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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wrestling "The Bare Bones - The Mechanics of Horror Writing"

A poster over at Absolute Write asked if horror had it's own grammar and syntax. Not only did this promt a response from me, but it also prompted an entire new thread which will have a weekly topic over there.

You can see the thread that started it here,

Here's my response to Cassiopeia,

Cassie, Horror definitely has its own grammar and syntax, I think. However, that grammar and syntax is intended for purposes of holding the reader in suspense and not explaining what is going on to them. In this manner the grammar and syntax of horror is very different from science fiction and fantasy, some might even say simpler.

However, if it is simpler, then it is also more psychologically complex and complicated because the writer must somehow manage to engross the reader in his imaginary world and hold their attention, their suspension of disbelief, and their sense of apprehension and, 'fear' perhaps is the best word, in a much more careful manner. A mere turn of a phrase can serve to ruin an entire story if it is not handled with the utmost deftness. A single word or miswording can throw the reader entirely out of the psychological state they have placed themselves in when reading horror.

Horror writing, however, does not require the command of language that science fiction or literary novels do. The words themselves can be much simpler. There's little or no technobabble of bafflegab in good horror (there is enough in bad horror, of course). The best language is often the simplest. The best words are often the most straightforward just as the best actions by the characters are often the most straightforward.

If the characters speak like real people, it is much easier to get the reader to suspend his or her sense of disbelief and become engrossed in the story world in my opinion because the reader wants to become part of the story world. They want to be scared, to get that adrenaline rush as the hero faces up to the challenge presented by the story's monster (be it human or otherwise).

So, in order to have our characters speaking like real people, we have to use simpler grammar and syntax. That is not to say that real people are simple. But examine the way you use language in everyday conversations or when under stress. You won't find too many characters in a horror story saying "Cap'n, the warp convutranslationers are positively ionized and we'll all die if I don't depolarize the Gable-torsioners within the next fifteen seconds."

Instead, we have a character in a horror story saying "Cap'n, we're all going to die if I don't fix this right now!"

Stay tuned. Our next topic is probably going to be about beginning a horror story. If you're reading this you're also invited over to AW to comment on the ongoing discussion.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

As nearly always, this post is a crosspost from a response to a poster over at Absolute Write.

The poster, named "showtimecircus" asked if any of us felt guilty about writing outside their chosen genre. My response follows,

Showtime, Nope. Write what you want and need to write. Write what comes to you and how it comes to you. The muse is too fickle to not be listened to and the more you refuse to listen to her, no matter what genre she's telling you to write in, the less often youre going to hear from her.

Plus, writing (and reading) outside your genre is inevitably going to lead you to introduce some different elements into your writing. It's going to help build you as a writer and to introduce you to new elements of your creativity and writing ability. Introducing new elements into an old genre is practically the definition of "published writer". Too damned many people try to imitate this writer or that writer to the extent that they forget that this writer or that writer got themselves published by trying something new and different.

There's nothing wrong with introducing elements of detective fiction into science fiction (Glen Cook does it in fantasy). There's nothing wrong with introducing elements of science fiction into a thriller (Jon Land, Timothy Zahn, and Dean Koontz). There's nothing wrong with introducing elements of fantasy into police procedurals (Fred Saberhagen did it with An Old Friend of the Family and Dean Koontz did it with his Frankenstein series).

Reading Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Glen Cook lead me down a road to the creation of one of my favorite characters who happens to be a pretty hard-boiled private investigator who just happens to attract weird.

Do what you want to do. There are no rules and no binders saying you must write only in one genre (James D MacDonald writes in several just to name one example who lives here at AW).

Break the rules. Do it with originality and talent and the next thing you know we may be talking about you as a "published writer".

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Self-Confidence In Writing

I find it disturbing how much self-doubt there is floating around these forums, while there are FEW writers who appear to have any positive feelings about their progress and achievements.

There are a few things about self-doubt that we can learn from Master Yoda.

The story-killer self doubt is.
Infects us all it does.
Continue only will those who prevail.

To a certain extent, writers (and Jedi Masters), have to learn to have a bit of arrogance about themselves and their writing. You have to believe in yourself and your art first and foremost. Self-doubt will kill your muse, your imagination, your ability to plant BIC, and ultimately will show in your stories.

Ignore it. Be arrogant about your writing and your ability. Be overconfident. Just don;t be so arrogant and overconfident that you alienate editors and agents with a lot of egotistical claptrap about how you're the best writer since Stephen King and you're going to welcome the agent or editor onboard your bandwagon to fame and fortune. That ain't gonna' happen.

Sooner or later, that massive ego, that arrogance and self-confidence, is going to come up hard against the cold, hard realities of the publishing industry and the writing life.

It's a cold, hard, dirty business filled with potholes, pitfalls, and bumps in the road.

If you do not have confidence in yourself and your writing, who will?

You are your own cheering section and you must continue to be your own cheering section.

There are a thousand venues out there for your stories. Who cares if one editor turned you down? Send it out to the next one and the next one and the next one and the ones after that until that puppy sells somewhere, anywhere. No one's going to like everything you write, but someone out there will like something that you write.

You have to persevere and overcome. You must maintain your self-confidence and that requires maintaining an egotistical and arrogant attitude about your writing.

That is not, however, to say that you should not listen to editors and agents who ask for revisions. They know their markets and publishers. Assuming a compliant and cooperative attitude with them is usually in your own best interests.

But you have to sell yourself to an agent and editor very nearly as much as you have to sell yourself to a prospective employer in an interview. Every time you query you should consider the query letter to be your interview introduction. It is. You get your foot in the door and then you sell yourself via your self-confidence, your assurance, and your "can do" attitude.

Most employers appreciate a little arrogance and self-confidence in their interviewee's. It shows that the interviewee has at least been seasoned a little.

An agent or editor will appreciate self-confidence in a writer.

Just don't overdue it and tell them you're going to make both of you rich beyond the dreams of avarice. They know better - and you should too.