Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Devil of it is...

"Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man."

In the Manichean struggle the Devil is the ultimate villain. No small wonder then that many supernatural stories feature this deity as a consummate character. Whether you believe in the existence of a god or his opposite, most people are fascinated by the idea of a being who has all the most undesirable characteristics of human frailty. In many cultures that being is the Devil.
The Devil (or Satan), in Christian culture is always supposedly the fallen angel, Lucifer. But according to the bible the devil has many names (including Amadeus and Mephistopheles) and all associated with much evil doing. “What is thy name? My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark 5:9
‘The Satan’ first appears in the bible as a messenger sent by God. He was used as a catalyst in the story of Job where he acted as a tempter and accuser. In the story of Adam and Eve he is described as a ‘powerful wicked angel’ who led the plot against humankind by tempting Eve. For this act God threw him and his henchmen out of heaven and thus he became known as 'the Devil who rules the kingdom of darkness and subsumes all evil powers'. He tempts people to evil doings and is also known as ‘The Great Deceptor’ for appearing disguised as an angel of light.
 Despite the murky origins of this so-called fallen angel we do also find the devil appearing in other religions too (in Islam he is known as Shaitan). Whatever the truth (or your own beliefs), everyone understands the significance of good versus evil and the Devil (Satan or whatever) has come to be known as the personification of evil in this world.
So, what a fabulous plot device to use in a story? The ultimate antagonist. And because none of the origins or the stories around the entity can be verified you can use him howsoever you wish! Such brilliant fodder for creating conflict and suspense… And a great adversary for the hero/heroine of a supernatural thriller story…
Have you used the Devil in your stories? Do you think it is still acceptable in this day and age of technology to use an ancient deity?


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Premonitions - To See or Not To See?

Premonitions may be quite useful in thriller writing – they can and do indicate future events (often going horribly wrong) and they can be arbiters of death, dying or even some cataclysmic world-wide happenings.
Premonitions fascinate us because our understanding of how things can be foretold (or foreseen) without the aid of the usual human senses does not lie within the normal limits of our innate abilities. How can a person look into the future and – some would say - why would a person want to look into the future?
Through the ages, from time immemorial, there are countless instances and stories about premonitions and seeing future events that could not possibly have been foreseen. Or so it seems…I think most of us would agree that there are stories where we are stumped for answers and a quick straw poll of any largish group of people would, I am sure, come up with one or two stories that defy the laws of existence. And it all adds to the mystery…
One of the most famous people who claimed to foresee the future was, of course, Nostradamus. His writings and prophecies are with us still today – 500 years later. When I looked up his work and his life I found the following:
“Recent research suggests that much of Nostradamus’ prophetic work paraphrases collections of ancient ‘end of the world’ prophecies (mainly Bible-based), supplemented with references to historical events and anthologies of omen reports. He then projects those into the future in part with the aid of comparative horoscopy. Hence the many predictions involving ancient figures such as Sulla, Gaius Marius, and Nero, as well as his descriptions of "battles in the clouds" and "frogs falling from the sky."
But even when all the charlatans are taken out of the equations we still remain fascinated with the idea that some people can predict the future and some ordinary people can have ‘once in a lifetime’ premonitions ( especially about a loved one).
In my own writing (The Witcheye Gene) I used the concept for one of my characters but the visions only came about because of a particular familial characteristic of different colored eyes. And it was quite limited otherwise it can seem contrived and in the worst way seem like a ‘deus ex machina’ . But I did find it quite fascinating to research and include it in my plot. It actually ratcheted up the tension when one person could foresee something but no one else believed them.
Do you beleive some people can 'see' the future in some form or another? Have you ever used the idea in your own writing?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Vile Villains with Redeemable Flaws!

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 make 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 (I just love that word!) 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 the villain 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 he/she is a horror/supernatural villain, he may have no redeeming features at all. 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 through and through evil which we may assume him to be. 
 Always, 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. And more importantly more believable…
Do you give your villains a small touch of the nice-ies?


Thursday, 13 September 2012

Viva La Blog!

Viva La Blog!


I have been blogging for quite a while now and I absolutely love doing it – even though I am sometimes pushed for time. It’s a busy busy world, I fear…

I have relished reading many folks’ blogs (although actually wished I hadn’t visited with just a few) and I love the chit chat with commenting and reciprocating. I feel as if I have made many new friends, whom I will probably never meet, but I feel I know them reasonably well anyway. Their lives, I have learnt are just as full on as my own and I realise I am not the only one who sometimes struggles to keep all the balls in the air. Linking to other people’s blogs and joining in blog hops, tours etc. is also great fun.

One of the other great things about blogging, I have found, is that it sharpens my writing up and gets me to practise being brief and concise without losing any of the essence of what I am trying to say.  In fact, I would say I am probably a better writer because of blogging. I am constantly stimulated and enriched by reading other blogs – I never realised there were so many interesting and innovative bloggers out there. .. Fine fodder for inspiration and good story ideas!!

 I used to worry about the time it takes up but nowadays I am much more chilled out about it as I realise it is actually helping me become a better writer.  It is teaching me something else too – perseverance! When I started I had no followers or readers and rarely did anyone say anything useful to me. Now I get so much from my comments and loads of advice and tips about writing generally, that I sometimes feel a little swamped. But it all comes directly from blogs. Viva La Blog!!!

BUT I do have one or two small gripes… (Please bear with me as I’m sure other people might agree with me.)

Why do people use the captcha? I know it is supposedly more secure but it makes me want to scream.  I have sometimes spent more of my precious time trying to get it right than I did reading and writing a comment! I refuse to do it anymore. If I cannot get it right the first time now I am inclined to leave it! Which is a shame when I have read a post and have something to say… It also makes me wonder if those bloggers really want comments when they are making their readers jump through hoops.  The reader should always come first in our thoughts and plans – I say!

The second gripe is about the length of some blog posts! I do not have time to scroll and read through great long excerpts or ‘all around the garden’ opinions. Please, please be brief-ish! I for one will be much more likely to return and read future posts.

There! Gripe done! I feel so much better…

 Do you have blogging gripes? or am I on my own?

Monday, 10 September 2012

Airy Scary..


Atmosphere, in my opinion, is one of the most difficult things to grasp in writing thriller fiction. In my own preferred genre it is perhaps a little more clear-cut as all speculative-type fiction should be suffused with a sense of the unnatural or unknown. A kind of fearful anticipation of what could happen or what might happen - that is beyond our normal understanding.
But I think atmosphere is important in so many other ways. It creates certain expectations in a reader that must then be lived up to.
Atmosphere is created by various things. Settings help to a large extent and so do characters themselves but also the language used can also create atmosphere. But the atmosphere must fit with the story and so it is something I always give a great deal of thought to before I even begin writing.
I suppose the easiest atmosphere to imagine is a scary one such as the type used in ghost stories. The clichéd haunted house that creaks and moans or the fog- shrouded moor that hides dark secrets. The hooting of owls and wild life at night - or the abnormal absence of the same!

Other types of genre fiction have their own clichés, of course. I do believe atmosphere is closely related to the emotion you are trying to elicit in your reader. If you wish your reader to feel anger than an unpleasant atmosphere (or setting) will help. If you are looking for a tender emotion then a romantic setting may help. However it is not just about setting. A harsh factory floor can be made atmospheric and romantic with the right words and actions.
The trick (and the challenge) is to create your own sense of atmosphere to embed in your story, without it being clichéd. More difficult than it seems, I feel. For atmosphere is ethereal and like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder ( apologies for the cliché).
Do you find it easy to develop a sense of atmosphere that fits with the story/genre?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

By The Pricking Of My Thumbs...

Wickedly Wicked

Wicked!  I just love that word. It conjures up images of witches and wizards for me and I always think of the late 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. Whoever said language was not 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 something evil quite as succinctly as ‘wicked’. It goes best with villainous characters and horrific deeds.

To the wicked, everything serves as pretext.” Voltaire said.  A wonderful quote, indeed... I think one could weave an entire story around some of the quotes about wickedness.
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?


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Inspirational Eureka Moments

My dictionary tells me’ inspiration’ can be ‘a good idea, creative influence or stimulus’. In terms of writing, that definitely fits the bill! But my idea of inspiration is not a flash of insight or a good idea but moments when my dear friend, Mary Muse is sitting on my shoulder.
My friend Mary calls at some odd times and sometimes when I desperately need her, she doesn’t visit at all! But all is not lost, as almost always when I need inspiration, Mary comes calling eventually.
I believe inspiration is actually the end product of lots of subconscious thinking. And although inspiration can suddenly arrive – almost a ‘eureka moment’ – I often realise belatedly, that my brain was working on the problem all the time – albeit in the background. It is moments like these that make me persevere when I have a problem with my plot or the mechanics of writing seem to be going nowhere. It is what makes me come alive and sparkle with enthusiasm at some new idea that has abruptly come to me. It restores my faith that I knew what I was doing all the time (even when, in my heart of hearts, I knew that was not the case).
A frequent quote I have come across a few times in the blogosphere is “all who wander are not lost” and whilst I cannot recall where this comes from, I do know it is certainly true of my own writing. Sometimes I do seem to wander all over the place and even get totally off course with my story but there is always a way to salvage things and that is when my muse is most often helpful as it may even suggest a new direction or a new story line which makes the tale much better and enables me to feel inspired and filled with renewed passion for my writing.
It was just such an inspirational moment when it occurred to me to put two ideas I had been considering for a story, together and tie a known historical event - the plague in 1665 - in to a contemporary story of mother love and murder. The result was  The Afterlife of Darkmares  - my latest offering...
Does your muse visit you at crucial times? Does inspiration come easily to you?