My Books & Stories (Amazon Page)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Horror vs Gore-er

I get a lot of the material for this blog, possibly the majority of it, from responding to comments over at Absolute Write's Water Cooler ( so it shouldn't be surprising to anyone reading that this is another one.

The original poster, satyesu, wanted to know about some resources for someone who wanted to write what they called "horror as opposed to gore-er" and stated that they were coming at it from the perspective of someone who was more familiar with the movies than the books.

I responded as follows,
Also, remember that the movies and the novels are often vastly different. Movies made of King's novels often have more gore in them than the books do because the producer and director know that movie audiences want visual "impact". They enhance certain scenes in ways that King never actually did to make the impact more visceral to the audience's experience.

There is a certain implied level of "gore" in the horror genre for novels, but it's not as extreme as it is in movies. Recent audience experience for horror movies certainly revolves almost completely around gore. Movies like Saw, Friday The 13th, The Haunting In Connecticut, The Ring, Final Destination, etc., etc. have gore and death as their central themes. Novels can be completely different. The threat of imminent death or doom in some fashion should be there, but you do not have to be extremely visceral about describing it. You also should not be afraid to directly confront it when it happens. Hinting around or dancing about showing us the actual gruesomeness can be considered a form of "cheating" and a reader will feel cheated for exactly that reason.

Audiences, and readers are your audience, pay good money for their movie and novel experiences. Don;t leave them feeling cheated. When it's necessary, slap them in the face with the blood and guts of a scene. Just don;t do it so often they become immune to the gore.

Gore is there for impact. Use it for that reason.

Psychologically, humans become immunized to the most horrible of atrocities rather quickly. We can, on occasion, walk through buckets of blood and miles of dismembered body parts without really even seeing it or feeling anything while we're on our trip. Just look at the denial that normal German citizens in towns surrounding camps like Buchenwald or Auschwitz had when they knew pretty darned well what the trainloads of people going into those camps and the empty trains coming out of them really meant. Just read about some soldier's experiences on battlefields. Read about Rwanda sometime.

Humans can be pretty darned thick when it comes to seeing things they really don't want to see or acknowledge.

The gist of this all is to use gore only when you have to - and then use it for the full force of impact you can get out of it and then go on. Don't do it too often or your readers will find themselves yawning when the next scene comes up.

It's also important to remember that the poster stated they were coming at their objective from the viewpoint of one who was more familiar with the horror movie genre than the horror novel genre. I'm not entirely certain you can reasonably try to write horror without being familiar with the novel genre. An important quote goes "You have to read it in order to write it" and I believe that is entirely accurate.

Without being well-read in any genre you're likely to have a very difficult time trying to write it. I know some authors have stated that they do not read within their own genres and I believe this really shows in their writing within their genre. Without reading Lovecraft, how could you expect to write like Lovecraft (if you would want to - while I am a fan of Lovecraft, I am not much of a fan of his style or his mindset which was definitely a product of his upbringing and culture)? If you wanted to write about vampires, how could you write about them without being familiar with Brian Lumley, Bram Stoker, and even (shudder) Stephanie Meyers? If you wanted to write about evil clowns, haunted Buicks, and extradimensional entities run amok how could you do that without being familiar with the writings of Stephen King or Dean Koontz?

I'm of the opinion that you could not do it with any skill or justice.

To write it, you must read it.

Being familiar with the movies is not the key to writing the horror novel.

Now, with that said, I hold the opinion that the movies show writers a number of good techniques and methods that can be used to sharpen our writing and our viewpoints, but it's not by watching the movie as part of the regular audience or from the audience's POV.

No, the key, I think, is to watch the movie from the director's POV.

Look at how the scenes were staged, dressed, and managed. Look at the lighting. Look at where the actors were positioned at the start of the scenes. Watch the scenes play through as they were filmed and managed by using your "director's eye". Develop and use your director's eye to visualize your scenes in your mind and write them down such that when you read them back you can see the scene in your mind's eye just as the reader will be able to.

When you've got a scene that springs to life in the reader's eye, you've got a keeper an not something that's going to end up on the editor's cutting room floor.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fight Scenes

Once again, a poster over at AW asked a question and I'm posting the question & my response over here because I think it's important.

The question was - "Anyone have any suggestions on how to work out battle sequences and fight scenes? I'm trying to work out a scene which is going to involve several fighters and half the village as audience, and I'm trying to figure out ways to keep track of who's doing what to whom and where.

My first thought is to draw it on a piece of paper. My second is to get out my Dungeons and Dragons figurines and play it through like a melee. Once I understand what happens, I can figure out what I need to write."

(posted by TheIT)

My response was as follows,
Fight scenes need to flow, but unfortunately most of them don't. A real life fight usually occurs in a blaze of action, pause, action, pause as the combatants struggle to gain the upper hand on one another, etc. That really doesn't work in a story or novel because the pauses will have the reader wondering what happened in between the blazes of action and wandering off to do something other than turning the page.

So a fight scene has to flow smoothly.

That's not to say that there are not or will not be pauses within a fight scene. They just have to be strategically placed.

In real life, a fight is usually over in a matter of seconds. In a novel, the fight can go on for pages and minutes, at least, of reading. The trick is to translate what happens in real life into something that flows smoothly in the story. I'm currently reading Monster Hunters International by Larry Correia (Baen Books). The book opens somewhat slowly, but quickly develops into a fight scene which flows so quickly and naturally that I found myself wondering what had happened when it was over and having to go back and reread sections trying to figure out where I had missed the moves. It wasn't that the action was choppy or the writing was choppy, it was that the scene flowed.

D&D action doesn't flow. It isn't normal or real. However, using the figures to stage manage the action is something that can be easily done (you could do it with pennies and a hand-drawn map for all that matter). When you know that character A can move here and perform this action while character B is involved doing something else, you start to have the sequence for how the action must flow. You also begin to be able to see why character B might not be distracted by something else or where he might be distracted by something else that allows character A to make his move.

I think the Star Wars movies are another good area to watch for how to choreograph action scenes, especially between individual characters. The action flows between the characters because the director knows it must if the action is to be believable and realistic even when it's not even semi-realistic.

Use a "director's eye". Set your stage, position your characters, and have them move around the scene performing their actions. You don't need a map and a set of fancy figurines. You can see all this in your mind.

Flow is what happens when the scene runs naturally and without anything seeming out of place or silly (like "Why didn't Charlie hose the hallway that the Master Vampire charged down with the M60 in his hands before the Master Vampire got to him and tore the team to shreds?").

You're the director. You get to set the scenery, the stage, and position the actors - and if it doesn;t work the first time or the thirtieth time, it doesn;t cost you anything to run the scene a thousand times or more until it flows.

BTW, I'm currently reading Monster Hunters International as stated above, but I just finished The Strain one of the authors of which is Guillermo del Toror. It's the first part of a trilogy and has an interesting take on the vampire legend and a plague upon Manhattan.

While it is reminiscent of a book a few years ago by Craig Skipp & John Spector titled The Light At The End (as I recall) and another that dealt with a plague of vampires overrunning Los Angeles whose title and author I don't currently recall (The Thirst?), the premise is entertaining and the follow-on books will be out in 2010 and 2011.

I did have a few problems with The Strain, the main one being that it is written by 2 authors who obviously didn;t see eye-to-eye on several things. There appeared to be a constant editorial argument occurring that raised it's head on several levels, the main one being regarding how much information to convey to the reader and when. In all too many cases the story is broken by a paragraph or more of unnecessary info-dumping which could just as easily have been relayed to the reader through casual conversation between the characters.

Regardless, it was a good book for the most part and I'll likely pick up the next two when they come out - but I am glad it was 20% off at B&N and I got an extra 10% due to my membership card.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Another response to a post over at Absolute Write regarding "motivation",

You want or need motivation? Read my blog (well, the posts prior to the last 2 or 3) and you'll find motivation (I hope to provide more motivation there in the near future).

You want motivation? Tell one of us that you do and we'll be more than happy to provide you with enough to get going again.

In fact, most of us will kick your ass until you produce something.

None of us are ashamed we write horror. None of us are Stephen King either. King won the frakking lottery, but he did it the same way everyone else does - by hard work, perseverance, learning his craft, telling a damned good story, and lucking in.

Yeah, guess what? King got lucky. He tells you so in his book On Writing.

But he got lucky because he perservered, stuck with it, and learned how to tell a story that readers wanted to read (and publishers wanted to buy).

There's no one here who cannot tell a damned fine story and who is not, in my mind, the equal of King in their particular method of storytelling.

It only takes 1 person in the publishing industry to believe in you and your career can be "made".

It only takes 1 person in the writing profession to believe in you, but that person has to be you, first and foremost, but guess what? You're not the only person who believes in you here. That's what we're here for - to show you that fellow writers believe in you and what you're writing and to help you improve and learn and perfect your craft.

A couple of people responded and thanked me for posting this response over there so I figured I'd share it since I haven't blogged in awhile (4 or 5 days).

Motivation can be as simple as planting your butt in a chair, powering up the old computer, and pulling up whatever file you've been working on and going to work. For some people though, that's not as simple. Writers find all kinds of ways to avoid writing and a lot of use crutches to get themselves to write. For me, it's usually as simple as the old BIC method.

I really am serious though when I say "go to your fellow writers" if you need motivation. Once someone knows you're working on something they'll start to pester you about it until you absolutely have to sit back down and get back to work.

I certainly will.

So, if you need some motivation, come here, comment, or send me an email. I promise you I'll do everything in my power short of showing up on your doorstep to get you writing again.

Remember, a pro is an amateur who didn't quit.