Tag Archives: Stephen King

31 Days of Spoooktacular: The Learning Curve (Part 2)

A few months ago I talked about reading older horror authors in order to see what had come before and learning from it. Just reading modern work is like reading the stuff that came before, but diluted, with six degrees of separation. You’ll see a little bit of Matheson and Lovecraft in a Stephen King novel, but it’s not the same thing as reading Matheson or Lovecraft.

The next author I chose was Robert E. Howard. Now, for the few of you who recognize his name, probably know that he created Conan. But you might not know that he was best friends forever with Lovecraft and that they cribbed from each other’s works.

I was not as enthralled with Howard the horror author as I was with Howard the Conqueror. His horror loses some of its punch because of his heroes. He’ll write a scene of depraved horror that will give you chills, vicious, awful stuff that surprised me with its vivid graphic-ness. But, in the middle of this scene, he plunks the square jawed hero, unflappable even in front of the frightful, mind-bendingly terrible. When the hero is in control almost at all times, it robs the scene of its fear. To be fair, not all of his stories featured Conan Lite running around, but his heroes were generally of sterner stuff than the average man and would triumph over their foes more often than not.

To me, horror succeeds better if there’s the potential for loss, if you honestly believe that the main characters are in peril. Stephen King knows this. That’s why he’ll lovingly describe a character’s backstory for ten pages and then off them unceremoniously. You have to believe that failure is possible, that it really might be curtains for the protagonist.

In terms of detail and fear soaked scenes of blood-curdling drama, Robert E. Howard gets an A+. For stories that are truly frightening, a B? That seems harsh. The man made Conan! But, in the long run, I think I learned a lot more from Matheson than from Howard.

-D-

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Learning the History

If there’s one thing that I’m particularly weak on, it’s my horror history. I don’t read a lot of horror to start and I read even less of the older examples of the genre. Sure, I’ll pick up some pulps or read more Lovecraft than can fill the forgotten tomb city of R’lyeh, but for the most part I stick to mysteries and detective novels and anything written by Stephen King.

But I think it’s long past time for me to go back to the old classics and relearn the old ways. I started with Lovecraft, because he is a compelling author, if stylistically repetitive after awhile. The more I read him, the more I like him and the more unnerving his stories are.

And then I went to Bradbury, because  he writes some truly chilling, relentless horror under the guise of Sci-Fi. “The Long Rain” and “Mars is Heaven!” are two of his creepier stories. “The Long Rain,” in particular, makes me want to curl into a ball and just stop reading. It seems never to end, much like the Venusian rain.

And now I’ve moved onto Richard  Matheson. Matheson, unlike the other two, is a writer with whom I’m only vaguely familiar. I’ve read I am Legend and I’ve read one or two of his short stories before, though only a few I’d call horror. But I picked up an audiobook recently of his horror works and he is a writer of singular tenacity. His usual M.O. involves an individual and then the slow, tearing down of that individual; a thorough dissection of them, either through their own idiosyncrasies or through external events beyond their ability to withstand.

It’s painful to sit through some of the stories, because they grind slow, but exceedingly fine and on some levels, they’re capable of making me uncomfortable and uneasy.

And I’m learning from him, learning about things that I can take away and add to my own fiction. It’s those little pieces that I’m looking to take away, to add to my abilities and tools as a writer.

And I think I have an idea.

-D-

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Paring It Down

For most people, editing is about excising. You trim out all of those unnecessary words and details and phrases and commas. You said too much. You described too much. You gave him too much to say. Stephen King even comes up with a basic formula for editing your story that goes as follows:

First Draft – Ten Percent= Second Draft

It’s one of the more difficult challenges for most writers because you have to determine what’s actually crap and what’s actually good, what actually helps the story and what hurts it. Even if that paragraph is utterly brilliant in terms of language and artistry and characterization, it’s unnecessary. And that’s the key word: unnecessary. Pare it down, clip it out, get rid of it, especially it doesn’t help the story go forward.

I don’t have that problem so much. Yes, I do clip out my fair share of badly used and superfluous words, but, for the most part, that’s not my problem. My problem is my first draft is always anemic and pared down already to the point that the story is skeletal. I’m an impatient reader and viewer and I’ll rail against authors who spend their sweet time getting where I want to be going. And when I write, I do the same thing. Why show this? The reader understands! Why show that? The reader can figure it out.

My murder mystery looks like the following: The body is found. The detective looks at the body. Ah-ha! He says. He captures the killer. Fin

I ignore little things, insignificant things like: personalizing the victim, describing the investigation, adding in a second murder to really kick it up a notch. I know the tropes and the cliches and the tools and the frameworks; I just choose not to utilize any of them because I want to go from A to B in the fewest number of steps.

So my editing process ends up being the exact opposite of Mr. King’s advice. I fatten. I add. I write more pages and boost the word count way up and flesh it out and grow it out. It’s the process of adding flesh to a skeleton. For me and for writers like me, it’s more:

First Draft + Twenty Percent = Second Draft

What about you? How does editing work for you? What do you have to do after completing that first draft?

-D-

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Book Review: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

I’ve had a long history with Stephen King’s books. When I was twelve, I read my first King book (It, I chose it because it had a monster hand coming out of a sewer grate) and I wasn’t able to finish it for six months because it scared the shit out of me.

I’ve read (pretty much) everything he’s written since then, so keep that in mind when I say that Full Dark, No Stars is one of the grimmer books he’s written.

As he says in the afterword, the stories are all about people in difficult and trying circumstances and what they have to do to get out of them. There are four novellas, starting with “1922” which opens with a farmer confessing to the murder of his wife and what happens to him and his after the crime’s been committed. The cheerfulness factor maintains at about that level throughout. “Big Driver” is a revenge story, “A Fair Extension” is about a deal with the devil, and “A Good Marriage” asks how well you can truly know the person you’re married to.

And it’s a grimness that I could dig. Both “1922” and “Big Driver” are creepy and entertaining, though it’ll probably be a while before I reread either. And “A Good Marriage” is my favorite King story to come out in a while.

“A Fair Extension” was, for me, the weakest of the lot. It was dark without any real weight behind, feeling more mean for meanness sake than to drive a plot home. And I didn’t get the references to major events and tabloid news stories throughout the story.

Aside from “A Fair Extension”, I really enjoyed the collection. It made me giddy and happy and depressed and creeped out all at once, and I think that’s the best one can expect from good horror.

Dylan Charles

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A Rough Beast Slouches Toward October to Be Born

As Halloween draws ever closer, it becomes clearer to the people closest to me that I’m going completely and utterly insane. I’ll spend hours watching the Friday the 13th movies over and over again. I’ll leap from unlikely places and frighten old ladies. I’ll cover myself in red corn syrup and run through the streets giggling and brandishing a rubber knife.

This cannot be helped.

The best thing you can do during this time of year is to curl into the fetal position and hope I go away.

Or you can roll with it and tell yourself that it’s only once a year.

For those who go with the second option, you’re very much in luck: I will be spending the next few weeks writing blog entries to help everyone get into the proper Halloween spirit. Whether it’s lengthy diatribes about the current state of horror movies or me talking about the merits of certain horror authors or me dispatching yet another local ghost, you WILL be well suited to meet the Halloween season head on.

So stay tuned loyal, yet few, readers, because by the time October rolls around, you’re not going to even want to think about Halloween you’ll be so saturated.

Excitement!

Dylan Charles

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Anticipation

There’s something you should know about me: I am straight up crazy.

Now I can already hear you saying, “But Dylan, we already knew that. Why are you making a special mention of it today?”

Well I’ll tell you Hypothetical Reader. It’s getting pretty close to that time. And you know what time of year I’m talkin’ about too: Halloween time.

Now, I know some of you are looking at me askance while the rest of you are rolling your eyes, but if one takes into account that stores begin marketing holidays a month and a half before the day, then really, Halloween time starts mid-September. So is it really so crazy that I get excited around August?

I’ve always loved Halloween. It’s a love that comes from the same place that loves horror movies and Stephen King novels and paintings by Bosch. It’s the one time of year where I can indulge in my morbid idiosyncrasies and blend in, rather than stand out. But, for once, my vast knowledge of horror comes in handy, rather than marking me as an oddity.

Hell, by the standards of other people during Halloween, I’m downright lowkey. I don’t do a lot of dressing up and running around the city. My only problem will be that, this year, I won’t have a way to properly celebrate. I’m in no way going to do Thirty-One Days of Horror again. So I need to find something else to do. Suggestions?

Dylan Charles

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