Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

I wasn’t able to catch Get Out when it was in theaters, and by the time I watched it on DVD, so much time had passed I didn’t feel like writing a post with my thought. To sum up said thoughts, I thought it was a creepy, atmospheric film that openly explored racial attitudes among Americans, though I felt the main character was less a fully realized character and more of a vehicle for the audience to experience the movie through. So when I heard about Us, I was very intrigued. And then I saw that first trailer. And I knew I had to see what Jordan Peele had cooked up this time. Today, my sister and I went for an early showing, eager to see what people were talking about.

To say the least, the film was surreal. Like Peele was channeling Stephen King when he was writing The Dark Half and created a visual twist on the concept. And it works for the most part.

Us follows Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o, a mother and former ballerina who goes up with her husband Gabe, daughter Zora and son Jason to a vacation home that Adelaide stayed at as a kid in 1986, when she experienced a traumatic episode. That night though, they’re attacked by the Tethered, twisted, animalistic doppelgangers of themselves that seek to murder Adelaide and her family. Thus begins a trial for the family to not only survive, but to find out why this is happening to them.

From the get-go, this is a strange and eerie film. It combines storytelling with atmosphere, music (seriously, the part music plays in this film cannot be underestimated), and action in order to create an intense experience. At some points we were so on edge, a woman sneezing a couple rows behind us caused twenty people to jump out of their seats! And that includes me and my sister.

And the amount of symbolism in this film can’t be understated. A lot of details go into this film that are meant to make you examine the imagery and ideas being presented. From actual twins, symmetry and patterns in objects and pictures, the Bible phrase Jeremiah 11:11, rabbits,* and so much more. All to get you thinking on these themes of identity, duality, being an American, socioeconomics, creative expression, and so much more. I won’t go into what it all means–I’m sure there are bloggers and YouTubers who will do a better job of that than I could–but it will leave you thinking for hours after you leave the theater.

I will take a moment just to say that I think the son character is one big reference to the Friday the 13th franchise. This is mainly because his name is Jason and he wears a mask throughout a good portion of the film for some reason, but there’s plenty in the film I could point to that backs that assertion up. I won’t because I don’t want to spoil anything.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it was the humor in film. Not that it was terrible, but after the main plot of the film kicks into gear, I found how much of it there was, most of it coming from family patriarch Gabe (played with plenty of love by Nyong’o’s Black Panther costar Winston Duke) distracting. Like, there’s this one scene where the family is discussing what to do in light of what they’ve experienced, and they make a series of Home Alone jokes! Takes you right out of the tense, creepy mood.

Then again, this is from Jordan Peele, who’s still primarily known as a comedian. Humor should be expected. But at a certain point, I just would like it if was toned down a bit. That may just be my quirk, but it’s how I feel.

All in all though, Us is a true success for Peele. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6.  Unsettling, trippy, and memorable, Us will stay with you for hours after you see it. I have no doubt that with time, it’ll be seen as one of the best horror films of 2019, and maybe the first great one of 2019 as well. Take a breath, jump in, and see the madness yourself.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced copy, all you have to do is send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I only ask that you consider leaving a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

*Fun fact: rabbits are capable of a much wider range of beneficial mutations when they reproduce that cousins or even siblings can mate with each other and still produce a healthy and genetically diverse brood. Take that how you will, but I have thoughts on how that plays into the film.

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Author Jason Stokes in an adorable photo with one of his cats.

It’s been a while, but I have a new author interview to share with everyone. This one is with an author with an extraordinary story, both in terms of the novel he’s published and his own life experiences. Allow me to introduce Jason Stokes, author of the new novel Watcher.

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the show, Jason. Please tell us about yourself and about Watcher.

Jason Stokes: My name is Jason Stokes. I am a writer and artist currently living in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Watcher is about a young woman diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis who witnesses a horrific crime via hacked webcams. Due to her own lifestyle, she is forced to make a decision between preserving her own safety and seeking justice for a woman she’s never met. In the process she finds herself against the most powerful citizens in her city and untangling a web of corruption that involves nearly everyone she meets.

RU: You wrote Watcher while taking care of your life, who has MS, and who gave a lot of input on the story. Can you tell us what that was like?

JS: It felt like it was time for a character that had the same struggles I’ve seen her go through and exposed the way caretakers in chronically ill lives support those they care about. I wanted her to have a hero she could relate to. She was invaluable, answering questions about how she would handle specific situations, helping me walk in her shoes and uncovering things I had never thought of.

RU: Did the idea for the novel evolve out of your wife’s diagnosis? Or did it influence an already-existing idea?

JS: I had an idea but It was all wrong. It was overdone and I wasn’t feeling excited by it. When I asked myself, how would she (my wife) handle this? It started to come together. I saw a story that had more depth and stakes that were higher than your average mystery/suspense story. When she (the MC)  wakes up every morning she is already at a disadvantage and it doesn’t get any easier from there.

RU: You founded the company, Gestalt Media, that published Watcher. Why go that route?

JS: Ultimately I’m a control freak but I also want to have a role in bringing forward original projects. I wanted full control over my own work and knew the stigma of self-publishing but I also know several creators and I wanted to help bring their projects to fruition. I’m currently working with an artist/writer to publish a series of offbeat comics sometime this year.

RU: On Twitter, you spoke about how a local bookstore refused to carry Watcher. Can you tell us why and how that made you feel?

JS: The store in question refused to carry Watcher because the main character has MS but I (the author) do not. Their stance is not unique. It is a trend among publishers and retail stores to insist on own voices and to refuse books by those outside of the represented  community. I felt that as my wife’s caretaker for the last six years, I have lived this as much as anyone aside from her. I wrote it with extreme care and respect and sought her input through the entire process. The fact is, there are people whose stories deserve to be told that may not be able to for whatever reason put it into words. As authors it is our responsibility to interpret and share the world. We often take ourselves out of the equation. If it’s done with respect, care and attention to the group being represented that should be enough.

I don’t think the store itself is wrong for their viewpoint. It’s their choice but I disagree with the narrow lane it provides for future literature. As I’ve said, it’s a good intent with misguided execution.

RU: I know this is tough to ask, but how are you and your wife doing these days?

JS: As well as we can. It’s a brutal disease and every day is a little worse than the last but we stay in good spirits. She’s a fighter, a true inspiration and I’m proud to stand beside her on this journey. As long as research continues we have something to look forward to. Anything can happen.

The cover for “Watcher” by Jason Stokes.

RU: That’s good. Can you tell us what your writing process is like, if you have one?

JS: I subscribe heavily to the tenets of the Snowflake theory outlined by Randy Ingermanson. Generally I will come up with a character or a situation I find appealing. Something that isn’t often seen or a new angle. Then I’ll place it in a world and find a central scene, something that brings the story to life. From there I’ll build out starting with a two or three sentence synopsis, then a few paragraphs, then a list of scenes, until the whole things appears.

RU: Are you working on anything now or have any future plans as far as writing goes?

JS: Too many things! There’s never a shortage of ideas and projects begging for time. I have another novel coming in time for Halloween. Ghost Story is the beginning of a series involving a protagonist that can see the dead on a road trip to discover more about his exceptionally unusual past.

RU: What advice would you have for other writers, no matter their background or level of experience?

JS: I’m going to quote Chuck Wendig ‘Finish your sh*t.’ You have to finish. As scary as it is. As difficult as it can seem. The real journey begins when you write ‘the end.’

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you, which ones would you take?

JS: Well, I think it would be only prudent to include the Worst Case Scenario Survival Guide. Alternately the Boyscouts of America field book if it was available. Next I’d bring along Robinson Crusoe for obvious reasons and Jurassic Park because it is the single most entertaining novel I’ve ever read.

RU: Thank you for being on the show, Jason, and the best of luck to you and your wife, both with Watcher and in life.

If you would like to check out Watcher (I’ve already sent a request into my local library to order a couple copies), you can get it for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. If you’re interested in more of Jason Stokes, check him out on Twitter. I highly recommend you consider doing both.

And if you would like to be interviewed for an upcoming or recent release, either check out my Interviews page or send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can’t make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Greta follows Chloe Grace Moretz as Frankie, a young woman living in New York who finds a handbag on the subway on the way home from work. She brings the bag to its owner, Greta Hadig (Isabelle Huppert), a French widow living alone. The two women strike up an unlikely friendship and find comfort in each other’s company. That is, until Frankie finds out Greta is hiding some terrible secrets, and her relationship with the older woman takes a very dark turn.

The best part of this film is its lead actresses. I’ve always loved Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a great actress who truly embodies whatever role she inhabits, be it a vigilante or Carrie White in the better movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (don’t @ me, Sissy Spacek/Piper Laurie fans). Greta is no exception, with Moretz really coming across as this young woman who’s kind and a little vulnerable, but also at the same time has a bit of fight in her. And Isabelle Huppert’s Greta is plenty creepy. She’s no Annie Wilkes, but she can go from sweet and grandmotherly to cruel and sociopathic at the flip of a switch. it’s a great change.

And Maika Monroe from It Follows has a supporting role in the film! Good to see her again, I haven’t seen her in anything since that film (probably my fault more than hers). She’s great as the best friend who’s seems shallow on the surface but has a deeper, badass side to her.

However, the film isn’t exactly a thrilling psychological slow burn. We’ve seen this sort of story before, and that makes it predictable. By the last third or so, I could predict what was going to happen minutes before it occurred. And while there are some tense moments, they’re too few and far-between to create a gripping atmosphere. Couple that with an unnecessary and boring dream sequence, and the film’s quality really goes down.

On the whole, I’m giving Greta a 2.8 on a scale of 1 to 5. The talent is there, and God do they try to make it work, but an obvious plot and lack of actual terror make this a forgettable entry into the thriller genre. Which is a shame, as the director was the guy who gave us Interview with the Vampire in 1994 and as I said, Moretz is the superior Carrie in the superior adaptation. But hey, every now and then you strike out, am I right?

The other day, one of the YouTube channels I follow, Tale Foundry,* asked a question on their social media about the difference between an author’s writing style and voice. Since I saw it first on their Twitter, I answered their question there. It went something like this over the course of two tweets:

Writing style is the technical part of writing: the author’s word choice, how thoughts are written out, etc. Voice is that and more: what sort of stories the author likes to tell, their favorite characters, the elements they like to include to make the story exciting.

That was my answer at the time, but I wanted to make sure it was right and I wasn’t just pulling stuff out of my ass like most politicians. So I went to Google and took a look. To my surprise, I was pretty on the dot. According to that lovely resource none of my teachers or professors liked us using even when they used it themselves, Wikipedia, writing style “is the manner of expressing thought in language characteristic of an individual, period, school, or nation. Thus, style is a term that may refer, at one and the same time, to both conventions that go beyond the individual writer and to singular aspects of individual writing.” And according to TheBalanceCareers.com,** voice is “the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character.”

For example, let’s look at HP Lovecraft’s writing style and voice, as they’re both so distinctive.*** His writing style is easy to pin down: an overly-wordy and stuffy Victorian patois filled with fancy words. Yeah, he liked to pretend he was a contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe. I think in his later works he tried to modernize his style, but he never got over using too many words and too many fancy ones.

As for his voice, that’s also easy to pin down: stories centering around terrors that give no care for mankind. Secrets and sights terrible enough to cause insanity. Entities so powerful they see humanity as nothing more than ants in the grand scheme of things. All with an unhealthy helping of xenophobia, racism, fear of women, fear of sex, fear of technology and progress, inability to grasp many sciences and maths, and an obsession with sophisticated upbringing and breeding.

Yeah, dude had his issues, and this was before getting help for your problems was effective and smiled upon by society. On the plus side, it had a lasting influence on the horror genre that’s still felt today. And the combination of the two makes it easy to point out an HP Lovecraft story when you come across one, even if his name is obscured.

As for my own style and voice, they’re still evolving. But I’ve noticed a few things for each. I prefer to write my characters blunt with their feelings, possibly because I have enough trouble understanding real humans and their confusing mix of emotions. And I love writing stories with unlikely heroines or nice-guy heroes, usually but not always in the their teens, supernatural enemies and horrors, plenty of either realistic or twisted love and romance, and more than a dash of weird to make it fun.

I think there are people out there who like that sort of thing. Not all of them are close relatives. I hope.

Writing style and voice are both very important aspects of writing, both for the writer using them and for the audience reading their work. It’s how we come to know the storytellers, how we identify them just from looking at a page, and it’s what allows them to stay relevant and immersive long after they’ve stopped typing on keyboards or holding pens.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have a review out this weekend, so if nothing else comes up in the meantime, I’ll see you then. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Have you noticed anything about your writing style or voice? What about your favorite authors?

*Which you should check out if you’re interested in stories and looking past the surface to the mechanics and deeper meaning of storytelling, by the way. Here’s the link to their YouTube channel.

**They also mention voice can refer to a character or narrator’s voice. But since I think Tale Foundry was referring to the author’s voice, I’ll stick with that one.

***Speaking of which, yesterday was the 91st anniversary of the publication of The Call of Cthulhu, the first appearance of the titular character and the namesake of the Mythos. Happy Birthday, Cthulhu. May you someday rise out of the sea to irrevocably change the world (preferably before the 2020 election becomes super depressing/annoying).

Today I went to the movies for a double feature. The first film was the new Alita: Battle Angel (for my thoughts on that, check my Twitter feed). The other was the sequel to 2017’s hit horror film Happy Death Day (see my review of that here). Plenty of people who liked the first film, including myself, wondered if the sequel could live up to the fun and batshit insanity of the original. And I think they did a decent job.

Happy Death Day 2U picks up almost immediately after the end of the first film, with protagonist Tree and boyfriend Carter finding out Carter’s roommate Ryan is now in a murder-filled time loop of his own. They discover the source of the time loop, but in the process of trying to fix it, Tree is sent into an alternate timeline where things are quite different, and where she’s stuck in the loop again. And if she doesn’t solve this loop and find a way back to her timeline, things will get really messy.

As one would expect, this film does take a lot of cues from the first film, which takes a lot of cues from Groundhog Day and other time-loop stories. So people who were expecting something different will be disappointed (though how they could expect something different is beyond me). The stakes are raised this time though, because Tree has to protect not just her own life, but has to save other lives along with other tasks in order to get back to her life as she knows it. There’s also the added dilemma of whether Tree wants to go back to her original timeline, as the new one has some perks along with some downsides (you’ll see what I mean if you decide to see the film). The sequel is also more comedic than the original, which I was able to deal with even though I prefer more horror in my films. And if you wanted an explanation of why the time loops are occurring, this film does provide it.

That being said, the decreased amount of horror may turn off some viewers. And the sci-fi explanations for why the time loops are occurring may confuse some people, especially those who barely passed high school physics. Hell, even I was confused by the explanations, and I’m usually good with this stuff. I understood Inception and Donnie Darko on the first go-rounds, so you know they must’ve really made it confusing here!

But if you look at the whole package, Happy Death Day 2U is, while not as good as the original, a good successor. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4.2. It’s a funny, crazy, bloody movie and if they made a third film (which, based on a mid-credits sequence, I think they will), I’d check it out.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you need me, I’ll be editing. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

In my last post, I said that I’d heard back from my publisher, Castrum Press, and that they’d given some feedback to help me with the next draft of my novel Rose. Well, I woke up sick today, so I spent my day working on it. As of this afternoon, I’m one-fourth of the way through the sixth draft. If I keep going at this rate, I could be done well before the end of March (God willing).

I also said in my last post that the main issue Castrum pointed out for me was word choice. I’d like to go a bit more into that, as it’s been pretty eye-opening for me.

First issue: adverbs. I’ve heard this before from beta readers before, but I tend to rely on them too much. You know, “really,” “seriously,” “suddenly,” etc. And I thought I’d gotten better at that, but Castrum gave me graphs of my use of adverbs in Rose‘s fifth draft. Whoo-boy. Looking at the draft now, I’ve a lot of work ahead of me. There are adverbs littered all over the place! In future stories, I’m going to have to work on that. Because seriously, how madly, negligently, horribly a writer must I be to readily sprinkle these adverbs all over the draft so willy-nilly?

See the problem?

Second issue: overuse of unnecessary words. Another one of those graphs showed me that I tend to overuse certain words in a story. “That,” “just,” “even,” etc. Technically the sentences still work when I use those words, but they work just as well when they’re absent. Therefore, by the rules of editing, I should excise them. I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of getting rid of them, as when I wrote those sentences, they sounded so necessary. But I’m adjusting. It’s a process, but I’m doing it. Hopefully this is another habit I can kick as a writer. If anything, this draft is a good start.

And third issue: repeating words. I kid you not, I had over 360 instances of the word “look” or its variants. And while it does the job, literature is built on a variation of words that say the same thing. Instead of “look,” I switch it out with words “gaze,” “stare,” “gawk,” “observe,” “survey,” “scrutinize,” etc. I’ve been learning to do that when I encounter words like this, as well as others I’ve repeated one too many times.

If anything, all this has taught me how much farther I’ve to go as a writer. A lot of people know me as the “resident writer,” which sometimes they equate with “expert writer.” And occasionally, when I have successes in my career or when I’m expounding on the art of writing or the craft of horror from behind my keyboard, I can feel like an expert. But the truth is, I’ve only made some progress. It’ll be a long time till I’m able to call myself a real expert writer. If ever.

If there’s such a thing to begin with.

Still, I’m glad I don’t know it all. I have room to grow and improve as a writer. That’s never a bad thing, in my opinion. And if I knew it all, who knows? Things might get boring.

Anyway, I hope to have more news on Rose soon. I’ll keep working steadily on the sixth draft and give you another update as soon as I have one. In the meantime, I’m getting ready for bed. I don’t want to be sick tomorrow as well. Goodnight, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

Writing any part of a story is difficult. Starting it, the long slog through the middle, trying to wrap it up in a satisfactory way. Any part of it has its own challenges. But lately for me, trying to write the ending–those last paragraph or couple of paragraphs–difficult. I’m not talking about how the story ends, for me that’s usually already in my mind when I start writing the story. I’m talking about the actual words. What I use in the story to finish it out.

Those of us who read regularly think of how stories end, and it’s the most perfect ending, like “and they all lived happily ever after,” only not so cliched and unlikely to happen. More like, “All was well,” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.” The words close up the story so well, and it feels perfect. Replace one word or one sentence with something else, and it ruins the whole story, or at least the ending.

It’s those words that close the story out that are so important.

And I’ll admit, with some of the last few stories I’ve worked on, I struggle with finding the right words for those stories. I start to feel too wordy, or that I’m not giving an eloquent closing to the story. Consequently when I end the story, I feel a little unsatisfied. This may be in part due to the fact that I see a movie in my head when I’m reading and writing, so translating something from a mental visual to words is somewhat difficult. Or it could just be finding the right words are difficult. Especially when my brain decides to forget a word or two (kid you not, I forgot the word “agenda” for a week, which sucks because I needed it for something).

Luckily, on a few stories, I think I enjoy the endings of my stories a bit better on the second draft. And those that I don’t, I can change them a bit and that usually helps. But I think–and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only author to feel this way–I would like to not feel so dissatisfied when I finish a story. That the words I use to finish the story ring true to me and feel right. That they’re as close to perfect as “All is well” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.”

Well, the good news is that with more practice, I can get more stories done and perhaps figure out what it is that makes those near-perfect endings. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

But tell me, How do you write the best ending for your stories? Is there a trick to doing it? Please let me know, I’m dying to know. Okay, not actually dying, but it would be nice to know.

Until next time Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!