Creepiness

Creepiness is a science.

Well, it’s a word that describes a feeling to be evoked.  Evoking that feeling is a science.  Some people might be born with this instinctively, inspiring it in everything and everyone he or she (usually he) encounters.  Others have to work for it, but once they can grow a mustache, he or she (again, usually he) has it down pat.

Feeling that a person, object, or place is creepy… well, it’s not something we generally seek in real life, but it’s something we actively seek in fiction.  And while some people manage to do this naturally and successfully in fiction, we mere mortals might need a bit more work to get there.

A fair amount of creepiness is generated by simple word choice, it must be said.  Just like using specific colors in a picture, you can adjust your text for a creepier punch by choosing different words to say what you want to say.  Warm and moist might paint a different picture than humid, for instance.

Similarly, choosing the details you include in your word picture could change the feel of the scene.  Describing the sensory details— and using sensory words to convey those details, rather than more cognitive verbage— could make things more visceral.  Of course, you already know all this.  These are fairly standard techniques for writing horror or just good, vivid storytelling.

A little while ago, however, I started to realize part of creepiness that doesn’t involve word choice or sensory details— in other words, the macro element of the creepy, rather than the micro.  While pretty much any scene can become creepy, it isn’t only a product of micro-editing it into submission.

Let’s look at what makes something creepy.  It’s a term we like to throw around about people in scraggly mustaches and cocked heads, or houses with broken windows and a fence that’s falling down.  Both are curious when you notice them in broad daylight, and they don’t notice you back.  But in a narrow hallway, or encased in shadow, you pick up your pace. (more…)

Calamity: A Review

This review is spoiler-free.

Good news: This book wasn’t as bad as some books I’ve read recently!

Bad news: It also wasn’t very good.

As the third book of a trilogy, this book had some living up to do. The first book was wildly creative and excellent. The second was a bit lacking, but still twisty and enjoyable. The third needed a bit more time in the incubator and some serious me-time with the author.

The characters were excellent, but… only in ways that carried over from previous books. Phase 1 characters— introduced back in Steelheart— were for the most part excellent and just as fun as ever. Phase 2 characters— from Firefight— continued being themselves (but didn’t grow in any way). Phase 3 characters— completely new to this book— had almost no bearing on the book’s emotional impact. In writerly terms, Phase 1 were dynamic. Almost everyone from Phase 1 had some sort of development or fleshing out to do. Phase 2 were static. They didn’t change, but they still felt alive. Phase 3 were cardboard. With one exception (based on spoilery things, one character could have been considered Phase 2 or even Phase 1), these characters just didn’t add anything of meaning.

But how can I say that? Surely they added something. Why else would they have been introduced? Well, they changed the plot, aiding or opposing the main characters in some way. But no Phase 3 character (with the aforementioned exception) had any bearing on any Phase 1 character arc. No Phase 2 or Phase 3 character had any arc to speak of.

Let’s keep examining the book, though. Perhaps these books are t0o short for dynamic characters to emerge in the third act of a trilogy. Perhaps there are redeeming factors in the other aspects of the book. (more…)

Cheats for Writing

I’m going to tell you how to cheat.

That’s right.  There are ways to hack your way to an emotional response.  You can bypass the usual systems of good characters, solid plot, and vivid setting— you can even get away without a very good writing style— and still evoke a positive reaction from readers.  Yes indeed!  You don’t have to go through the misery of learning how to actually write.  I’ll give you a couple examples and tell you exactly how to use them for MAXIMUM EFFECT.

In short, don’t.

Imagine you’re writing the next Star Wars movie.  The franchise has millions of fans.  No matter if you write a good story or not, people are going to come, spend money, and watch your movie.  You could write anything you want and they’ll still watch it.  Why?  Because the story is that big.  It doesn’t matter how well you write; it just matters that it’s Star Wars.

You have a cheat. (more…)

Rules

I am a fan of the TV show Castle.  I can spoil almost every episode for you right now.

I’m not going to, because I’m a nice person, but I thought I’d put that out there.  I can also spoil Elementary, Fringe, the three NCIS generations, JAG (although I’ve only watched a couple episodes), and all six of the Star Wars movies.

To be fair, though, I know Star Wars backwards and forwards, and the spoilers are already plastered over everyone’s eyeballs, so there’s not much surprising there.  The point remains that I can spoil a crime show, almost any crime show, almost any episode, with a little thought and the first eight minutes of the episode.

I’m not going to tell you how— this knowledge cost me enjoyment of all recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations— but I can tell you why.  Why can a mild-mannered student of writing quickly tell the who did it of any whodunit?

Because most fiction, especially serialized on-a-deadline fiction like a TV show, has rules. (more…)

Another Tag

Here’s another tag post, filled with fun, whimsy, and questionable interpretations.  I mean, interpreting questions.  Because I can’t answer anything straight.

This is the Would You Rather book tag, given once again by Katie.  Full disclosure from the beginning, I can’t stand either/or questions, because there is never a situation in which you won’t change your mind.  Would you rather have pizza or rocks?  Well, I’d probably pick pizza at first, but if I just spent the last eight months eating nothing but pizza while travelling around the magical and pizza-filled Pizzazia, I think I’d have to go with rocks.  All I’m saying is there’s always a possibility.  Thus, I’m not going to like any of my own answers, so definitely don’t read too much into them.  So, would I rather… (more…)

I’m Gonna Pop Some Tags

I guess I had this coming when I said I was open for tags for the next month.  I suppose I’m really lucky it took a week for people to get the ball rolling— I love hanging around here, but three weeks might be my limit on tagging sanity.  So cram them in if you want them answered, people.

Katie at Spiral-Bound tagged me with the Extraordinary Means tag.  Six questions full of high costs, and I have to decide which author or character or book is worth such a price.  I’m going to say right now, however, that I take issue with some of the questions, so I’ll probably spend more time arguing them than actually answering them.  Anyway, here goes.  Forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. (more…)

The Confidence Arc

One of my favorite character stereotypes is the confident character.  Richard Campbell Gansey III, Dorian Havilliard, even Valerie Solomon from Tessa Gratton’s story on Merry Sisters of Fate.  There’s something about the character who has it all, who has an all-purpose mask they crafted for themselves over the years.  Of course, since we write crafted fiction, this mask never stays on.  Something will happen to tear it off, and there— that’s when you really enjoy the character.

Half of me wants to be such a character with such a mask.  Half of me just wants to write millions of those characters.  For the convenience of everyone, and especially me, here’s a step-by-step how-to on creating the confident character. (more…)

Romance and Friendship

Affection is the cornerstone of both romance and friendship.

Think about it.  Romance without affection is nothing.  Friendship without affection is two people hanging out together who have no reason to stick around each other.  Flirting without affection?  Basically just a cryptic argument.

Affection upholds both romance and friendship.  It’s the glue that keeps two or more people together even though one of them is Ronan Lynch or Tony Stark or Mr. Darcy.  Since both love and friendship deal with affection, we can manipulate both in the same ways.  Basically, a good friendship is two inches from being a romance.

You can use any romance plot line you find as a friendship plot line.  You can use any friendship plot line as a romance plot line.  And whatever you choose, someone will want to write a fanfiction based on the opposite choice.

Let’s look at a classic example: Pride and Prejudice vs. The Lord of the Rings. (more…)

The Equality Arc

We as readers like to be surprised, but not all at once.

Readers like to have expectations which are then turned on their heads.  I’m sure you know that.  That’s what plot twists are about, that’s what the gee-whiz factor of an idea is about.  We go into a book expecting one thing, and when we’re surprised, we get excited.

But not exactly.  We like to be blown-out-of-the-water surprised, in the sense that as far as we fly after the explosion, we’re going to land back in some water somewhere.  We don’t like to get blown-into-bitty-pieces surprised, or blown-into-outer-space surprised.  What do I mean by this?  We like to be surprised, but not all at once.

If you pick up a romance, read the first quarter, and decide that you’re enjoying it, that’s great.  If the beginning of the second half turns the romance into zombie apocalypse, it would be surprising.  It would also be blown-into-outer-space not okay.  You picked up the book expecting a romance.  You got a romance for about the first half.  Then it turned into a dark, raw horror story.  “Bill, you aren’t the man I fell in love with!  At first I thought you loved me for my personal charm and good looks, but it turns out you’re only after my brains!”

We like small surprises that subvert our expectations while still satisfying our desires.  That’s the basis of a good plot twist.  Even though the main character’s sister eloping with the local surgeon blows you out of the water, you’re still reading a romance novel— you land back in the water.

The same thing happens, in a character sense, with diverse characters. (more…)

Hang a Flag

In a lot of my posts, I spend about eight hundred words describing a process.  Sometimes it concerns character, sometimes style, sometimes whatever comes into my head.  I do my best to be as clear as I can— do this for this effect, do that for that effect.  If you do this and you’re looking for that effect, you’re going to be disappointed.  If I’m really clear about it, I give an example and explain several times.  Somewhere in that eight hundred words, however, I’ll add another hundred words of disclaimer (at least, if I’m smart): this will not work all the time.  This rule is not a law.  You can listen or ignore.

I always feel like that one paragraph undermines the entire post.  It’s like saying to a five-year-old, don’t stick your hand in boiling water— then adding, but you can if you really want to.  It turns out that yes, you can stick your hand into boiling water without getting burned (there are gloves for that).  Under the correct circumstances, you can get away with it.  But that five-year-old isn’t going to have the forethought to create those conditions.

Did I just liken all of my followers to a five-year-old?  I’m sorry, that’s not quite what I meant.  Here’s the thing, though: writing rules are never absolutes.  (Even this writing rule isn’t an absolute; I think I’m going to add a disclaimer at the end of the post somewhere.)  When I or anyone else says never to do something, or that this type of character development only works under these circumstances, it isn’t necessarily true.  There are always places where you can break a rule.

That said, here’s another rule: if you’re going to commit a crime, confess first. (more…)