(Excerpt from Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them)
Blank page. Blinking cursor . . . Now what?
As an illustration, I’ll use one of my own genres, horror. In a way, the horror genre is an easy one to work with, but in another way, it’s extremely difficult because everything’s already been done to death — there are only so many monsters, only so many ways you can kill somebody.
When I speak of horror, I refer to thrillers, suspense movies, monster movies and books, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, big bugs, small bugs, germs, ghosts, magic, mutants, future worlds, past worlds, bogeymen, alien planets, space creatures, pandemics, semi-heroes, and quasi-villains.
I’m not a fan of slasher movies because if I want to see something that real life, I’ll watch an American TV channel’s news broadcast. When I read a book or see a movie, I want to be transported into someone else’s made-up world that I can escape from — if I want — by either closing the book, clicking the remote, or walking out of the theatre.
The horror genre works like this:
- pick a current fear of the day (1980s it was AIDS);
- design a monster to best illustrate that fear (an Alien which, “undetected, gestates inside a human body”);
- develop some good-guy characters and some bad-guy characters (you’ll also need a few stereotypes for early disposal and to set the mood);
- stick them all together in a place they can’t get away from easily (on a rickety space ship Out There);
- let your characters figure a way out of it while the bad guys (opportunists looking for the ultimate weapon) oppose them at every turn; and
- then kill off the monster at the end.
There’s your book/movie with (usually) a wonderfully cathartic ending. (Alien spawned three sequels.)
Disguise Your Monster
Unless you’re writing for any religious publications which want the lessons to be totally transparent in order to parallel sacred writings, it’s best to disguise your issue/nugget/monster no matter what the genre. Readers, particularly children, don’t want anything fed to them. A story has more effect if we’ve had to figure out something on our own.
So pick a fear, a joy, a current issue, a current trend — whatever you want — and symbolize it. There’s the basis of your story.
Drop in Your People
Once you figure out what annoys, scares, disgusts, angers, or what might drive your character over the edge of sanity, then design a building, town, village, city, undersea world, planet, universe, or anything else that will challenge your character’s patience and/or safety the most, then ship, taxi, drive, beam up, fly, or otherwise transport him/her to where the worst possible situation for him/her is unfolding.
Next Post — will be May 14 (every two weeks for the next little while).
Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them: http://www.amazon.com/Really-Stupid-Writing-Mistakes-Avoid/dp/1479308226
… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction): http://www.amazon.com/Death-lAcadie-Kesk8a-Sherrill-Wark/dp/1511501154/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8