Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Playing with Time

Before we get started today, I want to bring your attention to the bar above, just underneath the title. Home is where you are now. Biography is a little bit about me, with links to interviews and other places you can find me online.

Giveaways is one place I want to bring your attention to. I'm currently giving away 5 signed copies of my book Class 5 on Goodreads.com. I'm bringing this to your attention because time is running out and you only have until February 28th to enter. Just so you know, it may be a while before my next giveaway, so jump in while you can.

The other link above is Class 5. As you may have surmised, it's about my book, Class 5. It includes a look at the cover, the book blurb, where to find it, and a list of several reviews it has received. So check it out!

Speaking of time, that's what I want to poke with a stick today. How we play around with time in our books.

Of course, stories can last hours, days, weeks, months, even span years. If you get into science fiction, you'll even have stories that end before they even begin. It's one of the basics of writing fiction. Stories take time. Just like in the real world, you can't go from point A to point B to point Omega without a progression, and progression takes time. Many times, you'll have a scene that ends in one place, and have the following scene start somewhere else. Now, you can play with time travel in sci-fi, or experiment with things happening simultaneously in different places. But, more often, it's a matter that your characters are going to have to leave the first scene, get in their car, and drive to the next. They may even stop for a snack and bathroom break along the way. The point is, you're not usually (note: usually), going to end scene one at 11:59 AM, and start scene two at 12:00 PM on the dot. 

While we're going over the obvious, let's hit on chapter breaks. People usually use chapter breaks for one of two reasons. Either to note the passage of time, or to note a change in perspective (ie. Chapter one went to John, Chapter two went to Steve). Usually, when these are the reasons for chapter breaks it's pretty obvious; chapters are titled by the time they start or the character they belong to. That makes a lot of sense and makes things much easier on the reader, you need to keep an eye on the specific times you write in though. Make sure you give the characters enough time to do what they need to do, without leaving a lot of down time. Also, make sure that if the time is referenced specifically in the story, that it lines up with the times posted for the chapters. 

The real fun begins when we start getting creative with time inside our stories. Time travel, as I've already mentioned here, is one way we can pull out the clock and spin the hands however we want. But there are other things we can do as well, which I think, are even more fun. 

It's especially effective in Horror and is one of Stephen King's favorite and most powerful tricks. Making a single moment stretch out in such a way that it seems as if an entire universe could be born, exist, and die, before that single second passes. It's extremely useful for building suspense and foreboding, as in King's work The Shining. Little Danny Torrence has stolen the room key for room 217 and is standing outside the door. That small scene actually goes on for 2 or three pages before he even puts the key in the lock. There's nothing specifically said about the passage of time, but you get the sense that despite how long the scene goes, only a second or two actually passes in the time of the story. 

How this is done is actually relatively easy. Look around you. How many things do you notice in the space of a single second? Start with the obvious, what do you see? Then, what do you hear? Smell? What, if anything, are you currently touching? What are you tasting? The five physical senses are always on and taking note of things, even if we're not aware of it in our conscious minds. In a particularly sensitive moment, it is actually possible to notice everything your senses pick up in the space of a few seconds. So part of suspending time like that is simply taking note of the full range of the human experience. 

Then of course, there's all that wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey stuff that goes on inside our heads. We've all had times where we fallen asleep for just a few minutes, on a bus, in class, or just randomly after a hard day. We dream. We know upon waking that we were only asleep for a few minutes, and yet the dream seemed to last for hours, rushing from one task to the next, evading whatever populated that space with us inside our heads. We've all had the sensation of having thoughts spinning through our heads at light speed. So, it makes sense then that time in a book can be stretched around a character's frenzied thoughts, in addition to the sensations they pick up and process. 

A character pauses for just a moment, having caught a whiff of familiar perfume. Suddenly he's focused on the smell, so much he can almost taste it as the reel of his mind spins and replays the list of favorite memories. Then the moment passes, he continues on his way. Maybe he has a little less spring in his step than before, but otherwise, there is no discernible break in his manner or rhythm. To the average observer, there may not even have been anything to notice. And yet, all that happened still, in the space of a single second of time. 

A little challenge for my readers, if you all will indulge me. Think of a scenario. Anything at all. Then pause that scene. Write out that single moment in at least 500 words. You're welcome to post your bit in the comments section if you like, but it's not required. Think of this more as an enrichment exercise. 

Also, if you have anything else you would like to add, feel free to leave that in the comments too. 

"When you're sitting next to a pretty girl, an hour can feel like a second. When you put your hand on a hot stove, a second can feel like an hour. That's relativity." - Albert Einstein

~ Shaun

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Building a Book: Second Draft

Edit: This is part of a whole series and I apparently forgot to provide that for people. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 are all linked to now. Thanks for your patience.

So, with my NaNoWriMo project on its fourth month, I'm finally coming to the end of the first draft. Compared to what's coming next, that was the easy part.

It's my opinion at least, that your second draft on any work is the most dangerous. Not only are you looking for things to clean up, but you're looking for things that need to be added in. Character and setting descriptions, conversations, plot details that seemed to have slipped past. If a first draft is the bare bones of a story, the second draft is putting the skeleton together, making sure it holds itself up and that everything looks right. 

The best way to start is a simple read-through, from front to back. Not only is it a good morale boost to read the entire finished first draft, it allows you to pick out the easy errors: misspellings, homophones, glaring punctual and paragraphical errors. It also works as a reminder as it may have been a fair while since you last saw the first few pages.

From there, it should be much easier to see plot-holes, plot-lines which went nowhere, and things which seemingly jumped out of the blue. This shows you things to add, things to remove, and things to change.

Things to add.

Personally, I have an issue with character descriptions. I never seem to be able to slide them in during the first draft, which occasionally causes issues when I try to describe something later on. Even when it doesn't become an issue, it's nice to have a good idea of what the characters look like.

Upon re-reading a section, you might find it actually doesn't mention something you thought you had explained. In the second draft, this means going back and filling in important details that the reader needs to know which may have been left out because it was something you, (the author) knew well enough that you thought you had explained it when you really hadn't.

Adding things is probably the hardest part of a second draft. It's one of the main jobs of this revision to ensure the entire story is there, but you have to make sure you don't add something which contradicts something else later on in the story. This can be something as small as a change in a character's eye color that you then fail to switch over in every later instance, to an attempt at foreshadowing which gives away a plot twist chapters before it happens, or a bit of background on a character which drastically changes how he should react in a pivotal scene later on. Not that you should be afraid of adding things to a work after the first draft, but definitely be aware of what it can mean when you do.

Things to remove

While more of a focus for later revisions, some obvious flaws can be pulled out of the second draft. For instance, if you're aware of certain words that you have a tendency to abuse, you can keep an eye out and strike them from where they aren't needed. I have a habit towards redundancy, even to the point of using a single word two, three, or four times in a single sentence, particularly with the words "though", "before", and "often".

You should also keep an eye out for sentences which don't serve an obvious purpose. Even in a novel of 70, 80, or 120,000 words, each word should be able to carry some of its own weight. If it's not description, characterization, or action, ask yourself if a sentence really needs to be included. If not, strike it out.

Draft, the second

All that adds up to an ordeal which in some ways can be even harder than writing the first draft. I've seen it suggested that you should take a break between drafts, and it does somewhat ring true. Give your eyes and mind a break to recharge, so that you can come back later with the energy and a freshness which will allow you to read over your manuscript and spot things you may have missed otherwise. It also allows you to re-discover the story and see it better as a reader might.

It should go without saying that a book should go through several drafts and revisions before you send it out anywhere. Don't think that ten or twelve revisions means you can go without an impartial editor though. All those revisions just make it easier (and sometimes cheaper) for the editor to do their job of pointing out the things you didn't know were problems and you will always need eyes that aren't your own to look over your work. Sometimes you're just going to miss things no matter how many times you go over it.

So try not to stress too much. It's not like people are going to notice if your blonde, blue-eyed heroine suddenly turns into a black-haired, green-eyed heroin halfway through the novel anyway. Heh.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Love Kills

This Friday is Valentine's Day. I hate it. Now, that may have something to do with the fact that I haven't had any reason to celebrate it since Elementary school, but that's neither here nor there. The thing is, I'm not exactly alone in my opinion of this pink holiday. The Horror genre is about as full as you can get of relationships gone wrong.

Seriously though. Relationships seem to be a major focus in horror. For instance, throughout most of the early 80's, you could tell who was going to be the next victim based on their inability to hide their feelings for each other. (Although, I suppose you could also blame their stupidity for rushing off into the woods alone to get it on.). A good example of the different kinds of problems relationships can cause is the Friday the 13th series. As I said, in every movie, there's at least one couple that dies together while they're in the middle of coitus. Killing two people with one spear, as the saying goes. Though, you can also say that the whole series starts over some guy's attempts to get into some hottie's pants. If that one lifeguard had been paying attention, Jason might never have drowned and gone on to become one of the most bitter zombies ever to walk the Earth. 

It's not just being in a relationship that can get you killed though. You can also end up on the bad end of a large, heavy object just by being desirable. Who can forget the rabbit scene in Fatal Attraction? 

Dramatization. No rabbits were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Of course, you don't even need to be the specific object of desire to get hurt. In Stephen King's Misery, writer Paul Sheldon isn't even the object of Annie Wilkes' obsession. He's just in between her and her love, and for that, he gets an ax to the ankles. (It was a hammer in the movies, but in the book, he actually loses his feet entirely. Sorry if that's a spoiler to anyone.) 

Of course, almost any story worth reading has some kind of relationship dynamic. After all, nobody really goes through their entire life alone. They don't. They don't. I swear they don't. (Yeah, just keep repeating it.). A relationship is something everyone can relate to. It gives us a reference point to the characters. We want to see them reach the end with the love of their life safely in their arms, or we want to see them escape the clutches of their psychotic or abusive ex and move on with their lives. It also makes for a common sub-plot, filling the spaces in between and making another point of attack for the horrors that live in the shadows.

Of course, while not so prevalent in Horror, you do also have those stories where love conquers all. Where the bond between hero and heroine is the only thing that can defeat the darkness and spare their lives. More often than not though, in Horror, the hero has to make a choice and decides to sacrifice himself in order to ensure the safety of his love. Of course, it doesn't always work, and some lucky(?) guys might only get partially mutilated before the girl rides in with the cavalry to save his ass.

Though, let's be honest here. Few things really suck more than being by yourself in the middle of a huge number of happy couples. Just ask Carrie.

~ Shaun

But yeah, totally not bitter.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Women in Horror

Before I get into today's post, I just want to point out the clickable link above that says "Giveaways". Currently, I'm running a giveaway on Goodreads.com to get rid of five signed copies of my book Class 5. It runs all month before winners are chosen to click the link and check out the giveaway to enter. Also, feel free to check out the "Biography" link too.

February is Women in Horror month. So, if you hop around the blogosphere, you're likely to see posts about women in horror as authors, as protagonists, and as villains. Now, I would be remiss to let the month go by without taking at least one post to acknowledge women in the Horror genre, so here we go.

I also may or may not be being threatened. (send help!)

One thing I've seen people lament leading up to this month, is that there aren't that many well-known women Horror authors, and that there seems to be a stigma against women that do write in the genre. Personally, I've never been one to care about the author I'm reading until after I've read their work. If I'm particularly impressed, I'll look them up to see what else they can offer. If I'm feeling insulted, I'll look them up to make sure not to make that mistake again. If it was just okay, I'm probably not going to note who the author was. But that's just me. Male, female, I don't care when I pick up a book. 

To say there aren't that many female authors in Horror isn't exactly true either in my opinion. A short list includes Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, The Witching Hour), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House). That's some pretty esteemed colleagues if you ask me. (No, Stephanie Meyer is NOT a Horror author. Claim otherwise and I'm sending Annie to your house.). 

I'm here to kick ass and put on mascara. And I'm all out of mascara.

We really don't have a lack of strong female leads either. Even if they don't exactly seem that when when you read them. Wendy Torrence in The Shining is written as a strong character (as opposed to the movie). There's the mother, Chris, in William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. You also have Clarice Starling, from Silence of the Lambs. And how about Coraline from the book of the same name. That's just using examples I think most people will be familiar with. 

I also want it to be said that I think female protagonists in Horror generally come off as even stronger than their male counterparts in other stories. It's stereotyping to a degree, but you expect between men and women, the women will have the stronger bonds with those around them, so when people start dropping like flies, it's generally that much harder for them to maintain their composure, face down the villains, and come out in one piece (usually with a few other people in tow). 

Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Last of all, are the villains. Women as villains are every bit as terrifying as monsters and their male counterparts. This is due, in part, because people expect women to be nurturing and protective. When you have a character like the one in the picture above, it feels wrong on a much deeper level, it feels more like a betrayal. Even in the old fairy tales, they knew the power a female villain could wield. How many of them feature an evil queen or enchantress? 

Of course, there's Nurse Ratched and Annie Wilkes to start. You've got the witches that curse people like in Stephen King's Thinner. And, of course, you've got the classic evil queen in Snow White. (Let's not kid ourselves here. The original fairy tales were NOTHING but horror stories designed to scare children into obedience.) 

I'm sure there are tons more in every category that I'm not familiar with or remembering at the moment. Or, maybe I'm wrong and there aren't. At the very least, my examples show that women can excel in every one of these aspects. Women can be popular and respected authors of Horror. Women can be strong, intelligent protagonists. Women can be diabolic and overpowering villains. 

So, in Horror, as in life, a woman can be anything she wants to be. And that's the way it should be. 

~ Shaun