Archive for the Writing in Theory & Practice Category
I resigned from Indiana Horror Writers today. It’s not something I wanted to do, necessarily, but felt I had to do. It’s been a long time coming.
I was there in IHW’s infancy, one of its founding fathers in a sense. I felt an immediate connection with Tracy DeVore, Michael West, Sara Larson, and Maurice Broaddus. They quickly became more than friends. They were (and are) family. As more members joined our troupe — Jerry Gordon, Michelle Pendergrass, and Natalie Phillips, to name a few — that family became even stronger. Oh sure, we were there to support each other as storytellers and craftsmen, but more than that, we leaned on one another, through good times and bad. The love was genuine. We all had a voice. We all mattered.
As IHW expanded its roster, as a whole, it began to feel less like a family. There were personality conflicts. There was infighting, bickering, and cliques were formed. The core relationships remained, but IHW as an organization was suffering.
Then Sara passed away.
A couple of unfortunate events took place recently within the group, the last of which being the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for me. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say that those original feelings I felt for that core group of members, my family, are still as strong as ever. To see them marginalized or disrespected in any way just doesn’t sit well with me.
Resigning from IHW was a hard decision, but in the end, it’s just a group that I am no longer a member of. The relationships I built within that group still remain. Tracy, Mike, Maurice, Jerry, Michelle, Natalie and Sara, gods rest her soul, are still family and I love them. Nothing will ever change that.
Walking away may have been hard, but remaining in IHW as it has become would have been much harder.
NOTES ON WRITING WEIRD FICTION
BY H.P. LOVECRAFT
My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.
While my chosen form of story-writing is obviously a special and perhaps a narrow one, it is none the less a persistent and permanent type of expression, as old as literature itself. There will always be a small percentage of persons who feel a burning curiosity about unknown outer space, and a burning desire to escape from the prison-house of the known and the real into those enchanted lands of incredible adventure and infinite possibilities which dreams open up to us, and which things like deep woods, fantastic urban towers, and flaming sunsets momentarily suggest. These persons include great authors as well as insignificant amateurs like myself—Dunsany, Poe, Arthur Machen, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare being typical masters in this field.
As to how I write a story—there is no one way. Each one of my tales has a different history. Once or twice I have literally written out a dream; but usually I start with a mood or idea or image which I wish to express, and revolve it in my mind until I can think of a good way of embodying it in some chain of dramatic occurrences capable of being recorded in concrete terms. I tend to run through a mental list of the basic conditions or situations best adapted to such a mood or idea or image, and then begin to speculate on logical and naturally motivated explanations of the given mood or idea or image in terms of the basic condition or situation chosen.
The actual process of writing is of course as varied as the choice of theme and initial conception; but if the history of all my tales were analysed, it is just possible that the following set of rules might be deduced from the average procedure:
(1) Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence —not the order of their narration. Describe with enough fulness to cover all vital points and motivate all incidents planned. Details, comments, and estimates of consequences are sometimes desirable in this temporary framework.
(2) Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events—this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fulness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax. Change the original synopsis to fit if such a change will increase the dramatic force or general effectiveness of the story. Interpolate or delete incidents at will—never being bound by the original conception even if the ultimate result be a tale wholly different from that first planned. Let additions and alterations be made whenever suggested by anything in the formulating process.
(3) Write out the story—rapidly, fluently, and not too critically—following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design. If the development suddenly reveals new opportunities for dramatic effect or vivid storytelling, add whatever is thought advantageous—going back and reconciling the early parts to the new plan. Insert and delete whole sections if necessary or desirable, trying different beginnings and endings until the best arrangement is found. But be sure that all references throughout the story are thoroughly reconciled with the final design. Remove all possible superfluities—words, sentences, paragraphs, or whole episodes or elements—observing the usual precautions about the reconciling of all references.
(4) Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness or transitions (scene to scene, slow and detailed action to rapid and sketchy time-covering action and vice versa. . . . etc., etc., etc.), effectiveness of beginning, ending, climaxes, etc., dramatic suspense and interest, plausibility and atmosphere, and various other elements.
(5) Prepare a neatly typed copy—not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.
The first of these stages is often purely a mental one—a set of conditions and happenings being worked out in my head, and never set down until I am ready to prepare a detailed synopsis of events in order of narration. Then, too, I sometimes begin even the actual writing before I know how I shall develop the idea—this beginning forming a problem to be motivated and exploited.
There are, I think, four distinct types of weird story; one expressing a mood or feeling, another expressing a pictorial conception, a third expressing a general situation, condition, legend, or intellectual conception, and a fourth explaining a definite tableau or specific dramatic situation or climax. In another way, weird tales may be grouped into two rough categories—those in which the marvel or horror concerns some condition or phenomenon, and those in which it concerns some action of persons in connexion with a bizarre condition or phenomenon.
Each weird story—to speak more particularly of the horror type—seems to involve five definite elements: (a) some basic, underlying horror or abnormality—condition, entity, etc.—, (b) the general effects or bearings of the horror, (c) the mode of manifestation—object embodying the horror and phenomena observed—, (d) the types of fear-reaction pertaining to the horror, and (e) the specific effects of the horror in relation to the given set of conditions.
In writing a weird story I always try very carefully to achieve the right mood and atmosphere, and place the emphasis where it belongs. One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan–fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel. This marvel must be treated very impressively and deliberately—with a careful emotional “build-up”—else it will seem flat and unconvincing. Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events. But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel. In relation to the central wonder, the characters should shew the same overwhelming emotion which similar characters would shew toward such a wonder in real life. Never have a wonder taken for granted. Even when the characters are supposed to be accustomed to the wonder I try to weave an air of awe and impressiveness corresponding to what the reader should feel. A casual style ruins any serious fantasy.
Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion—imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal. Avoid bald catalogues of incredible happenings which can have no substance or meaning apart from a sustaining cloud of colour and symbolism.
These are the rules or standards which I have followed—consciously or unconsciously—ever since I first attempted the serious writing of fantasy. That my results are successful may well be disputed—but I feel at least sure that, had I ignored the considerations mentioned in the last few paragraphs, they would have been much worse than they are.
I will be attending Mo*Con on Saturday, May 4th. What is Mo*Con? Put simply, it is a gathering of writers, artists, publishers, and readers who come together to talk about a myriad of topics related to the craft of storytelling, be it in words or pictures. No topic is off limit, as past panels have touched on everything from gender issues to religion, social media to current trends. Think of it as a convention room party held in a con suite, writ large and with better food. Hosted by Indiana Horror Writers, it is the one convention I refuse to miss, primarily because of its more intimate nature.
Mo*Con will be held this year at the Broad Ripple United Methodist Church (6185 Guilford Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46220) with special guests Jim C. Hines, Saladin Ahmed, Gary Braunbeck and Stephen Zimmer.
I’ll be signing copies of Descendant and Vampires Don’t Sparkle!, for those interested.
Six years ago today, celebrated author and humanist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. fell down a flight of stairs and died. He was 84 at the time. Being a fellow Hoosier, it was my duty to read his complete works and I must admit that I did not always get what he was getting after, but I always appreciated the way he went about it. His writing was purposeful and intense, full of winks and nudges and rib pokes, but at the same time with a weight and depth that challenged even the most critical of noodlers.
So, in honor of the sixth anniversary of his passing, I present Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing a Short Story:
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
“The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of you can make of it whatever you wish.” — Terence McKenna
“Belligerent Old Bastard”
Ideas are never in short supply, or rather, shouldn’t be if you’re to be a writer. If you fancy yourself one and yet you can’t seem to come up with something to write about, well then, I suppose you’re just kidding yourself, no? Lots of people want to be writers, but few are willing to do the work. You know, the whole setting your ass down in the chair and bloody banging the keys till your fingers are raw. For those of you in the thick of it, how many times have you heard this one — you’re at a party or some such and the subject of you being a wrangler of words comes up, and invariably some tool or skirt says, “I’ve always wanted to write a book”. Then why haven’t ya? The answer is because it’s bloody hard, that’s why. Churning out a hundred thousand words, give or take, is a chore. It demands commitment. It demands sacrifice. And in the end, it might not be worth a piss. If you’re hiccuping on the gods be damned “idea”, then get out of the game now, because that’s the easy part. Hellfire, I have more ideas than I could ever get down on paper, and forget the better part of them before I’ve had my morning caffeine fix.
Yes, this is me being an ass. Why? Well, I guess you could blame it on a savage month of bitter disappointment coupled by one too many emails from would-be writers, and I get more than my fair share, asking, more often than not, “where do you get your ideas from?”. From the bloody idea fairy, that’s where. I also get more than a few of the “I have this great idea for a book — I’ll give it to you, you write it, and we’ll share the credit/split the money/or what-not” variety.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I do enjoy mentoring young (or not so young) writers. I love talking shop. I love the whole writing process and admire each and every numbskull (like myself) who is fool enough to go to war in the genre trenches.
Look, if you’re not sure what you want to write about, then you’re not ready. When the ideas start churning, then it’s time to punch the clock and go to work. It’s really that simple, kids.
I feel much better for having unloaded all that. Tomorrow I’ll be back to my more amiable self, patiently answering the idea question with some innocuous platitude or another, bolstering someone’s confidence. Just. Not. Today.
No blog on Monday. No blog on Tuesday. What the hell, man? Well, let me tell ya — I’ve been a busy little occult detective. My wife, gods love her, is on bed rest, so the number of hats I’m wearing at home has increased immeasurably. One thing’s for sure, I have a new found respect for all the things she does to keep our house in order. Cooking, cleaning, Connor-wrangling… these are not easy tasks, and they’re made even more difficult when left in the hands of a lumbering hill giant (that would be me).
I have, as a result, found myself entering an almost meditative state, soul searching and world building while I move from one task to another. Story ideas are accumulating faster than that funky blue fuzz in the dryer’s lint trap.
See. Silver lining. Every cloud’s got one.
I hate to see my lady love in such a state, but hopefully we’ll get a thumbs up from the doctor soon. Fingers crossed and all that. Regardless, I imagine this will be standard operating procedure for the immediate future in Caer Freeman. It’s a lot of work, but I’m happy to do it. Family first.
Besides, I did mention story ideas, right? Hell, once she’s better, she might have to fight me to get some of these menial tasks back. I’m becoming quite the house husband, let me tell ya. And the writing will be made all the better for it…
What if you wrote a novel, critically acclaimed mind you, but no one, for all intents and purposes, bought it? Do you bask in the glow of the stellar reviews or do you become mired by self-doubt due to abysmally poor sales? The correct answer, I hope, is that you dwell on neither of these two possibilities. See, there’s a third choice in the equation and that is “to write”.
I guess, before continuing I should apologize for the lack of another installment of Father Knows Best. It is Friday after all, traditionally Free Fiction Day in these here parts. Fact of the matter is, there are more than a few things on my mind distracting me from delving once more into the Parker Brothers’ world. Rather than force my hand to churn out what could very well be a lackluster chapter in my little serial, better I think to take a deep breath and collect myself.
I am not prone to bouts of depression. Oh sure, I had my moments back in my younger years, but those were fueled by equal parts alcohol dependency and being something of a lost soul at the time. That I’m out of sorts of late has been brought on by many factors, none of which I will force upon you. Suffice to say that sometimes in the game of life your dice rolls come up snake eyes. The key to overcoming such is simple, keep rolling.
Which, I suppose brings me back to my opening salvo.
I’ve decided to shelve plans to write more Wolfe & Crowe and Cairnwood Manor novels. Oh, I’m not done with the characters. Their stories will continue, in a fashion, by appearances in the Parker Brothers serials, and occasional guest appearances in my Landon Connors tales. But to write further novels with these characters, considering the lackluster sales of the three novels to date (two Cairnwood Manor novels — Shadows Over Somerset / Keepers of the Dead — and Descendant) is a fool’s errand. If you’re a fan of these books, I encourage you to look in on Fridays for glimpses into their worlds via the Parkers. You may have noticed several of them already. You can expect even more appearances in the future. I’ll not leave you hanging, true believers.
I mentioned yesterday that I needed to get my writings in order, come up with a game plan for moving forward. More importantly, I need, very much, to get my mojo back.
It’s won’t be easy, but then nothing worthwhile ever is.
See you next week.
Work(s) In Progress, aka WIP, being an author’s incomplete work that has entered the production process but is not yet a finished or fully edited manuscript, are the writer’s bowling pins, juggled with varying degrees of prowess, though seldom, but not never, in full clown make-up. I’ve several in the air even as I type this. Let’s see, there’s the one about a talking cat, another about dreaming gods awakened by a siren song, then there’s an old school ghostbreaker tale, and that sword and sorcery / occult detective thing, and some Landon Connors stories (more than one naturally, including the graphic novel) and Cairnwood Manor and gods knows what else. All in the air at any given moment. It’s all rather… chaotic and I’ve kind of lost focus. Between all these things, and a family, and a day job, and what all, it’s amazing that I ever type the words “The End”.
But I do. On occasion. Type “The End”, I mean. All the best writers do. Some of the worst ones even manage it.
Two little words, but I’ll be damned if they’re not the most important ones you hammer out on your keyboard.
It’s been a while since I typed those two words. I really need to do so, and soon.
This weekend I’m going to sit down and go through all these WIPs, scrutinize and prioritize accordingly, and make a concerted effort to work my way toward those two words on each and every one of them.
Tell those WIPs I’m coming… and hell’s coming with me.
VAMPIRES DON’T SPARKLE UPDATE
Vampires Don’t Sparkle! – an anthology edited by Michael West, with stories by some really cool and talented people such as J. F. Gonzalez, Tim Waggoner, Elizabeth Massie, Gord Rollo, Lucy A. Snyder, Maurice Broaddus, Gary A. Braunbeck, Jerry Gordon, Douglas F. Warrick, Gregory L. Hall, R. J. Sullivan, Kyle S. Johnson, Stephen Zimmer, Joel A. Sutherland, and, well, myself, is now available. Order your copy through Amazon, and remember, in honour and memory of the late, great Sara Larson, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to cancer research institutions to fight the real horrors of cancer. I know a number of the authors, myself included, donated their payment to this worthy cause. Cancer sucks. So do sparkly vampires.