Hello again all my members of the Renfield’s Grave Robber Union!
It is good to be back in written form again. I haven’t been posting my articles much since I’ve been focusing on my Re-Collection section, finishing other work, and getting ready for Shriekfest Film Festival where my feature screenplay “LaLaurie” is a finalist. (And the crowd goes wild!)
What I think I need to address to the masses (all six of you that are reading this) is the topic of style. Think of it as a voice or an instrument. You can tell the difference between Sinatra and Cannibal Corpse right? That is style. Even subtleties will come out when you pay closes enough attention. Take Joe Perry guitar work in Aerosmith and Slash’s guitar work in anything; both artists have a unique sound despite their similar styles. Every writer has to find their style and hone their skills using it. This is not something that is obvious at first, however the more you write will make you style come out over time. If this helps you, great. If it doesn’t, well at minimal you will learn what not to do.
Now, if I have heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times “Well that’s my style”. Please remember the one basic rule: “Crappy is not a style.”
Let’s first address the part of style containing the “how” effect, or “how” you write your characters and story lines. With some writers, the “how” comes across as high school English class story. Just read it aloud and you’ll see what I mean. In the last few weeks I have read several works from self published writers who apparently have problems with editing and proofreading. If this is you, then you need to pack your shit up and move on to the next job or hobby. Every job contains a downside, and having another person proofread your work is this one’s. I hate it because my proofreader is Mrs. Rasputin. She is overqualified for this task considering her background, but the reason that I hate it the most is because she doesn’t get my humor, or my references, or my transitions. Come to think of it, I’m not sure what of me she does get, but hey, at least I’m not making stupid errrosrs tjhankss to herr! Now what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, “how”.
Here is a short list of the crap that I have found in print from a few writers who insist that they are living off of earnings from their writings. This is what I would consider “how” not to write.
“Either way, he didn’t want to piss her off either.” – Neither would I neither.
“He’d be coming.” – From where? The ghetto?
If you clamp something open, you cannot crank it open in the next sentence using the clamps. Clamps clamp. They don’t crank.
A “post key” doesn’t exist on a laptop screen for you to hit. The truth is, a post key doesn’t exist anywhere! Furthermore, ask Ray Rice what happens when you “hit” things.
If you have to break a conversation between characters so that the narrator can explain to the reader a specific place or item that the characters are talking about, maybe you should rewrite the conversation.
Heads up – shattered glass doesn’t “spray” around a person. It can perhaps “blast”, “burst”, or “shatter” however. Just some options.
And for the love of Cthulu please don’t write out every action. The readers are not stupid; they can work through motions in their heads. (They got out of the car. They shut the doors. They walked to the house. )This isn’t IKEA and we don’t need step by step instructions.
Yes all of these came from actual writings. If you are interested please look up Stephen King’s book “On Writing” via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Santa Claus, or you local mom and pop bookstore in your hometown (support local business folks). This will clear up a lot of the common mistakes that writers make when they are first starting out. Remember that the thought in your head does not always come out the way you may intend it to on paper.
Now during the spoken words of characters it is okay for the writer to give them an accent or have them make grammatical errors. Maybe the character’s accent is directly related to their regional location. Take Huck Finn by Mark Twain for example. The accents are so thick that it makes the story nearly impossible to read at some points. Just try to be careful as well as respectful when attempting to capture the accent.
Finally, as it pertains to the “how” of writings, let’s talk about staying on topic. I usually will go off topic for the fun of it. However, if you are writing about how your dog plays fetch with sticks, do not talk about your sister, your grandfather’s reflux disease, or how the interior of your brother’s car always smells like cheese. Think about what Stephen King states in his book, On Writing, and remember K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid. Cut out the extra words in each sentence that is not necessary to the meaning or cause of the sentence.
Next, we need to diagram the “what” of style. The “what” of style is the way that you convey your story, or in other words, picking out the type of genre that you write. In most of our cases, this is horror. Now, you will have to pick the subgenre, ie psychological, extreme, thriller, etc. Allow me to repost a section from one of my earlier articles where I discussed writing horror.
Please remember that scary and fear mean two different things. Scary is whatever causes fright or alarm.1 Fear is the human emotion that is caused by something that is an impending threat whether it is real or imagined. 2 So what do want to do? Do you want to make something scary or do you want to make something that will cause fear? One will last for a few seconds, while the other will leave the viewer screwed up for some time. Do this wrong and you are left with an audience that didn’t get it and may make you look completely stupid. Let’s dig that grave a little deeper.
Let’s look at your average “scary movie”. To most, it is probably a slasher film that someone brings a date to (so that he can cop a feel when she jumps in his lap) where the music swells when the buxom actress gets antsy from a noise, she checks it out (naked of course) a cat jumps out of nowhere, the actress is relieved as the killer comes from behind and hacks her up. The end. You go home and trash it on the old interweb.
Let’s look at the movies that cause fear. Take Jaws or Psycho for example. I didn’t go into the water at the beach after seeing Jaws. What about showers? Legions of fans did not take showers after Psycho was released. How about Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure? I will never leave my bike anywhere near the Alamo again after seeing that!
Now at this point I have to point out to be careful of “shock” horror. This type or horror is when there is an overabundance of gore and exploitation just for the hell of it. Basically it goes against the grain of anything that is considered the social line of “acceptable”. These movies, books, or art contain an excessive amount of gang rape, blood baths, killing of animals or babies, imagery of violent mutilations, etc. I’m not supporting or condoning these mediums, because if that is what you are going for, “morgue” power to ya. But what I am saying is…I don’t get it. It is shocking, (again, so is last week’s paycheck) but it is not scary. Here’s why; a little blood goes a long way. Gore, expletives, violence, and sex is a much more effective image when it is done right, and by doing it right I mean sparingly. If you watch a scene that is drawn out where someone is about to cut off another person’s ear, when it eventually does happen, and those few drops of blood dripping from the wound are seen it is much more effective than seeing the victim drowning in blood from a lacerated ear. At some point it becomes more comical than horrific. This is when I start getting hate mail about “It’s not realistic when a chainsaw cuts off an arm and only a little blood comes out.” My answer is simple. HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW? HACKED OFF MANY AN ARM WITH A CHAINSAW IN YOUR DAY? So please consider your usage of such so that it doesn’t turn into a comedy.
To scare someone is easy. Startle effects are abundant, cheap, and easy to achieve. Kind of like my ex-ghoulfriends. To install fear in someone is a true talent. Thought has to be put into each scene and timing has to be just right. The difference between kill scenes from the Universal Monster years and the killers today is when they were done in the Universal years, the monster’s face was revealed and the camera held onto the image for several seconds before they slaughtered their victim so that the frightening imagery sat in. (Think of the scene in Phantom of the Opera where Christine removes Erik’s mask. That glare seemed to last forever.)
Remember folks, any 3rd grader can gross out an audience, that doesn’t take talent. Want me to prove it? Fine, pick or blow your nose and wipe the contents in an obvious place on a public wall where it is sure to be seen. Next, step back and watch the action. Within minutes there will be someone who will come along and be completely disgusted at the sight. (Bonus points if you achieve vomiting!) Now ask yourself; how much talent did that take?
Again, if that is you cup of strychnine, fine. But who exactly did you scare? I encourage every writer to push themselves and attempt to achieve something in their writings that will leave the reader with a lasting impression (other than disgusted). That may involve changing up or even accentuating your style by means of “what” or “how”. “How” you do that, and in “what” way, is up to you to discover.
Until next time, rest in pieces.
Renfield prefers if you are going to call him names, use the term, “Tombstone Trash”.