Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Brief History of Writing Fiction - Part 2

Spring semester of my sophomore year at U.T. I changed majors from finance to Radio/TV/Film. I knew I wanted to be a novelist first and foremost, but at that time (1989) there was no major for it, other than an English major.

I've always been a huge movie buff, so I studied film and screenwriting. I believe this helped my fiction writing, because I learned to write in scenes, and like movies, my novels are very scene-driven. I don't spend a lot of time with description or author monologues about philosophy. My characters play out scenes like actors; they do something to move the story forward, then I cut to the next scene. I like to keep the scene moving with dialogue. Being a film/video editor for the past fifteen years has helped me develop this concept of telling a story with dramatic scenes and intercutting them so they have a more powerful effect. I love cliffhangers and end my scenes with cliffhangers as much as I can to build suspense.

I also studied Creative Writing: Fiction, and learned how to structure and write short stories. My professor gave me some great feedback and I learned more that writing fiction is about crafting a story. It doesn't all get written perfectly in the first draft. I write many drafts, often thirty or more before I feel like a story or chapter is complete. I equate it to painting a picture. I'll write an initial scene from a place of inspiration. Write from the heart first and then let my logical mind work with it. I write it as I feel it in the moment, and that's my rough sketch of the scene. Then like adding details to a painting, I go back over the scene several times and add visual details, sound effects, tighten the action, and refine the dialogue to so it's efficient and powerful. Even though I write supernatural and horror, realism is very important to me. I don't like campy horror movies or books. I like horror that explores beyond the boundaries of what's seemingly possible and makes it feel real. I keep asking myself, "Does this ring true? Would the character really do this or say that? Can I make this scene even more riveting, more scary? Can I up the stakes? When writing suspense I often ask what's the very worst thing that could happen to this person? Then I put that into the scene.

Next, I'll talk about how my first novel, SHADOWS IN THE MIST, came about. Stay tuned.

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