“How Does A Funny Guy Like You Write Horror?”

15 08 2018

I get this a lot when I tell people what I do. The path doesn’t seem obvious unless you’ve been on it.

Were your parents Monty Python fans? Mine were, and fans of Steve Martin, and Spike Jones, and that old Bloopers record, and Alan Sherman, and Mork and Mindy.

At the same time, I had a still-inexplicable attraction to the morbid. The teen next door collected “Creepy” and “Eerie” magazines, which I read. Sundays would be days of chest-tightening anxiety with the strange, dark color pallet of the ABC morning cartoons, the mind-bending appropriation of The Groovie Ghoulies, the creepy-ass music of the NBC Sunday Night Mysteries followed by Night Gallery.

I used my library card for Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, tales of the Strange But True, and through them discovered Fritz Leiber and sword-and sorcery.

The possibilities of the the supernatural being true mixed with my desire make life as funny as TV. I chased laughs and avoided free-floating dread all the way up into my 20s.

When you think about it, ’70s Humor is pretty unsettling. Drugs were a laugh riot. Pointing fingers or thumbs caused magic if you were alien enough or cool enough. Men skeeved on women on the regular. Everyone had compulsive catch phrases. Giant feet stamped on everything. All social institutions were corrupt. Giant hedgehogs persecute British criminals who nail people’s heads to the floor.

I had wanted to be a stand-up comedian.  A sketch comedy group later, I decided prose was less nerve wracking.

But in the ’80s, there were only “Spy” and “Mad” magazines. I wasn’t sophisticated enough for “Spy” or sharp enough for “Mad”. I tried dark-humored horror at “Weird Tales”.

So it went for nine years. Eventually I realized I was trying to write horror through a humor lens, which is different than writing dark humor. I was writing The Groovie Ghoulies when I wanted to write Terry Southern or Roald Dahl.

Then I sold a story about energy drinks and dance crazes merging people into carnivorous new lifeforms. I’ve been chasing that high ever since.

Nowadays, there’s McSweeny’s and all sorts of boutique pubs for humor, but I dunno. McSweeny’s has a repetitive formula and the other markets are so niche, I’d have to derail to learn their culture.

How did you get here? How did you get where you are?

Here’s a guy dealing with these questions.

How to Alienate People By Telling Them You Write Horror — Drew Chial

I get around, wheeling and dealing in my hip bohemian community. I’m a man about town, getting recognized in my seasonally inappropriate dark t-shirt and jeans. 1,091 more words

via How to Alienate People By Telling Them You Write Horror — Drew Chial





Make Your Prose Ecstatic

1 07 2018

This is written in a tongue-in-cheek manner, but the advice is good and from an Odyssey Workshop instructor.

“Ecstatic Moments and How to Destroy Them” by Donna Glee Williams

 





Stephen King’s Top Ten Rules For Success

23 06 2018





Writers: Get This Book!

18 06 2018

“The best selling character eats, nods, opens, closes, says, sleeps, types, watches, turns, runs, shoots, kisses, and dies….The most important thing to note is that in the best selling novel someone is doing something as dramatic as surviving or dying, and they are not, as their less-selling friends prefer, yawning.”

This is a quantitative analysis of best sellers. What best-selling characters are most prone to do. How the plots are structured. How men and women write differently. How the novels are titled. Down to percentages of “the” in best-selling text.

The book reinforces everything you may have seen in other writing books: active characters, dynamic plots, use of  arcs, etc. But for me, this book gives a concrete foundation for all of the advice.

I’m already adapting my plots accordingly. What I have taken away so far: my characters need to express “need” in detail. I tend to underwrite. I tend to think things do not need explanations. I thought I was being economical, but I’m realizing that I’m just not committing to my characters.

Writing an action pulp series is helping me to realize I need to be bolder in my choices. This book is helping me to see that this boldness will produce results.

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Write Towards Your Conflict, Delay Your Resolution

4 06 2018
man couple people woman

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

While I was at the SFWA convention in Pittsburgh, a panelist mentioned Jim Butcher adding just-one-more conflict to resolve before the story concluded. Stumbled across an article that agreed with Jim Butcher’s plotting.





Creating Tension: Writing Lessons From Balticon 2018

28 05 2018

At Balticon this past Saturday, I watched a panel about Creating Tension with Scott Andrews, Mark L. Van Name, Gail Z. Martin, and Chuck Gannon.

All agreed that for tension to work, the threatened character must be relatable and the stakes recognizable. Maybe summarize the details of what would happen if All Was Lost.

Andrews: It is best to end a chapter with a cliffhanger to keep the reader engaged. Disquietude can act as cliffhanger by using awe, mystery, or curiosity. Entering an awesome new environment can pull the reader into the next chapter. The reveal of an important question can pique curiosity.

Van: Lee Child says unanswered questions keep the reader on edge. In foreshadowing a menace, heighten tension through proximity. For example: the threat is first mentioned, then later detailed, then seen at a distance, then when the protagonist has to hide from it. Morbid humor works, for that read the memoirs of soldiers.

Gail Z. Martin says that Jim Butcher novels will almost resolve a conflict completely, then introduce a last complication.

Gannon says that tragedy is two honorable characters working toward opposing ends (he made clear this was not an original thought, but I can’t remember who he was quoting). Trust your instincts above any plot formula.

Other panels reinforced reading Romancing the Beat and Save the Cat.

 





Love/Hate In SF/F/Horror: I Like Clowns.

25 05 2018

clowns

I love a good clown. Clowns are way underrated. They have deep history, culture, and skills. I believe an individual can fear clowns, certainly. The courophobia trend in our society is drummed up hysteria and a further example of how innocent love of art is shunned. You want to see a skillful, good human being? Harpo Marx, who is the tramp, along with his brothers in the above photo.

I hate when a character who is a Jesus analog has the initials “J.C.”.  Jesse Cutler of “Preacher”. The martyr/healer/magic black man from “The Green Mile”. Lots of others I have blotted out. Yeah, Garth Ennis, it’s all blasphemy, har har. Steve, we get it…he’s really Christalicious.

I love me an innovative monster design! “The Shrike” in the Hyperion novels. The elk-thing in the movie “The Ritual”. I’ll go to Days of Knights and read AD&D modules just to say “Holy Eff this is cool.”

I hate when a story’s Hell is lifted from Dante’s “Inferno”. I tend to be a stickler for reference material, in that a writer should use all of the material or not use it at all. Even Dante says “Inferno” is an allegory and not a roadmap. I can’t take “Inferno” seriously when Dante reserved the 9th Circle for some local politician he despised.

I love a good jerk who does the right thing. I am discovering they are tough to write. What if we replaced Elric with Ignatious O’Reilly from “Confederacy of Dunces”? Maybe Stormbringer could possess O’Reilly’s book of metaphysics or his stained bedsheet?

I hate when I write a draft and find all my characters are two dimensional, like the women are sexpots, or the minorities there to add “veracity” to the setting. To fix this, I give each character her own goals and character arc. I think of a person I know who fits this character and bring my love of that person to that character. But man, that first draft makes me disappointed in myself as a human.

(You may note that I say “love of that person”. I found that when I write a character based on someone I actively hate, or who supports values I despise, that character comes out flat, irritating, and unconvincing. So far, I’d say the trick to good writing is pitting good people against each other.)

I love a good caper. I haven’t read much Donald Westlake, but man is he great! Like Westlake’s stories, I love movies where doofuses pull together for the prize (“It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, “Kelly’s Heroes”, “The Ladykillers”).

I hate when the villain is a corporate toady or a mindless soldier. We are surrounded by business owners who are compassionate contributors to our society. We know men and women in the military who are intelligent, kind, and spiritually deep.

I love intimate, tight, even claustrophobic environments. I love stories where the magic or horror could be playing out next door and you’d never know it.

That said, not crazy about home invasions or serial killers. I like plausible, not Torn From Today’s Headlines.  That’s my quirk.

I love a well-written fight scene. Noir has them. Horror does okay by them. But Fantasy fights read like diagrams from Black Belt Magazine. Even martial arts experts will tell you that fights are bloody, clumsy, and usually stupid. Think of a fight you’ve seen. Was it a ballet of violence? Or a rugby scrum with livestock?

I hate that as I write this I have the voice of some grumpy old soothsayer going off in my head. Harlan Ellison. Or just about every other genre columnist who is 50+ years old. Can’t wait to pontificate in a voice I can call my own.

I love all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet. Just saying.

 

 

 








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