Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

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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At the beginning of American Horror Story‘s ambitious eighth season, Apocalypse, I said that the first episode was a dark and violent good start to the series, and I was looking forward to the next nine episodes. Well, last night was the season finale, and I just finished the episode a little while ago. So what did I think of Apocalypse as a whole?

I have a feeling that this season is going to be very divisive among a lot of fans, but overall most people, including myself, will walk away satisfied by it.

While the first two episodes follow a group of survivors when they come into contact with Antichrist Michael Langdon, the rest of the season switches to a new focus, one-half biopic of Michael’s life and how he became the instigator of a nuclear holocaust, the other half about the efforts by his enemies, most notably the witches of Coven, to stop him from ending the world. And while structurally this form of storytelling can be a little jarring, it’s very effective here. It’s hard to look away as you watch Langdon realize his destiny and as you watch the witches try to grapple with the monumental task of saving humanity. The best way to describe it may be hypnotic, which I’m sure both Langdon and the witches would be glad to hear, as well as cinematic.

As for the scares, most center around Michael and what he sets into motion once we get into the biopic section of the season. While I would’ve enjoyed seeing scares from more quarters, what I saw was absolutely beautiful. Seeing Michael being so evil is chilling. And speaking of Michael, his actor, Cody Fern, was phenomenal, at times menacing and then at others very emotional and vulnerable. I hope he comes back for Season 9 (more on that below). I also liked the character of Mallory and her actress Billie Lourd. You could see the toll of all the events on the character, and the love she felt for the people she cared about.

Cody Fern as Antichrist Michael Langdon was excellent. I hope he returns for the next season.

And by the way, seeing so many actors and characters from previous seasons, especially the guest appearances, was such a treat. Every familiar face was like seeing an old friend. An old friend you never want to hang out with because they might be the cause of your death, but still an old friend.

That said, there were problems with the season. For one, the disjointed storytelling won’t work for everyone.. There’s also the fact that for a lot of people, Apocalypse usually means big battles, big power plays, big deaths. Just everything is world-sized, but at times the events of the story aren’t as big as one would expect. That’s understandable, as this is a cable TV show and not a Marvel movie, but for some fans, it might be a disappointment that things don’t measure up to the name Apocalypse.

I don’t feel that way, I thought they told a great story. But for some fans, this might be the thing they take issue with for this season.

But the thing I did dislike was that Michael Langdon wasn’t the greatest Antichrist I’ve ever come across (and I’ve come across a few in my time. Not all of them fictional). Yeah, he’s bloodthirsty and dangerous, but he’s very indecisive. He needs someone to hold his hand and point the way most of the time, and for an Antichrist, I expect a bit more independence. I don’t know, maybe that’s just my quirk, but I’m sure other people will gripe about that as well.

And as for the season finale, I’ve heard a lot of diverse opinions on it. Personally, I liked how it ended. Sure, the final episode wasn’t what I expected, but I felt like they gave a decent resolution to the story, and the ending did set up not only possible future storylines, but reminded us of something very important: that the horror lives on, even after the story ends. For me, that’s enough to satisfy me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 4.3 out of 5. It’s not the best season or my favorite season of the series (my vote on both counts still goes to Hotel), but it is an engaging season with memorable characters and character appearances that will satisfy most fans. On most counts, I’d say the ambitions of the writers and showrunners were met. Take a look, and hope you’re lucky enough to survive.

So what can we expect for Season Nine? Well, a lot of fans have been asking for Urban Legends, or Cruise, or a continuation of Apocalypse (which could happen). I’m all for those ideas, as well as maybe Orphanage or Academy. I’d also like to write for those ideas, as well as for the return of Lady Gaga to the show. And maybe something from the Cthulhu Mythos? They haven’t mined that goldmine yet.

Better cross my fingers and pay attention to the news as the season continues on, shouldn’t I?

Until next time, pleasant nightmares my Followers of Fear!

As many of you know and as the below video demonstrates, I’m a huge Friday the 13th fan.

Yes, that was me with my Jason Voorhees hockey mask. Shouldn’t surprise any of you that I have that.

And as many of you know, I HATE the remake that came out nine years ago. Seriously, what was that film? It was like the director and writer started making a porno because they hadn’t gotten any action lately, added a bunch of swearing and dirty humor to hide it as a raunchy comedy, and then added Jason just because they couldn’t get studio support for the comedy. But what do you expect, when Michael Bay is producing?

Obviously, I would like for a better Friday the 13th film to come out. So I was intrigued when a friend told me about Never Hike Alone, a Friday the 13th fan film that has gotten some good press. And with the day off from work (we’re observing Veteran’s Day today), I decided to watch it and see if it was as good as said.*

Holy shit, why haven’t I heard of this before? That was great!

Never Hike Alone follows Kyle McCloud, a vlogger who records his hikes on his GoPro and then uploads it to YouTube. He goes hiking in the Catskills and comes across Camp Crystal Lake, abandoned and dilapidated due to years of neglect. Exploring the ruins of the camp, Kyle expects only to find some pieces of history that have expanded into a famous ghost story. What he ends up finding is that some legends are very grounded in reality. Especially when they involve Camp Crystal Lake.

First off, I love how much this looks like a professional production from a major studio. From the camera work to the buildings around Camp Crystal Lake, it’s so well done. I also thought the storytelling in this film was par excellence. Using a minimalist approach to focus exclusively on Kyle’s experience, it creates this suspenseful cat-and-mouse mood. For the first half of the film, you’re on the edge of your seat, expecting Jason to appear in frame at any moment. When he finally does make a move, the film smoothly transitions to this thrill-fest as Kyle tries to survive Jason. And while there is plenty of violence, it’s never overly sensational or stupid, but just enough to give the necessary scare. There’s also only a little swearing, and absolutely no sexual or drug content, which I was thankful for.

I guess Womp Stomp Films, the studio who produced Never Hike Alone, also took one look at how those elements were misused in the remake, and decided to go the opposite route. Good call.

The only major issue I have was that the last scene, which goes on about seven minutes, could’ve been cut a bit shorter. I mean yeah, there’s a cool little cameo at the end, but other than that I would’ve preferred five minutes of it be cut so that it didn’t drag.

Other than that though, Never Hike Alone is a great tribute to the Friday the 13th franchise and a possible view as to where the series could go in the future. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a well-deserved 4.5. Atmospheric and suspenseful, you’ll find this satisfies you until we get an actual good film from the franchise, should that ever happen.**

If you’re still unsure, take a look at the trailer below before going to check out the full film on YouTube. Trust me, it’s an hour well-spent.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again, but until I do, I wish you all some wonderfully pleasant nightmares.

*I would’ve waited till the next Friday the 13th, but that’s not till September next year, so I’ll have to settle for Monday the 12th.

**And if that ever does happen, with or without Lebron James, I hope they take example from this film on how to make a good Friday the 13th film. And maybe let me help write the new one. I’ve a few ideas on how to bring back my boy Jason, and none of them involves bringing him to Manhattan.

“It’s a movie about Nazi zombies.” From that description alone, you’d think you’d know Overlord inside and out. After all, this subject’s been done before, and it’s usually pretty silly, overly gory, and focuses on some buff action-hero types who cut through the zombies with guns and on as many cheesy deaths as possible. But then you hear JJ Abrams is involved. And that it’s gotten a 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. And His Royal Scariness Stephen King praises it on Twitter, comparing it to the early work of Stephen Spielberg.

I went to go see it with my cousin today, expecting it to be just as predictable as the movies that came before. What we got instead, to our surprise and delight, was an above average and atmospheric horror film.

Overlord follows Ed Boyce, an African American soldier who is part of a special mission to facilitate the D-Day landings in France in WWII. His unit has to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a converted church in Normandy so the Germans can’t radio for support during the D-Day invasions. However, when they get to the town, they find something weird is happening there. Civilians are being dragged into the church, and those that do come out seem to be changed, and not for the better. Boyce and his unit soon realize they’ve discovered a dark plot that could change the course of the war. Unless they stop it.

As I said, this isn’t what you’d expect with a movie involving Nazi zombies. In fact, the zombies don’t feature as heavily as they might’ve in another film. Rather, director Julius Avery decided to focus more on the horrors of war and the creepy atmosphere, rather than sensationalized gore and violence. And it is effective. Everything, from the war-torn town to the blood and gore, look incredibly realistic. Very little CGI is used, which only makes things more authentic and visceral. I especially liked the Nazi base of operations underneath the church. It’s use of shadow, space and overabundance of creepy and bloody medical equipment reminded me of some of the scariest parts of the video game Outlast.* And as I said, there is an attention to the horrors and privations of war and atmosphere that you really do feel without the zombies being present.

And when the zombies do show up, God are they scary! They’re slimy and bloody, they move spasmodically and growl like animals. The fact that they aren’t overused especially helps.

I also found the cast very believable. True, I couldn’t help but think “It’s Fitz from Agents of SHIELD” every time Iain De Caestrecker’s character was on screen, flawless American accent or not. But other than that, you really do believe these actors are these characters. Jovan Adepo is especially good as Private Boyce, who is affected every time he sees someone die or has to kill someone. You believe this guy is going to be haunted for years to come.

One critique I do have for Overlord is that it does get a bit predictable at the end. I mean that’s fine, it’s a great finale, but you could still see where the film was going to go at that point.

All in all though, Overlord is a good horror film and a much better film than you’d expect. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Unnerving and powerful, it’ll stay with you for a while after you’ve left the theater. Take a look and see for yourself.

*BTW, if you haven’t played or watch someone play Outlast, I highly recommend you try it. Just be careful though, because that game is enough to leave me shaking.

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?