Bouchercon 2014: Experiencing Fear

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

One of my favorite mystery conferences is coming up: Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, this year taking place in Long Beach, California. I’m doing three panels, as well as playing a target in the surveillance training workshop (info here)!

But I’m especially excited to be moderating a panel on one of my favorite subjects:
Experiencing Fear: Dealing with Psychos, Stalkers, and Serial Killers



I suspect that pretty much every single darker writer of us has at some point gotten the question: “What’s a nice girl/boy like you doing writing stuff like THAT?” So I thought I’d ask my panelists, to give you a taste of the terror in store.

Maegan Beaumont: From a very young age, I’ve found myself intrigued by the darkness that can be found in others. While other little girls wanted to be ballerinas and take care of babies, I wanted to understand what it was that made people do the horrible things that they do. I’ve always had a love of psychology and I know where my own dark places are. Tapping into them has never been difficult for me and neither has finding my way back. I’m not sure what that says about me as a person and quite frankly, I’m not sure I want to.
Alison Gaylin: Ever since I was a kid, telling “screen scratcher” stories at slumber parties, I’ve loved the feeling of looking under that rock – of experiencing my own worst fears by saying them out loud, within the controlled, safe environment of fiction. I find that as I get older, though, my worst fears are markedly different. When I first started writing suspense, I was writing mainly about murderous psychopaths. But now, I find that the things that keep me up at night are more mundane and, well, possible… The idea that we never really know anyone, even those we love, even our own children. The idea that the kindest, most loving person can hold in her heart the darkest secrets. The idea that making one wrong turn in life can have the power to ruin everything .. While I still enjoy a good murderous psychopath story as much as the next person, that’s the type of thing I find most frightening these days.



Alex Marwood: Well, I think I’ve always got gut-wrenching pleasure from the dark stuff, right from

when I was a wee thing. I suspect it might be as basic as learning how to access endorphin rushes at an early age, but In a way my reasons for writing it are as simple as ‘I enjoy it so I want to make some more’. I’ve always taken huge pleasure in nightmares, and they’ve often come in handy for plot solutions/ images that ultimately become disturbing on the page. But I don’t think I’m working through anything personal so much as exploring the strangeness of human nature – the illogicalities and bad decision-making and self-justifications and response to events of chance that can occasionally add up to very bad things indeed.

On the subject of dreams, though, my father died in the summer, and my dreams – which are usually rich and wild with a mad narrative thread – stopped dead for several months, as did my writing. I assume it was just a symptom that I wasn’t getting down to proper REM sleep, but it’s been a weird time, waking up as tired as when I went to bed and with a deeply uncomfortable blankness where my imaginative brain used to be. The relief of finally waking up realising I’d had a nightmare was huge.



Alexandra Sokoloff: As a woman I’ve always been compelled to write about these subjects. Let’s face it – women have a lot to say about fear, and violence, and horror. We live with all of those things on a much more intimate and everyday level than most men (men in non-warring countries) do. A walk out to the parking lot from the grocery store can on any given night turn into a nightmare from which some women will never fully recover. I think security expert and author Gavin DeBecker got it exactly right when he said “A man’s greatest fear about a woman is that she’ll laugh at him. A woman’s greatest fear about a man is that he’ll kill her.”

Women know what it’s like to be prisoners in their own homes, what it’s like to be enslaved, to be stalked, to be prostituted, what it’s like to be ultimately powerless. And they know everything there is to know about rage, even when it’s so deeply buried they don’t know that’s what it is they’re feeling. But the great, cathartic thing for me about good mysteries, thrillers, horror, suspense – is that you can work through those issues of good and evil. You can walk vicariously into those perilous situations and face your fears, and sometimes triumph.



Kate White: I read true crime stories from the time I was very young

and have always been intrigued.


It never seemed strange to me to be reading about serial killers or women who killed their own children. It was just part of trying to understand what it means to be human. Humans do the most inhuman things.









William P. Wood: I’m not sure I had a choice after being a prosecutor for about five years. I ended up encountering things that people would do to others or themselves that were otherwise unimaginable. It turns out I don’t have much of an imagination and for every novel, TV show, or nonfiction book I’ve written, the dark and darker incidents of those years pop up almost on their own, like George III in “David Copperfield”. Sometimes the greatest terror or fear came out of crimes a lot less horrifying on the surface than murder or serial killing. People were devastated to the point of utter hopelessness by random acts of evil they got caught up in. When I came to write, these darker sides of human experience as reflected through the sometimes inadequate forms of trial and punishment that I knew very well, just naturally manifested themselves, like Marley’s ghost.


I think you can see why I’m excited about getting deep into this subject with this group! For those of you who are attending Bouchercon (many of you, I hope…) the panel will be Saturday October 15, 4:30 PM-5:30 PM, in Regency B.


More information here: Experiencing Fear.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

10.27.14

By JT Ellison

It’s 6:00 p.m., and I haven’t gotten a thing done on the WIP, because the edits came in for WHAT LIES BEHIND! I haven’t seen this book in two months, so I’m excited to dig in and reacquaint myself with the story. And of course, I had a fun conversation with my editor about the eerie timeliness of the book — at it’s heart, it’s about an attack on the U.S. using an Ebola-esque hemorrhagic virus. Yeah. Topical much?

I had a heck of a time writing it, too because the concept was developed last year and I was more than halfway through the story well before the outbreak, and as the outbreak continued to spread, I kept having to change the book so it didn’t look like I’d stolen the story from the headlines. Because I, apparently, am simply too prescient when it comes to writing about current events. I remember months ago, telling my agent about my struggles, and he asked if it was at all possible for Ebola to spread in the US. And I assured him it was. To New York, he asked? Oh, yeah, I answered. Hard to spread, because of the nature of transmission, but we’ll have a few cases here and there. Trust me, I know way too much about everything that’s happening right now.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a coincidence like this in my writing. As a matter of fact, it seems to happen with alarming frequency. Perhaps I need to start writing books about people winning the lottery and cancer being cured and the alleviation of grief and suffering. It’s a thought.

My parents are coming for a visit tomorrow. I have all kinds of things planned, and went shopping tonight and bought all their favorite foods. Made a nice big pot of chicken soup for dinner, too, so the house smells like salt and warmth and happiness.

The larder is full, the edits await, the minions have been gifted with a new catnip trout, and the soup is bubbling away. I call it a day well spent, even though I wrote not a single word.

Wait. Does the blog count?

null

Via: JT Ellison

    

Costumes Ripped From the Headlines

By JD Rhoades

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

So, got your Halloween costume yet? I remember a time when asking an adult that question would have gotten you, at best, a quizzical look. Back when I was a kid, Halloween was strictly for the youngsters, roaming the neighborhood in packs with a harried (and normally dressed) adult in tow. Or maybe that’s just how I remember it.

The costumes of my early youth tended to be mass-produced polyester and cheap plastic representations of popular cartoon characters or superheroes, picked up at Rose’s or some other department store, although from time to time a creative (or broke) mom would attempt to handcraft one, using things like bathroom rugs for lion fur, toilet paper for mummy wrappings, and tin foil taped clumsily over cardboard for shields, armor and metal robot “skin.” The results tended to be, shall we say, mixed.
Soon, however, adults started getting into the fun and dressing up for their own Halloween parties. Homemade costumes became more elaborate and professional-looking. Irony, sarcasm and satire became common design elements, along with more elaborate pop culture or news references.
(One of my all-time favorites was a group Pac-Man costume, with four people dressed in different-colored sheets chasing a fifth in a cardboard full-body Pac-Man outfit … until on a pre-arranged signal, they all began flashing lights beneath the sheets and running as “Pac-Man” chased them.)
Then commercial costume companies began to see the seasonal bucks to be made in the adult market. Now, you don’t have to go far on the Internet or elsewhere to see a full panoply of costumes for adults. I have to tell you, folks, some of them truly boggle the mind.
Which makes this the perfect time for another round of one of my favorite games, “Truth or Parody?” In this special Halloween edition, I’ll describe a costume and you decide whether it’s real or just something I made up.
I’ve written before about the disturbing plethora of “sexy” costumes, like “Sexy Policewoman,” “Sexy Witch,” and even “Sexy SpongeBob,” which I’d really rather not think about too much, if you don’t mind. But are the following outfits real, or are they the creations of my demented mind?
1. “Sexy Minion,” which turns any female into a version of the adorable little yellow dudes from the “Despicable Me” movies, with goggles, blue coveralls and blue suspenders.
2. “Sexy Darth Vader”: You won’t need the Force for all eyes to be on you!
3. “Sexy ISIS fighter”: Complete with plastic machine gun and beheading knife.
Then there are costumes based on recent news. Such as:
4. The “Ebola Worker” costume: Dresses the wearer up as a health care provider trying desperately not to get infected with a horrible hemorrhagic fever.
5. The “Malaysian Airlines Flight 370” Costume: This one’s pretty inexpensive, since it just requires you to not show up for the party while all your friends engage in hare-brained speculation about what happened to you.
Give up? Here are the answers:
— “Sexy Minion”: Not only is this one real, there are multiple versions of it. Ladies, like “Sexy SpongeBob,” if your significant other wants to get frisky with you while you’re dressed in this one, some serious reconsideration of the relationship may be in order.
— “Sexy Darth Vader”: Also real. This one, from Party City, features, and I quote, a “black corset with boning detail and a lace-up back,” a black hooded cape, and “flirty sequin boyshorts.” I wish I could unsee that description, but since I can’t, I figured I’d share it.
— “Sexy Isis Fighter”: Not yet, at least not commercially, but the people who make the next entry are threatening a “toddler ISIS fighter costume.”
— “Ebola Worker”: Yep, it’s real. The online company “Brands On Sale” promises that its “Ebola Containment Suit Costume,” which provides the wearer with a face shield, breathing mask, goggles, coverall and gloves, will be the “most ‘viral’ costume of the year.” I suppose we should be grateful that there’s no “Sexy Ebola Fighter” costume.
—Yes, this one’s a joke.

Too soon? Bad taste? Hey, don’t blame me, blame reality. And/or Halloween. Me, I think I’ll just haul out my trusty bandanna and eye patch and go as a pirate again. Arrrh!

Author’s note: It appears I spoke too soon about the Sexy Ebola costume…

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

Nanowrimo Prep: What's the PLAN?

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Today I want to review what I think it the key to any second act, and really the whole key to story structure: The PLAN.

You always hear that “Drama is conflict,” but when you think about it – what the hell does that mean, practically?

It’s actually much more true, and specific, to say that drama is the constant clashing of a hero/ine’s PLAN and an antagonist’s, or several antagonists’, PLANS.

In the first act of a story, the hero/ine is introduced, and that hero/ine either has or quickly develops a DESIRE. She might have a PROBLEM that needs to be solved, or someone or something she WANTS, or a bad situation that she needs to get out of, pronto.

Her reaction to that problem or situation is to formulate a PLAN, even if that plan is vague or even completely subconscious. But somewhere in there, there is a plan, and storytelling is usually easier if you have the hero/ine or someone else (maybe you, the author) state that plan clearly, so the audience or reader knows exactly what the expectation is.

And the protagonist’s plan (and the corresponding plan of the antagonist’s) actually drives the entire action of the second act. Stating the plan tells us what the CENTRAL ACTION of the story will be. So it’s critical to set up the plan by the end of Act One, or at the very beginning of Act Two, at the latest.

Let’s look at some examples of how plans work.

I’m going to start, improbably, with the actioner 2012, even though I thought it was a pretty terrible movie overall.

Now, I’m sure in a theater this movie delivered on its primary objective, which was a rollercoaster ride as only Hollywood special effects can provide. Whether we like it or not, there is obviously a massive worldwide audience for movies that are primarily about delivering pure sensation. Story isn’t important, nor, apparently, is basic logic. As long as people keep buying enough tickets to these movies to make them profitable, it’s the business of Hollywood to keep churning them out.

But in 2012, even in that rollercoaster ride of special effects and sensations, there was a clear central PLAN for an audience to hook into, a plan that drove the story. Without that plan, 2012 really would have been nothing but a chaos of special effects.

If you’ve seen this movie (and I know some of you have … ), there is a point in the first act where a truly over-the-top Woody Harrelson as an Art Bell-like conspiracy pirate radio commentator rants to protagonist John Cusack about having a map that shows the location of “spaceships” that the government is stocking to abandon planet when the prophesied end of the world commences.

Although Cusack doesn’t believe it at the time, this is the PLANT (sort of camouflaged by the fact that Woody is a nutjob), that gives the audience the idea of what the PLAN OF ACTION will be: Cusack will have to go back for the map in the midst of all the cataclysm, then somehow get his family to these “spaceships” in order for all of them to survive the end of the world.

The PLAN is reiterated, in dialogue, when Cusack gets back to his family and tells his ex-wife basically exactly what I just said above: “We’re going to go back to the nutjob with the map so that we can get to those spaceships and get off the planet before it collapses.”

And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happens; it’s not only Cusack’s PLAN, but the central action of the story, that can be summed up as a CENTRAL QUESTION: Will Cusack be able to get his family to the spaceships before the world ends?

Or put another way, the CENTRAL STORY ACTION is John Cusack getting his family to the spaceships before the world ends.

(Note the ticking clock, there, as well. And as if the end of the world weren’t enough, the movie also starts a literal “Twenty-nine minutes to the end of the world!” ticking computer clock at, yes, 29 minutes before the end of the movie. I must point out here that ticking clocks are dangerous because of the huge cliché factor. We all need to study structure to know what not to do, as well.)

And all this happens about the end of Act I. Remember that I said that it’s essential to have laid out the CENTRAL QUESTION and CENTRAL STORY ACTION by the end of Act I? But also at this point – or possibly just after the climax of Act I, in the very beginning of Act II – we need to know what the PLAN is. PLAN and CENTRAL QUESTION are integrally related, and I keep looking for ways to talk about it because this is such an important concept to master.


A reader/audience really needs to know what the overall PLAN is, even if they only get it in a subconscious way. Otherwise they are left floundering, wondering where the hell all of this is going.

In 2012, even in the midst of all the buildings crumbling and crevasses opening and fires booming and planes crashing, we understand on some level what is going on:

What does the protagonist want? (OUTER DESIRE) To save his family.

- How is he going to do it? (PLAN) By getting the map from the nutjob and getting his family to the secret spaceships (that aren’t really spaceships).

- What’s standing in his way? (FORCES OF OPPOSITION) About a million natural disasters as the planet caves in, an evil politician who has put a billion dollar price tag on tickets for the spaceship, a Russian Mafioso who keeps being in the same place at the same time as Cusack, and sometimes ends up helping, and sometimes ends up hurting. (Was I the only one queased out by the way all the Russian characters were killed off, leaving only the most obnoxious kids on the planet?)

Here’s another example, from a much better movie:

At the end of the first sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark (which is arguably two sequences in itself, first the action sequence in the cave in South America, then the university sequence back in the US), Indy has just finished teaching his archeology class when his mentor, Marcus, comes to meet him with a couple of government agents who have a job for him (CALL TO ADVENTURE). The agents explain that Hitler has become obsessed with collecting occult artifacts from all over the world, and is currently trying to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant, which is rumored to make any army in possession of it invincible in battle.

So there’s the MACGUFFIN, the object that everyone wants, and the STAKES: if Hitler’s minions (THE ANTAGONISTS) get this Ark before Indy does, the Nazi army will be invincible.

And then Indy explains his PLAN to find the Ark: his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood, was an expert on the Ark and had an ancient Egyptian medallion on which was inscribed the instructions for using the medallion to find the hidden location of the Ark.

So after hearing the plan, we understand the entire OVERALL ACTION of the story: Indy is going to find Abner (his mentor) to get the medallion, then use the medallion to find the Ark before Hitler’s minions can get it.

And even though there are lots of twists along the way, that’s really it: the basic action of the story.

Generally, PLAN and CENTRAL STORY ACTION are really the same thing – the Central Action of the story is carrying out the specific Plan. And the CENTRAL QUESTION of the story can be generally stated as – “Will the Plan succeed?”

Again, the PLAN, CENTRAL QUESTION and CENTRAL STORY ACTION are almost always set up – and spelled out – by the end of the first act, although the specifics of the Plan may be spelled out right after the Act I Climax at the very beginning of Act II.

Can it be later? Well, anything’s possible, but the sooner a reader or audience understands the overall thrust of the story action, the sooner they can relax and let the story take them where it’s going to go. So much of storytelling is about you, the author, reassuring your reader or audience that you know what you’re doing, so they can sit back and let you drive.

Try taking a favorite movie or book (or two or three) and identifying the PLAN, CENTRAL STORY ACTION and CENTRAL QUESTION of them in a few sentences. Like this:

– In Inception, the PLAN is for the team of dream burglars to go into a corporate heir’s dreams to plant the idea of breaking up his father’s corporation. (So the CENTRAL ACTION is going into the corporate heir’s dream and planting the idea, and the CENTRAL QUESTION is: Will they succeed?)


– In Sense and Sensibility, the PLAN is for Marianne and Elinor to secure the family’s fortune and their own happiness by marrying well. (How are they going to do that? By the period’s equivalent of dating – which is the CENTRAL ACTION. Yes, dating is a PLAN! The CENTRAL QUESTION is: Will the sisters succeed in marrying well?)


– In The Proposal, Margaret’s PLAN is to learn enough about Andrew over the four-day weekend with his family to pass the INS marriage test so she won’t be deported. (The CENTRAL ACTION is going to Alaska to meet Andrew’s family and pretending to be married while they learn enough about each other to pass the test. The CENTRAL QUESTION is: Will they be able to successfully fake the marriage?


Now, try it with your own story!

– What does the protagonist WANT?

– How does s/he PLAN to do it?

– What and who is standing in his or her way?


For example, in my spooky thriller, Book of Shadows, here’s the Act One set up: the protagonist, homicide detective Adam Garrett, is called on to investigate the murder of a college girl, which looks like a Satanic killing. Garrett and his partner make a quick arrest of a classmate of the girl’s, a troubled Goth musician. But Garrett is not convinced of the boy’s guilt, and when a practicing witch from nearby Salem insists the boy is innocent and there have been other murders, he is compelled to investigate further.

So Garrett’s PLAN and the CENTRAL ACTION of the story is to use the witch and her specialized knowledge of magical practices to investigate the murder on his own, all the while knowing that she is using him for her own purposes and may well be involved in the killing. The CENTRAL QUESTION is: will they catch the killer before s/he kills again – and/or kills Garrett (if the witch turns out to be the killer)?

– What does the protagonist WANT? To catch the killer before s/he kills again.

– How does he PLAN to do it? By using the witch and her specialized knowledge of magical practices to investigate further.

– What’s standing in his way? His own department, the killer, and possibly the witch herself. And if the witch is right … possibly even a demon.

It’s important to note that the Plan and Central Action of the story are not always driven by the protagonist. Usually, yes. But in The Matrix, it’s Neo’s mentor Morpheus who has the overall PLAN, which drives the central action right up until the end of the second act. The Plan is to recruit and train Neo, whom Morpheus believes is “The One” prophesied to destroy the Matrix. So that’s the action we see unfolding: Morpheus recruiting, deprogramming and training Neo, who is admittedly very cute, but essentially just following Morpheus’s orders for two thirds of the movie.

Does this weaken the structure of that film? Not at all. Morpheus drives the action until that crucial point, the Act Two Climax, when he is abducted by the agents of the Matrix, at which point Neo steps into his greatness and becomes “The One” by taking over the action and making a new plan: to rescue Morpheus by sacrificing himself.

It is a terrific way to show a huge character arc: Neo stepping into his destiny. And I would add that this is a common structural pattern for mythic journey stories – in Lord of the Rings, it’s Gandalf who has the PLAN and drives the reluctant Frodo in the central story action until Frodo finally takes over the action himself.

Here’s another example. In the very funny romantic comedy It’s Complicated, Meryl Streep’s character Jane is the protagonist, but she doesn’t drive the action or have any particular plan of her own. It’s her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), who seduces her and at the end of the first act, proposes (in an extremely persuasive speech) that they continue this affair as a perfect solution to both their love troubles – it will fulfill their sexual and intimacy needs without disrupting the rest of their lives.

Jane decides at that point to go along with Jake’s plan (saying, “I forgot what a good lawyer you are”). In terms of action, she is essentially passive, letting the two men in her life court her (which results in bigger and bigger comic entanglements), but that makes for a more pronounced and satisfying character arc when she finally takes a stand and breaks off the affair with Jake for good, so she can finally move on with her life.

I would venture to guess that most of us know what it’s like to be swept up in a ripping good love entanglement, and can sympathize with Jane’s desire just to go with the passion of it without having to make any pesky practical decisions. It’s a perfectly fine – and natural – structure for a romantic comedy, as long as at that key juncture, the protagonist has the realization and balls – or ovaries – to take control of her own life again and make a stand for what she truly wants.

I give you these last two examples – hopefully – to show how helpful it can be to study the specific structure of stories that are similar to your own. As you can see from the above, the general writing rule that the protagonist drives the action may not apply to what you’re writing – and you might want to make a different choice that will better serve your own story. And that goes for any general writing rule.


QUESTIONS:

Have you identified the CENTRAL ACTION of your story? Do you know what the protagonist’s and antagonist’s PLANS are? At what point in your book does the reader have a clear idea of the protagonist’s PLAN? Is it stated aloud? Can you make it clearer than it is?


=====================================================

My spooky thriller The Price is on sale for Halloween, just $1.99.

What would you give to save your child? Your wife? Your soul?
Idealistic Boston District Attorney Will Sullivan has it all: a beautiful and beloved wife, Joanna; an adorable five-year old daughter, Sydney; and a real shot at winning the Massachusetts governor’s race. But on the eve of Will’s candidacy, Sydney is diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable tumor. Now Will and Joanna are living in the eerie twilight world of Briarwood Hospital, waiting for Sydney to die, and both going slowly mad with grief.
Then a mysterious, charismatic hospital counselor named Salk takes special interest in Will and Joanna’s plight… and when Sydney miraculously starts to improve, Will suspects that Joanna has made a terrible bargain to save the life of their dying child.
$1.99, two days only.

=====================================================
All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks. Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.


If you’re a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.
- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon US

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Halloween sale: THE PRICE, 99c

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I promised Halloween sales: my spooky thriller

What would you give to save your child? Your wife? Your soul?

Idealistic Boston District Attorney Will Sullivan has it all: a beautiful and beloved wife, Joanna; an adorable five-year old daughter, Sydney; and a real shot at winning the Massachusetts governor’s race. But on the eve of Will’s candidacy, Sydney is diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable tumor. Now Will and Joanna are living in the eerie twilight world of Briarwood Hospital, waiting for Sydney to die, and both going slowly mad with grief.

Then a mysterious, charismatic hospital counselor named Salk takes special interest in Will and Joanna’s plight… and when Sydney miraculously starts to improve, Will suspects that Joanna has made a terrible bargain to save the life of their dying child.

99 cents, two days only.

Amazon US

————————————————————————————-

Here’s The Price trailer, from Shelia English and Mark Miller at Circle of Seven Productions (The trailer won a Black Quill award for Best Dark Genre Trailer.)

“Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”
- The New York Times Book Review

“A medical thriller of the highest order… a stunning, riveting journey into terror and suspense.”
- Bestselling author Michael Palmer

“This heartbreakingly eerie page-turner paints a vivid picture of the struggle between reality and the unknown.”
- Library Journal

“A psychological roller coaster that keeps the reader on edge with bone-chilling thrills throughout.”
- Bestselling author Heather Graham

“Beyond stunning, it is harrowing in the real sense of true art.”
- Bestselling author Ken Bruen

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff