Monday, 28 May 2012

Zombies or Vampires?

Hi folks!
I've been away from blogland for the last week - a much needed break away from home, lying on a sunbed!!! But now I'm ready to get going again... My last a-z post is beckoning...

Z – Zombie
I find Zombie to be a strange word… My dictionary defines it as “a person appearing lifeless or apathetic”. Or in the case of horror stories “a corpse supposedly brought to life by supernatural means”.
A Zombie appears to be first mentioned in voodoo culture in Haiti and does refer to someone coming back from the dead. In popular culture zombies have been used to great effect in many horror movies. They are traditionally half rotted corpses with physical resemblance to people and ability to physically move but their brains and therefore any emotions or cognisance has gone. I think this may be why they are so scary when used in films and books. There is just no reasoning with them so they might as well be aliens!
I think nowadays, they are monsters who have become so caricatured that, in and of themselves, they do not scare so much, rather like Frankenstein. We are rather more sophisticated today and know that there are much scarier things than zombies. Besides, they have been overtaken by vampires, in this day and age…
But despite falling out of fashion, all monsters and superhuman beings can be scary if used in the right way, and as part of a rollicking good story, they can still be useful scaremongerers.

Do you think Zombies are past their sell by date? Do they scare you?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Ruling Passions - Yearning and Learning!

Y – Yearn

For this word we can interpret – for story purposes – what a character wants. The main driving force of good story telling is having a protagonist actually wanting something and if that character wants (or yearns for) something badly enough it can propel the whole story to its logical conclusion.
Character ‘wants’ was something I struggled with quite a bit early on in my writing. I never quite understood it for some time. But the when the penny finally dropped - what a difference it made to my story telling. For when a character is driven by a desperate need they will find extra determination to overcome obstacles and find inner strength where they did not know it existed.
‘Yearning for something’ is a stronger phrase than just ‘wanting something’. In my mind it even borders on desperation. Everyone has wants and needs but the character who yearns is usually so wrapped up in his longing that he will do almost anything to attain his goal. And that’s the kind of character I like in my stories!
Of course yearning for something is used as a main character tool in all stories (and in romance it is often used as a means of setting up tension when the love interest is unrequited) but for me, in writing thrillers, it is the ruling passion of what a character is striving to do or attain in the course of that story.
A great word, don’t you agree?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Xenophobia is scary!

X – Xenophobia
Fear of strangers or aliens is the dictionary definition of this word! And what a fabulous word it is to use when writing thrillers. I think it could almost be a spark for a damn good plot just on it’s own…
Fear, whichever way you use, it has been the engine for many a good thriller story. And it never matters whether the fear is real or imagined. If it is what the character feels then it is ‘real’. In fact, all the phobias are rich pickings for thriller writers. I can think of many stories where you never really know whether the character’s fear is justified or not until well into the tale or even at the absolute end.
What it actually means is that fear is an overwhelming emotion that we all recognise and indentify with. Who hasn’t imagined all sorts of creepy things when alone in the dark? And phobic fear is just as powerful to the person who suffers it. The outcome for both types of fear in a story is good old fashioned suspense! It is the stuff that keeps people turning the pages and biting their nails!
And keeping readers guessing is never a bad thing...
So do you have a phobic-type fear? Do you use it in your writing?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Afterlife of Darkmares

Hip hip hooray! My new novel  "The Afterlife of Darkmares" is now out!

Today I'm going to ski-p my A-Z posts in favour of telling you about my latest publication. So I am officially anouncing my new thriller here...

The novel is available on at present ( at a reduced price) but will soon be out on amazon too ( full price).

For anyone who is interested here is the back cover blurb:

When single mum Kate Linden’s disabled daughter dies unexpectedly she is stunned to find she is under suspicion of harming her. But Kate still has a 12year old son, Grif, who refuses to speak and is grappling with issues of his own – not least of which is his attachment to a supposedly imaginary friend. Kate’s relationship with her son is fraught as she struggles to make some kind of connection with him and also deal with her own intense grief.
Unbeknown to Kate, in 1665, a disastrous event - the plague - in a small Derbyshire village - has consequences that stretch into the 21st Century and Kate is blind to the fact that her son (feeling estranged from all around him) has unwittingly allowed an evil entity to awaken and threaten them all.
 Kate must now fight her own demons and accept help from unlikely sources if she is to save her son from a fate worse than death. The help finally comes from a sleep therapist, an elderly bereaved lady and Jeremiah, an old man who hovers between life and death on a life support machine…

So, does the cover say 'spooky' to you or not?

All opinions very welcome...

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The 'What if' (and other W's) Factor

W - What if, when, who why, where...

I was reading some old writing articles the other day and came across the 'write about what you know' advice. I think it should be amended to 'write about what you'd like to know' and what others might like to know...
The former overused adage, I believe, can easily block a writer and tie him/her to the mundane things in life - a perfect reason for a reader to become bored and put a story to one side.   People read to learn something or be entertained and unless you can add an element of difference, they will soon be unengaged.
The latter phrase 'write about what you'd like to know' may encourage a writer to think more about what makes interesting reading and may help to stop the same old tired plot lines being re-hashed.
After all, stories about futuristic scifi, vampires and ghosts would have never been written if we steadfastly stuck to 'what we know'. And writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz would be drawing unemployment checks!
Readers want to be taken out of their normal everyday worlds whatever the genre - whether it be soap stories, romance, adventure, mystery, or thriller. These genres still need some 'out there' plotlines or at best some exageration (or almost unbelievable aspect) of everyday life.  Even the soaps, meant to be a representation of ordinary folk and ordinary life, stretch our sense of credulity to the limit. 
Of course, introducing fanciful aspects is where the imagination comes into play. And this leads directly away from the 'write what you know' adage and invites you to ask the 'what if' question. For me this is the most exciting part of writing - allowing imagination to soar to the heavens.
I believe the 'what if' question should become the most asked question by fiction writers, whatever genre they write in.We need to make our stories as different as possible if they are to be noticed.
Asking the other 'W' questions also helps to add spice to a plot. Whenever I am planning a story they are the questions I constantly ask myself, but the 'what if' question is the most fascinating as you can let your imagionation run away with you and maybe turn a plot totally on it's head!
Having said that, readers do still need some elements of familiarity and stories still need to be believable - i.e. could it really happen like that? So 'write what you know' should still be in the mix.   I mean, what's wrong with setting 'kitchen sink dramas' in a futuristic world peopled by aliens?? What if that could really happen....

What do you think? Do you ask that question to get something different from your stories?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Wicked is as Wicked does - Villains!

V - Villains

"I have to go now, I'm having an old friend for dinner." (Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs)

Ha ha! Don't you just just love this amusing quote? I do...  But seriously, villains are the best things in story terms.
A story without some kind of villainous character is hardly a story, in my opinion. For every hero has to have someone (or something) that provides the adversarial context of a story.  And, as we all know, conflict equals trouble and trouble (when the main character has to fight to overcome obstacles) equals a good plot. A good villain ( flawed or not) is the most useful tool to achieve all this.

But to say a villain in a thriller story is flawed is like saying coal is black!
Of course a villain is flawed, I hear you say, otherwise he would be a pretty poor antagonist. A good villain has a personality that most of us would not aspire to as he may be capable of the most dastardly acts. I am however talking about a villain who may be flawed because he/she has some decent human traits that show us he isn’t totally bad. The only villain who could be said to be totally bad is the devil himself, I guess. Most others started out as innocent babies and children but maybe something happened to make them bad. Or maybe not – maybe they simply have more of the undesirable human traits in their genetic make up. Nasty traits do exist to some extent in all of us, but hopefully most people have control of those urges and anyway have more humanity and caring for fellow humans. 
How villainous a character is depends mostly on the type of story you are writing. If it is a love rival or a corporate executive he may not be so nasty in all areas of his life but on the other hand if it is a horror/supernatural villain he may have no redeeming features. For example a bad character may be wicked and malicious to people but may love animals! In this way he is a flawed character and not true to the caricature of evil which we may assume him to be. 
 So, when using villains, a suitable adversary/hero is necessary and it is the juxtaposition of their characters that allow the most conflict and tension in a story.  The hero who has faults is a much more interesting character than the perfect boring type of individual. I think we can relate better to him because he is flawed – as we all are too. Similarly, we all know people who we consider to be horrible individuals but we know (maybe deep down) they will have some redeeming characteristics too.
For me, giving my villains one redeeming human trait, amongst all the vicious, nasty ones, makes them much more interesting ( and indeed fun) and if their malevolent ways came about because of something that happened to them – well, it just makes them all the more intriguing. Not nice and not worth rooting for but maybe a little more human?
So, what do you think? Should villains always be totally bad people with no redeeming factors?