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3 things i don't write; 3 things i do write
Ray Cluley tagged me in a Facebook "Three Things I Don't Write, Three Things I Do Write" meme, so here are mine.
Three Things I Don't Write:
Cozy Horror. Lord Paddington is sitting in his drawing room with four other men, fireplace crackling, using his penknife to snip off the end of his cigar, decanter of whiskey by his elbow, ready to embark on a curious tale he remembers from his time in India. Good for him. It's a sub-genre I enjoy reading, and I think most of us read quite a few of these stories early in our exploration of classic horror stories, but although I hold a great deal of fondness for them, I just don't have the right temperament to write one myself.
Stories in which there are no distorted elements. I can enjoy reading a straight ahead narrative about the boy or girl next door, a professor's mid-life crisis, or someone drinking their way through a divorce, but if there's no strangeness to the story, it doesn't appeal to me as a writer. Catch 22 or The Tin Drum are always going to attract me more than, say, The Naked and the Dead or From Here to Eternity. The way I've always seen it as a writer is, Why use only realistic elements in a story when you can use both realistic and distorted elements? It's like tying your left hand behind your back (which makes it really difficult trying to type.) I like stories that include confusion. I think it's somewhat important to have fiction approximate life, so I like to include elements in a story that aren't sufficiently explained, because there's a lot of that in real life. For example, I might include, in dialogue, a mention of someone who otherwise doesn't appear in the story. Because that's what happens in real life-- people mention someone we don't know. Or a statement is made in a sentence that doesn't really make sense, or appears to contradict something else in the story. It roughens the texture of the narrative. We don't understand everything (we really understand very little). I think the best stories are those in which we know some of what's going on, but not all of it. Just like our real lives.
Over-describing. My approach has always been, Say it once, move on. A narrative to me is all about forward momentum. Each sentence expresses one or more ideas, then melts away for the next sentence's ideas. A critic once said that in a Tolstoy piece, Tolstoy meticulously described the twelve jurors in a trial. After each lengthy description, you felt as if you really knew that juror. The problem was, because of the amount of detail presented, somewhere during the lengthy description of the third juror, you forgot who the first juror was. If it's cold outside, I like to give just one image letting us know it's cold. Frozen ferns of ice on a window pane. Whatever. That's all we need. I don't want to force you to read an entire paragraph of images repeating over and over again how cold it was. Because I know you got it the first time. It's cold outside.
Three Things I Do Write:
Stories with humorous elements (although usually not stories that are out and out comedies.) Humor, to me, is a great seasoning to use in a story, whether for contrast, relief, or setup. Although it can be overdone, to where the result is too salty. But just enough humor can add a complexity of mood to a tale, allowing you to get even darker. As has been said many times, to show a deep darkness on a canvas, part of that canvas has to have the bristles of the brush bend against that surface with bright white paint.
Stories where the horror arises out of the characters, rather than being random. To me, any horror in a story has to be a manifestation of a character's personality. The horror exists because of a flaw in that character. I tend to write about relationships. I love exploring the dynamics between two or more people, especially if there's a history to them, because you can get into how each person's past can influence the other person's present. If a family moves to a new house that turns out to be haunted, through no fault of their own, I have no interest in it. Horror that's simply random-- a motorist stops in a small town where everyone's a cannibal; innocent people are picnicking by a lake and an ancient Native American ghost terrorizes them-- is pointless to me. There is merit in a story that explores the random haphazardness of life, but I'm far more interested in stories where horror appears because of the mistakes or obsessions of one of the characters.
Stories that hold secrets. I sometimes like to slip something in a story which 99 out of 100 readers aren't going to catch. In my story "Big Inches", Pottah is trying to cross a border, but is so thoroughly examined, one thing after another pulled out of him, that in the end the examination causes him to cease to exist. I suspect very few readers would ever realize that if you reverse the two syllables of "Pottah", and then reverse the letters in each syllable, you get "Top hat." In my novel "Father Figure", which ultimately is about transitioning from one level of existence to another, with all the numbers mentioned in the novel (street addresses, etc.), the individual digits in each mentioned number add up to "9", the last single digit before the transition to double digits. In my novel "As Dead As Me", about the end of life, the acronym of the title spells the name of the beginning of life. Some people enjoy this sort of thing; some people think it's absolutely worthless. But hey. It's my story. Write your own story.
July 3, 2014