Hell is an ever-changing landscape, a neighborhood every would-be master of the macabre wants to build real estate on. The bible says Hell is a lake of burning sulfur, a blazing furnace filled with much weeping and gnashing of teeth yada-yada-yada. It’s actually a bit fuzzy on the details. There was a lot left for the likes of Dante and Milton to fill in. It’s from their foundations the blueprint got passed down for generations.
The Hell Loop
While hell has enjoyed many renovations since its inception several storytellers have settled on the one design. Let’s call it the hell loop. In a hell loop a sinner is forced to relive their worst memory for all eternity. It’s like Groundhog Day if Bill Murray’s character couldn’t change the events he relived, learned nothing from them, and had less time before the loop came back around.
You’ll see examples of this in movies like Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey andConstantineand in TV shows like The Twilight Zone,American Horror Story, Preacher, and Lucifer.
I think the hell loop cheats the audience. Hell is one of those colorful settings where writers have license to go big, get weird, and revel in the absurd. Looping a real world event feels like a copout. It’s an easy scenario to film on a budget and it doesn’t require much imagination. The scenario provides a safe default when hell’s architect doesn’t feel like drawing up a plan.
While a hell loop would be a horrible thing to experience it isn’t all that poetic. Continue reading How to Build Your Own Inferno
A few years back I wrote an article called Horror Clichés in Need of an Exorcism . My premise was that superstitions erode over time. Horror authors can’t just conjure up the same old scares as their forbearers and expect them to work. The things that haunted older generations turn into clichés in the light of reason. Fears like razor blades in Halloween candy, the Satanic panic, and alien abductions all came with expirations.
Among the clichés my article targeted were Ouija boards. I thought it was common knowledge that Ouija boards depended on the subconscious movements of their participants, something known as the ideomotor effect, a phenomenon that’s been proven in lab conditions. I thought I spoke for the horror community when I asserted that spirit boards had no more scares left in them (of course I was wrong).
At the time I went to great lengths to design covers for my articles. That one featured me made up like the demon Pazuzu from The Exorcist. I couldn’t think of a great backdrop so I settled on a giant Ouija board.
Not long after I published the piece I got a DM from a Twitter user warning me to steer clear of those fabled Ouija boards. I told him to read the article to find out why he needn’t worry about me.
He DMed me back, “That’s funny and all, but seriously, don’t fuck around with those things.”
I didn’t know how to break it to him that I wasn’t playing the same role-playing game he was. The one he was playing required him to treat an alphabet on cardboard as a tool of the devil. Mine didn’t.
Here was a full-grown man who considered Ouija boards contraband. Part of me pitied him. Another more insidious part of me envied the hell out of him. Why? This man had retained a kind of childlike wonder that I’d never get back again. Maybe it wasn’t wonder but more of fear of some esoteric unknown. I wasn’t afraid of Ouija boards because I knew how the ideomotor effect worked. I’d seen it demonstrated and I’ve never been possessed. Continue reading How to Breathe New Life Into Old Scares
So you published something brilliant, filmed a book trailer, did the podcast circuit, the blog tour, local readings, and a slew of conventions. You’ve hand sold at outlet stores at a table fit for a three-card Monte hustler. You ran out onto a football field wearing nothing but a book banner. You did everything to promote your writing.
Now you’re out on parole, slouched on the couch, utterly spent. You never want to go through that process again.
Yet the shadow of Stephen King looms over you, a modern day Moses commanding, “Thou shalt write every day.”
So you dab your worn arthritic fingers upon the keyboard until autocorrect spits out some sentences and you find yourself questioning your own literacy. The spark of inspiration has fizzled to ash. What you once did for relief now feels like a chore. What should you do? Continue reading So You’ve Burned Yourself Out. Now What?
Writers are always told to boost our presence online, to engage fans on social media and stake a claim on our respective genres, but these boosting bombardments eat into our writing regiments. Our manuscripts sit on the back burner while we argue with Reddit moderators. Our word counts diminish with every tweet we finish.
Writers only have so much creative energy. If we are always trying to lure readers to our blogs our energy drains fast. Our labor of love starts to feel laborious.
We’d rather use that stamina we spend on social media telling stories. So we ration our online interactions. We compose compelling questions so we can smuggle our spam onto public forums. We target influencers to reach new readers. We hijack hashtags.
The problem with rationing our involvement is that we tend to come across as inauthentic, intrusive, and inorganic.
“You say you’re struggling with depression, that it feels like no one will listen, and the walls are closing in? Sounds similar to a character I’ve written. I prescribe a double dose of my fiction. One copy for yourself and another for a friend.”
Not every writer on social media is stealth marketing to the unsteady, but thinking algorithmically does do something to your personality. Once the phrase “cultivate relationships” enters your vocabulary you lose some of your emotional intimacy. Your ability to empathize is diminished when you start seeing people as clicks. Continue reading Are You A Social Media Sociopath?
In 7 minutes you’ll learn how to condense an entire novel into a single page.
Continue reading How to turn a Complex Story into a Simple Synopsis Vlog
Real talk. I’m a bad person. I’m desensitized. I find dangerous subjects inspiring. When I hear about a fringe cognitive condition, that leaves lives in ruins, my creative juices start flowing.
“Wait what? There’s a guy who suffers from a permanent sense of déjà vu?” Drew rubs his chin. “That gives me an idea.”
Your private peculiarity is my writing prompt. Your brain disease is my brainstorm. Your phobia is my fiction.
I write supernatural horror and I’m naturally drawn to anything that makes the world seem weirder and more fantastic, even if it’s terribly tragic.
Tell me there are people who hunger for objects with no nutritional value, and I’ll write a story about an ad agency tasked with marketing bricks as food. Tell me there are people who get off on bee stings and I’ll write a story about a masochist who makes a cabin out of honeycomb. Tell me someone seriously suffers from a fear of long words and I’ll write a story called Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, just because I can.
My natural instinct is to pry your obsessive compulsion from your hands and give it to a character of mine, because I think it’s spooky, because I think it’s neat. Not because I want the world to understand what you’re going through.
Ought to? Continue reading Dangerous Inspiration: On the Suicide Forest and the Boundaries of Fiction
A lot of people imagine a writer’s room to be a fortress of solitude. They picture a crooked citadel where a hunchback feverishly scrawls his quill down a scroll high above the incessant babble of the peasants down below. In his book On Writing Stephen King prescribes such a space:
“When it comes to writing… The space… needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut… There should be no telephone… no TV or videogames… If there’s a window, draw the curtains… it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.”
I write in a coffee shop surrounded by pyramids scheme pitch sessions, awkward Tinder dates, and speakers blaring auto-tuned dub step songs. I find the crooked citadel to be a lonely place. I write in public to give myself the illusion of human interaction.
I find a writer’s room to be more of a state of mind. In that sense I do see it as a sacred space where certain distractions and opinions need to shut out for the writer to get anything done. I’ll explain what I mean with characters that are by no means within the public domain. (Please send your cease and desist emails to drewchialauthor.com, thank you.) Continue reading How to Shut Your Audience Out of Your Writing Room
It happens to the best of us. You set out to write a story with fiercely original characters, but then a life event compels you to write yourself into the plot. Maybe you just had to get something off of your chest, but now you’re story has a you sized problem… and it might just do something to the real you to deal with it.
Budding authors are always told to build a brand, to gain a following, to get their names out there, but what happens when they go too far?