Scream and Scream Again

Posted: November 4, 2012 in Books, Scream and Scream again
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Yes, I’ve finally done it.

After mooching about with around 30 horror short stories for a while now, I have now dwindled them down to 24 and released them as a flash fiction anthology. It should be available in 12 to 48 hours on Kindle, entitled Scream and Scream Again – Twenty-Four Flashes of Horror.

Some are brutal and not for the fainthearted (Over 18s only) and feature demons, vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons and nutters – all things scary basically. I hope you enjoy them.

Titles include:

I’M WATCHING YOU – TIME TRAVEL WITH TEETH – A TASTY APPLE – JUST ANOTHER VICTIM – A SERIES OF EVENTS – CANNED FOOD -
THE BOY WITH THE THORN IN HIS SIDE – BUNKED UP – SURPRISE ATTACK – THE HAPPY GOTH – MARY AND JOSEPH – A UNIVERSAL TRUTH – AHEAD OF THE GAME – PIGS MIGHT FLY – SIMPLE – HANG ON, THINGS MIGHT GET A LITTLE WILD – A CUT ABOVE – DEATH OR TAXES – FREE FALL – THE INSIDE MAN – IT’S DARK – E IS FOR ERROR – GAME OVER – THE LATE NIGHT SHOW

With all the buzz and hype around the new Amazing Spiderman movie, I thought it timely to introduce you to another of my writing buddies: Yes, Peter Parker himself, albeit with slightly (just a bit) enlarged head and groovy costume!

The Headknocker from Neca is an ideal paperweight on my desk and looks super-heroingly cool (is that a word? No, I didn’t think so). With a little bit of encouragement (a quick flick of the finger on his bonce), Spidey will nod an affirmative to whatever question I ask: Should I really drink this next beer? Of course, he eagerly nods.

Great for encouragement; he always loves my first drafts!

It’s the least he can do for my loyal following since childhood – religiously watching the original cartoons and purchasing (well, my mum did) countless comics, and even suffering the original Spiderman movies in the 80s with Nicholas Hammond.

CGI has come a long way since then and only now is the technology really available to bring Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s creation to the big screen – after all, it was a half-hearted attempt with the Green Goblin parading as a sickly Power Ranger (not  a good look).

Let’s hope this next movie truly is amazing.

I was bitten by a spider once and all I did was scream like a girl, but at least my brightly-coloured spandex costume looks good in the bedroom!

Like Nacho Libre said: “Sometimes, a man likes to wear stretchy pants! It’s for fun”

Thought I’d list a few random things about myself for all my readers – yes, all one of you.

This is for you:

  1. Coffee or Tea? – Good old Tetleys if you please. Drop of low-fat milk, no sugar.
  2. Rugby or Football? – Neither, MotoGP or World Superbikes.
  3. Fish and Chips or Curry? – Got to be Haddock and chips with plenty of vinegar every time.
  4. Favourite Actress (because she can act)? – Toss up between Kathy Bates, Juliette Lewis and Sandra Bullock.
  5. Favourite Actress (because she looks good)? – Easy. Halle Berry. Or maybe Emmanuelle Chriqui.
  6. Favourite Book? – There are a few really. The Book Thief, I am Legend, Neverwhere – Oh, and my books of course!
  7. Favourite Movie? – Luc Besson, Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and Natalie Portman Classic – Leon, the Professional.
  8. Alien or Predator? – I think the cool-headed, calculating  hunter with an atomic bomb fo a wristband! Don’t fancy acid for blood.
  9. Windows, Linux or Apple? – Hail Mr Gates. Sorry Linus, Sorry Steve (RIP).
  10. Oddest thing about you? – Soooo many, but probably one that stands out: I have to wear matching socks, I can’t just grab any two. OCD? Perhaps, a little.
  11. Star Wars or Star Trek? – Both. Does that make me Master of the Universe?

So, with any luck (and time) you’ve started revising your WIP.

Again, some of the following informationis from various sources on the internet and  personal experience. Others are taken from Evan Marshall’s book: Novel Writing – 16 Steps to Success

You’ve done well so far, but now you need to motor on ahead. Again, be scrict, remove yourself look at your work objectively. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes (unless they’re 4-inch high heels). Here goes:

Describing stuff:

  • Don’t use more than one adjective at a time. In fact lose them where you can. For instance, don’t say ‘a strong wind’, say ‘ a gust’, ‘a gale’ etc.
  • Check your descriptions, your backgrounds. Are they overdone? Do you need all of it? Can it be more succinct?
  • Writing in viewpoint, would your character look at things in the way you have written them? I.E: From the viewpoint of a tough street-brawler, would he notice that the blonde in front of him had done her hair, or was wearing Chanel No. 5? Not really, but he would notice her pretty face, her lips, her boobs, and that she smelled nice.
  • You can be more specific. For instance, don’t just call it ‘a dog’, call it a Jack Russell terrier or whatever you have in mind (this also gives you a three-word count whereas you only had the one for dog).
  • Be careful with embellishing on your weather reports. You don’t work for the local meteorological society. Just tell us it’s sunny or it’s tipping it down.
  • To add realism, you can focus on some details. Don’t tell us, show us. Don’t just say ‘the street was filthy’, say, ‘I stepped over masses of discarded paper, all crumpled into makeshift balls, some pieces lying flat, sticking to the damp pavement. To my left was an overturned dustbin, its contents disgorged and fouling the street. It stank’. Does that sound better? I think so.
  • Don’t use similes or metaphors unless it would occur to the character viewpoint you’re writing in.  Emily, your 11-year-old girl, wouldn’t liken a hole in the ground to the ‘Pluming depths of Hell, the threshold to eternal damnation, and the doorway to Hades’ home’. This is something I have to work on!
  • If, and when, you do use metaphors and similes, don’t use the obvious ones – avoid them like the plague!
  • Don’t over-describe something plain. Say it’s a kitchen cupboard or a tin of baked-beans. Don’t call it a silvery malleable metallic element that resists corrosion, wrapped in a printed label and filled with haricot beans and tomato sauce.
  • More on viewpoint. Each character should see things differently, from their own perspective, built from your character development. How would each one react? Do they all have the same voice?
  • Use all your senses: See, hear, touch, taste, smell. I’ve just penned a short story where the mother brings in a bacon sandwich for her son. I could smell the bacon grilling as I put the words down!
  • Don’t over-write simple walk-on characters, keep their details to a minimum unless absolutely necessary to evoke a particular ‘feel’ or setting.
  • Use action whenever possible. ‘At the side of the road stood a line of tall trees’ is boring. But, ‘several tall willow trees lined the streets, heavily branched and full of foliage, they swayed in unison as the wind increased, buffeting me along with it’. Which sounds better? You decide.
  • Only describe what we need to know. If a character walks into a garage, don’t give us a list of the tools on the wall; he’s probably there to grab a weapon or take the car.
  • Most importantly, write what was, not what wasn’t. I.E: Don’t say, ‘There was nothing in the box when I lifted it’, say, ‘The box was light as I lifted it’.

Now that’s done, have a cuppa, there’s more.

Economy:

  • Delete And at the beginning of a sentence. Modern convention allows this and I have read many a book with it, even done so myself, but it’s wrong and unnecessary.
  • Correct spelling mistakes and all punctuation.Take out redundancies? What do I mean by that, you ask? Don’t say things like ‘a round ball’, or ‘a yellow banana’. A ball is always round, as is a banana yellow – unless it’s green and unripe and sour! Don’t say ‘she whispered softly’ either – whispers are soft.
  • I might have mentioned this before, but you can delete that from nearly all sentences.
  • Delete weak qualifiers like a bit, a little, just, quite, rather, slightly, really, mostly, sort of. Almost always unnecessary unless used in dialogue where your character would use those words. Another fault of mine I now realise!
  • Cut out unneeded possessives such as, ‘She raised the  golden goblet, her eyes sparkling’. Get rid of her and read it again. ‘She raised the  golden goblet, eyes sparkling’. Better?
  • Avoid saying things in a roundabout way – Circumlocution: a style that involves indirect ways of expressing things. Just tell us, ‘It’s over’. Don’t say, ‘It was now the time to pack up as we all had finished’.
  • Don’t say, ‘Pounding hard, his heart beat in his chest’. Unless he is an alien, his heart will always be in his chest, as a smile is always on the face.  Change it. ‘He smiled’ is good enough.
  • Here’s a good one: Don’t overuse then. Most fiction is consecutive, things will happen after each other naturally and progressively; then this will happen, then this will happen.You can use and instead of then. It will flow better.
  • Don’t tell us something twice. Once will do. Let’s say Johnny was to voice his opinion: ‘I hate those bits of gherkin inside burgers.’ His face screwed up at the thought. Horrible little green things. Try: Johnny’s  face screwed up as he put the burger down. ‘I hate those horrible green bits of gherkin.’
  • Avoid confusing your readers. Refer to your characters the same way each time: ‘There something wrong with your alternator,’ the mechanic said. Jane didn’t trust him. ‘What’s is gonna take to fix it?’ Charlie put down his spanner. ‘About 300 bucks.’ Who is Charlie? Yes, he’s the mechanic, but it would be clearer if you just said, The mechanic put down his spanner. ‘About 300 bucks.’
  • Try not to use your characters names over and over. If the scene only has two people, you can use their respective names at the beginning and then switch to using he or she. However, if your scene has more than two characters you should use their names to differentiate them from each other.
  • Give yourself another well-deserved pat on the back.

The above is a portion of more things to watch out for (What?, I hear you cry, there’s even more). I will be posting more in Part Three. Until then, keep at it. Coffee beckons.

Do another spell check in case you’ve inadvertently changed existing stuff.  More coffee may ensue.

Don’t feel despondent even if all of the above pertains to your MS. I’ve done them all at one time or another, and am still doing some of them – I’m not perfect. Only Angelina Jolie is. Writing is like life, we’re always learning. You can only get better.

With bleary eyes, after hours of writing and work, I decided to stop what I was doing and relax. I had a cup of tea and relaxed to watch a movie (not the best thing to do with bleary eyes I suppose). After rooting through a few films, I decided on The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. The movie, I thought, was decidedly average and predictable – I can’t help thinking it may have been less obvious if there had been another big name in there to divert attention, but the production team were probably strapped for cash after paying out for two of Hollywood’s hottest actors – Mr Depp’s and Ms Jolie’s wages putting paid to that!

So, the movie begins with a perfect Angelina swanning around the streets of Paris, looking like a pristine and finely crafted human doll; in fact, she does this throughout the entire movie as the plot moves to Venice (there are some good shots of the famous Italian canalled city). As the weak plot continues, the scintillating Ms Jolie never batters an eyelid, always a picture of perfection of the highest order. She radiates beauty, flawless skin, precise nose and jaw-line, masterful makeup, all with consummate ease.

Then I got to wondering – is this another audition for Tomb Raider? After all, as I said before, she looks almost man-made, like a model of Lara Croft:

Yes, Lara Croft is another of my writing buddies, stood in eternal dual-handgun-shot pose.

She stands there, threateningly, yet serenely beautiful on my desk, and never moves a muscle.

Another perfect woman for a not-so-perfect world.

Hey, ho.

Funnily enough, I was having a good ole natter with Craig Stone earlier today via Twitter DM. He’s the guy who gave up his job, walked out of his home, lived in the park beneath a tree until he finished his first book: The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness.

Sounds mad? Well, maybe he is (he must be I hear you cry, he’s a writer!) – I agree, but he’s also been shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize. We wish him all the best. And he’s landed himself an agent. Not bad for a one-time-self-professed vagrant, eh?

Anyway, Craig’s Twitter handle is @Robolollycop and this got me to thinking. Why don’t I post some images of my writing buddies. Who are they? I hear you ask again (I hear many things, perhaps I’m the mad one?). Well, the first one is Robocop himself. He sits (or stands) on my desk next to me while I write (type). Still confused? Check out the image:

Cool, eh? Robocop Figure from McFarlane Toys.

And I’ve got many more that I’ll be introducing you to soon.

Until then, you can find Craig Stone’s book here: http://amzn.to/x5JTYe

Well not really; I can’t say I saw one vampire, but then it was daytime.

Who’s to say there weren’t any number of coffins with occupants waiting for that ball of fire to shrink beyond the horizon. Lucky for me then I was back in my car heading home! Not really up to the ‘here, you can have my neck for supper’ – or breakfast.

I did take a nice photo of the Abbey – spooky-looking enough even in daylight.

And even spookier when I turn it into a negative – **Use imagination to picture vampire brides crawling the walls**

Why Whitby Abbey, you ask?

Well, apart from the obvious – Dracula landed here in Bram Stoker’s classic – it’s because . . . well, you’ll just have to see when you read Partnership from Hell

I’m off to crawl into my coffin now. Night – Or morning!

Okay, so you’ve finished your WIP.

And you thought that was hard. Now comes the really hard work. Not to put you off, but all MSs need revision on their first draft – unless you happen to be a genius (and I’m not).

Some of the following information has been garnered from the endless sources on the internet (here I am adding to it!), whilst others are from personal experience. A number of them are taken from Evan Marshall’s excellent book: Novel Writing – 16 Steps to Success

First, you need to ‘get away’  from the story for a bit. This could be a week or three but take some time away from it before you pick it up again.

Now you need to be strict, remove yourself from the fact that it’s your work. Imagine it’s someone else’s – that way you’ll be amazed at some of the writing, but also clear-headed enough to recognise its weak spots. It is better to do any editing on real paper, and not the PC, as text on screen appears different somehow, and errors can – and will – be missed. However, if the PC works for you, then that’s fine; this isn’t a ‘you must do it my way’ exercise.

  • First do a double check to see if your crisis is appropriate for the genre you’re writing for. Don’t have the book begin with Chief Brody’s fear of swimming. Instead, show us he has a fear of swimming, and then throw a great white shark into the mix, who is feeding on the local bathers. Obviously this works in Jaws, but it wouldn’t work in a romance novel.
  • The crisis must turn you lead’s life upside-down. In Jaws, Brody is faced with a mounting death toll and closes the beaches, but the local authorities want the beaches open as it’s the most important and popular time of the year for the sleepy-town to make its annual revenue. That, and you can’t just throw a rod and line over the side to catch a huge man-eating shark. Does he have to get in the water – the thing he hates most – to achieve this?
  • Does the crisis capture your imagination? Staying with Jaws, Peter Benchley achieved this to the extent that, for years, people-a whole generation-wouldn’t go in the water.
  • Is there a story goal? Your lead should be trying to gain possession of something (a person, precious information, an object) or, relief from something. The lead must set the goal to solve the crisis, and restore everything back to normal.
  • They must face terrible and increasing consequences.
  • And have a worthy motivation such as love, duty, justice, honour, dignity, patriotism, redemption.

If you find your story misses out on any or all of the above, instead of editing, you may want to have a re-think and look at some re-writing at this stage. Of course, the above is for conventional novels and not all adhere to this, however, those that don’t have other components that make it work and keeps us reading. After all, there is no right or wrong way to tell a story; just make sure you capture the reader’s attention.

  • Now you can begin reading, crossing out words, making notes beside it/them or add new paragraphs – insert new pages if necessary to make it flow better (remember not to add needless information).
  • Correct spelling mistakes and all punctuation.
  • Do you get the characters? Remember, we live with the charcters in our minds for months, maybe years, and feel like we know them inside-out. But unless you have transferred those thoughts and traits onto the page, the reader may not get the same image we do.
  • Do the characters have individual voices? Or do they all read the same?
  • Check sentences are complete and that they make sense.
  • Are your characters the same throughout? Have you told us in Chapter 2 Barnabus has long black hair, only to say later in Chapter 17 he’s got short brown hair?
  • Does the story make sense? Are there huge gaps in it? If so, you can (easily?) introduce another chapter. It may give you the extra word-count you’ve been striving for. My first draft of Partnership from Hell came in at 44,000 words. It ended up with extra characters, an extra sub-plot, and finished at 76,000 words, which made the story so much better.
  • Is the story timeline correct? I.e. Does Charger the dog go to the vets on the Monday, only to have him bandaged and sore after his visit on the Sunday before? Or has Flavius just killed several warriors who threatened his home at dawn, only to have him 300 miles away by morning tea-time? It could be credible, but unlikely as your story is set in 53 AD. Give characters enough time.
  • Are goals clear? Do they make sense?
  • Are reactions (character emotions) rational? Logical? Believable? Is it the reaction your character would give?
  • Watch out for inadvertent rhyme, and remove unless absolutely necessary to the story.
  • Be careful of using the same ‘important’ words twice on the same page.
  • Don’t use hopefully. Instead write, “I hope I get that job.”
  • Cut the word very. It is one of the weakest adjectives and, in almost all cases, you will strengthen a sentence by removing it.
  • Something a huge number of published professional authors still suffer from is the overuse of the word that. It can be cut in over 90% of cases. For example: ‘John knew that the garage would be closed at this time of night.’ Re-write as: ‘John knew the garage would be closed at this time of night.’
  • Some argue you shouldn’t use and at the beginning of a sentence, however, modern convention appears to allow this now. I know I use it.
  • Watch for too many dots and dashes in your characters’ dialogue (something I’m probably guilty of). Complete as many sentences as you can. Let people finish. Remember, often a comma will do the job of a dash.
  • Keep an eye on repetition. When you are using a PC it’s all too easy to copy and paste a section from one part to another. This is often necessary to make the story flow better, but did you remember to delete the section you copied?
  • Restrict the use of the exclamation point to dialogue and only use sparingly – or not at all. Understatement is best.
  • Avoid long block-like paragraphs. Breaking them up into smaller sections gives it a better flow.
  • Don’t overload sentences with information, describing what it looks like and what it does, all in one line. Dont say, ‘The car was bright red and sounded like an old tractor when it pulled up’, say something like, ‘The car was red. The rickety engine sounded more like a tractor than that of a family saloon.’
  • Be careful of over-padding just because you need the extra word-count. Perhaps there is somewhere you can insert a new chapter?
  • Did your main character change in some way? If nothing else happens throughout the story, remember this must.
  • Upon reading, did you get a sense of ‘This is really good, I can’t believe I wrote that?’ If you did, you’re some way to getting there.
  • Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

The above list is only a portion of things to watch out for (Yes, I hear you groan, there’s more). I will be posting some more in Part Two. Until then, Good luck and keep at it.

Once re-written and re-typed, do another spell check just to be sure. Then you might want to read it again, but take some time off first, before attempting yet another ‘polishing’ session. None of us claim (some do I’m sure) to be a literary genius; we only want to produce the perfect novel, but more often that not we just want to tell a good story. You must remember we’ve all been through the revising and editing stage, some more than others, but you will get better. You will also have made mistakes – I’m sure I have – and, after all, there are no perfect novels out there.

Someone reading my second novel, Partnership from Hell, said to me, “It’s very descriptive.”

I walked away with a smile on my face, and then stopped short. What if I’ve used too many adjectives? Or adverbs? Or, worse still, too many of both?

The answer is simple: I have (probably!).

To use or not to use? The debate as to use them or not will, in my opinion, change as readers change. I believe sometimes they are a necessary tool in the writing arsenal (why do they teach them in schools if they are to be abolished on my first edit?). I don’t profess to be Franz Kafka or Herman Melville (I could never write in that company), but I do believe that within all that beautiful prose, the words must contain a good story. I like to think that I’ve done that with my first two books. If I have used too many then could that be put down to my style? I mean, Shakespeare used to make his own words up!

We can all mull over the words for months, decades, in a classroom or writers’ club but it’s the story that lingers in the mind; just think of a certain youing wizard who we all know and love.  So using some is acceptable, but let’s keep it to that: a few. What I do know is the word: very, can be axed every time (unless your character uses it in dialogue – as above).  With two books under my belt, I am still learning my trade.

But kill them all? . . . Perhaps that’s what Thanatos would do from Death and Taxes – after all, he is the Grim Reaper.

 

Death and Taxes

Posted: May 21, 2012 in Death and Taxes

Yes, they’re pretty much the only two things we know will be beckoning for us when we are born. But let’s not be morbid, eh? All right then, maybe just a little bit.

Death and taxes tells the story of Death himself, the Grim Reaper, in all his black and dreary (but splendid of course) robes. He’s worked for a long time and now he wants a break – I mean, wouldn’t you? His distaste for mankind only exacerbates his bitterness.  But when something happens – something he knew should (or would) happen, but having been so busy, he clearly forgot – he decides maybe he should take a sabbatical – or quit all together. With too much time on his hands, he grows bored.  The Ferryman, Harry, and Saint Peter are with him, but when some deaths begin to take place, Death decides to find out just who is trying to fill his shoes. The little boy who he should have taken with him, Alvin, is left in the hospital; his condition apparently in remission, and Death visits him again – only this time in mortal form. And just when is he going to get time for his hobbies?

Life – or Death in this case – can be complicated, and full of music!