Write Faster? What The Experts Say….

19 01 2023

Here is a great article from LitReactor where an author tries four methods of increasing word count. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to fall for my Pettest of Writing Peeves: she includes time spent outlining to the word/minute total.

https://litreactor.com/columns/what-i-learned-from-7-books-on-writing-faster

That said, she finds advice overlap between all these books. She seems to believe that instead of waiting for inspiration to write, one should write until inspiration strikes. That perspective gives me vertigo, but I’m going to try that in a moment.





What Tropes Are Selling In Spec Fic? What Is Tough To Sell?

10 01 2023

I have to be circumspect in this post, because I present information from a private online writers group. A writer in this group wondered what tropes sold well in today’s market. This writer is also a statistician. The writer polled dozens of published writers within this group. He asked which tropes sold easily to editors in this market. He ranked the responses. Here are the five highest selling and the six toughest selling tropes in spec-fic.

Toughest To Sell Ranked To Most Difficult:

6) Prominent Violence.

5) Prominent Sexual Content

4) Body Horror

3) Vampires

2) Werewolves

1) Furry

Now I was alarmed to see Body Horror on the list at all. But fourth from least popular isn’t so bad…right? Violence and Sex have their markets of course, just not as large a market as others. Some twenty years ago Vampires and Werewolves took up entire shelves in bookstores. Now, expectedly, editors are looking for new twists due to reader fatigue. As for Furry, author Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen is writing about his universe of anthropomorphic spacefarers. He tells me that while he did not write to the Furry audience, he finds them a small but enthusiastic fanbase.

Most Popular Ranked To…Most Popular

5) Time Travel

4) Robots With Feelings

3) Fairytales, Folklore, and Mythology

2) Prominent Humor

1) Ghost Stories

Well, this tracks, doesn’t it! How many anthologies have we seen featuring all of these tropes? How many novels have you seen with robots grappling with their burgeoning humanity? Notice that truly popular novel series seem to have all of these elements: Discworld and Hitchhikers Guide being two. What is it about these subjects that their appeal is so long-lasting?

While I may wish for the powers of a vampire or werewolf, they have pronounced drawbacks. And my upbringing was a bit prudish and meek, so violence and sex sets off my discomfort. Furry stories are fun but I’ve noticed I write about humans all the time and may have an unconscious bias against Furdom. Body Horror expresses my anxieties about mortality very well, so there lies my aesthetic.

The Most Popular tropes seem easily for people to take personally. Want to change something in your past? Are you a history buff? Travel in time! Feel awkward? So would a robot. Wanna just get away to simpler, artful places? Fairytales etc! I like ghost stories for the afterlife and the idea of getting away with just loafing about.

So yes, I am wondering about a time-traveling AI dealing with his banshee sidekick. Not really, but this information is intriguing.

Meanwhile, enjoy this hipster fish!





Did You Write a Monster Or A Careening Semi?

3 01 2023

Lately, I’ve been tempted to write about the politics of our time. Or about issues in our zeitgeist. Or about the changes in our society. You know…Make A Stand About Something. Wield Art like a glowing sword, shining as a beacon, hacking through the darkness of ignorance.

Let’s overlook the fact that I, a Gen-Xish Provincial Liberal Straight White Guy, have neither the chops nor the lived experience to expand the cultural debate. I can write about my own experiences, of course, like John Updike but anxious, with more sentient body parts.

Over the past few years, I’ve encountered a few stories which address social issues. I’d felt that the monsters in these stories lacked agency, that these stories were parables with monsters in them, and weren’t truly Horror Stories.

I’d come to realize that this lack of agency wasn’t endemic to topical stories, but what I’d actually found were stories with weak monsters, and those monsters just happened to be used as symbols.

How do you know if your monster has little agency or lacks depth?

If you can replace your monster with a careening semi without it affecting the plot, your monster may need more.

Keep in mind that I respect these stories and other works by these same authors. It’s just that these particular stories share a common trait which hampers their emotional impact. That common trait is a lack of depth or agency in the story’s monster.

If you can replace the monster with a careening semi, then you have not written a horror story. You have a parable with a horrific setting.

Honestly, I forgot who wrote this first story, except that it is contemporary. A group of construction workers are part-way through building a house in a wooded development. The sun goes down. A werewolf appears and kills all the men but one. Though uninjured, the survivor suffers from the werewolf attack through weeks of guilt and misplaced sense of manliness. The story ends with the man back at the development screaming his anguish at the moon.

Do you see it? That the werewolf could be replaced by any catastrophe, by a careening semi, and the story would not need to change a whit? Many say “trauma transforms us as surely as lycanthropy”. I call this story a parable and not a story, then I imagine a story where his scream brings the werewolf back for something resembling an arc, then imagine another story where he looks to the moon and screams out the long blast of a big-rig airhorn. I set that last story idea aside to workshop.

Another recent novella is set in the early 1900s, in a rural community is threatened by a White Supremecist’s plans to create an armed enclave. The monster comes in the form the Gifters, three spectral women who visit those who disrupt their community. They present a gift to the interloper, a trinket meaningful to that person. Then the person explodes into a spray of gore. This story’s language, tone, and characters compel and chill, and it is a great story from a great podcast. But a careening semi could have done the job, and kicked the wrapped gift out of its cab door.

Think about popular stories with strong monsters like “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, or “Dracula”. If a careening semi appeared, the plot would be dramatically difficult, especially “Dracula” as diesel rigs hadn’t yet been invented. These all have strong, decision-making, influential monsters.

Think about great works of literature. There are examples where the monster is a bit weak.

“The Grand Inquisitor” in “The Brothers Karamazov”: The Inquisitor interrogates the Prisoner and explains why he must die. The Prisoner busts out in a cloud of diesel exhaust and roars away to freedom.

“Moby Dick”: Some sort of submarine?

“Gunga Din”: Again with the air horn.

Keep in mind that I have a Bachelors in Communications and as such, know a little about everything.

More experienced writers, think about your favorite story. Does this test stand up?

Can your monster outperform a semi?





I Generally Don’t Trust “Method” Anything, But

29 12 2022

This video from poet Jack Grapes resonates. He talks about digging to a character’s fundamental motives. He has a whole line of “Method Writing” texts and as yet I haven’t read any of them. This video is part of the Film Courage Channel on YouTube.





Stuck For An Idea? Don’t Stress About It…

26 12 2022

Since finishing the most recent novel, I’ve been waiting for my muse. I’ve been going to our old familiar places. Maintaining our usual appointments at Panara every day before my evening shift. Playing our favorite songs and watching our old favorite movies. Story anthologies lay in drifts around my living room. She ain’t showing up.

I think the expectation of the releases this year might be intimidating her a little. The progress I’ve made in counseling has soothed her ferocity. Getting older and watching friends and family pass has dismayed her.

There is no set plotline for one’s life. It is not going to All Work Out. There is no Resolution, no Affirmation, or Complete Understanding. So what does she do, and why?

In years past, I would have been distressed. I would have torn into my trunk stories to find the shining gold that had to — JUST HAD TO — be in them. Now, I realize that gold comes from being kind to myself.

At the moment, nothing is grabbing me. Writing prompts never worked well for me. Every short story I read seems disjointed or cliched or incomplete. These things have been the case for months, but with the novel to distract me, they hadn’t been a problem.

And it’s the holidays, of course. I’m building stronger definitions within my family and allowing people to be closer. I’m glad to have a new job that’s less boggling with better pay.

I’m easing up on myself and this is good all the way around. If she comes back, great! If not, I will manage. It won’t be an either-or proposition; my muse may feel differently next time with a healthier purpose.

Anyway, if you’re stuck, take a walk. Do something nice for yourself. Ask somebody how they are doing.

I've experienced two synchronicities and a life-altering experience in the past week.




Jordan Peele’s Advice On Writing Thrillers

22 12 2022

Another comedy writer and performer making horror. I don’t feel comfortable giving advice, but this guy knows stuff!





Publishing Update

20 12 2022

Working with my publisher for Noble Fusion Press, Barbara E. Hill, on prioritization. Three novels in the next year (totaling 230K words) requires spinning many, many plates. You’ve already noticed my increased bog posts, and I appreciate your attention. There is a lot of other stuff:

She is handling: Cover art creation, coordinating line edits, release schedule, Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), marketing, getting blurbs.

Me am handling: staying out of her way, being helpful, final polish of drafts, being charrrrmiiiingggg.

I have done the last polishes of the new edition of “Flesh Sutra” and of “Saints of Flesh”. I sent my terribly fumbled e-mail list to her with the intent of now *actually sending out newsletters as promised years ago*. I am lining up many people to receive ARCs to review on Amazon and Goodreads etc.

Release for new “Flesh Sutra” in first half of 2023, “Saints of Flesh” in the second half, and my fantasy fiction opus “Fazgood etc.” to be determined.

“But Tim! How is your life going?”

New job stocking shelves at a Maritime Themed Grocery Chain is strenuous, but going well. I seem to have caught a mild cold and am a bit tired. My annual check-up told me triglycerides UP but not diabetic, cholesterol DOWN to acceptability, and I am to schedule a cardio-stress test.

Everything else? Holidays are the usual grab bag of awkwardness. I enjoy the people I know and try hard to keep myself comfortable.

This is what’s going on and I’ll keep you posted.





If You Type “Horror Writing” Into YouTube…

15 12 2022

…you end up with a lot of advice. Who should you listen to?

Once I get over turning up my nose at writers I hadn’t heard of, I remind myself “YES.”

Listen to all of the advice. Apply what appeals. File away what doesn’t for sharing or for future use.

This writer gives useful advice not just for horror, but for all writing. It could be applied to humor or romance. Like “keep it medically accurate” could apply to pies in the face or to aroused body parts. Just saying.





Writing For Realism

27 10 2022

Have a look at these spooky stories on Jezebel.com. Every year, Jezebel solicits spooky stories from readers, stories that are supposed to be “true” and to “have actually happened”.

Which ones do you think are hooey?

More important, why do you think so?

Even more important, how can you avoid these writers’ mistakes and make your fiction seem more “real”?

I’ve been reading them every year for well over a decade. I can’t conclusively prove any story is fake. The editors and writers rarely suppose or reveal a fake story. The very idea of “fake” presupposes the events did not occur. It is possible the events are “true”, but the process of writing and editing the story, embellishing or rearranging those events, made the stories more traditionally compelling, but too pat, and not seem “real”.

Every year I eagerly go to Jezebel, read these, and grumble “fake, fake, fake…” Then “ooh that might have happened. Why do I think this one happened?”

This is what makes a story seem more “real” to me:

Avoiding traditional plot beats. Some of the Jezebel stories start out with small creepy events, build to disturbing occurrences, to finally burst into a decidedly frightful outcome. You know, just like a fictional spooky story. Reality seldom follows a beginning, escalate, climax. Reality is most often in media res: something’s been going on for a while, then the observer becomes involved. Or the events are disparate. Scattered. Happening to different people at different locales with the information of those events not being brought together until much later.

Mundane “cinematography”. Real life does not translate well into art. Few dramatic images. And real life never uses director tricks found in student films. Take the Jezebel story where the nurse is watching a surveillance monitor switching through camera feeds, or the story where the spooky thing gets closer each time the protagonist looks away. I know I’ve seen a movie with the feeds, and three movies with that spooky thing getting closer when you look away.

Avoiding conclusions or convenient supporting info. “Much later, I was told that a serial killer had lived in that apartment.”

Having emotional impact. Remember that story with the nurse and the cameras? She had been told about a priest coming to bless Room Four, but she didn’t know why. So a patient was put in this room. She saw a shadowy figure on the camera. The patient died of “heart attack”. She quit her job. No mention of that dead patient, though. Shruggy emoticon!

All of this year’s Jezebel stories, with the slight exception of the attempted kidnapping one, end with “shruggy emoticon.” No long term trauma or guilt because the characters have no life outside the story. There is no effort to create a sense of loss carried outside the story.

Let’s look at a found footage movie that I think gets it right, “Hell House LLC.” Writer/director Cognetti starts the movie “documentary” by telling the characters the Abaddon Hotel is haunted. Almost the first third of the movie is spent establishing characters. The prankster friend-cameraman finds the first weird events, but everyone believes his footage is faked. Tension builds due to the tight, twisting halls and stairs, not camera tricks. The climax builds due to the occult influences counting down to Halloween night. Look for this movie. No gore. No cheating. Just suspense. At the end, things get implausible but by then you’re hooked.

A traditional movie that seems “real” is “Session Nine”. At the end of the story, not a single character fully understands what has happened to them. The viewer does and it’s chilling. I wish I could write something like this.

I’ve seen short stories which eschew three-beat plots and get their chills from plausibility. Author Gemma Files seems to be making this style her niche and I encourage you to find her work online.

I’ll point out others who do really well whenever I can.





Tim Waggoner Writes Monsters. Here’s How!

18 10 2022

Prolific and award-winning author Tim Waggoner tells how he creates new monsters.

If I may add, I would advise taking an unsettling, compelling image you find and trying to animate it. For example, think of a garland of bright red roses. How might that be made into a monster? What would it eat? Would it crawl like a snake? Writhe through the vacuum of space?








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