Monday, 28 November 2011

Ghostly Encounters of the Terrifying Kind...


Coming from a medical/science background as I do, I do not really believe in Ghosts but, like many people do accept that there are some things (the hereafter for instance) that we know little about. Ghosts and the belief in all things spiritual is one area that fascinates most people even though the common sense part of their brains tell them it’s so much bunkum. The existence (or not) of ghosts has been the subject of many research projects dating back as far as anyone can remember and yet the phenomenon continues to confound experts as the reality cannot be proved beyond doubt one way or the other.
For me, as a writer, humanity’s belief in ghosts is great fictional material and I unashamedly use it in my stories – when appropriate.
Some things you may not have known about ghosts:
Ghosts are universal and (with different names) exist in every culture in the world. Belief in their existence goes back centuries to pre-literate culture. Indeed the great poet Homer talks of the ‘spirits of death’ standing about in their thousands, in the Iliad.
Ghosts are considered unnatural and undesirable as they are seen to come from a place we know nothing about so we are therefore naturally fearful. However not all ghostly encounters are threatening as ghosts can sometimes be viewed as benign guides with messages for the living and/or unfinished business in this life.
 Ghosts can sometimes be known as revenants. A revenant comes from folklore and is a visible ghost or animated corpse (un-dead) returned from the grave to seek revenge or terrorise the living.
The airy, ethereal apparition which is usually associated with visible sightings of ghosts may have emanated from the belief that the soul or spirit of a person resides within them and at death leaves the body from the mouth as a breath-type mist. In the Bible, God animates Adam with a breath.
The appearance of ghost or spirits is often seen as a bad omen or portent of death.
In a recent survey it was found that approximately one third of Americans believe in spirits or ghosts.
Finally, many classical writers and poets since time immemorial have used spirits or ghostly apparitions in their works - from Homer to Shakespeare, Dickens, Wilde, Milton and Coleridge. Never mind Poe and other actual horror writers. So, to my mind those of us who occasionally use ghosts and spirits in our stories are in good company – even if we can only aspire to the lofty heights our predecessors rose to.
Do you enjoy a good ghost story?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Wicked is as Wicked Does!

By the Pricking of my Thumbs...
I just love that word. It conjures up images of witches and wizards for me and I always think of Ray Bradbury‘s brilliant novel “Something wicked this way comes”. He took his inspiration from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, of course.
Nowadays it is used by young people as a replacement for the word ‘brilliant’ or something similar. It is also associated with the word ‘cool’ – as in something or someone being ‘hip’ or current. Language is definitely a living, breathing, changeable entity!
Anyway, I digress. What I mean to talk about is the original proper use of the word. When I looked it up in my dictionary it said it meant evil or sinful. But then there was a whole host of harsh words from ‘abominable’ to ‘abased’ to ‘shameful’ and ‘vicious’. In fact over fifty similar words! Many of which I have used time and again in my own supernatural thriller writing.
But nothing says evildoer quite as succinctly as ‘wicked’. It goes best with villainous characters and horrific deeds. A good word like this can be as helpful in horror/thriller writing as love is in romance writing. But it can equally be much overused and abused.
Do you have favourite words that you feel inclined to use more often than not?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Conspiracy versus Madness...

Who 's out to get you? Are we all hiding yet?
Conspiracy Theory or Paranoia Gone Mad…
“ Whenever God prepares evil for a man, he first damages his mind, with which he deliberates”, (Anonymous)
So – have the lunatics taken over the asylum or are we all simply paranoid?
This, of course has been the fascinating subject matter of many a good novel and/or film. My all time favourite was ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’.
When it works well, I think this type of tale is pretty clever as the reader is never quite sure what is happening or even who is the goody or who is the baddy.  I suppose this is the ultimate ‘twist in the tale’ story. Indeed, I have been toying with an idea of this kind for my next book.
The main character who thinks certain people are out to get him even though those people appear to be doing everything in their power to help and assist him, is often the hapless victim who everyone thinks is paranoid. He faces an uphill battle (often against the perceived powers of the establishment) and can be the architect of his own downfall if no one believes him. He trusts no one and the reader is carried along by his inability to see the world as a half-decent place. The antagonist (or baddy) is often the kind of person who, by the very nature of their job or calling, is someone all reasonable people would trust but who, in reality, is the villain  and the so-called ‘paranoid’ character is finally proved right!
Of course, if this simple plot idea is applied to whole organisations or even to world politics then you have the makings of a pretty good conspiracy thriller. Enter James Bond and countless other spy stories...
So, do you use this kind of double jeopardy in your stories?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Phobias - The Fear Factor

Phobias – The Fear Factor
“There is nothing to fear if you refuse to be afraid.” Ghandi
One of the most useful plot devices I’ve found is to give a character a phobia. It doesn’t have to be a major phobia – although many premises have used the more common phobias such as agoraphobia, (fear of open spaces) claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) or arachnophobia ( fear of spider.
Everyone knows and understands that a phobia is simply an irrational fear of something. But when a phobia is applied successfully to a character, it can lift that person right off the page and make them seem so real and relatable and it gives them a ready-made flaw.  Sympathy is easily engaged – as most of us have some irrational fears at some point.
That is not to say we are all irrational but - depending on circumstances - we all have the ability to act irrational under extreme duress. If a phobia is something that a main character is struggling with then that raises the stakes as it is yet anouther obstacle for the protagonist to overcome and it heightens tension and supense and makes the reader want the character to win that battle as well as succeed in the main story goal.
Phobias also give the writer the opportunity to twist and turn with the plot and have largely unexpected outcomes. In my first book, my main character had a phobia of mist, steam, fog etc. Mainly stemming from the fact that she was scared what the mist could be hiding… I had great fun with that one!
Although we talk about irrational fears, they are not truly irrational to the sufferer - only to other people who look on. Phobias do not just pop up from anywhere. A phobia may well be rooted in a character’s past. Sometimes so deeply hidden that the person has little insight as to where it came from in the first place. But dig a little and it will come to light. For instance my protagonist (as a very young child) discovered her mother dead in a steam filled bathroom – hence her abiding fear. But she barely remembered the incident as being in a steam filled room as she had been so traumatised by discovering her dead mother that she had suppressed the memory.
So, phobias – big and small - can definitely add spice to your story and can even help to bring your characters to life on the page.
Have you ever thought about using a phobia in your stories? 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Stories with an aura about them...


When I was writing my last book I thought it would be interesting to play around and use this Paranormal-type phenomenon. I was quite surprised when my research turned up the fact that it was not strictly true that it is entirely a paranormal/supernatural occurrence.
My dictionary defines an aura as “an atmosphere or quality of air considered as indicative of a person or thing” but I think that meaning is not quite the same thing. After all, I think we can all recognise that an angry person can exude a certain aggressive-kind of vibe. This person could be said to have an aura about them.
The other meaning of auras is to forewarn of impending epileptic attacks or migraines etc. These auras indicate the brain is signalling to the sufferer that it is about to happen. These auras can take different forms such as certain smells, sounds or tastes that are experienced by the individual. So an aura in this case can be an important early warning system.
 But the kind of aura I am talking about in supernatural thriller writing is the kind of aura where a person is said to have a luminous radiation of light or energy around them that can actually be seen by people who have special powers. There is lots of controversy about this phenomenon but in the land of the paranormal it is exactly the kind of thing that adds flavour and mysticism to a story. And allows a great deal of license in designing credible plot line… I think I used it to good effect when my character – who had a measure of supernatural power – could see a very dark aura around a character.
There are said to be 7 layers to an aura with each layer relating to different human characteristics, and each layer has different colours and different frequencies. So the light wavers and changes colour. Attributing characteristics or using the aura to highlight true motivation is also a useful plot device. For instance an aura could be red signifying suppressed anger or blue signalling calm and rationality. It could be orange for health and vitality or yellow for inspiration and intelligence. Black, of course, would be about evil intention or death… These are simply suggestions but I’m sure you can see how it could be used for good effect. Or maybe not…
In real terms, it seems that we all have an aura – even worms and insects have them – for they are simply magnetic energy fields. It’s just that most people cannot see these fields with the naked eye.
Makes for juicy story lines, though… Don’t you think?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

When not to add the kichen sink

 Premise - a promise in disguise!
Like many writers, when I am fired up by ideas and excitingly plotting a story, I tend to go overboard at first, and the kitchen sink can end up in there – not literally, of course. But I do, however, find I can very easily veer away from my main plot if I’m not careful and end up stumbling around, disenchanted and confused as to where my exciting first ideas have disappeared to.
This is where I find story premise a most helpful guide if used properly. It took me a while to fully understand this important tool but now I use it, quite easily, as a road map to stay on course during the working out of my plot and then the actual writing of my story. The very last thing a writer wants, I think, is to end up piling up thousands of words but wandering so far from the original plotlines that you end up having to cut much of it or, worse, changing the plot to fit what you’ve written! In my opinion that’s a recipe for a mish-mash that even the most astute reader cannot fathom.
Premise comes down to thinking about what the story is really all about? And that takes some figuring out sometimes. It’s about deciding what you are trying to say with your story – what is the message? For instance, is it about strong human emotion? Are you trying to say that no matter what, love can overcome all obstacles and lead to happiness? Or that hate leads to self destruction? Or that jealousy can lead to obsession and loss? (Just a couple of examples – I’m sure you can think of many of your own!).
The job of the thriller writer then, is to prove that premise by working out a plot, with all the pitfalls, obstacles and setbacks for the main characters as can be imagined. Not forgetting rising tension and suspense and adding subplots where necessary - these can all enrich the story… But, ultimately, the premise must rule and everything that happens in the story should contribute in some way to the premise being unequivocally proved at the end of the story.
You cannot start a story by deciding it is about love conquering all and end up with it being about a vengeful deed which succeeded. The reader will feel cheated because you promised one thing at the beginning and then delivered something else.
For me, reading James N Frey’s book (‘How to write damn good fiction’), in which he talks about premise, has been the most helpful regarding this important, in my opinion, aspect of writing fiction.
Do you agree that premise is important or not? Many writers do have a premise which is unstated but nevertheless they instinctively do stick to it. Are you one of these? Or do you just write and see where it takes you?