Posts Tagged ‘short story’

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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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.

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

One of the YouTube channels I follow is Tale Foundry, a channel that breaks down how different genres and mechanics of storytelling work and then uses the lessons gleaned to write original short stories. They present themselves as robots in a foundry that works with fiction rather than metal (hence the name Tale Foundry). Their latest series of videos has been around worldbuilding in fiction, and their latest video, which I’ve embedded below, really got me thinking.

Now, if you didn’t watch the video for whatever reason, let me just quickly talk about one of the methods of worldbuilding they discussed: found design, which to put very simply is when you modify an aspect of the world in order to accommodate or address an issue (or “emergent concern,” as they call it in the video) that’s come up in the course of telling the story. An example would be if while writing your novel about a war between werewolves and humans who hunt them, your beta reader says that the conflict has been done before and that something needs to be added to make the story more interesting (other than a forbidden romance). The something required to spice up the story is the issue or emergent concern, and the integration of whatever you decide to add to the story (a threat to both armies, an original twist to lycanthropy, etc) is the act of found design worldbuilding.

Yeah, it’s a lot to absorb, but whoever said fiction writing was simple?

Anyway, this last method got me thinking, because that’s the method a lot of horror writers use while writing their own stories. As we all know, horror stories are more often than not set in our world, but with modifications to allow for the fantastical things that show up in it. Modifications to allow for something new to be added to the story and its world…sound familiar?

I call this the “build upon” worldbuilding method (if there’s an official name in academic circles, someone please let me know). You take an already-established world, one that many people would already be very familiar with, and add your own twists or details to it so you can tell the story you wish to tell. This is a method used by fanfic writers, anyone dealing with Arthurian lore, and of course, horror writers.

A good example of how this method works is with my own short story, “Car Chasers” (being released in late 2018/early 2019 in The Binge-Watching Cure II anthology from Claren Books). This story is set in a world similar to ours, except ghosts are capable of participating in illegal street races in this story. When I wanted to write that story, I had to not just modify the world so that it was capable of having ghosts (though if you ask me, our world has always had ghosts in it), but I had to add rules to these ghosts, how they interacted with the races/racers and under what conditions they participated in these races. Will all this be evident when the story is finally released? You’ll have to read it to find out, but whether or not it is evident, all that work in designing this world was necessary for it to be written, let alone accepted anywhere for publication.

So as you can see, it’s a handy method to build a world for your story. And if you’re into creating a shared universe across your stories, like Stephen King, HP Lovecraft, or I do, it’s pretty helpful in making that possible. All you need to do is make a slight tweak and you can find ways to connect your various stories together into a fantastic and varied world.

Of course, this isn’t the only method for building a world in horror. But this is the one that I use the most in my stories, and which I’m sure plenty of other horror authors use when they make their stories and their worlds. And it’s not hard to see why: it’s a wonderfully flexible tool for any storyteller, and helps in the act of storytelling every day.

Thanks to Tale Foundry for giving me the idea to write this post, and as always, I’m looking forward to your next video. And I encourage you folks to check out their stuff. From Lovecraft and Junji Ito to Celtic mythology and satire, you’ll find plenty of videos exploring the various aspects of storytelling and how they can be applied.

That’s all for now. I’m off to work a little bit on that novella again. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on worldbuilding in your genre? Any methods that you find helpful? Let’s discuss.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

IT’S OCTOBER!!!!! The best month of the year, when things start getting cooler, the nights grow long and you get a little more leeway in how spooky you can be! Or in my case, reveal a bit more of my non-human side. And on this month, my powers of darkness grow by a hundredfold! You can bet I will be raining terror upon certain heads this month. Just you wait and see!

In the meantime, I thought I’d talk to you about something that happened to me yesterday. I was at my mother’s house for a party, and as often happens when family and family friends get together, everybody wants to know what the latest news is with Rose and the anthologies I have stories being published in. Rose, for those of you who don’t know, is a novel I wrote in college as my thesis, and which is being published by Castrum Press, a publishing company based out of Belfast, North Ireland. The story follows a young woman who finds herself being turned into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems!).

I told them that I’d heard from Castrum on Saturday, and that they were hopefully going to get back to me on the latest draft of Rose some time this month. I expressed hope that when I heard back from them, they’d say I just needed to do some touch-ups here and there, and then we can set a publication date. My mom, who had been one of the most ecstatic and amazed people when I’d told her about Rose back in March (I still remember how she said “Oh my God” two or three times as clear as a whistle), remarked, “Wow, I had no idea the publishing process could take so long.”

And that’s the thing: the publishing process can take a long time. For any book. Not many people realize that, even among writers (including me at one point), but it’s the truth. Nowadays, technology and the Internet have helped speed some things along, but it’s always taken a long time for books to get out. Heck, even Stephen King had to wait a while for his books to come out early in his career. Yeah, now he can put one or two out every year, but that’s after nearly forty years of proven success. When he was still basically an unknown, Carrie took over a year before it got on bookshelves. And while I hope it doesn’t take that long with me, it may be a while longer before anyone gets to read Rose.

I’m not saying this to trash any publishing houses or complain about the publishing process. I’m just stating a fact. And if you think about it, this pace makes sense. After all, most publishing houses involve a few people handling projects from multiple authors. Any one project takes a lot of time out of the day, and while it would be nice if there was a single editor for each and every author contracted to a publishing house, I don’t even think even big publishing houses have a staff like that. So obviously each publisher has to juggle their projects, devoting time here and there to each one, deciding the order based on all sorts of factors. It’s an involved process.

But it’s also a process I’m grateful for, because it’s not just the number of books being published, but what’s being done to get them ready for being published. Each one is being polished and cleaned up, formatted and given the best cover art, strategized over and discussed ad nauseum. All to make sure that when the book finally does come out, it’s not just a great story, but one that’s free of typos and with words not falling off the page or some other unforgivable goof. I’m glad the process is slow, because I’d hate it if the process went by super-fast and when Rose did come out, it was full of errors and had terrible art. And I’m sure you would too.

So while it may take some more time before Rose comes out, I know the book is in good hands and I’m looking forward to the state it’ll be when it’s ready to be released. And I know that you’ll love it too.

In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of stuff to write and blog about (I might even have a new blog post tomorrow, depending on a couple of factors). And I can’t wait to share them with you. So until then, you all have a goodnight and pleasant nightmares, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to celebrate the month. After all, it is October. Plenty of material to review, plenty of stories to write, plenty of people to terrify senseless. I can’t wait.

Before you ask, no this story isn’t some sort of reference to Game of Thrones and the numerous weddings ending in someone dying that occur in that series (spoiler alert).

I needed a break from the novelette/novella I’m working on, so I decided to tackle a short story I’d had the idea for recently to give my brain some breathing room. The story involves two kids who are given a job by a strange entity known as the Master. And that’s all I’m saying, because I’d hate to give away this story before I’ve had the chance to polish it up and maybe get it published.

The thing is, I have no idea if this story is any good. On the one hand, it reminds me of other stories I’ve read that have gotten published in prestigious anthologies and collections. Heck, it even reminds me of some of Stephen King’s early works, especially in his collection Night Shift. And at only a little over three-thousand words, it’s a lot shorter than most stories I write and therefore I might have more places to publish it. However, the story is a little weird. Not surprising given the fact that I wrote it, but then again, that could also work against me just as easily. Heck, even I find it somewhat odd! And in some dictionaries, I’m right next to the word “odd!”

I’m also next to the words “eccentric,” “strange,” “malevolent,” and “interdimensional being,” but you knew that already, right?

Anyway, I’ll let this story lie for a little while. When I have time, I’ll revisit it and see if I can get it published anywhere after some edits. In the meantime, I’ll use the rest of my Labor Day weekend to watch a movie and do some reading. I’ll get back to work tomorrow on the novelette/novella and hopefully make some more progress on it before I have to get back to work on Rose. Fingers crossed that it all works out.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

Whenever I write through the perspective of a particular character in a story, it’s never simply just using my good-ol’-Rami-Ungar-style of narration and pretending to see things through the eyes of said character. I wish it were that simple. Characters, despite being the product of an author’s imagination, tend to feel like independent entities who are telling me their stories (if any psychologists or philosophers can explain that to me, I’d love to hear your two cents). Still, transmitting the story from my head, where the story’s presented as a movie with narration mixed in, to the page requires me to figure out how that voice manifests on the page.

Sometimes that’s easy to figure out. Sometimes it’s not.

The past couple of stories I’ve worked on–Mother of the King, The Night Hitler Came to London, and this novelette I’m working on currently–have been challenging when it comes to figuring out the narrators’ voices. This probably has something to do with the fact that the POV characters in these stories have lives that are very different from mine. For the first two, the POV characters have both been British, which I am not. I’ve been relying on all the British novels, TV shows and movies I’ve consumed over the years, trying to make them seem British, rather than Americans throwing around British colloquialisms like “bloody hell” or “tosser.” And in the case of The Night Hitler Came to London, the two main characters are growing up during the London Blitz, so trying to tap into the mindset living during that particular moment of history isn’t the easiest.

Then again, my country has been at war in some way or another since 2001. So perhaps it’s a bit easier than I give it credit.

And this current story I’m working on…whoo boy! I’m back to working on a novelette I started between two previous drafts of Rose, and the main character is a young housewife from the American South during the 1960s. That’s already pretty alien to my own experience, so it’s a challenge to make her sound like a real person without resorting to a stereotypical Southern accent. I’ve made some progress on that in this latest attempt on the story and I think I’ve figured it out, but I’m sure there will be challenges in the future, I may have to work on her a bit more before I try to publish this story anywhere.

And I’m probably not the only author who struggles with this. Because of how different their lives are from ours, or just how differently their minds work, there will be characters whose heads we struggle to get into and whose voices we struggle to translate to the page. With that in mind, I have a few tips on how an author can figure this out:

  • Look at their background. While every individual is different and background doesn’t determine everything, it can have a huge influence on how a person–and a character–turns out. How they were raised, socioeconomic status, education, religion, nationality, ethnicity, language, who they hung out with, how they were treated by teachers, how they did in sports, what they saw on the Internet. All this makes us. If we can figure all out of this, it can help us get in our characters’ heads and figure out their voices.
  • How do you want them to come off? How do you want your audience to perceive your character? If funny, make sure their observations are full of jokes and witticisms. Narcissistic? Everything comes back to them and makes them look good. Do they feel persecuted? Everything and everyone they come into contact with should reinforce that belief, even if to us we see innocence in these interactions. If you know how your character should come off to readers, you’ll have an easier time writing them.
  • Have an inner dialogue. This is something I did for my character in my current WIP. I go into this in more detail in my article on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, The Inner Dialogue: A Method For Figuring Out Your Stories, so I highly recommend you check it out. If you don’t have time to read it, this is just having a conversation with your inner writer. You can also do this with your character. After all, characters are independent entities after a sort, so you can learn a lot by “hearing” them “speak.”

Some characters are easier than others to understand and translate to the page. But when they are, you shouldn’t give up. There are plenty of ways to figure them out. And when you do, that’ll make all the hard work all the more gratifying.

Have you worked with characters whose voices were hard to find? What did you do figure out their voices?