"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis
Thursday, December 6, 2018
By R. Peterson
Kent Lopez gasped as Ingrid Bolsø Berdal playing the part of Jillian Everson in the film version of A Box Filled With Darkness started climbing down a ladder into the seemingly bottomless cardboard container in the hallway of the daycare center. Something with a creepy hissing voice had taken one of her children far below. “Don’t go down there you crackly bitch!”
The Bliss living room was dark and light from the big screen TV flickered as the film played.
“Chicks in movies always do the most returded things,” Scotty Target mumbled. He couldn’t take his eyes off from the strange horror movie either. Johnny Olsen and Sheryl Bliss had started making out after Jillian’s big-breasted next door neighbor Erma Kite, played by Monica Keena, stumbled into the scene wearing a wet t-shirt after apparently running through a half-dozen lawn sprinklers. Sheryl’s parents had gone to a charity function and wouldn’t be home until after midnight. “See I told you … you stupid c$%#!” Kent yelled when the ladder slipped and Jillian screamed as she disappeared into the box.
“Release the bats!” Scotty blurted. “There’s this gnarly huge rat down there that tries to eat her!”
“Do it! Kill the dumb bitch!” Kent was waving his arms wildly and knocked over a can of Coors spilling beer on the expensive carpet. Sheryl whispered in his boyfriend’s ear and then glared at his two friends.
Johnny stopped groping Sheryl and cleared his throat. “You guys can finish watching this movie another night. It’s almost eleven and me and Sheryl want to spend some time alone before her parents come home!”
“But we’re just coming to the best part,” Kent complained. Sheryl stood up and marched to a coffee table, not bothering to button up her blouse that showed her naked breasts. She flicked the movie off with a remote control. “I’ll clue you boys in,” she said brushing dark hair out of her eyes. “Ingrid Berdal wins,“ she said. “She always wins … in every movie she plays in.”
Johnny was holding the door open. “We’ll have to do this again sometime,” he said with a smirk.
“That sick-flick was radical,” Kent said when he and Scotty climbed into Scotty’s father’s Suburban. “I wish I had a copy of it!”
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could make our own scaries,” Scotty told him as he started the car. “For once I’d like to see those stupid c$%$# get what’s coming to them.” He started Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing on the car stereo.
“My old man has all kinds of video equipment he never uses,” Kent said. “He has an infrared camera for shooting in the dark and everything. Why not make our own Horno movie?”
“Who would we get to play the final girl with the big tits?” Scotty looked over at his friend and smiled. Scotty was rolling a massive joint laced with PCP.
“Sheryl Bliss,” Kent giggled. “She’s the best looking girl Johnny has ever wanted to bang and she has definitely got a big pair of box office attractions.”
“She’d never do it,” Scotty said. “Johnny told me she hates our guts and doesn’t want him to bring us over anymore. He’s changed since he booed-up with her!”
“Who says Sheryl has to know she’s being filmed?” Kent lit the marijuana cigarette. A smell like stale almonds drifted up from the chemical treated smoke. “If we planned everything just right … with her home all alone … suddenly the power goes off. I noticed the breaker box on the wall in the garage when I went out to have a smoke earlier. Imagine her face as she’s being chased through the house by two hideous demons holding butcher knives.”
“One masked man-beast with a hissing voice and a knife,” Scotty corrected. “If we go to that much work, one of us is going to have to be holding a camera.”
“We’re sixteen years old and we have no money. How do we make a movie that doesn’t turn into a vomit bomb?”
“We butcher the Blair Witch for real,” Kent said. “It’ll be totally awesome! We’ll just make sure we get the plasma to splash everywhere on the walls the floor and record all her screams!”
“That’s so Brazilian! … Release the bats! I love it!”
“And don’t even think about putting our names on the credits.”
“Yeah! The cops would definitely think that was a plate of donuts.”
“Sheryl is one lucky bitch I’ll tell you what,” Scotty giggled. He took a hit and passed the cigarette to Kent. He was remembering how sexy Sheryl looked when she walked across the room half dressed.
Scotty exhaled. “She’s going to be a major scream queen and all she has to do it stand there with her big mouth open and bleed.”
Both boys laughed for a full minute until snot was running down their noses.
“We’re really not going to kill her just to make a film… are we?”
“No not just for the movie. All monsters need some kind of power backing them up and we don’t got any, but we’ll still get the c#$% … I promise!”
Kent began to laugh and Scotty joined him. They laughed all the way home and quietly for hours afterward as they lay in their respective beds.
Fourth-hour P.E. was the only class that Kent and Scotty had together. They stood at the gym sidelines watching a group of seniors play slaughter-ball. Kent was almost knocked unconscious when a ball bounced off from his head. Rex Hicks stood at center court smiling. “Hey Rocky!’ he yelled. “Why don’t you and Bullwinkle get out here so we can have some fun?” He was poking fun at Kent being short and squat and Scotty tall and angular. Everyone in the gym laughed.
“I gave my last drop of sweat to your sister,” Kent called back trying to be equally as funny.
“I don’t have a sister … you moron!” Rex bellowed.
“It must have been your mother then … she was as ugly as you are!” Kent stood looking defiant even though the senior stood a foot taller and was twice his weight.
Just then Coach Johnson walked in and the gym became too silent. “That’s it for today,” he called. “Anyone in my class who doesn’t shower better be on the rag … if not … that person will be.”
“I’m going to get you … you little f#$%” Rex whispered as he filed past Kent and Scotty.
“We better shower before Coach leaves to help Mrs. Markland clean her lab,” Scotty moaned. The whole school knew the coach had a thing for the science teacher and clean her lab was code for rumored sexual activity.
Kent was just stepping out of the shower and reaching for his towel when Rex Hicks snapped him viciously on the upper thigh with it, missing his genitals by inches. “Coach left early.” Rex snickered. “I don’t blame him. Did you see the tight sweater that #$%$ was wearing?”
“I don’t look at older women,” Kent said. “After your mother … nobody else gets a rise out of me.” He jerked his butt and legs spastically as if he were having sex.
“Oh my God! No!” Scotty moaned as the entire football team lifted them both into the air and carried them into the bathrooms.
“That toilet at the end still doesn’t flush does it?” Several students laughed as Rex dragged Kent kicking and struggling passed the line of stalls. One stall seemed to be occupied with just a pair of boots showing under the door. “I’ll bet it’s got at least one German Brown floating belly-up in the bowl!”
Eddy Frazer opened the door and then held his nose. “Ugghh it’s overflowing!”
“In you go,” Rex laughed as he forced Kent’s head into the foul water.
“You’re next!” Eddy grinned at Scotty.
“Why me? I haven’t done anything!” Scotty wailed as they finally pulled Kent’s head out of the water and shoved him toward the showers.
“You swim with a turd … you get flushed down the drain with one!” Rex told him.
It was all over in a couple of minutes but to Kent and Scotty it seemed like hours. “I’ll get those bastards if it’s the last thing I ever do. Scotty was splashing water on his face from the sink and Kent was trying to wipe off his head with a handful of paper towels.
Suddenly the occupied stall door opened and Coach Johnson lumbered out pulling up his pants. He’d been there the whole time, now he now sounded angry. “Back in the showers both of you!” A sadistic smile formed on his pudgy face. “And this time wash behind your ears.”
Kent was determined that he and Scotty were no longer going to be Cloverdale High School victims. He arranged to pick up Scotty just before midnight in his father’s Falcon. “The jocks have all the power at school,” he said. “It’s time we had some power of our own!”
Scotty was surprised when Kent turned into Black Rose Cemetery; they hadn’t visited the graveyard at night in months … tonight was the first night of the full moon.” A group of shadowy figures were clustered around a crumbling headstone near the back of the cemetery with the name Jim Coots barely readable. “Coots was a gunfighter and the first non-Indian buried in this cemetery,” Joanie Otter told them when they climbed from the car. She stepped out of the shadows. It was dark but Scotty could still see the white face-paint and black lipstick. All the others, eleven in number, were dressed in Goth attire, mostly black robes with pieces of silver jewelry dangling from various piercings. “He and his death companions were the first to piedi da tomba.”
“What’s she talking about?” The group had formed a circle around the pair and Scotty was getting nervous.”
“Walk from the grave,” Kent said. Then he went on. “Legend says an old Negro woman named Rose established this cemetery back in 1878 and the Sheriff paid her twenty dollars for each coffin and a dug hole to put it in. Cloverdale was called South Fork back then and it was a wild little town. The black woman made herself a fortune.”
“She was a hole-witch who brought back some of the dead to help her run her ranch,” Joanie said. “That’s why this spot is sacred to Cloverbone.”
Kent wrinkled his nose. “It’s the name of the coven that we’re going to join.”
“We are looking for two kindergoth to bring our number back to thirteen since the extraction of two of our hole-witches Terrie Franks and Louise Baumgartner,’ Joanie said. “But you don’t just become stick-witches. First you have to prove you are worthy.”
“What do we have to do?”
“Each of you must bring a natural grown crystal the length of the first finger of your left hand dipped in the blood of a virgin to this spot on midnight of the next full moon,” Joanie said. “The prisms will become the property of the coven. Do this and you will become members with our full protection … fail … and you will be cursed with death.”
“You wouldn’t really kill us just because we decided to change our minds,” Scotty laughed but the sound coming out of his mouth sounded weak and afraid. All eleven members of the coven crowded closer. Scotty thought he could see the gleam of knife blades under the dark robes.
“Break the rules and the coven is forced to perform an extraction,” Joanie said. “Terry and Louise failed to obey the rules …and had to be extracted.”
“But those two died when their car plunged off a cliff and burned when they were coming home from a ball game in Butte,” Scotty blurted. He became silent and brood-full when he noticed the knowing smiles gleaming from under the hoods.
“Fire makes a way. Burning is the only way to kill any witch … stick or hole,” Joanie grinned.
It was almost a week later before Scotty was able to finagle his father into letting him borrow the station wagon for a trip to Crystal Mountain. The hillside in the south-western corner of Montana was discovered to be a vast source of raw quartz crystals after a highway was blasted through in the previous century. The mountain was pock-marked with empty craters but only a few rock-hounds were now digging. Kent and Scotty followed a winding paved path to the top. “It’s going to be hard finding two perfect crystals the size of our fingers,” Scotty sad looking around. “This place looks like an exploded mine field.”
“That’s because people are only allowed to dig on this side of the hill,” Kent told him. “We have to search the other side to know what we’re looking for.”
There was no trail and an hour later the two boys found themselves halfway down the steep hill with scratched arms, faces and legs from brambles and wild raspberry bushes. “We better go back,” Scotty gasped. “Every bush we pass feels like it’s trying to grab me.”
They were on a rock ledge about twelve feet wide. Kent walked over to peer off the edge. “This is it! This is why we came!” Kent was almost shouting and pointing down.
“Release the bats!” Scotty exclaimed as he looked over the edge. A gigantic red-ant pile at least four-feet tall was crawling with what looked like millions of tiny insects. Just then the sun peered from behind a shroud of clouds and reflected rainbow colors of light from a massive quartz crystal stuck upright in the top center of the nest. “That thing is as big as my hand!”
Between dancing for joy the boys gazed at the magnificent gemstone and wondered how they were going to retrieve it without being eaten alive.
“No way a bunch of ants could have dragged and erected that crystal there,” Kent said. ‘It had to be some acid-tripping hippie who was trying to start his own animal kingdom.”
“We have to test their defenses,” Scotty declared. He began to gather stones and an hour later succeeded in killing a Robin with a pitched rock. Both boys gasped as Kent flung the dead bird onto the pile and it was consumed in a matter of seconds. “Those things are evil and it’s almost like they are worshiping the crystal like a God. There’s no way we can even get close to it,” Scotty decided.
“What was it Joanie said in the cemetery,” Kent was thinking out loud. “Fire makes a way?”
“All I have is a Bic lighter, a pack of orange slow-burn Zig Zag papers and an eighth ounce of Columbian skunk-bud,” Scotty said. “You want to try to get close enough to start that nest on fire?”
“There’s no way we’re leaving this mountain without that crystal,” Kent told him. “We passed a gas station with a store a few miles back. I’m sure they have lighter fluid … five or six cans should do it. When the smoke clears we’ll be in control of the insects God and all they’ll have is memories.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Scotty whispered. “That an army of ants are never going to forget what we did to them.”
It was sunset by the time Kent and Scotty made it back to the Falcon and drove three miles to the gas station and back. They had purchased six cans of Rosonol lighter-fluid, all the tiny store had. They spent at least a half hour tossing dry brush and twigs on the nest from a distance before squirting the flammable liquid all over the pile. Kent lit a torch made from a torn piece of his shirt wrapped around a stick and then doused with fluid onto the nest.
The pile burst into flames with a terrific whoosh sound. Kent and Scotty had to stumble backward as far as they could in the thick brush to get away from the flames. A screeching sound like thousands of tiny doors being opened filled the air and both boys covered their ears. At first they thought it was the tiny bodies burning and popping like corn, but when they felt the insects beginning to bite their legs they knew they were under attack.
Running downhill is easy when you are scared out of your mind. They made it to the bottom of the hill and to a waist-deep creek in less than two minutes. They both plunged into the water still sapping their faces arms and legs. After the biting stopped the swelling began. Kent was looking out of one eye and Scotty was nearly blind as they made their way back to the nest.
It was completely dark now and the only illumination was from a thin new-moon and Kent’s i-Phone app. The massive red-ant nest was reduced to a pile of smoldering black ash. The crystal was gone! “They’ve taken it underground!” Scotty exclaimed.
“It would take a thousand ants … and they haven’t had time!” Kent used a long stick to poke around in the ashes. “I didn’t think about ants going to sleep at night,” Kent said. “All we really had to do was wait until dark and we could have taken what we wanted without the death and mayhem.” The ashes were deep; the lighter-fluid soaked nest had burned with a ferocious and frightening fury. “But what fun is that?” Kent laughed then suddenly shouted. “Here it is!”
The crystal had fallen on its side and been buried by smoldering ash but was still ice cold to the touch as Kent held it up to the new moon and turned it in his hand. “The power that belonged to the kingdom of the ants is now ours,” he told the night sky.
“This is only one crystal,” Scotty looked worried. “We were each supposed to return with our own.”
“This one is so large the Cloverbone witches are going to be thrilled,” Kent said. “Relax! Something tells me we have the power now!”
Scotty was the first to feel the vibrations underground a moment later Kent felt them too. It was like the aftershock of an earthquake, common in the northwest of the U.S., but nether boy had felt the original tremor. ‘I think we’d better make like birds and get the flock out of here,” Kent said just before they scrambled back up the mountain.
A half-hour later they were roaring down the highway leaving Crystal Mountain behind. Both boys sighed relief. If they had stuck around the parking area for another two hours they would have seen the carnage as millions of ants descended from the mountain, tearing the aluminum siding off from a fifth-wheel trailer and stripping every bit of flesh off the retired couple sleeping inside. Two hours before dawn, the gas station where they had purchased the lighter fluid was drowned by an enormous swarming black wave. The gasoline pumps exploded sending a ball of fire into the night sky as the station attendant ran screaming from the building as he was being eaten alive. A Montana State Trooper, responding to a call from a concerned citizen, made the mistake of getting out of his patrol car at a rest area and was literally carried down the side of a mountain by an enraged insect army.
“Our troubles are over,” Kent told Scotty as he dropped him off at his house. It was 4:19 AM. Both boys looked at the crystal one last time before Kent took it home. They struggled and fought to see which one could hold it. The raw gemstone seemed to be vibrating. Tiny shockwaves sent delightful shivers and nausea up and down their arms and legs promising delightful things in the future and an equal amount of fear. Both boys felt like they were finally becoming the all-powerful deities that they were destined to be … and they also felt the impending doom!”
“All we need now is the blood of a true virgin,” Kent whispered as if he held the key to Hell in his hand.
“I heard Johnny say that Sheryl’s parents are going out of town again this weekend but his parents grounded him and he was jacked that he wouldn’t be able to go see her!” Scotty was staring at the bag Kent had slipped the gemstone into.
“Perfect,” Kent said. “It’s movie time! Let’s just hope Johnny has left her hymen intact and her virgin blood will power up my crystal!”
Both boys went to bed feeling both sick and wonderful. Scotty kept thinking about Kent using the word my.
While on both sides of the highway eighty-seven miles from Cloverdale the new moon shown on a deadly army of murderous black insects, drawn by strange vibrations emulating from the stolen crystal, slowly marching ever onward to reclaim the power what was once their own.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Friday, April 13, 2018
submitted by Maxine McCoy
We've heard it several times, but we often forget. In order to write a great novel, there must be tension on every page.
How do we do that?
First of all, by tension, we don't mean every scene has to be filled with terror, suspense, or high sexual tension. There will be those, of course, but what about the pages in between?
Donald Maas says, “There must be tension on every page. Everyone knows it's necessary, but no one wants to do it. It is a heck of a lot of work. Tension on every page is the secret of great story telling. Everyone knows that. Practically no one does it.”
The secret to doing it is MICROTENSION.
Thriller writer Tess Gerittsen explains that, “In a story with a high level of conflict, there's an underlying sense that something important is always about to happen, or could happen.”
She goes on to say, “Microtension is that sense that, on every page of the novel , there's conflict in the air, or that characters are slightly off-balance. It needn't be a flat-out argument or a gun battle or a huge confrontation. In fact, you can't throw in too many major conflicts or what you'll get is melodrama. But small and continuous doses of tension keep the story moving and keep the pages turning.
Let's look at some ways to create tension:
Donald Maas says, “No scenes set in kitchens, living rooms, cars driving from one place to another, or involves drinking tea or coffee, particularly in the first fifty pages. If there there is a scene in one of those places, cut it. 99% of those scenes are inactive. If you absolutely can't cut it, make sure you add tension.”
Rayne Hall adds her “No scenes” list: no restaurants, bars, kitchens, or boardrooms.
Ways to create tension:
A ticking clock
That no turning back feeling
Frustrate your character
In each scene, give every character an agenda, and make their agendas oppose each others.
Sol Stein calls agendas “scripts.” Other writers call them “Spins.” We hear about spins and scripts during election time. One politician takes the actions of another and spins it to their opponents disadvantage. You can make a character look guilty, immoral, deceptive, or whatever you want by the spin you give their actions.
So, ask your characters two questions for each chapter or scene:
1. What's your agenda in this situation?
2. What do you believe the other character's agenda is?
Create a question. Let's say you have given a certain spin on a character's actions. If it's your MC you'll have the reader thinking, “I can't believe he'd do that. Did he, or didn't he?”
Rayne Hall says one of her favorite ways to create tension is drawing out an action. Instead of having your Heroine walk through a door, you make her wary of opening it. She hesitates. She imagines all sorts of terror-filled possibilities. The reader knows things she doesn't, which adds to the tension. Finally you have your reader thinking, DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR!!!
There are other ways to suspend the moment. In a chase scene or action scene, the pace is fast. Let's say the hero is running for his life. He turns a corner and discovers he's trapped. At this point, slow the pace by focusing on a detail unconnected to the issue—a cobweb in the corner, a grease stain on the table cloth, a lizard sunbathing on the garden wall. Describe and suspend that single moment.
Characters have expectations. Don't let them get what they want by throwing in unexpected twists.
The MC is in a strange place. She hears a noise. What is it? It sounds like . . . .
Add tension in action scenes, suspense scenes, or terror scenes by using short, choppy sentances, making the reader feel out of breath.
Add tension in dialogue by answering a question with a question:
“Who was that woman?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Why won't you tell me who she is?”
“Why are you so obsessed with her?”
Add tension with a zinger: The character expresses not only meaning, but attitude.
Make the funny parts funnier.
Make the shocking revelations more shocking.
Make the romantic elements more wildly romantic.
Find ways to increase the volume of everything in the scene.
Tension On The First Page
Donald Maas: Over and over, authors bog down their beginnings with setup and backstory. Perhaps it's because the novelist is getting to know the characters. The fact is, the author needs to know these things. The reader does not. The reader needs a story to begin.
Backstory doesn't engage the reader because it doesn't tell a story. It doesn't move the story forward. Once problems have been introduced, backstory can be artfully deployed to deepen them. Not in big chunks but a little at a time.
Ray Rhamey: No backstory in the first 100 words. No dreams. There MUST be tension in your first sentence.
Rayne Hall's first paragraph no no's:
1. The MC arises and gets ready for the day.
2. She stands in front of the mirror, describes her looks, and contemplates what to wear.
3. He gazes out the window and reflects on his past and future.
4. He sits in a bar or restaurant waiting for someone to arrive.
5. She walks, drives, or rides to a place where she expects to meet someone or do something.
According to Rhamey, the first sentence must:
1. Set a goal for the MC
2. Create a question
3. Create tension
4. Contain a conversational voice that hooks us.
Check your manuscript and see if the first sentence will intrigue your reader with tension. Enjoy your writing!
Monday, March 26, 2018
submitted by Carol Curtis Stilz
Over the past six months I have collected some tips from webinars, workshops, and reading. Many of these tips I shared with my students when I taught writing classes for teens and adults. Like my students, I needed to remind myself of what steps make my writing more efficient and enjoyable. Sometimes the enjoyment comes from meeting a goal or increasing my productivity or tackling a scene that I have put off writing. I’ve structured the remainder of this blog in steps. Don’t dismiss a suggestion until you have tried it at least once. These steps are not the ultimate “how to write” guide. They are intended to offer a buffet of possibilities to make writing for you more fun. Enjoy!
- Begin with an idea you want to write.
- Make a mind map around that idea.
- Write or draw on Index cards for everything that pops into your head. No editing here. Yes, you can use Scrivener or another writing program that allows you to move each idea around, to add and delete ideas too.
- Write one sentence that defines the story problem.
- Determine a turning point where character makes a decision that puts him at highest risk.
- Determine the crisis where the character’s actions seal his/her fate.
- Determine the ending or resolution of story problem, unless you like to surprise yourself as you write.
- Determine the beginning that sets up the story problem. You may choose to change the beginning.
- Create structure by placing index cards in order, making a fishbone diagram, or your idea of outline. This helps avoid the dreaded muddy middle.
- Remember to give backstory only when it is necessary to the reader or character now.
- Establish a writing time and place. Once you have found what is best for you, don’t change it.
- Set a writing goal for the day, number of minutes, number of pages, or completion of number of scenes.
- Write first think after waking up. I have coffee and feed and pet my cat first.
- On scratch paper, not your calendar, write things on your mind other than story. I call this monkey brain dump. Put it aside and look at it after you have written for the day. I do this step when sipping coffee.
- Write in 15 or 25 or 55 minute sprints. Set a time. Hands on keys and write steadily. When time rings, take 5 minutes to stretch, drink water, get in some fit bit steps. Avoid leaving the room if possible, and do not make phone calls, text, email, etc. No outside human contact. Then resume process until you have made your goal in writing for the day, either minutes or pages or scenes. Give yourself permission to write the scene that comes to mind that morning. You don’t have to work in chronological order if that isn’t your style. I call this my “patchwork quilt” process.
- No editing as you write. Edit after writing sprint, or later in the day, or next morning, or a time and place you set.
Choose the tips that work best for you. Enjoy the process and your success!