Pigeon Holes and A Good Balance of Blood… by Mitchell

I want to talk a little about balance. Primarily, the balance between gore and quality of storylines in books. As the 7th Saw movie has just come out in 3D, I have some reserves about seeing it or not. An employee at work tells me the effects are gruesome, awful, right-up-in-your-face, puke-worthy, but the story line didn’t get a mention. After seeing Saw 4 and 5, and watching several people leave the theatre, I’ve come to a general understanding that Saw is more about gore and torture devices, and less about story. This isn’t news to anyone, I know. It’s become a shtick into itself. A parody of a parody. People go to see Saw because they want to see the messed up traps and watch people mutilate themselves for freedom. After some digging around I found a web comic that portrayed the prequel of the Saw franchise, you see Jigsaw before all the mess. There’s a lot more narrative and plot building and reasoning, and virtually no blood at all. I found myself getting into the mind of Jigsaw, understanding more as to what he was trying to do and his motive behind all the blood spill.

If, say the Saw franchise decided to do a dialogue driven story line, would anyone go? If they were to film the prequel with no blood or tearing flesh or broken bones, would it be a box office fail? Saw fans would walk out and demand their money back, and I would be able to sit and watch it without feeling queasy and uncomfortable.

I don’t want to bash Saw too much, it was started by two Australians, but I find the same theory can be placed into books. Take Chuck Palahniuk for example. Some might know his book/film Fight Club, but others might not know his other works. Palahniuk is now known as a Gore writer. We’ve come to expect explicit, detailed scenes of unnerving sexual and violent encounters. With his book ‘Snuff’ I felt like he was working around the graphic scenes and just adding words to string it together. His novel ‘Haunt’ was a series of stories with gory endings, one in particular ‘Guts’ was even known to make people faint at readings. Chuck Palahniuk is a genius at minimalistic writing, (his chapters hardly last four or five pages on average). His views on sexuality, God and perceptions of what’s expected of us are nihilistic and stripped bare for all to see. They are unique and appeal to those who may have a different view on the world. Or at least it was.

I’ll continue buying Chuck Palahniuk’s books in hope that one day he returns to his attitudes on life and his unique philosophical views on the world, but for know I’ll just settle for the gore.

As an aspiring writer, both in Children’s books and in Horror, I feel the balance is important. Children’s story’s walk that fine line between action scenes and story building. You don’t want to lose your audience by boring them to death with minor details and exaggerated plot descriptions, you want to get in and get out as quick as possible and get on with the action. With horror books, it’s almost the opposite, you don’t want to tip the scales into the blood pool, writing purely for the gore-aholics. You want to show a deeper side to your characters and plot ideas, have all the twists and turns lined up, making the reader read for the quality of the plot and not for the impending graphic scene where someone gets decapitated.

Stephen King is a prime example of an equal balance. His characters are deep, multi-layered, they are smart (and dumb) and they are enticing. He really brings you into their world and makes you feel a part of their lives. With Stephen King you know the gore is coming, but you don’t know when. You can be reading quite happily one minute and be sickened to your stomach the next. He has the balance right. I read somewhere that his editor told him he was going to be typecast if he released another horror themed book after ‘Carrie’, but he did anyway. I believe his success is attributed to having an equal balance of action, blood and story.

Labels, I feel can contribute to the way your story unfolds. If you’re a horror writer, are you then compelled to live up to your title? If you’re a fantasy writer, will you be forever compared to JRR Tolkien? Or J K Rowling? Nobody is going to pick up a Clive Barker book and not be creeped out by what they read, it’s his reputation and therefore his pigeon hole. I enjoy reading Clive Barker, but when I pick up one of his books I know I’ll be thrust into a journey that I can’t possibly turn away from. Even his children’s books have that hint of sinister terror. You know he’s just holding back the reigns a little so as to not frighten and terrify too much. As much as he writes for both adults and children, he will always tap into that horror/fantasy vein. If it’s his desire to do so, or just the way he writes, the home ground is always an advantage.

I had written a short story once with the sole intention of telling a story, it so happened to have ended gory. The comments I got back were entirely about the end scene and how ridiculous the whole gore was. When I posted a comment asking what they thought about the story, they told me it didn’t matter because the blood was too much and overshadowed the contents. This is not what I want to become – an obvious writer. I want to find the balance and use it to my advantage. Pigeon holes or labels or scales, whatever you want to call it, I guess people will hang you on any hook they recognise.

– Mitchell Tierney

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Published in: on November 24, 2010 at 4:46 am  Comments (3)  

Use the Force… Don’t Force the Words… by Mel Clarke

Yoda

Image via Wikipedia

I recently had a revelation about a line from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker is being instructed in the ways of the Force by the legendary Master Yoda. During the training, Luke’s starcraft, his only way off the planet, sinks into the swamp. Yoda tells Luke to use the Force to retrieve the craft and, understandably daunted, Luke replies ‘Okay, I’ll try.’ Yoda, however, quickly admonishes Luke with ‘No. Do or do not. There is no try.’ Because Yoda is infinitely wise, I have accepted this for years, despite the fact that we are always told to try, or how will we ever know if we can do it?

The revelation was that it was less about the attempt, but more the mindset involved in the attempt. If you are trying, there is effort involved and the Force is not about effort, it should just flow. Just like writing. For me, writing is very much an automatic process. I might plan the general direction of the story, but getting there, the process of putting one word after another, happens as I get there. Any sort of deliberateness occurs as an after thought – during the editing/rewriting process.

It simply doesn’t work if I try to construct the sentences. That last is a prime example – it took 3 tries to get it right, because I had to work to say exactly what I wanted.

Writing can be difficult sometimes – when the Muse has gone AWOL, when Real Life becomes particularly demanding or the entire editing process, which requires an entirely different part of your brain (part of why ‘trying’ doesn’t work – that wakes the Editor, who drowns out the Muse…) – but so often it is rewarding. ‘Riders’ is very much about characters who can do things that gee I wish I could do, and then finding stories that fit. So far, I have experienced exotic locations, high-speed car chases, Mission: Impossible-style escapes and individual feats of great daring. Presently, I’m looking forward to a grand intergalactic space battle in Riders 3: Battle for Forever.

Writing gives my mind a home away from home. Many’s the dull chore that’s been enlivened by imagining  the next great adventure, or the empassioned declaration of a lover. In the end, however, it is as much what I am as what I do. Not writing is not an option. It may have a pause for a day, a week, a month… but it is always there, waiting patiently for me to come back to it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mel

Published in: on November 18, 2010 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  

The Smell of Ink and A Leash on Technology

I wandered into work one day to sit in the tea room and read before my shift and took sight of a woman with an iPad (or its generic cousin, if it has one), and was sickened to my very stomach. It looked no bigger than a large, hard cover book, only thinner and silver. As I walked past her I could see the screen. It looked like a normal page of writing, but something was off. It was cold and foreign, robotic and mechanical. It sent a shiver down my spine.

I couldn’t imagine reading anything on a device that alien and bleak looking.

You dig your toes into warm sand. Listen to the crash of the ocean in front of you. The smell is of salt and fresh air, of holiday memories and cherished times. The sun on your back, hot and welcoming. No one is around for miles and miles. You sit on a beach chair, a cold beer to your right, frothing over the tip. You reach over for your book and… pick up an iPad. It’s just not the same.

I understand the iPad can hold hundreds of books, and to have that much literature in one hand does excite me, but I like to run my fingers through the pages of a book, see the bookmark inch along, fast if it’s a good book, slow if it’s not. I like to pick up books off the shelves and marvel over the thick ones I’ve battled through and the good ones I couldn’t put down.

One thing that turns me off the iPad is the fact that you can’t see the end of the book. Maybe it’s just me, but I like to see how long I have to go. Whether it’s the feeling of dread from not wanting to finish or the long sigh of having to wallow in the authors pretentious scribe. I want to see the end.

As a kid I would go to a book store and stare at the books, amazed by how much creativity could be held in one section. People fulfilling their dreams in a hard to succeed publishing world. It was also the smell and quietness. I like seeing people engrossed in a ‘good book,’ taking books on the plane and on the bus. Books become a part of you like your house keys or phone, it’s that book that gets wet because you left it on top of your car or in your school bag, it’s warped and dog-eared, but you love it more because it has character. A housemate once sat on my brand new copy of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and bent the cover. I was so mad. I would look at the large scar down its face and wonder if I could have taken it back to the store and say it came like that and asked for another. I bent it the other way, placed it under heavier books, but nothing could fix it’s ugly crease. After a while I learnt to accept that my books will slowly fall apart and destruct. Be it shelf wear, broken spines or age. Maybe that is the appeal of the iPad? You could keep your books forever, switch books if you get bored of one or read multiple books at the same time without having to lug around the weight…until the batteries run out of course.

I was able to handle the wretched hardware first hand at a JB HiFi store a few weeks ago. It was leashed to the table by thick wire coated in plastic. The iPad was heavy and bulky and I didn’t like it one bit. I flicked through the apps and thought it would be cool to download some and play some of the games, but that’s it. I put it down and went two stores down to Borders to breath in the fresh ink and untouched pages.

All strangeness aside… Some might know that November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) and as I close in on 30,000 words I start to think that, if I’m lucky enough to have a book released, maybe my work will be available from iTunes. I’ve never read an e-book and shudder at the thought of sitting at my desk to read a one. But, is this the way of the future? Will I be left behind? Perhaps. As each year brings out the newest and most creative gadgets, I find it hard to imagine a suburb without a book store or a shelf without books.

– Mitchell Tierney

Published in: on November 12, 2010 at 5:13 am  Comments (6)  

A crisis of Faith…

At the moment I am finding it quite difficult to overcome the perilous hurdles of self doubt that I am sure every writer experiences at one point or another whilst writing their novel. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am about half way through my first manuscript and have somehow got lost in the middle… reassessing and questioning myself.

Now I am smart enough to know that in order for me to get through this project and complete this mammoth task, I need to forget what I have written and stop reassessing and just damn well continue to write. I attended the Year of the Novel Masterclass run by the Queensland Writers Centre this year and after completing this course have come away with a myriad of ideas and exercises that should be able to keep me going and get through any hurdles that I may encounter. However, I have one small problem to add to my increasing doubt in my ability. Baby brain.

Yes. Give me 7 more weeks and I am officially going to be screaming at anyone close by to get this baby out of me. My hormones and my body have been driving me crazy. I have the attention span of my 3 year old, my back is constantly aching (and sitting in front of a computer for long periods doesn’t help) and I cannot reach my toes. I feel like an invalid having had to ask my husband (who graciously accepts, God love him) to cut my toe nails and shave the lower parts of my legs.

Now what does this have to do with the pursuit of writing you might ask? Well here’s where I am going with this. Being a mother is something that you aspire to want to be, or not, but regardless, it is thrust upon you after 9 months of being a walking incubator. Now whether or not you entered into the agreement willingly to push out a 3.5 kg child from your privates or whether it was a spontaneous twist of fate, every new parent has doubts at some point. We all have moments when our faith in our abilities to raise an emotionally and physically healthy child into adulthood comes into question.

Likewise, being a writer or choosing to write is also something that comes from some inner part of you, it becomes part of your life whether you intended it or not. But even though we write, we suffer doubts, just as any parent would about their ability to perform the task well. If we break these things apart more similarities can be drawn.

I see raising a child as being split into three parts:

0-12 Childhood – the Beginning of our lives. What happens here lays the foundations for everything to come. It is the introduction. The prequel to our stories as adolescents and also adulthood.

13-25 Teenage/Early adulthood – The Middle more thought provoking years. Plagued with experimentation, doubts, lessons and a lot of emotional maturing that helps us to be able to cope as adults. It is here that we most often lose our way…

26-85ish Adulthood – By this stage in our lives we have grown enough to begin our journey into the last and hopefully more fulfilling stretch of our lives. We are striving for our ultimate goal, whether it be happy family of our own, career, travel etc – this is our climax – the purpose to the story of our lives.

Similarly a novel is broken into three parts:

The Prologue/Beginning – The introduction or (depending on the length of your novel) the first 7-10 chapters that set up the plot, the world, the crisis, the characters and lay the foundations for events to come. It is where the story begins to grow… mature into…

The Middle – Where often a writer has to experiment with all of the above to successfully set down the correct foundations to be able to set up the climax. It is where the plot may meander off track, rebelling but also growing…

The End – By now hopefully the world, the characters, the plot and the crisis have had time to do some maturing and each of the different strands come together, forming a tightly formed interwoven plait and giving us the ultimate climax and the purpose to the entire book.

Now as a writer and a parent I can see the similarities between the middle of the book and the more troublesome middle years of a young person’s life and why they are so challenging. When a teenager is facing their own emotional battles, a parent most often has to deal with their own doubt as to whether they are doing the right thing in order to nurture and protect this person. And the middle of a story can be the same I am finding. It can be rebellious, experimental and temperamental at the best of times, giving me reason to doubt whether I can nurture the story in a way that helps it develop as it should. Just as a parent would.

Some of the questions about plot and characters that have begun to surface…

– Am I heading in the right direction in order to reach the climax of my story?

– Is my story still interesting/or what I set out for it to be?

– Do I really have what it takes to see this manuscript be accepted by anyone?

– What if this is all a waste of time?

And so on and so on.

So my crisis of faith has kept me from proceeding as it should but I know that I must continue. I must keep going and keep writing. There is no easy way out when you are a parent and a novel should be treated in exactly the same way.

Do some more research if you need to. Find some exercises that will help. Read more.Whatever it takes I am resolved to continue. And so you should too if you are suffering from the same crisis of faith. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Write.

And as Holly Lisle would say: WRITE WITH JOY.

I just hope I can take some of my own advice 🙂

Alison Strachan

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 11:50 am  Leave a Comment  

A Writer’s Predicament: To NaNo or not to NaNo’

As November has inevitably rolled around again, I see myself caught up in the total insanity that is NaNoWriMo. Now for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, NaNoWriMo is Nation Novel Writing Month. Essentially it is a challenge for writers to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November, forsaking all other writing (well that’s not necessarily true but it certainly helps if you also have a full time job). It also aims to raise money through donations and merchandise for literary based charity programs funding things such as libraries and literacy programs.

Most of all though it’s a way for a community that mainly embarks on solitary journeys of writing to embrace fellow writers, and band together for a month of mayhem, late nights, early mornings and fun. It also opens you up to a whole range of experts willing to help with research via its highly frequented forums. Personally I’ve seen questions about everything from drag queens to astrophysics and have asked some bizarre questions myself.

Many people who find out that I’m doing NaNo again ask ‘well what do you win?’ They always look perplexed when I answer that the prize is the satisfaction of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, 1667 words a day in between a 9-5 job, looking after fur-children and myself and attempting to have at least a skerrick of a social life as things like Christmas functions begin to pop up in my calendar.

Sure there is no cash prizes or publishing deals offered for the winner, but as a past winner, with my home printed certificate framed and on the wall, any writer will understand it’s the words that are the prize themselves. And even if you don’t win and get that shiny certificate and page upon page of novelly goodness, the act of giving it a go and getting at least part of one of the stories rattling around in your brain down on paper/screen in a mere 30 days makes the challenge and the lack of sleep and sanity worth it.

My NoNo history is not the longest (the idea started in 1999 according to the website and I only began in 2005) and not the most successful (I only got to 9000 words in 2007!) but certainly enjoyable. The first year I did NaNo I was working part time in a department store which I have to say made it a lot easier than it is now I have a full time job with a 2 hour commute round trip. I started on the 2nd day with no idea what I was writing and ended up with a rather crass zombie themed erotica that I intend to one day rewrite into something a little more solid. Those who read it though seemed to enjoy it and I certainly enjoyed writing it! That year I won. The second year despite all my planning I only got to 37,000 words and they went downhill from there. HOWEVER this year I’m back with a vengeance with my writing buddies (my mum included) by my side and so far I’m well ahead of schedule! Granted its only day 3…

But anyway, if you’ve been neglecting your writing or are lacking motivation TRY IT! If not this year, next year. Forget coming home and plonking in front of the TV, mindlessly staring at the box, get off your butts, dust off your notebooks/laptops etc (My writing method of choice is a 10inch netbook I can jam in my bag, well and truly worth the money). The social aspect isn’t compulsory and even the not so computer savvy have a chance. (my mother is living proof of this; she gets me to upload her word count every night).

NaNo is a slightly different type of challenge for everyone. For me its tearing myself away from reading and trolling the internet. My mother on the other hand is a woman who doesn’t stop cleaning and doing things, so for her the challenge is to get her to still for long enough and allow herself to write. And hell may still freeze over but I have watched her sit and type for hours on end each night so far.

So if all NaNo does is give you a valid excuse to write I say GO FOR IT! The madness is worth it. You can sleep in December.

Check it all out at www.nanowrimo.org

 

About the Author:  Sabrina R G Raven is a fiction writer from Brisbane who lives with her fur-children Hermione, Nymphadora and Minerva. By day she is a mild mannered insurance guru, by night she is… well a little mad. But as the Cheshire Cat said “we’re all mad here”.

Published in: on November 3, 2010 at 3:13 am  Comments (3)