Sunday, September 18, 2011

Many Genres, One Craft (Part 4)

Tomorrow’s Kiss: The Duality of SF Romance by Heidi Ruby Miller: Spinning romance within your genre can aid in attracting readers that might not normally pick up your book.

Heidi’s article really spoke to me as a horror writer because I like to explore the lines between erotica and violence when I write, just as she likes to explore romance and science fiction –“If a writer sways too much in one direction or the other, she fears losing part of her audience.” This quote could not ring more true for me, and it’s something that I’m constantly reminding myself of when I’m writing. I don’t want to focus too much on violence and forget the emotional connection of my characters, but nor do I want to focus strictly on the sex, and forget about the big murder scene that’s going on while they are doing it. Hence finding the balance between writing horrotica. 

“...It’s also the way the character’s interact, how much time they spend looking at each other, thinking about each other, and how intimate they become.” – This is a wonderful quote when it comes to the small details that add substance to your story’s romantic subplot.

Description on the Edge: The Sublime in Science Fiction by Albert Wendland: Using the indescribable in your writing to evoke tension and fear.

When I was a second semester sophomore doing my undergrad at Seton Hill, I had the pleasure of taking a course strictly devoted to the sublime with Dr. Wendland.  It was easily one of my favorite classes, and I learned so much about the concept of the sublime and how to use it in writing, film, art, and marketing to grasp the attention of your target audience – “What gives the passage a sense of the sublime is not the description of the objects, but the description of the effect on the viewer- the drawing out of oneself, the demolition of oneself…”

When dealing with the sublime, telling typically precedes the showing which applies to writing horror just as much as writing science fiction because a 200 year old monster popping out of the grave is just the same as an alien race using technology to try and destroy Earth. Both are otherworldly being with an intent on killing humans, and the fear and panic that they will most likely instill is sublime, as probably is their actions in how they plan on doing it.  The only thing that makes me nervous when dealing with the sublime is the potential to info-dump when trying to explain it (which is ironic since the sublime is indescribable, ha!).

Ruining Everything: Tips for Plotting a Mystery by Victoria Thompson: A simple, less complex strategy for plotting your first mystery novel

I’ll admit that one of my favorite things to do is curl up with a good mystery novel and get lost in the suspense, but trying to write one seems horrifically overwhelming to me what with all the clues, suspects, plot twists etc. But what’s really neat about this article is that Thompson outlines a basic way to keep your thoughts straight and develop a plot triangle that will have everyone wondering “Who did it?”
                (1) Who is dead?
                (2) Who wanted ‘X’ dead and why?
                (3) Who could have killed ‘X’
                (4) Who would want to solve ‘X’s’ murder?

She recommends having about five suspects, but that is strictly up to the writer. She concludes by recommending to keep a list of all of the clues, and arrange your novel carefully to time when each clue should reveal itself – “Every scene reveals at least one clue.” Then, halfway through the novel, you need to kill off another suspect, who up until this point was probably who the reader was convinced that did it.  Now, writing a mystery still terrifies me, but I think by figuring out your basics early on will help make the process a little less scary. Needless to say, this isn’t a genre that you can be a pancer with! HA!

NOTE:  David Shifren’s article Talking the Talk in Crime (and Other) Fiction is a great follow-up to Thompson’s article because it talks about the fine line of including enough technical jargon in your story to sound authentic, but at the same time not using too much that you confuse your readers.

The Element of Surprise: Psyching-out Readers of Horror, Mystery and Suspense by Michael A. Arnzen: It’s always worse than we expect (ex: David Cronenberg’s The Brood).

There are so many great points in this article for a horror writer, like myself, that I don’t even know where to begin so I’ll guess we will just start in the dark. Arnzen talks about putting your character’s so much on edge about one thing, that something else completely ends up going on around them. He uses an example of a group of people walking through a cave that is rumored to be haunted with ghosts. It’s pitch black, so their focus is naturally headed to where their flashlight is, thus playing with the factors or light and dark, which he likes to call the striptease of horror. So the whole time while these characters on focused on a ghost, the real threat is a giant snake that is tracking them while they gently ignore the clues because they are so caught up in something else.

“Avoid clichés. Jump scares are too easy, too arbitrarily manipulative- and they don’t really work as well in fiction as they do in the movies (and even in film, everyone hates a cheat).”

In horror, I struggle a lot with gore and I never know when enough is enough until my reader is probably puking on the floor.  But Arnzen tackles this balance perfectly—my favorite part being, “Less is more. Parts always imply wholes.” And when I read this and took some time to think about it, it made perfect sense to me. Horror is all about the unknown and when you don’t know what’s chasing you/haunting you/etc, it’s always the monster that you can’t see that is worse than the one you can because your imagination takes over:

“If you write these kinds of things, you have an opportunity to “surprise” your reader with prose and description akin to erotic poetry, using the power of language to present an image in a way that we can feel deep down in our belly. Gore is a surprise that often generates revulsion, but it also works to raise caution and to remind the reader that curiosity often really does kill the proverbial cat. It backs up the threat of peril with imagery that confirms it. The choice between giving the reader a snippet of gore or rubbing their noses full bore into the ugliness of something ultimately depends on the context of the scene, the genre you’re working in, and the degree to which the reader trusts you.”

Arnzen also talks a good bit about the ending and how to ‘tweak’ it, for lack of a better word. He talks about the concept of infiltration and dues ex machina- “a surprise that drops down from the heaven to save the day.” To me, this is the same thing as a cliché because nothing makes me angrier than the solution to a problem that I’ve became so engrossed just falling out of the air. IT MAKES ME FEEL CHEATED, SO DON’T DO IT AND I PROMISE I WON’T EITHER.

Writing Sex Behind Closed Doors

As many of you know, I like to dabble in writing erotica every now and then, mostly just for fun. It’s a light way for me to get away from the horrors of my usual writing style, even though my stories are typically chalk full of sex to begin with. But mostly I’ve been writing erotica because eventually I would like to try tackling the genre of paranormal romance in the future and I figured that this would be a good way of practicing some short scenes to see exactly how I go about writing sex just for the pleasure of depicting a hot, steamy scene (minus all the blood and gore). So when it was time to pick our focus chat in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction (WPF) program, it should be of no surprise to anyone that I gravitated to the one about writing sex in genre fiction (lead by author and professor,  Dr. Nicole Peeler).

Nicole wrote a really great article about writing sex that can be found here, and I urge anyone that is interested in finding out more about the style to check out what she has to say.

The main points that I gained from her blog entry are as follows:

1.) Write sex like no one is going to read it
2.) Using personal experience is ok, but make it character’s experience, not your own. If you did something your character probably wouldn’t do, you have to spin it in their favor or else it won’t be believable to your audience.
3.) Make it real. Let’s face it. Sex is pretty mechanical when it comes down to ità insert a into b and c will happen. Normally it’s not what we see on TV so don’t let your fantasies overtake the reality of sex. That’s not to say that it can’t be hot and exotic, but know your limits.

There were also a lot of good questions asked during our conversation that I thought were beneficial to learning about myself as a writer.

1.) Why do I write it?
I write it for practice for an upcoming project I want to work on, and because it’s fun!

2.) Am I comfortable writing it?
The first time I wrote a sex scene, it was awful. I was nervous and felt dirty writing it so needless to say it was uncomfortable. But just like sex itself, the more you do it (or write it) the easier and more fun it becomes. Now I have no problem writing it…although I do still write my raunchy scenes behind closed doors.

3.) Is it harder to write sex than violence?
No. At least not for me. To put it bluntly, I’ve had sex so writing about it isn’t that weird because I have personal experiences to compare it too. But I’ve never butchered anyone, or shot someone in the face so that’s a little difficult—especially because I write horror and violence is a given. Therefore, I have to do a ton of research to learn about weapons, other people’s experiences, how the body works, etc., not to mention the tons of documentaries that I’ve watched on serial killers to get into the mind of how a killer works. So yes, sex is easier for me to write, but violence is much more fun to explore.

4.) What is something that I need to still work on?
Everything . I’m never satisfied with my writing so I know that I can always improve on something. But in regards to writing about sex…there is a ton of things that I could improve on. I hate to admit that I like to break out the purple prose every now and then, and metaphors and euphemisms are def. something that you want to avoid at all costs. The same goes with details; it’s the small details in writing a sex scene that really matter because while sex may be a mechanical process, you don’t want your writing to sound that way. I also tend to lose track of body parts every once in a while, which is only funny if you catch it before you send it out to a publisher (haha), but what I really want to work on is the fine balance between the visual and the emotional because I want to appeal to both genders when I write. I have worked with both heterosexual and homosexual relationships in my writing, but I would like to do more writing with same sex couples  in the future simply because it’s something different than what I’m used to, and I want to be able to reach everyone with my writing, regardless of their sexual preferences.

If you have any other questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer it.