Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pardon Me, Do You Have The Time?

What time is it in your story? No, not the clock kind. I'm talking about the century and year kind. This is a very important component when you decide to tell a tale. Whether you are working on horror or crime fiction, the time period is of critical importance. Actually, the important thing about your time period is your degree of accuracy with it.

One place to start is with your proposed location. If you are setting your story in the early 1800's, make sure your street names aren't 'Hollywood and Vine'. Plenty of research will be necessary in this regard once you decide on the basic setting. Will it be a ficticious village or town, or will it be an actual city? What is the place called now, and was it called the same thing back then? What mode of transportation was used during that time period and in that particular area? Were there gas lamps or street lights at night? These may seem like minor points, but trust me, there is nothing minor about any of these. It's not going to take a historian to recognize discrepancies, and once a couple are noticed, you've lost your reader.

What about the people in your story? How are they dressed? Where do they shop? What kind of place employs them? If you are going to create three-dimensional characters, you will be giving them a life outside of, and in addition to, your events. Details about their personal lives must reflect the times in which they live. With reference to your characters, there are also two other considerations. One is their manner of conversation, yes, how it is that they speak to each other. Do they use any slang expresssions and if so, did that expression even exist at that time? Another thing to focus on when it comes to conversations, how do they relate, verbally, to each other and to members of their family? You have to admit that families in the year 2009 relate to each other a lot differently than they did in 1809. Roles within the family were also quite different. There was no 'mom' and 'pop' or 'I'll be home around 11-ish' back then. While it is important to get inside your characters and pretty much become them, don't 'become them' too much and leave part of yourself there if you're writing about times past. Again, research it out, thoroughly.

Now, we come to the events of your story, be they horror events or crimes. Even though you may have a bit more freedom when it comes to horror, you still need to be careful to be true to the time period. When it comes to crime fiction, the dangers are everywhere. You need to consider what type of crime will be incorporated into your story. Tragically, crimes of all kinds have occurred over the ages, but one thing about them has changed over time, and that is the weapon. Now, if your crime is one that is up close and personal, you don't have a problem. Hands that are used for purposes of strangulation haven't changed much over the years. But, if you're going to use a specific weapon, like a gun or a knife, that's where the tricky part starts. Here we go again with research, and lots of it. Very necessary.

What about detection by law enforcement? What about law enforcement itself? Police hundreds of years ago and police today? Well, I don't think anything more needs to be said about that with the exception of how your criminal is going to get caught, or at least sought. Let's remember the time period. There weren't always 'forensics', 'DNA', and Luminol. Let's remember there probably was a time when there was no such thing as fingerprinting either. You can make catching your criminal tremendously complex or it can be just a matter of collecting clues and arresting the obvious individual. It all depends on the 'when', and what kind of investigative tools were available to whatever type of law enforcement was utilized at the time.

There are a lot of points to consider when sitting down to create a tale, and the time in which your story happens is an important one. I cannot stress enough the importance of research in this regard. You may think no one will notice tiny mistakes like remarks in a casual conversation or some display one of your characters sees in a store window that are way out of place, but let me tell you something. Readers are who we write for, and if they do notice such careless errors, we may lose them for that particular story, and future ones as well. But, you know, even if they don't catch us in a mistake, don't we still owe them the very best we can deliver?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Yes, we all know that to be an important factor in the real estate game, but is it an important part of writing a story? You bet it is. In my opinion however, I think there are different things to think about when choosing a primary location when you are writing horror vs. crime fiction.

When it comes to horror, there is always the option of creating a ficticious town or city with points of reference that have no bearing on reality. In some ways, that does help to make the 'horror situation' a bit more believable, I think. Of course, that all depends on what type of horror story you're writing. If you're writing about creatures and the like, sometimes it comes across a little bit better when you've made up the locale. If a real place is referenced though, it is very important to be as accurate as you can be. Make sure you are very familiar with the city and its streets and landmarks because when you run into a reader that's from that place, trust me - they will catch any and all mistakes should you make any. So and so street doesn't run east and west - it runs north and south, or such and such hotel is off main street, not on it. Once something like that happens, you've lost the reader and then it won't matter how good the rest of the story is. They won't read any more of it. I sure wouldn't.

You also have to make sure that whatever real places you reference can accommodate the horror you are bringing to it. Be careful when you decide to have to evil spirits duke it out downtown and turn landmarks into dust. It's a bit easier for the mind to conjure up a picture like that when it's occurring on main street in 'insert your town name here' as opposed to on main street in Seattle.

When planning a primary location for a horror story, consider first what type and what magnitude of horror you plan to inflict on it. That should assist you in making the decision as to whether you should scope out a map, or pull a name out of the air.

When it comes to crime fiction however, I think it's a whole different ballgame. You have pretty much a free reign when it comes to this genre. I personally have always been intrigued with the nameless, rainy, always-on-the-edge-of-nightfall type of place. This type of location seems to invite any and all types of crime. You don't have to be concerned with what hotel the killer is hiding in or what streets the police are staking out. Make them up as you go along. Concentrate on the characters, the events, the suspense, the chase... If you are going to use a real place to base your story in, that works really well for crime fiction since crime can happen anywhere. Too, you don't have to limit yourself to certain types of crimes or certain types of criminals either. Anything goes. But again, I cannot stress enough the importance of accuracy.

With crime fiction, you are not dealing with giant lizards or ghosts from the great beyond. You are writing about people. Now your criminals are going to be crazy, cruel, clever, psychotic, dangerous, whatever qualities you decide to give them, but remember, they will still be people. I think the reader will be much more sensitive to the accuracy of a location when the human element is involved. They will not be caught up in so and so's sharp talons or capabilities with casting spells. They will be paying very close attention to what apartment building the victim lives in that the killer is stalking. Maybe they were born there. Or, they will be trying to picture themselves standing in line at the bank on the corner of wherever when the armed robbers storm in, since they just opened an account there last week.

Again, if you plan to use real places, never guess and hope no one will notice. People love to read stories that are based in their home state, city, town, whatever, and they will be watching you like a hawk to make sure you did the place justice. Make up your locations from start to finish or do plenty of research or even visit the place you decide to use to familiarize yourself with it and those who live there. That's important too, you see, if you want to keep it believable. If people who live in a small town are a very close-knit group and hesitant to accept outsiders, you wouldn't want to have your character arrive one morning and be greeted with open arms and a ticker-tape parade. It just won't do.

Whatever genre you're working with, your base location is very important. It will not only help you to grab your readers, it will most certainly help you to hold on to them too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Title Anyone?

Let's begin at the beginning, shall we? Whether the tale be crime or horror, novel or short story, the title is critical. This is the first thing the reader will ingest; well, not exactly the first. The first will be your cover art. Unfortunately, a lot of us really don't have a whole lot to say about that, especially when it comes to your first few publishing accomplishments. So, let's just bypass the cover art issue and deal with the title. How do you choose it?

Well, one thing to consider when selecting an appropriate title for your work is to consider what drives the story, events or characters. This is tough to put into words, but readers, and writers alike, will understand. You can tell if a tale is event driven or character driven just by reading it. Which is not to say that an event driven piece does not have interesting or well developed characters or character driven pieces have no relevant occurrences. This is simply to say which has more power in your story. Are the events in and of themselves where your focus lies and the characters an integral component of them? Or, are the characters, their lives, the workings of their minds, their pasts, and their relationships the foundation of your story and are the things that happen to them simply a result of who they are, and therefore, inevitable?

I know this sounds like a lot of double-talk, but you really can tell the difference. It's, as I said before, just kind of hard to explain. Anyway, depending on what drives your piece, that will most certainly play a big role in what title you choose. A lot of books concerning the old west are titled with the names of the towns they are based in. A lot of mysteries, and horror stories as well, are titled with the name of the main character. You know which ones I mean. These are perfect examples of what drives those particular stories.

Horror story titles can do well with the name of a creature or a spooky place or some such thing, but crime fiction is a bit different. There's no reference that can be utilized to the crime itself since it didn't really happen, or the perpetrator since they don't really exist. So, what do you do?

For me, I try to look at the relationship between my 'good' character and my 'bad' character and try to come up with some phrase or image that sets the tone for their interaction, and I begin with that. Oftimes, my 'working' title remains as my 'final' title; although, there have been occasions when, following completion of a project, I replace the title in its entirety after I have a better feel for where the story has gone.

It's not an easy process; for me, anyway. The title is very important and it has to be 'just right'. How many times have we glanced on the rows of books on a store shelf and slid right by most of them just based on the title? There may have been quite a number of very interesting stories in between those covers, but we pass them up based on our first impression, which was based on the title alone. Crazy? Maybe. But, books ARE judged by their covers...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hello, everyone!

I am new to this site and I look forward to meeting you all. First, let me provide a bit of background.

Currently, I am working on my second crime fiction novel, and a horror short story. I am also participating in ViNoWriMo, and plan to participate in NaNoEdMo. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these writing events, NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, where participants write a 50,000+ word novel during the month of November. The subject is at the discretion of the writer, as is the genre. It is submitted for a final word count, and winners receive a certificate. ViNoWriMo is Vicious Writers Novel Writing Month, where participants write a 50,000+ word novel during the month of January, and the winner receives a $500 prize and publication on their site. The genre is open to the writer, but Vicious Writers provide the subject the novel should focus on, which makes for an interesting variation. NaNoEdMo is the National Novel Editing Month which takes place in March, where participants log in editing hours. Generally, this time is used to edit their NaNo project to hopefully edit it down to a marketable level and possible sell it.

Working on all these projects keeps me very busy, but I'm sure everyone out there will agree that it is important to write, write, and then write some more. I very much enjoy weaving a tale of mystery, suspense, or horror, sometimes all simultaneously! Sure makes for interesting dinnertime conversation!