Tuesday, March 29, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Patience vs. Word Count

I have a problem. I have to write far more words than I care to admit by midnight on Thursday, and from the looks of it, I only have one option. I must take the outline that is only about half finished, and pound out some serious words.

I really wanted to avoid pantsing this novel. I wanted a full, complete, and edited outline before I type a word of this new project. Unfortunately, I pigeonholed myself into a tight spot with this bet. If I lose the 200 dollars to P.E.T.A. my quality of life pretty much runs dry. I run a pretty tight budget, and that’s the point behind this bet, to get me to write. Instead, I procrastinated, and did tons of the prewriting necessary for a novel. I’m not sure that I’m doing anything wrong with being thorough, but it really is strange to feel guilty over taking my time with a project.

It’s not all bad. I’ve tied up several short stories that were left unfinished. By next week I will have three or four of them out on submission. I’m proud of the work done in these stories, and the feedback would suggest I am improving in both my prose and my storytelling. I’ll be sure to post an update on what happens with the bet. I may have to go underground until Friday. This whole internet thing is the bane of my productivity.

I will close with a question: What would you do in my situation? Risk losing the money and trying to scrape out short stories and future blog posts? Or would you take the outline and just pump out the beginning of a book that will probably need major revisions later. I’d love your feedback.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flash Fiction and Making Your Words Count

I’ve been drifting away from writing advice in the past couple months. It’s a topic that I believe is a bit overdone by fledgling writers and unqualified people like me. There are some real experts out there who can give you great writing tips, but take it with a grain of salt when someone claims to be an expert. That being said, I would like to share something that is working for me lately.

In an effort to be more concise, I have been trying to create more flash fiction. Most of my stories end at around 1,500 words. This seems to be the absolute lowest limit for most publications for standard short stories, and most want around 3,000 to 5,000 words. There are plenty of markets that accept fiction at 1,000 words or less though, and some of them even pay pretty well.

I looked over a short story that I wrote a few days ago, and it was stuck  around 1,400 words. I didn’t want this story to sit in submission, getting rejections for not quite being the write length, so I went scorched earth policy with my red pen, and dropped it to 1,000 words exactly. When I reread it, I found that the pace was much better, and that I hadn’t taken anything away from the story. I’ve had a few people read it, and they have agreed with this assessment.­

It may have taken flash fiction for me to realize it, but I understand now that I need to apply this policy to all of my writing. It might significantly reduce the length of a novel or short story, but by keeping it concise, I hope that I can keep the reader’s attention.

 I would encourage all of you to try it sometime. Take your most recent work in progress, and ask with each sentence if it moves the story forward. If it doesn’t characterize or move the story, strike it out and move on.

Have any of you had experience with this? What tactics do you use to trim the fat from your fiction?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Freaky Fridays: My Problems with Modern Movie Horror

When was the last time you were truly terrified by a movie? For me, it’s been since I was a tweenager, and my twelve year old self dragged a bunch of girls (I was the only one working. Being a 12 year old and being able to buy movie tickets for six girls at once is a pimp experience) to The Sixth Sense. I know what you are all thinking; this kid is a horror writer, and he was scared by that? I know, I’m not proud of it either. The movie resonated with me on a different level though. It stuck with me when I went home, and was scarier after the fact than in the viewing.

I’ve grown up since then, but I still want to find that old feeling. I want to be inspired to fear. To get a little nagging voice every time I get goosebumps or a cold chill. I know that it is much harder to scare me now, but surely, some clever movie studio is up for the challenge. I have a few suggestions for all of you Hollywood big shots that frequent this blog (I’m talking to you, single return visitor from Los Angeles).

Step One: better Music and Sound Composition

We’ve all seen it, a buxom blond / brunette / redhead walks through a random dark area that is probably never seen again for the films duration, and then BAM! SHARP NOISE AND A FLASH OF CGI MURDER!

I’m a complete newb when it comes to music and especially composition, but even I know that the music is a supplement to what you are trying to do, not be used as a scare tactic. Suspense isn’t linked to how loud or disturbing a sound you can make, but by the situations that the characters must endure. Movies that do this appeal to the primal part of our brain, and might jolt us, but will not resonate as frightening int he long term. Sometimes, this is the movie's only shtick. Hire Clint Mansell or something if you have too, but make it work.

Step Two: Relying On Gratuitous Gore is Not Scary, It's Lazy

 After watching Dead Alive, you’re not going to shock me into a scare by how gory a scene is. I’ve seen it all. Hell, in video games, I’ve had to curbstomp scythe handed babies that crawled from the over lactating tits of a lust demon. If you’re going to flop some intestines on the ground, make it mean something, show me that soldier on the beach, crying out for his mother. Don’t just have stock-side-character-4 fall into a vat of lye and fire ants. The entire Saw series is an example of this. Massive amounts of gore with a shaky premise and some handy visual effects. Some of it is cringe worthy, I’ll give it that, but it isn’t lasting.

The scene from Reservoir Dogs, the one with Mister Blond and the cop, is an intense image of brutality done right. It isn’t even a horror movie and it did a better job than many horror films aspire to. What set it apart, besides the odd choice in music, how truly vile it made Michael Madsen’s character. The cop was terrified, and you have just enough info to understand both of their motivations. The only real gore you see is the stump left where the officer’s ear used to be. The pace was agonizing as well. Making the scene last longer than our comfort threshold will drive us inward, forcing us to hate the antagonist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m against gore, or that I don’t enjoy some movies that are heavy with it, I just don’t think it’s frightening. Dawn of the Dead (Zak Snyder’s) is much closer on how it should be handled. While the movie isn’t exactly terrifying, it leaves you quite satisfied, and playing “What I would do in the zombie apoc” for weeks after.

Make the violence mean something, and make it last.

Step 3: Make Me Care About a Character, and then Drag Them to Hell

This can be said for all writing, but it seems especially bad in horror films. Make your enemies sinister, make your characters struggle, and force them to overcome. Don’t just drop them in bad situations; make them fight tooth and nail in each scene against a greater conflict. Give them something to fight for, not something to run from.

Alright, this post has turned a bit lengthy. Next week I may expand on this, or move forward with another horror theme post. Freaky Fridays is a name I really hope to change, but until that point, we’re all stuck with it. Now, if you all would be so kind as to tell me your favorite horror films, or perhaps some themes that chap your ass. I know I’m not the only one who can be disappointed with most of the horror genre’s films.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Authenticity

It took a while to realize it, but I've been taking orders for way too long. Hundreds of blogs, agents, and other people direct me on how I'm supposed to speak on here. The subjects I can and can't breach, as well as the styling I need to be successful. I've sheltered my writing to be politically correct. I've bitten my tongue on several subjects, and omitted emotion, and it has to stop. I'm tired of being afraid that a few lines on a blog will kill my ability to get an agent or a publishing deal. I'm flat out done worrying that expressing myself might somehow hamper my chances at success. That's why I'm in this business; to use my own voice to tell the lies that express truth.

I won't embellish it either. I'm also out here to make a bit of money. I don't care if it's hard in this industry. Take a look around, it's hard everywhere. We all have to swallow that pill, so get some water and fucking do it.

I'm exhausted from the fear of judgement and the guilt of non production. One precludes the other, and sends me into a downward spiral when it comes to writing. I start having to make bets with myself to even make me sit down and type. It truly is wasteful, all things considered. I'm writing to get better at this stage. Every single worry I have right now is based on future events, and I'm letting them hurt my current work. The dilution of my voice for people I've never known doesn't work for me anymore. From now on, I'm going to speak to all of you as a fellow traveler, not an industry standard.

As Taylor Mali said, I'm going to let my words be said in a manner that bespeaks the determination in which I believe it. I'm not going to let my convictions fall aside at the request of people who haven't got the stomach to take it. I can be a professional and not be a drone. I don't have to hum at the same frequency of every other beginning writer struggling for platform on the internet. This is my platform, and I have the remote. Stay with me people, this career is just getting started.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A First Person View of Horror

We talk about a lot of things on this blog. Mostly about horror tropes and writing, but it is so easy to lose sight of the world around us and the terror that it can bring.

As I’m sure you all know, a catastrophic earthquake forever changed the island nation of Japan. Some people are reporting more than 10,000 dead at the moment. Statistics about how damaging the quake was filter across news channels. We see facts that their coast may have shifted eight feet in just a short period of time. What the facts do not show you is the human element.

The video below is a true to life glimpse of horror. Nothing that I could ever write will ever conjure the sheer ferocity of this tsunami, nor will it ever leave an impact like it did for the person filming. Please, take a few minutes to watch this.


Forgive me for not being able to embed it, I couldn’t find the same video on youtube.

I’ve never been so happy to be landlocked in all my life. It would take our local dam bursting to produce anything like this, and it would still pale in comparison. I’ll try to avoid some of the major clich├ęs floating around, but I do wish that there was more that we could do. Donations help, but the scars of this earthquake and ensuing tsunami will mark the lives of the Japanese people in a way we can’t comprehend.

Thankfully, the Japanese are a resourceful and brilliant sort. Disasters like this always seem to bring out the very best in people, and I think that trend will continue here.  Let’s all hope that as they grieve and work to rebuild, that they can continue to make a nation they are proud of.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tenacity and the Existence of Bad Motherfuckers

The greater warriors of our species have long filled the annals of our history. Written accounts of leviathans with unfathomable prowess litter both fiction and history, and for a long time, I considered most accounts to be embellished. Surely, with how easy it was to find yourself on the wrong end of a blade in ancient times, legends like William Wallace, Leonidas, and Musashi Myamoto could never have demanded the attention of entire nations on their combat skills alone. I used to believe that the exploits (or the men themselves) could have been entirely fictional, and as some form of nationalistic pride, were added to the histories of nations. Especially in antiquity, as the victor's scribes wrote history.

I used 'believed' in the past tense for a reason. Over the last few years, my studies of martial arts have shown me that these mountains of machismo and brawn could not only exist, but it was quite probable that their exploits were more than legend. Now, lets break it down.

The Fiction

Let me take a brief moment to clarify this. I'm talking about martial arts, savvy weapon masters, and speedy rogues. I'm not trying to convince you that some jerk off in a bad outfit can shoot bolts of lightning out of questionable orifices. This post is more about The Goddamn Batman, the Marv's of the world, and just to avoid being called sexist, Beatrix Kiddo.

Their place in fiction and literature is simple: they'll take whatever you've got. You can't break them, you can't even hope to contain them. They will wreck your dastardly plans, they will have their vengeance, and they will probably stop to have a beer in the process. All of those expensive mooks you hired to watch your club? I hope they have health insurance, because, as Jack White once said, if you could hear a piano fall, you could hear them coming down the hall.

When the smoke clears, could the carnage Roland's guns lay down be possible? Is it even plausible that a crusader could slice his way to infamy? The real question is, are these characters rooted in fiction, or could the potential for their brutal heroism be a much more real?

The Unbreakables

I know the title is a M. Night Shyamalan reference*, but stay with me for a moment. In the movie 'Unbreakable', Samuel L. Jackson's character is seeking superior, even indestructible humans. Jackson has a condition that makes his bones as brittle as a presidential promise. His character believed that if someone existed with the condition to be so weak, someone could exist on the opposite side of his spectrum. Someone who could be considered unbreakable or invincible. I originally chalked this up entirely to fiction, but recently realized that someone wouldn't have to be paranormally different, just a little bit better.

*It was one of his earlier movies, and I really enjoyed it. Shyamalan may have made some mistakes, but this certainly wasn't one of them.

We already know from conventional sports that the human body is capable of incredible things. Watching an angry mongoloid slam his body into another makes for quality entertainment, but in relation to everything else that is happening on the field, it can only seem so impressive. In a football game, we have 22 men, all specialized for the sport, roughly on an even keel physically and mentally. Every once in a while you will find a player that stands above the rest, but if it were measurable, this athlete would only be marginally better than the others. 

Compare the same superior athlete to the average NFL viewer, and you have a mismatch of astronomical proportions. Not only are the athletes in peak physical condition, their bodies are also attuned to taking absurd amounts of punishment. They could get up and walk away from accidents that would leave a person hospitalized, simply based on the long term adjustments their bodies have made. Sure, their brains might not make the whole trip into old age, but that doesn't stop them in their prime.

Now imagine that we took these superior athletes, and gave them the most evolved, advanced, and best combat training that our species has ever seen.

Enter the Mixed Martial Artist

What? You were expecting Jack Bauer? If you've ever seen a mixed martial arts fight (or, sigh, a UFC fight as seems to be the common nomenclature), then you know exactly what I'm talking about. These men and women, every single day, beat the living piss out of each other, honing their destructive craft. Every aspect of their game has to be perfect. The fighters must know as much about how to rip your elbow from its socket as they do about striking. They have to know how to defend, and they certainly have to be able to take wicked barrages of strikes.

The old adage that iron sharpens iron is in full force here. With each sparring session, they alter their bodies slightly more. Microfractures are suffered on the bones, which causes them to get thicker. Each well trained punch, which is perfected over thousands of hours, creates more tensile strength, speed, and accuracy. 

Still not convinced of their badassery? Lets look at the physics. Each kick and punch is thrown with the full force of the body behind it, Their strikes literally start at the base of their feet, twist through the body, and slam through the end of the first. Sports science shows have repeatedly shown strikes that surpass 2,000 pounds of force, and in a focused area the size of a fist or foot.

In a very literal sense, that could kill the average human being in one strike. This isn't even counting the forces behind a choke hold, or the various other submissions. I've seen arms snapped, dozens of people passing out, and ankles dislodged from these techniques. All of this has happened as pro against pro as well. If a laymen were to fight nearly any professional fighter, regardless of weight, these trained titans would end it in seconds, and thats if they were being nice.

Now, if you haven't seen it, I would greatly encourage you to check it out. There was a fight a few months back between Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung "The Korean Zombie" Jung. This fight will teach you everything you ever need to know about grit and toughness. These two men fought till they resembled hamburger. I'm not sure I've even seen in movies where two men gave each other such a beating, and both men were still smiling at the end.

Even with all the training and specialization that goes into mixed martial arts, you have nearly unstoppable champions. Men and women that tower over the crowds below them, and hold dominion over their weight classes. Humans of that caliber are capable of almost unworldly actions. Watch Anderson Silva against Forrest Griffin and tell me that he doesn't pull some straight up Matrix action.

Potential

When you add together the elements of technique, style, strength, and training, it is easy to see how a human could ascend to the level of an elite warrior. It becomes more plausible, that facing down hordes of lesser skilled enemies, that they could rip through them. This lends credibility to both the chance of a real life vigilante hero, and to the fictional heroes across all media. Sure, there will still be times where the physics of the story doesn't make sense, or the main character is just too good to be realistic, but that is poor research. All I'm saying here is to believe in the power of those scrappy characters and villains. Don't dumb down their ability to kick ass, or to take a punch, just because someone else doesn't understand the true potential of humanity. Write that bastard out, and then cut him loose.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sliding

Vail Pass tried its best to consume me last night; to make me a remnant of the snowy and jagged valleys on the west side of the continental divide. Swatting from all sides, the swirling blizzard tried to rip my tires from the pavement. When the blizzard waned, the ice storm would start back up. The slightest change in gear would lurch me into a slight fishtail, threatening to send me into the Colorado River. This went on for more than five hours. Welcome to the Rocky Mountains.

My hands are still sore from white knuckling the whole drive home, but that isn't really the point. The only reason I am mentioning any of this is because I'm not the kind of guy who finishes things, and I fucking hate it.
 

I was supposed to be done with college, to have my own business*, to be writing non-stop, and maybe even be annihilating a mortgage. My walls, which I promised would be covered in art of my choosing, remain bare. I have a dozen novel starts, and a first draft, but nothing query worthy yet. Even that last bit of my laundry basket remains, clean but unfolded.

I've inexplicably let goals decay for no other reason than laziness and sickness. I've succumbed to the pressures of average adult life, and it bores me to goddamn tears. The way I've been living is the coward’s way, and I wasn't raised to be like this. I was taught to be bold, to fight for what I wanted, and to not
 

So, I took a trip. Some friends needed me for tech work in Aspen, and I told them I would do it. Well, only moments after committing, my brain started trying to find a way out of it. Some bogus excuse where they would have to get someone else, or just ignore it until it goes away. Ultimately, I got in my truck. I drove my lazy ass almost 600 miles round trip, and finished the job. I forced the action, and wound up on top. I'm not sure about you guys, but that means something to me.

More than just the trip, I've been trying to derail this horrid tendency to go 60 percent on everything. I got by on being a knowledgeable smart ass for a long time, but the yield was too small. I've found in myself that I am capable of moving on, and capable of committing myself to whatever lays in front of me. The only thing left to do is to keep driving forward.

* I was sort of forced because of a check error to start my own business today. A little computer repair deal that I intend to work on the side, maybe expand later. Either way, it is a lifelong ambition, and simply doing this job forced it to happen. I’m now official with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. I'll chalk this up to the whole 'The harder I work, the luckier I seem to be' concept.



 
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