Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween, guys! Sorry I have been so scarce lately - I've been rewriting like a machine. I'm here to close out my October Horror Blogfest with a treat for all of you... a creepy writing prompt!

Write about what's at the top of these stairs.

(I almost went down into my workplace's super-creepy basement to take a prompt photo, but I wasn't sure what I was more afraid of: running into a ghost, or running into one of the janitors and then having to explain why I was taking pictures in the basement.)

Enjoy! And if you do end up writing something, I'd love to see it!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Horror and storytelling

Good morning, y'all! You know what's awesome? Taking a couple days just to lay around and recharge. Of course, now I'm going "WHY DID I DO THAT I'M SO BEHIND ON REVISIONS/BLOGS/EVERYTHIIIIIING," so there's also that. So I thought I'd get the October Horror Blogfest back on track by talking about the relationship between horror and verbal storytelling.

I've always loved scary stories, but until recently I was hesitant to label myself as a horror fan. The word 'horror' these days makes people think of slasher movies and the Saw franchise, and I'm not big on those at all. But horror, to me, conjures up a different image: a simple story told out loud in a dark, dark room.

Everywhere you go, there's usually some sort of tradition built around telling scary stories. Like many kids in the US, I spent most of my sleepovers listening to stories about Bloody Mary, the girl with the green ribbon around her neck, and other such traumatizing things. When I lived in Tokyo, I learned about a game called Hyaku Monogatari, or One-Hundred Stories. It was traditionally played with one-hundred people, but these days it can be played by a group of any size: the group sits in a dark room with one candle per person, and they tell a ghost story. When each person finishes their story, they blow out their candle. When everyone is finished, the group counts up to however many people in the room... and it's said that another voice will chime in to count itself.

Yeah, I've never played that game. I may be a horror fan, but you won't see me tempting fate!

Those days of telling ghost stories at sleepovers are pretty far behind me, but I've found that a great horror novel is basically a high-concept version of a creepy campfire story - just with more complex characters and plot points. So how can writers capture that same feeling of dread?

I wrote a little about rhythm in horror a while ago, which is a big one, and Hart Johnson made a great observation in the comments about The Shining and "red rum." It reminded me of another great storytelling tool: repetition. One of my creepiest childhood horror stories was about a young girl lying in bed while a disembodied voice comes closer and closer. "Mary, I am coming up the stairs. Mary, I am on the first step. Mary, I am on the second step." Good, creepy repetition works the best when the repeated line ramps up the tension.

The other big one is simplicity. The scariest lines tend to be short and subtle. In Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series, one of my favorite lines in the third book comes at the end of a creepy, tension-filled scene: "I turned back." The reader knows, at this point, that the protagonist is going to find something terrifying behind him, but this short, ambiguous sentence lets the reader's imagination kick in. And our imaginations paint the scariest picture of all.

And for those of you who don't follow me on Twitter, here's a perfect example of all of the above: Face All Red, a short webcomic by Emily Carroll. The comic uses rhythm, repetition, and simple but powerful sentences to an absolutely chilling effect. It's like a campfire story with illustrations. If you want some Halloween night chills, this is the one for you.

Did you tell scary stories as a kid? What was your favorite?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Open thread

First of all, welcome to all you fabulous new people from the Blogfest! I hope to get to know you all better soon. Thanks to everyone who visited Tiffany, Katrina, and Casey's blogs as well!

My posts here have been kind of sporadic as of late. As you new people will learn quickly (seeing as I never shut up about it), I am in the middle of extensive revisions that are basically eating up all my free time. In two chapters, I'll be halfway done - with this pass, at least. I definitely want to do another pass before sending it off to my betas, and then I imagine that I'll have several more tweaks to make before sending it off to the agent.

So yeah. No pressure or anything. But I'm loving every minute of the process, even if it's completely and utterly terrifying.

Anyway! I wanted to open up this post for introductions, Q&A, and whatever else strikes your fancy. If you'd like to know something about me, ask away! And if you'd like to tell me a little about yourself, your WIP, your favorite cheese, or whatever else, that would be really awesome!

(I'm only half-kidding about the cheese, by the way. This cheeseaholic is always looking for something new to try.)

Have a fantastic day, everyone. I'm off to get a closer look at some of these new blogs!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay It Forward Blogfest

Hey there all you fabulous people! Sorry for the radio silence lately. I am a teensy bit all over the place this week. But I am coming to you today with something awesome!

Matthew MacNish and Alex Cavanaugh are running the Pay It Forward Blogfest today, in which we plug three of our favorite places to hang out on the blogosphere. Now, there are almost too many to choose from, but I gave it my best go. Enjoy!

Katrina Lantz - Now, all of the ladies over at Operation Awesome are, well, awesome. (And if you don't follow Operation Awesome, you have a chance to rectify that before anyone notices. I wouldn't be where I am today without their Mystery Agent contests!) But Katrina in particular has been wonderfully welcoming since I started my blog, and I always look forward to her smart, insightful, and fun writing posts. Go follow her!

Tiffany Garner - Because after getting a sneak peek of her project at WriteOnCon, I am very much looking forward to saying I knew her when. :) And if you follow her, you can say that, too!

Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles - So once again, I am assuming that most of you follow this one, but it bears repeating. Literary Rambles was basically my best resource when I was querying my first MS, and I found the agent I'm working with now through the site. If you've written an MG or YA novel and you're looking for an agent, this blog is invaluable. Go read it!

Once I have pulled myself together a bit over here, I will make the rounds myself and take a look at all the wonderful blogs everyone else suggested!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The rhythm of writing

Good morning, all!

As I prepare for my holiday weekend excursion (off to Boston, hell yeah!) I am trying to get ahead on my rewriting. It's going pretty well so far: normally I revise very quickly, but I'm retyping almost everything to imbue the narrative with a little more voice. I just finished chapter four rewrites, and I'm happy, even though I'm sure I'll make more tweaks on my second pass. Since I've spent most of my time so far expanding the beginning, I'm just now getting to some of the creepier scenes in the story, which comes with all sorts of fun new challenges.

Writing something scary can be so tricky, because horror is such a visual genre. You don't have a lot of the same tricks that, say, moviemakers do: you can't show the reader the terrifying face of your monster, you can't really make the reader jump, and you can't add a creepy score to the scene. The best horror novels I've read rely instead on a steadily building tension throughout the story. One way they build this tension is through rhythm.

It's hard to describe what a talented writer can do with this technique, but when they pull it off, it's amazing. It's like the text itself is imitating the protagonist's heartbeat. These scenes start off slow, normal, and innocuous enough. As the readers start to get hints that something is wrong here, the scene starts to pick up, move faster. The sentences might get wild and breathless or choppy and frantic, but either way, the readers find themselves tearing through the scene because they can't stand not knowing what happens. Finally, when the tension reaches unbearable levels, it breaks, usually with what TV Tropes would call a 'Wham Line.' (Which is pretty much just how it sounds: a line of text or dialogue, usually a single sentence, that reaches out and smacks you in the face.)

This is, of course, a lot harder than it sounds, but I am practicing in the hopes that I'll get better at it. When I write a scary scene, I try to imagine the 'beats,' like a drum that starts off steady and even and gets wilder and quicker with every sentence. I can't say if it's working or not, but I really, really hope it does!

Do you incorporate rhythm into your writing?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Welcome to the October Horror-Blogging Extravaganza

... or something like that! As I mentioned a few posts ago, I will be blogging about things of the spine-tingling variety at least once a week this month. Besides talking about the process of horror-writing (and possibly including some flash-fiction in there), I wanted to talk about one of my favorite things: ghosts and monsters in classic Japanese folklore. Not only are they really interesting, cool, and creepy, but they are so much fun to write about! I will do a "spotlight" on a different monster for every post.

But first, some vocabulary to know! I will write the term in Japanese, then the romanized pronunciation, then the translation.

あやかし - Ayakashi - A catch-all term for something strange and unexplainable 
幽霊 - Yuurei - Ghost
 妖怪 - Youkai - Demon
化け物 - Bakemono - Monster
お化け屋敷 - Obake yashiki - Haunted house
怪談 - Kaidan - Ghost story
And now, for the star of our post...
 怨霊 -  Onryou - The Vengeful Female Spirit
I picked the onryou to go first because I'm willing to bet that all of you know this one, even if you're giving me a blank look right now. If you've seen The Ring or The Grudge - if you've even seen a commercial for either of those films - you know what an onryou is. The onryou is easily the most popular mythological character in Japanese horror today. 
The onryou is a spirit, almost always female, in the grip of powerful rage or sadness. She died an unhappy death, and she wants everyone around her to pay for it. Unlike most Western ghost stories, there is no 'unfinished business' to take care of here: an onryou's desire for vengeance is never sated. She won't stop, even after the one who wronged her is long dead.
The image we are familiar with from recent movies became popular through kabuki. In order to make the onryou characters in these plays stand out, there would be three simple visual cues: a white burial kimono, stringy black hair, and a bluish tinge to their skin. 
The most famous onryou character is Oiwa from Yotsuya Kaidan, or A Yotsuya Ghost Story. (Yotsuya is a district of Tokyo.) Oiwa was disfigured by a poison and cast aside by her husband, Iemon. She dies shortly after and becomes an onryou, annihilating the family who disfigured her and psychologically torturing her husband until he ruins his own life. As you will quickly find, Japanese ghost stories don't tend to end happily.
Also, random fact: when I studied in Tokyo, my university was in Yotsuya, and my apartment was in Nerima, where The Grudge films take place. Thankfully I didn't run into any onryou while I was there. It's a good thing, too! Out of all the ghosts and monsters from Japanese folklore, the onryou has to be the worst one you could run into. The comforting thing about our own ghost stories is that the ghost's motives make sense, but the onryou's do not. No matter what you do, it won't matter. Once you cross her path, she won't stop until she has you. But like I said, I managed to avoid her, so I should be--

-- she's standing right behind me, isn't she.