Good Movies Made By People At Home

8 05 2021

These movies have different comedy to horror ratios. If you can handle “X-Files” episodes, you’ll like these movies.

Murder Death Koreatown: This movie leans hard into its Found Footage premise in that there are no production credits at the end, nor any credits in its IMDB page. What looks like a True Crime story turns to Weird Horror.

The protagonist has been laid off from his job and is producing little video projects on his phone instead of looking for work. The townhouse he shares with his sullen girlfriend has an access street behind. One night there are gunshots. A neighbor shot her husband and instead of running for help, he staggers to die near a set of garages. Our protagonist is puzzled and records his investigation. The investigation does a neat trick in riding the edge between the protag’s dissolution and a realization of a Weird Horror. The filmmaker used elements of his neighborhood: bodegas, graffiti, anonymous storefront businesses, street corner preachers, to hint at otherworldly connections.

On Amazon Prime

Leaving DC: Why don’t White people leave their haunted house? “Leaving DC” comes up with an off-beat, elegant answer.

The protagonist is a tech engineer moving from Washington DC to a rather nice house in the West Virginia mountains. Ghostly stuff happens, etc. The man’s money is tied up in the house, but that reason to stay always came up short in other movies. Why doesn’t he leave? *Because he is chronically compulsive*. We first meet him in DC with his OCD Therapy group. We watch him move into his spotless house devoid of personal affects. We watch him crater his relations with a visitor, who then leaves because his house creeps her out. Does he leave? No, he will not be bullied. He will understand what is happening by buying cameras and microphones and scrutinizing the late night flute playing, the apparitions, and the Mysterious Signs In The Woods. Then he will formulate a detailed action plan. The end is inevitable, but like I said, elegant.

On Amazon Prime.

Creep: Movies with tiny casts work if the cast is compelling. This movie’s co-writer and lead Mark Duplass radiates charm.

When his character hires a videographer to come to his remote house and record sentimental messages, you pay attention. Mark’s character reveals traumas, only to admit he lied. He takes menacing objects and gives them absurd histories. The videographer is pulled between getting paid, politeness, and fleeing Mark’s increasing menace.

On Netflix along with its sequel Creep 2.

I guess I like these stories because they are efficient. As writers we are taught to write characters who are flawed with a recent tragedy highlighting those flaws. (Note that Duplass subverts this expectation by implying then denying any tragic backstory, which frustrates and adds to the unease). Writers are told to keep the motivations simple and relatable. Last, stories are to be economic in word and action.

A common criticism in the Amazon comments is that these movies lack strong endings. That makes sense, because none of the characters are given resources for a satisfying character transformation. “Murder Death Koreatown” and “Leaving DC” remains committed to their goals to their unfortunate endings. The time constraints keep the writer from introducing a secondary plot to give impetus to transformation. Changing their minds and fleeing would also bump up their budgets. That said, the videographer in “Creep” does flee and his arc is the more satisfying for it.

Or maybe I’m wrong. The movie “The VVitch” was shot with a cabin, a farm, and a bonfire. The parents each had a heartbreaking transformation. Certainly that movie was great and had few resources, but then it comes back around to character portrayals.

Strong character voice and motive. I’d been fixated on compelling images, but I need to work on characters more.

PS: Happy Birthday, Me!





Neat Writing Tricks From “The Ruins” (If you are from Ireland and usually read this, you are my sole reader from Ireland. Thanks for reading!)

13 01 2022

While I had COVID, I took a gift card I had won at a work-place raffle and I ordered some books. The first to arrive (used from ThriftBooks) was “The Ruins” by Scott Smith. A movie had been made and is available for streaming. I had watched the movie and was really impressed. Over the years, many writers I respect had claimed that the novel itself was a compelling page-turner.

They weren’t kidding! It’s 500 pages and I tore through it in 24 hours. I hadn’t read a novel so eagerly since I was a kid. Despite knowing how the novel was going to end. Despite the characters being obvious redshirt/victims and the monster being a Pottsylvania Creeper that can do impressions.

SPOILERS

The plot: six generic white college age tourists in Mexico go off the beaten track, ignore multiple harbingers, and find themselves forced to stay in Mayan ruins covered with vines that are predatory, carnivorous, and intelligent. The natives know the vines are dangerous and will not let the kids leave the ruins, lest a tendril hitch a ride on them. Lacking resources or means to call for help, the six die rather quickly. You’d think that this plot couldn’t last longer than a Tales From The Crypt episode. But Smith makes it a compelling read over 500 pages.

How did Smith do this? I studied the book as I read and have some answers. Let’s look at style and structure first.

The POV shifts in third-person limited between the six characters. The language is contemporary with little artistic flourish. There are no chapter breaks. There is very little to break the narrative flow. I skimmed the prose easily. Jumping POVs kept scenes from being too long and gave moments where characters could assess a situation from different perspectives.

The plot is a basic Four Beat Structure. The McGuffin for going to The Ruins was to find a missing brother. That drew the plot up to Beat One about 20% in. The brother’s body is found literally when a character notices the vines seems crowding him. The plot questions shifts from “Where Is?” to “How?”. Within that 20%, all the plot elements have been established: a phone ringing in a deep pit, birdcalls from within the vines, and the vines’ peculiar growth.

The other three beats are Reveals Of Horror and the characters’ reactions. Beat Two is discovering the vines are acidic and grow quickly to eat any meat. Beat Three reveals the starving characters discovering the bird calls are actually coming from the vines’ blossoms, and that the vines are as fast as snakes. In Beat Four, the ringing phone is also a mimicry to lure them into the pit to be digested. Characters die on the way, of course, and after each horrid realization there is a POV change where the next character summarizes anew the whole dire situation.

Another group of tourists is supposed to come looking for the doomed, but even that isn’t taken seriously. That group shows up at the end much too late, only to climb The Ruins to presumably seal their own fate.

I noted the McGuffin handoff when the missing brother is found dead. That handoff is made into a “What Is Happening” through the world-building of The Ruins themselves. The brother is found amid the wreckage of an archeological dig. No other bodies are found. There are notebooks, though, and passports and other documents. I was waiting for them to try to piece together the clues. But Smith quite rightly made the paperwork a tease to keep my attention and concentrated on the character interaction. It was the same when the archeologists remains were found, when the natives (rendered in ways sympathetic and distinct) organized, and in examining The Ruins themselves. Just enough world-building to create believability, then moving on with the plot.

The most important aspect of the novel comes with establishing the six redshirt/victims themselves. We learn about them through description and behavior. There is almost no dialogue for the first forty pages. This perspective one step removed shows that this is “an ensemble” so to speak and there is no main character. What is vital is that it sets us up as watchers and not sympathizers. We are set up to watch flawed WASP college kids get drunk, make a lot of assumptions, and Get What’s Coming To Drunk Assuming WASP College Kids.

One could argue that what kills them is White Privilege and this is addressed in the book. It’s touched on only briefly, because deep sociological reflection would create sympathy and ruin plot momentum.

The first forty pages also set tone really well. From the first sentence, the characters spend their time with churning hangovers, sizzling sunburns, bleary from lack of sleep, resentful of another’s actions, menaced by snarling dogs, unsettled by disease and poverty. I’m going to pay more attention to using environment to create tone.

The horror I felt for their fate came through the sensory descriptions. Tendrils squirmed under skin. Acidic sap burned hands. Hopes dropped into chilled horror. Amputations cracked and snapped. I found myself thinking “these guys were dopes, but day-um they didn’t deserve all this.”

This is a good book. The movie has a better ending, in that it follows a Main Character out of the six who becomes the sensory touchstone for the viewer.





This Week I Had COVID, So This Is What I Did (Hello DirtySciFiBuddha and Literary Titan)

8 01 2022

I’ve been looking through “Idea Book” by Jack Heffron. Heffron uses exercises to find personal experiences as inspiration. I like this and will let you know how this goes.

Here is a found footage movie review site. It is comprehensive and the reviews are thorough.

I won a raffle at my job and got a $50 gift card, which I spent on books, of course. First in is this anthology. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki The Ghost Finder has been a favorite. Had no idea so many authors wrote occult detectives, including Robert Chambers and Dion Fortune. Many names new to me in the ToC and I’m looking forward to sampling in the coming weeks.





2022: In Which I Get My Career Up And Going Again (Hello to My Reader In India)

2 01 2022

Recently, one of my oldest friends looked at my bibliography.

“You have a lot of publishing credits! Good ones!”

They ended in 2014 and he knew why: my stab at self-publishing drove my self-defeating habits in way, way deep.

The last two years especially have been tough. I made huge progress with my counsellor and realized in full: I had grown up and grown old wanting to impress everyone, and I had been willing to destroy myself in the process.

People expect this from writers and comedians. Oddly enough, horror creators don’t seem to self-destruct. I can’t think of a horror creator who destroyed themselves aside from the old Universal actors and directors, and well, we can blame those bodies on Hollywood. Horror creators tend to live long lives.

That said, two years ago I had to rediscover what I liked. I had spent so many years pushing myself that I didn’t know how to just “like”.

I listened to music that made me angry. I watched movies to absorb ideas. I couldn’t read anymore because my ego said I should be reading The Great Books series while my gut wanted stuff like Liartown.

Have you read any Sean Tejaratchi? It is so funny!

Here is my usual Spotify playlist. Find a positive emotion. Find any emotion.

Now I am listening to 2nd Wave Ska and reminding myself that yeah, this is good. I like this.

Now, how did I get like this? Why did I stay like this for so long? My first impulse is to explain my need to share as a way to maybe help you. Maybe you do stuff like this too. Then I realize, what the hell, this is my page and I’m not embarrassed by this anymore.

Getting something out of your head makes room for new things.

My Dad was a terribly insecure man. He could not relax without alcohol. Mom grew up in a tense, phobic family. She felt overwhelmed by life. They found themselves in each other. Then they avoided their families by moving away, and taking a career where they might relocate hundreds of miles at any given time. It was an alcoholic family with all the markers, even if no one punched or screamed or missed a day of work.

It took thirty years of counseling to realize I had a lot of really bad personal habits. I could not make mistakes. I was irritable. I trusted no one. I took no risks. Catastrophe loomed everywhere. Most of all I forgave no one except my family. I marked my life not with joys, but with a trail of jaw-clenching regrets. I came to suspect all of this was interrelated, that there was a grand unification theory of all this.

I was the entire Adult Child of Alcoholics checklist. Every memory I had and I mean my earliest baby memory could be filtered through it. Even the things I liked about myself — my joking, my writing, drawing, creating — were in response to parents who just weren’t emotionally available.

Who am I? What should I want? I am almost sixty and I’m just learning to just say unexamined thoughts.

So why not jump start my career?

Writing fiction has helped me process all of this. Example: allowing myself to express my fixation with my high school bully (after thirty years) gave me a sellable story, with the additional benefit of seeing the true source of my fixation, and purge that fixation.

I really like the idea of Chaos Magick. If undirected writing could give me such benefit, what would methodical art provide?

So writing would help me. I do enjoy it. At this moment, it is one of about a dozen things I can say confidently that I enjoy.

Here’s to my career. I’m working on a sequel and I am enjoying that. I’d like to get back to short fiction, but time and energy are tricky. I just ordered a bunch of books (before, all books had to be writing related) to see if I like them.

Part of this includes reaching out and saying Hi! In this case, through the years, my WordPress stats have told me that my most reliable reader is some soul in India. I have no idea who you are, but if you get a moment’s kick out of what I share, okay. Thanks for reading for so long!

I’m going to post more regularly, if anything to vent like a lot of other bloggers do. I’ve some stuff to share later this week.





Horror Is What I Am Working On

12 12 2021

Its a sequel!

I think I’ve mentioned my novel “The Flesh Sutra” is currently out of print. I have been advised by Tom Monteleone that revising at least 10% of its content will help me find a new publisher.

“I have a 50 thousand word idea to add to it,” I replied.

He blanched. “You don’t need to do that.”

So guess what I’m doing?

I’m about halfway through the first draft and I’m on the right track. I tried writing a sequel before with the wrong mindset. Have you written with a bunch of disjointed images in mind and tried to make a plot? Don’t do that.

This time I went into writing asking “what would Olivia do if left alone for fifty years as a living mummy?” Then came “why” and “how” and “what then” and “who with” and there came a nice exciting plot. It has body horror, cosmic horror, possession, transcendence, occult knowledge, and more set in the here-and-now. I am enjoying this greatly. My writing groups are enjoying this greatly. No one knows what is coming next.

At present, I am writing the first draft. Next comes revision. Then comes pitching to small publishers. I am searching up horror conventions in my area with an eye toward networking. I am following the podcasts and Twitter of noteworthy small publishers.

I am greatly concerned I will die an untimely death. I am even more concerned that at my age, death isn’t actually untimely.

If you are interested in a pdf of my first novel, which was on the long ballot for the 2014 Stoker Awards, leave a comment and we’ll figure out how to get it to you.





Horror Podcast and How It Relates To Humor

12 12 2021

Try this podcast called “Wrong Station”. I’ve listened to a couple of episodes so far and the writing and directing are very good.

Here is Episode 88 “The Sea Provides”.

The podcast is written by three guys involved with the satirical site “The Beaverton”, which is also very good.

Are horror and humor closely related? Comedians and comic actors seem tor take on dark acting roles, at least in the US. Robin Williams played the disturbed villain in a few movies. Jordan Peele is creating horror satire. Michael McKean played evil characters in “Law and Order” and “ST:Voyager”. Scads more examples abound. Speaking for myself, I used jokes to avoid difficult emotions. Once I recognized that I started writing horror and that let me frame those emotions in a fictional context. I haven’t really turned back to humor even though I joke quite a lot in real life.

That reframing encourages me to look at the world through a “frame”. When I examine current events through that frame, I see foible and anguish everywhere. A timeless perspective; “A Modest Proposal” and so on. Humor and horror can be equally numbing. They can be equally useful tools for imagination.





Ok, I’m Inspired by Alexkansas Channel on YouTube.

1 12 2021
THESE VIDEOS ARE WONDERFUL! FUNNY AND CREEPY!




Plot Outline Grand Unification Theory

29 07 2021

Not long ago, I had been pouring over writing texts trying to find commonalities in plot outlines. This is the result. It can work for any length work, but I’ve had best success with novella length and longer.

Using:

The Bestseller Code (available at Amazon, a really useful book)

Raise/Reveal/Reverse (taught at many genre workshops)

The Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Formula (a 1920’s era writer who had this stuff DOWN)

The Three Beat Plot (really, you ought to know this one)

Dan Harmon’s “However/As A Result” (comedy writers have tattooed this on their bodies)

Plot Points During What Page Percentage Of Finished Work

0 – 10% Show Your Hero Doing What They Love Most,

  • something basic and primal; Hero loves books, learning, or doing.
  • Hero is one or more of these: outsider, independent, restless, self-sufficient, maverick
  • The setting or vocation must be new to the reader. Descriptions provide insider knowledge
  • in a new world, Hero wants a return to a simple life. They are recovering from a deep loss.
  • Setting in social upheaval. Hero is dragged into rebellion.
  • Your Hero has a flaw. Hero’s flaw actually comes out of their grand passion. It is a quality taken too far.

HOWEVER….Raise/Reverse

11% – 20% Add a Storm:

  • ESTABLISH THE CONFLICT AS AN OFFER YOU CANNOT REFUSE
  • Start the Crisis Clock: a countdown to a looming change that cannot be undone
  • All characters, resources, and foreshadowing must be introduced by the 20% mark.

21% – 30% Add Insult to Injury

  • the Hero suffers loses of a foundation to their life
  • The reader is to pity the Hero

AS A RESULT…Raise/Reveal

31 – 40%  First Goal: The Hero makes the Unhealthy Choice leading to confrontation

HOWEVER/AS A RESULT…Raise/Reveal

41 – 50%  Unhealthy Consequences of the Unhealthy Choice

AS A RESULT…Raise/Reveal

51 – 60% HERO DOUBLES DOWN ON UNHEALTHY CHOICE and another confrontation

HOWEVER…Reveal/Reverse

61 – 70% Achieve First Goal: FINDS IT THE WRONG GOAL

AS A RESULT…Reveal/Reverse

71 – 80%  Transformational Intimacy

  • The Hero shares their weakness with another character.
  • The Hero discovers they are stronger than they had thought, or that the weakness was a misunderstood strength, or that they become stronger/more mature for the experience. Prepares for second goal.

AS A RESULT…Raise/Reveal

81 – 90%  Final battle

AS A RESULT (happy ending)/ HOWEVER (downbeat ending)

91% – END

Resolution/Denouement

How to use this? Just read it over then set it aside. Do your first draft as it comes out of your head. After your draft is cleaned up and you send it to your beta readers, discuss where this outline may be useful in making the plot more coherent. 

DO NOT USE THIS AS A WORKSHEET. Unless worksheets work for you. At this moment, worksheets tend to get in my way. But if you work well with structure, try it. As long as you’re having fun.

DO YOU HAVE SUGGESTIONS? We can build upon this together.





My Creative Process: Generating Ideas

8 07 2021

A stage magician’s soul is forced into a grub eating his mother’s corpse. An abused housemaid is drawn into a world within a kaleidoscope. A steamship doomed by the ghosts of colonialism and personal trauma.

Many people liked my novel “The Flesh Sutra” for the same reason I enjoyed writing it: it had a few digressive “Monsters of the Week” (or rather “of the Chapter”) which added depth and variety to the world, and frankly were also really cool ideas.

I’m working on a sequel and a re-release of an improved “Flesh Sutra”. The sequel’s plot has been fun so far. But the plot is moving too quickly and I think I and the characters need a breather. So I want a “Monster of the Chapter”.

The plot so far: A woman named Gretchen is possessed by Olivia, a transcended spiritualist. Olivia has had keepsakes taken from her and Gretchen is driving across country in a used car, from San Diego to Hartford, to retrieve an item. Olivia is a Strange Attractor and Gretchen sees into the spirit realm. What happens during the road trip? I didn’t want to play where anyone else had played.

The first thing I did was track that trip with Google Maps. I noted what was on that route every mile of the 3000+ drive. (I had decided to keep their car a safe space so as to not disrupt the actual progress). I came up with this list. Then I highlighted the places where I had personal experience. And noted items that would be seen along the way.

List of things along highways: 

Cemeteries, factories, grain silos, truck stops, suburban developments (if you lived here, you’d be home by now), South of the Border, Tourist traps, airports, bays and inlets, bridges (truck hanging off bridge, suicide attempt), railroad, military bases, prisons, rest stops, corn and wheat fields, dangerous turns, crumbling infrastructure, cities, slums, museums, gas stations, zoos, state parks, police barracks, refineries, overpasses driving over neighborhoods (car drives off overpass and disappears), billboard, fairground, racetrack, campground, reservations, recreational farms, casinos, horseback riding services, hospitals, Hard Rock casino, Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, Blue Gate Resaturant, university, wildlife area, Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay, sports complex, golf course, Splash Lagoon, little colleges, Veterans Administration, museum of glass, Howe Caverns, a museum for an author I found witty but penurious in outlook 

The yellow signifies places where I have personal experience. I put “billboards” in purple because it is a recurring sight and has some horrific potential. The “museum for an author” is the Mark Twain Museum, which Olivia would have an opinion about.

Then I mined TVTropes.com. This wiki is awesome. Its contributors drill down into all media, define their correlations, and link similarities. You can lose hours of your life just wandering through educational, witty, startling critiques. David Lynch talks about “gathering wood” for inspiration, that is, pulling together inspirations. Here’s what I gathered and may use.

An ad for The BBC had a head made of disembodied heads. People complained. 

This Duracell Ultra commercial accidentally evokes this trope. In some of those shots, those little pink Duracell Bunnies look more like a mass of squirming maggots. 

A public service announcement from the USDA APHIS regarding accidentally bringing in invasive species was spoken by a man made out of various insects wearing gentlemanly clothes. He talks to the camera about his desire to spread himself elsewhere, then lifts up an arm and disperses the insects it’s made of. This was intentionally played for creeps. He’s basically the Affably Evil spokesman for their “Hungry Pests” campaign. 

Downplayed example: Azhi Dahaka, a three-headed dragon associated with the Zoroastrian apocalypse, has scorpions instead of blood. 

The Portuguese Man o’ War looks like a floating jellyfish, but is, in fact, a colony of four organisms known as polyps. Its tentacles can grow to twenty metres in length (ten is the average) with a sting that can be very painful. Definitely not something you want to get tangled up with, especially since Portuguese Men o’ War are most commonly found in large groups. 

The Portuguese Man o’ War is one of a number of creatures in the order Siphonophorae, of which there are three suborders. Counted among them is the gigantic Praya dubia, which can grow to lengths of 130ft/40 metres, making them the second-longest marine organism on the planet. 

Clinic is a short film about a series of bizarre, Medical Horror-themed nightmares had by an elderly patient in a hospital. 

Zdzisław Beksiński 

Francisco de Goya‘s “Black Period”. 

Come and See uneasily swirls together the nightmare reality of war with the surreal weirdness of regularnightmares to very disturbing effect. Several sequences in the movie are implausible and downright surreal, and intentionally so. 

The Third Policeman is a darkly comic novel by Irish author Flann O’Brien, best known for his earlier work At Swim-Two-Birds. Written between 1939 and 1940, it didn’t receive publication until 1967, after the author’s death. 

The story concerns an unnamed narrator and his tenant John Divney, both of whom are in dire need of funds (the narrator wishes to publish a commentary on the writings of a philosopher named de Selby; Divney wishes to get married). Divney proposes killing the local miser, Philip Mathers, and stealing his cash-box. However, while the narrator is in the process of retrieving the cash-box, he encounters the ghost of Mathers. Thus begins a series of surreal, disturbing and hilarious adventures as he attempts to recover the money. 

sudden falling 

K-2 is synthetic marijuana that has been banned from Michigan. The drug seems to slow time like regular marijuana, but it gives an extreme high that lasts a short period. It can react poorly in some people and cause them to be confused and dangerous to themselves and the people around them. People who take it can still move freely (if they don’t faint) and can become easily frightened by the strange sensations they are experiencing. Non-violent people will suddenly assault seven people in half an hour. The experience messes with time perception and memory so badly, it can feel like a person has been trapped in some kind of prison for years. It can also cause a user to have periods of what feels like a panic attack monthsafter use. 

There’s also Salvia divinorum, which takes the horror to even more horrifying degrees than K-2. 

These invoked some dread and nausea. Some seemed related to the terrain being crossed, in that the US is steeped in drugs and war. I avoid social issues in writing, because I don’t do it very well. But the drug description had some potential and the war…well…old battlefields and old hatreds fuel a lot of ghost stories.

My next step is to explore this stuff until I’m bored with it. I set it aside and see what ideas pop up this week, next week, whenever.

If you’re interested, I ‘ll keep you posted on what appears.





I Didn’t Get Published Until…

5 07 2021

…I learned how to love my characters.

I believe I’ve written about this before, but seeing as you seem to like writing advice the most, then “loving your characters” strikes me as the most important advice I can give.

We all know that all characters should have arcs, even the antagonist, even a villain, even incidental side characters, and I’d argue even the setting deserves to show development.

About eight years into writing, I’d made some vague discoveries. Do not write just to express disdain for something. All characters need internal lives, that is, lives and interests implied outside the story. Give the characters values that live beyond the story.

These discoveries became a checklist of disconnected needs to tick off when I finished a first draft. You probably see the problem already, in that having any “checklist” kills spontaneity and serendipity; I’d latch onto the checklist instead of latching onto the darlings I mentioned in my last post.

How do you create living characters who surprise you? How do you accomplish a plot when a character “behaves” but does not “live”?

I wish I could remember where I first read this advice that gave me a leg up. Whatever, what it suggested was casting people I knew as characters in the story.

This helped my writing in a few ways. Casting friends made the writing more pleasant in that it wasn’t work, it was reminiscing about the funny, pleasant, aggravating things done by people I knew. It helped by using the traits of those people to create surprises in the dialogue and behavior. It got me more out of “what I wanted to accomplish” and more into “what was possible”.

As the draft progressed, sure, the plot would tailor my cast. I’d cast my friend Michael as a wizard, obviously he is not, but he would need the faculties associated with wizards. So I gave moments of rumination and calculation that wasn’t quite part of his personality, but still worked with his bookishness. Martin was a salesman, and I cast him as a salesman, but Martin was also widely read and spoke four languages. Martin’s personality allowed me to expand the salesman role and have scenes in ethnic neighborhoods where I wouldn’t have thought to go.

By there end of the first draft, well, the cast still resembled the people, but less so, and they still struck me as refreshing. If they struck me as refreshing, then chances were good they would strike editors as refreshing.

Of course in later drafts, if I felt the resemblance was still noticeable, I will discuss my casting with the original people. Always, my friends are flattered and give permission. Even the guy who insisted I have him torn apart by vampires. There are two risks, though.

There is the eternal risk of the “Mary Sue”. My temperament makes me hunt out and squash favoritism. Being a horror author, everyone suffers in my stories, at least a little. Part of avoiding “Mary Sue” is not idealizing the character. Remind yourself “how would my friend respond to being confronted by a vampire? I mean, re-e-eally?”

The other risk is casting people who you do not like in the story. I once set my coworkers in a toxic work environment (a faceless corporation that collected Evil, so yeah, real toxic). I liked only a few of my coworkers, but I did pity almost all of them, and that helped me keep their humanity. That story came out a little flat, I think. It certainly was draining to write.

If the plot needs characters not suited to your friends, only then do I suggest using characters from other sources. Once I needed a pair of men who fell together as friends; I used the singers Nick Cave and Tom Waits. Each man has distinctive physicality and helped bring my plot along.

Be careful that you do not cast within tropes. You could cast the maniacal boss with Captain Ahab, but haven’t we seen Captain Ahab bosses before? You could cast against type and cast the boss with Bob Newhart, but make allowances that Boss Bob is going to take your dialogue and maybe your plot in unexpected directions.

Frankly, Boss Maniac Bob is kind of like Lundberg from “Office Space” (“uh yeah…gonna chase him around Perdition’s flames this weekend. Need your help there. Yeah.”)

Keep all options open. Love your characters and give them permission to surprise you. This may be the best writing advice I have at this moment.





Learn To Write Horror From A New, Unexpected Text

21 06 2021

When I was starting out, I had problems with writing pastiches and using templates. I did not want to have derivative ideas or predictable structure. I admit now that this attitude slowed my progress by many years. Pastiches, fan fiction, formula, filling off the serial numbers are all valid ways to learn craft and I wish I had done that sooner.

It is difficult to find a book on how to write horror. There are essay collections from horror authors. There are “How To” books where one author describes a method of building character and scene. There are books of horror prompts. But there are no books that give a nuts-and-bolts template for horror, plus collect prompts together in one cover.

Now there is a comprehensive text for writing horror and it isn’t even for writing fiction.

I’m talking about the new “Ravenloft” rulebook from Wizards of the Coast.

The tables for character creation are, as usual, great starting points for prompts. However, there are also tables for motivations, settings, plot points, abilities that come with a curse; all of them have at least one cool idea. Some of the settings have analogs to gothic horror, dark folk tales, mythologies, cosmic terrors, ghost stories, and more. The descriptions rival TVTropes.com.

Best of all, it has an actual outline for an adventure with a haunted house, and that outline can be adapted for other horror templates.

How thorough are these tables? Under “Creating A Domain”, I discovered my central character is undergoing all six trauma types listed in “Endless Torment”.

All that and it brings back my favorite playable undead “Brain In A Jar”. Fans are called Jugheadz








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