I’ve seen the northern lights stream across the sky like a special effect, but I’ve never seen an unidentified flying object. I’ve awoken to a shadow standing beside my bed post, but I can’t claim to have seen a ghost. I’ve hiked through many a forest until my legs went caput, but I’ve never laid eyes on big foot.
I’ve met people who’ve claimed to have performed exorcisms, to have had near death experiences, and to have spoken to spirits. I want to believe everything they say, because it makes the world seem magical, but there’s something I’ve learned over the years: people say a lot of things. Continue reading How to Scare a Skeptic
The bedrock of our deepest fears was laid by our ancestors. Fears like the dark, heights, inclosed spaces, intimacy, loneliness, embarrassment, and death. Our ancestors’ survival depended on these base instincts. Neanderthals told tribal legends, cautioning Paleolithic people of the dangers of the game trail. Lions, tigers, and bears were the original monsters. Horror writers have been trying to reinvent them ever since.
Modern people take our survival for granted. We assume we’re going to live longer than our parents. We scan crime maps to see where threats are coming from. We watch the news to stay apprised of what the bogeymen are doing. We’re more horrified of each other than of phantoms in the dark. Continue reading How Writers can Give Fear an Upgrade
What Trent Reznor Taught Me About Public Personas
In 1997 the band Nine Inch Nails filmed a music video for their hit single The Perfect Drug. In the video the lead singer, Trent Reznor, looks like he’s stepped out of an Edward Goyer drawing. His skin is so pale it’s blue. His jet-black hair hangs down to his long black coat. He roves a hedge maze, wielding a scepter. He sits beside a phonograph with a vulture perched atop a skull. He lip syncs, lying down on a bear skin rug. Continue reading I’m Not Me: On the Reality Behind Internet Personalities
You know those people that always assure you they’re a good person while their actions say otherwise? I’m not one of them. If you wander into my writing environment when I’m having an off day you will meet a terrible person.
Most of the time my inner curmudgeon sits behind his view screens, a grouch on a couch making observations that never turn into vocalizations, but every so often my inner sourpuss comes to the surface. I don’t need a full moon to trigger the change just one too many annoyances in my writing space. Continue reading Writing While Angry: On Being a Frustrated Novelist in Public
How to Make Your Character’s Lowest Moment Truly Nerve Wracking
Every story should have a tragedy. Even stories with happy endings need at least one.
Disney’s animated classic Cinderella has three. The first two tragedies happen during the opening narration. Cinderella’s mother dies. Her father marries the wicked step mother and dies shortly after. Cinderella is forced into a life of servitude. The third tragedy happens when Cinderella’s step-sisters tear her dress apart. That tragedy seems inconsequential compared to everything Cinderella has been through, but we’ll see why of all these events the destruction of the dress is the most important one. Continue reading Why Every Story Needs Its Own Pit of Snakes
How the Lost School of Storytelling Blurred the Line Between Intriguing and Confusing
I love writing mysteries with vast casts, layered subplots, and dozens of twists. My favorite mysteries contain elements of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. They’re the everything and the kitchen sink approach to storytelling. The TV show Lost inspired much of my love, and apprehension, for this facet of the mystery genre.
Lost has taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do when writing mysteries. It featured emotionally involving character arcs with themes like regret, the wages of sin, and crisises of faith. It set up intriguing plot lines about psychological manipulation, international conspiracies, and time travel. Lost successfully followed through on its character arcs, but fell short of bringing its plot lines to completion. Continue reading How to Make Sure Your Mystery is Satisfying
I used to have a nervous tick that manifested whenever I spoke in public. My leg shook like a cartoon bunny. The severity of the tick increased the worse I thought I was doing. If my audience folded their arms, checked their watches, or rolled their eyes my brain sent a message to my thigh, “It’s rattling time!” The worst was when the momentum rode up my spine all the way to my neckline. I turned into a chatter-mouthed bobblehead. My words came out in a pulsing vibrato like I was talking into a desk fan.
I went into rabbit mode when I read an essay in class and mispronounced one of my fifty-cent buzz words. It happened when I pitched a script and the producers rolled their eyes toward each other, and when I gave technology tutorials and my coworkers interrupted to ask questions about what I’d just covered. Continue reading A Storyteller’s Guide to Public Speaking
The Pros and Cons of Concealing Certain Character Traits
There are good reasons to avoid identifying a character’s ethnicity, exact age, and body type in your writing, especially when these traits aren’t crucial to understanding their actions. By revealing these specifics you limit the casting options in your readers’ heads. You make it harder for some members of the audience to see themselves in the role. If you leave these elements ambiguous your lead could be anyone your readers want.
At the time of this writing there’s stubble on my face. If I’m reading a story with a male lead I’m likely to imagine him with stubble too, until the author tells me he’s clean shaving. I’m six foot four, I have dirty blond hair, and greying sideburns as is every male lead of the books I read, until the author tells me otherwise. Continue reading A Question About Diversity in Fiction
Last week I mentioned that I’d finished reading Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. Rather than be a creativity kleptomaniac, I’m citing Ansari’s book as the inspiration for this article.
In his book, Ansari talks about the strange thing that happens when someone we like makes themselves available to us. The moment we know this person is a possibility they go from being the one to an option. They lose their appeal. We let our text exchanges with them fizzle out. We’re suddenly too busy to set a concrete appointment. The thrill of discovery is gone. This reaction is especially true to emerging adults fresh on the dating scene, where the search for a soulmate is a numbers game. Continue reading How Writing a Novel is a lot like a Relationship
I read a lot of non fiction, mainly social psychology books on the cutting edge of our understanding of the human condition. I’m interested in why we do what we do, why modern society still enjoys a public shaming, why we follow charlatans into oblivion, and why a certain segment of the population falls asleep after copulation. I consider these books general research materials. I don’t use them to inform any specific projects, but rather all of them. I read them before the conception stage and they educate my characters’ behaviors. Continue reading How to Keep What You’re Reading Out of Your Writing