that they are relentless and awful. A curse doesn’t discriminate based on how nice you are, how much money you make, what religion you belong to, or any other factor. No, once a curse locks onto you, it’s like you have a target on your back that you can’t get off, and you won’t get that target off until the curse has run its course (usually this means death). That’s what makes them so scary.

So how do you create a curse? First you need to decide on this:

Person, place, and/or thing. A curse is usually associated with a specific object, location, or person, though sometimes a curse can be associated with more than one of these (such as with an entire family, multiple houses, or a person who lived in a house). In the movie The Conjuring and its spinoff/prequel Annabelle (which I just saw recently), a curse was placed on the doll, allowing a demon to possess it and make havoc for anyone who came into contact with the doll. That’s an example of a cursed object. The house in The Grudge is an example of a cursed location, as well as an example of a cursed person (Kayako, the woman who lived in the house, is the one who carries out the curse). Another example of a cursed person is simply someone who has a curse placed upon them, making interaction with others difficult, if not impossible. Boy, would that suck!

This brings me to my next point, though:

The well is essential to Samara’s curse and origin story.

The origin story. Every curse has its story of how it came to be, and often that the basis of how the curse can be warded off (more on that later). Generally this involves some horrific event happening, causing the curse to manifest or be cast. For example, in the Buffy universe Angel’s curse was caused when he killed the beloved child of a tribe of gypsies, who restored his soul to him through magic. Another example is when Samara/Sadako from the Ring movies was trapped in the well and died, her soul was filled with rage and she infected a blank video cassette. And in The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Freddy’s curse came into being when he was killed in a fire by the parents of the children he’d killed/molested (depending on if you’re going with the original movie series or the remake).

 

The trigger. For a curse to take hold of a target, something specific has to happen. For instance, in the popular Bloody Mary legend (which I’ve tested numerous times, by the way), you have to say Bloody Mary three times in the mirror in order to summon her. In the Stephen King story Bag of Bones, the curse was triggered when a child descended from one of any of the families involved in a gruesome murder, whose name usually began with a K, got to a certain age (in the TV miniseries, this was simplified to just the daughters). And in the popular story The Monkey’s Paw, one had to make a wish on the titular paw in order to start the curse. Which leads to the fun part:

How the curse manifests. A curse manifests after the trigger has been…well, triggered. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (yes, I’m pulling Harry Potter out), Katie Bell was put in unimaginable pain when she touched the cursed necklace. Touching the necklace was the trigger, and the pain was the manifestation. Another form of manifestation would be the Tecumseh curse, which was that any President elected in a year divisible by twenty would die in office (though Ronald Reagan and President Bush managed to get away). The election year is the trigger, while the death of the President is the manifestation.

How to ward it off. This is optional for literary curses, but it’s something you want to consider in creating a curse. In Jewish folklore, the demon Lilith tries to take the souls of newborns or eat them. However, if one has a mezuzah, a marker on one’s doorpost  that has the name of three angels on it, Lilith cannot enter the home and attempt to take the child. The angels whose names are on the mezuzah were the same angels who tried to get Lilith to return to Adam when she was still his wife. When she refused, they cursed her to become a demon and made it that she could not enter a home with their names on it (that’s how the origin story relates to warding off the curse).

The hamsa, a symbol prevalent in Judaism and Islam, is also good at warding off evil. It’s no good at warding off taxes though.

In another example, there’s a curse among some actors about saying the name Macbeth in a theater which leads to bad luck. Depending on who you ask, there are different methods to dispelling the curse, a popular one being to leave the theater, walk around the building three times, spit over one’s left shoulder, say an obscenity, and then wait to be invited back into the theater.

Containing/canceling the curse. This is also optional in writing fiction, but it should be considered. Two things one should consider when figuring out how to cancel or seal a curse is that it should be difficult, and that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the origin story. In the movie The Unborn, the dybbuk couldn’t be stopped until it was exorcised. A similar thing happened in the third movie in the American Grudge movies, in which case an exorcism that sealed Kayako into a little girl was needed before she could be stopped. In Japanese onryo legends, the spirit needs to have whatever is disturbing it resolved or it will continue to seek revenge.And in Bag of Bones, Sarah Tidwell did not end her curse until her bones were dissolved with lye, thereby releasing her from Earth.

That’s how you create a curse. As for creating a terrifying story involving that curse…well, that’s up to you. I’m not going to give you directions on that. Not in this post, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing: I saw Dracula Untold and Annabelle at the movies today with a friend. Both were excellent, getting 4.5 out of 5 from me. But something in the latter film really stuck with me: near the end, the priest character says that evil can only be contained, it’s not created or destroyed (or something like that). I think that when you’re writing a scary story, especially one involving curses, that’s some pretty good stuff to keep in mind. True evil is not something you can easily be rid of. At least, not in my experience.

What advice do you have for creating curses?

Have you written anything with curses recently?

Are there any stories of curses that are your favorite or that I didn’t include? Tell me a bit about them.

I just finished the second short story I’ll be submitting to my creative writing class. This one is titled “Frauwolf”, and it’s about a woman who turns into a werewolf–or as she prefers, frauwolf, meaning “woman wolf”. Werewolf mean “man wolf”, so my character thought she’d coin a term for the ladies out there. Anyway, she turns into a werewolf, but at a certain point she can’t tell whether she’s actually changing into a wolf creature or if she’s nuts, and I write it so I make it hard for even the reader to figure it out either.

This story’s also significant because the main character and her partner are both women, and it’s been a long while since I’ve written any characters that were LGBT (I originally intended to make 011 from Reborn City gay, but I didn’t think it fit with the story I was trying to create, so I mase him just creepy and sadistic and possibly asexual). I’m wondering if having two women in love will influence how anyone sees or likes this story. As far as I’m aware, non-hetero couples are still not very prominent in horror fiction, and it’s common for those that are to die pretty early on or be shunted to the side where they won’t make that much impact in the story. Perhaps having them at the forefront will make a difference.

This particular short story was probably one of the hardest I’ve ever had to work with ever. I had to go back three times to the beginning and start over because I didn’t like the way the story was going. Thus, about two or three weeks that could have been devoted to my thesis were devoted to this particular short story. Finally on the fourth try I came out with a version I happened to like.

Still, considering how I’m more suited for writing novels, I doubt “Frauwolf” will come away from critique day without a lot of comments and plenty of edits to make. I say, bring it on. I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of stuff I could do to improve the story, and if I decide to try to publish it in a magazine or something, plenty of the story I could cut out and rewrite to be shorter. And considering how much I love this story’s concept, I’m really hoping to find ways to improve it.

In any case, I’m putting this story away until it’s actually time to deal with it. I’ve still got a thesis to work on and I’ve taken too long of a break from it to get this thing done. If I finish my homework early (and that happens a lot on Tuesdays, for some reason), I’ll get right on the next chapter. Wish me luck, because I’ve got a meeting with my advisor on Wednesday and I don’t want to tell him I have nothing new to send him!

Well, I’m exhausted, so I’m going to rest and relax till bed. You have a good night, my Followers of Fear. Sweet nightmares to you all.