Monday, January 11, 2010

Creating an Eye-popping Opening

"Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken bird that cannot fly."
Langston Hughes

Drawing inspiration from the darkest corners of your soul may contribute to some fine horror. We learn from all situations, good or bad, that it’s important to turn negatives into positives or we risk becoming consumed into a dreary void from which escape may be impossible. There are terrible or excellent sources, depending on your point of view, of horrific situations involving innocent victims, madmen, and hard working people. Sometimes we learn about them through news media, sometimes through personal experience. Regardless of whether or not real life horror affects us directly, as writers we can still sympathize with the victims, or perhaps with the aggressors.

Perception plays the ultimate role in opening a reader’s eyes maintaining their attention. Story openings provide a taste of something alluring, something remarkable, and something so shocking that our sagacity is rocked beyond our usual understanding of how things are. The juiciest of news stories inform about a horror that already occurred while the best stories show how terrible situations affect a character’s world. As writers, we live to engage our readers much like a magician utilizes smoke and mirrors to enhance the illusion of what if. The call for authors to use every source at their disposal is of paramount importance, particularly when writing horror.

Here’s an excerpt of an opening of one of my tales after watching a news story on CNN.

The first time I saw the stranger, a bomb exploded at Times Square. I watched amazed as police officers rushed by unaware of the monster in our midst, but I knew what he was. He looked like them. You know the type. They hide their heads and their faces remain unshaven. I figured if I caught this fool, the FBI would have to let me back in.

The news story was of a bomb going off in a place I have visited many times in the past. Nevertheless, the opening grabs the reader’s attention and although I decided not to tell about what led to the event, I chose to mislead the reader to events occurring after the bombing. The story’s title, Mistaken Identity is perhaps, too revealing, yet I manage to end the tale with a twist; but I’ll discuss twisty endings another time.

Here’s another excerpt drawn from my personal experience as a child in a story called Eyes of the Dead.

My first encounter with death stole my innocence at the ripe age of seven. It came like a disturbing night creature whose purpose to astound and mortify entrapped innocence, while sucking its victims inside a dark abyss from which escape eluded the unforgiving heart.

As I leaned against the second floor window and watched a heated argument unfold between two patrons in front of the neighborhood pub, nothing could have prepared me for the event to come. At first, dark, disturbing words spewed from the taller gentleman. His frustration spread across his face. A street lamp's iridescent glow illuminated his gaunt cheekbones, as his fiery eyes threatened the stout, much smaller man.

With one swift motion, the little gentleman produced what I now know to be a snub-nosed, .38 caliber, nickel-plated Colt, not unlike the toy my parents bought me. While thoughts of a comic drama unraveled before my virgin eyes, a sharp blast, followed by a puff of blue smoke, surrounded the duo. The tall man recoiled, held his chest, pleading with his eyes. Once again, the familiar popping echoed throughout the street, followed by the ominous cloud. Burnt metal permeated the night air.

"That'll teach you to steal from me, you prick."

I ducked behind the curtains while the gunman searched his surroundings. Somehow, I sensed his menacing stare penetrate through the wooden frame like daggers launched with expert precision.

Curiosity drove me to rise while the frantic little man scurried away, leaving his nemesis on the pavement.

At first, I puzzled over the injured man's safety, but when he moved his hand towards the heavens, a heavy sigh of relief escaped me. Maybe the little man used a toy gun after all. Any delusions I had began to evaporate when my focus shifted from his bony fingers to his wide, frightened eyes. They pleaded with me as if I, a young lad, could swoop down and take away his pain. Although time whispered of its eminent departure, it froze when our eyes locked. Then, like a wild fire's rapid consumption of its natural forested habitat, a pool of blood surrounded the man as if attempting to disinfect him of his sins.

Shivers traveled up and down my spine as images of evil flashed before me. The pale man’s habit of thievery began at boyhood. With every terrible deed I witnessed, an electrical sensation rocked deep inside my chest transferring energy all over my body. The euphoric sensation dissipated when his eyes took on a glassy glow. I sensed that the gentleman, who moments earlier demonstrated lively animation, departed to a world beyond my comprehension.

My fixation never wavered.

His eyes, those empty huge eyes.

I’m sure you can guess by this opening that Edgar Allan Poe is my favorite author since what came out of me appears to mimic his style somewhat. Although not my intention, I like the way the story rings. Oh my, there’s another topic for another day.

My final draw on experience has to do with our emotions. I’m sorry to note that depression can help you create some of your best work. Here’s another small excerpt, an opening for a scene, from my latest story appropriately titled, Embrace Darkness.

A thick blackness surrounds me. I rub my arms trying to keep warm. Goose pimples brush against my fingers. I let out a breath expecting to see white smoke but the air is so thick that I wonder if blindness has won. I pinch my chest. The feel of the erected nipple makes me wish my dream girl was here. Without making a sound, I stand still, listening to the dark void that engulfs me. In this abyss my thoughts control my movements. I glide forward at blazing speed expecting to see a change in my surroundings, but all I get is colder. As I contemplate stopping, wind begins to howl. No not wind--whispers. The darkness is alive. Screams fill the void. What I thought to be a howling wind is in fact, cries of terror. I shiver as chills attack my body like army ants biting down on soft skin. The constant shrills force me to cover my ears. Just when I think insanity will have its way, a familiar odor begins nauseating me. I know that scent but I can't identify it. I cover my nose and let the ice cold cut my skin. Madness.

Tears roll down my cheeks and quickly ice up. Despair pounds my chest. Guilt slaps my face. I know I'm not alone, yet loneliness consumes me. I feel it pulling pieces out of my heart. The screams are everywhere; above, below, next to me, and somehow, inside me.

"Please make it stop!" I shout, only to hear my words echoing back but not just in my voice. Women, children, and men, repeat my pleas. At first they mimic me one by one, then in unison. Liquid oozes out of my ears and hardens. My cry repeats over and over, creating a chaotic symphony.

That is all for today.

Keep your eyes open. In this world, it’s fortunately unfortunate or perhaps, unfortunately fortunate how horror happens at anytime, day or night.

Nomar Knight

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Organized Chaos

"The most valuable writing habit I have is not to answer questions about my writing habits."-Christopher Morley

What type of person are you? Are you a person that loves to make plans, keeps an agenda and religiously enters every appointment? Perhaps you keep a journal as well and record your private thoughts. Or maybe you prefer not to waste time with planning and prefer spontaneity over rigid self regulations. Maybe, throw caution to the wind… go where the wind blows and any other cliché about drifting your own way. What I like to know is if your muse is like you are? If you’re a planner, does your muse work well with outlines? If you like to take one day at time, does your muse prefer to react based on the characters’ actions?

I wonder if writer’s block is caused by an author’s personality not being in sync with her muse. For example, a person who plans most things, having to allow the characters to guide them through a story map, would that lead to writer’s block? Just think about the intrinsic chaos going on inside the author’s brain. Whew! Messy, messy.

As for me, I’ve tried both methods, and while planning usually leads to a completed first draft, since it’s in the editing where the magic really happens, I’ve decided to let the characters guide me for my latest attempt. The last time I did that, things got messy and the vampire, Countess Lorraina Sandoval fought the main character for attention. Her persona was too strong which means, perhaps I focused on the wrong character. While I’m currently working on a demon novel, the Countess comes alive, in my thoughts, at night. Unfortunately for her, I’ll have to tune her out since my vacation is officially over, leaving less time for my passion—writing.

I guess what I love most about writing is that it all comes down to choices. Next time you write a story, experiment a little. Put the characters in stressful situations and let them make the choices. What? Give up control of my own story? Well, truth be told, the stories aren’t really ours. They are gifts sent through our receptive capabilities so readers may be entertained. Naturally, we are our first reader and I love having fun. Does this mean if I structure the plot, my characters won’t come alive? Not necessarily but we need to be aware of believable character reactions to any given situation. Just like not all children and people behave the same way when facing similar encounters, characters behave differently as well. The best characters tend to act outside the box. Create one of those and you’ll be glad you are a writer.

Nomar Knight

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Nomar's Spicy Ingredient

The other night I heard a guest speaker on CNN tell America they shouldn’t worry about terrorism. Once again it looks like history will repeat itself. Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.” Jesus Christ wanted everyone to turn the other cheek. Martin Luther King Jr. preached tolerance, peace, and unification. The end result for the aforementioned: a beheading, a crucifixion, and a raging bullet. Albeit, Marie was a spoiled child and will never be in the same league with Jesus and Martin, but the point being they all perished at the hands of Change. Change? The former queen of France wanted to keep the people in their place by selfish means. Hence, the French Revolution ignited beyond her smug expectations. The people wanted Change. Jesus Christ performed miracles, spoke eloquently, and inspired millions giving rise to a New Testament. He inspired a new religion, Christianity. Then Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream of a colorblind world. Now we have an African American President in the Whitehouse, who by the way, campaigned on “A Change You Can Believe In.”

So why do I bring up the topic of Change? Since your protagonist has to undergo some form of significant change, it’s best that you provide ample opportunity through plotting, to assist your character in the ultimate transformation. Imagine a Priest who preaches turning the other cheek but when he gets beat to a pulp and witnesses a nun get raped, he suddenly finds himself questioning his ideals. Perhaps, on his road to recovery, he decides to pump iron, learn how to shoot a firearm, and kick some bad guy tail. I can see Clint Eastwood in this role. ;-)

So next time you’re stuck and find your story going nowhere, think about how change, not necessarily drastic, can help you squeeze some quality action out of your characters. If the focus on character doesn’t help, change the setting. How would the vengeful priest do behind bars? How would he handle being thrown in a tank with sharks and a butter knife?

Make sure your Change serves a useful purpose and be prepared for an entertaining ride.

Nomar Knight

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Battle For Control

Persistence is something I admire but when the one demonstrating a relentless campaign is a man-eating vampire, my admiration for that character trait takes a back seat to impending survival.  Her name is Countess Lorraina Sandoval.  She was made in the 1600’s in Salem Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials.  Both she and her twin sister were spared from a hanging from a dark force worse than death itself.  

Anyway, the beautiful, tall redhead with emerald green eyes revisited me just before dawn.  The last time I set eyes on her, fear ruled our encounter.  No, she wasn’t afraid of me, I was terrified of her or more specifically, her ability to turn me into what she is.  Lorraina possessed special gifts as a human, those abilities got stronger in her current state.  Here’s an excerpt of our encounter:

Me: I suppose you want me to write your story.

Lorraina: There is so much to tell, Darling.  Oh my, you sound delicious.

Me: Sound?  (Completely baffled.)

Lorraina: Your heart beats strong.  I bet your blood is tasty.

Me: I know what you’re doing.  You won’t intimidate me into dropping my current projects in favor of yours.

Her eyes beamed.  Unlike us humans, her face never changed colors.  She remained pale, almost spectral. 
Lorraina: You told me to come back when I thought you could stomach my accounts.  Here I am.

Me: It’s almost dawn.  Surely you have many pages to fill. (Don’t look at her eyes.)

Lorraina: I suppose I could order you to write my accounts but then you wouldn’t add your original style.  Instead of an exciting story, you’d have some sort of news story.  Those are boring.  (She licked her lips.)

She wore a tight black tube blouse, a black leather jacket with silver spikes.  If anyone were to awaken, they would swear I was speaking to a seventeen year-old biker bimbo.  At least until they got a good look at her face.

Lorraina: Do you like what you see?

I gazed up back at her face, trying hard not to meet her eyes.  She laughed.  Chills ran through me. 

Lorraina: If your heartbeat keeps increasing, I’m going to have to feast on you.  You look scrumptious when you’re blushing.

I searched my surroundings, I knew escape was impossible.

Lorraina: We’ve talked a few minutes and you haven’t gone to the bathroom.  You are more tolerant of my presence, Darling.  

Me: How’s your sister?  When will I meet her?

Her green eyes appeared to grow darker.  

Lorraina: It’s my story you’ll write, not hers.  Do you know why I let you live?

I remained in a numbing silence.

Lorraina: My sister made me promise not to kill you.  She said you will be of value to us.  Although, apart from your strong heart, I’m not sure that she’s right.

Me: Countess, I promise, I will get to your story soon.  Please, give me a few more months.  

Lorraina: Darling, I have all the time in the world but you… (Her hypnotic voice trailed off.) My sister would feel better if you crossed over of your own free will, like we did; but I want to snack on you right now.

I folded my arms, trying to stop my body’s open display of fear.  I knew Lorraina thrived on the emotion.

Lorraina: I feel like biting you anyway.  That way I’ll know when you’re ready for me. 

I automatically unfolded my arms and reached for my neck.  Again she laughed.

Then something unexpected happened.  I blacked out.  When I awoke, she was gone.  I couldn’t find any evidence of fang marks, yet somehow I felt different.  I wondered if other writers had characters that were so overwhelming that reality merged with their dark world.  Since our second encounter, I’m not always sure about things.  My energy drains during daylight.  Oh, and the dreams put me back into the 1600’s.  Perhaps she’s guiding my thoughts.  What did she do to me?  Will I ever be the same again?

Nomar Knight

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Powers of Darkness

     A warm, bright summer morning brings forth a new day filled with the promise of fulfilling dreams of days past. With the new dawn comes a chorus of chirps outside your window or perhaps a steady hum of someone’s lawnmower in the distance. The sun’s heat coupled with blue skies occasionally painted with a few puffy white clouds may lead one to believe that this is the day for something magical. This just might be the day for the next greatest novel ever to be written and it just may originate out of your muse.

     Ha! Yea right! I seriously doubt this could happen to me for you see, I need darkness to function. While terrible things do happen during the day, horror breathes at night. Yes, all sorts of unsavory characters come out at night. Some of them may be living next door to you. As authors we must be on the lookout for anyone different. That lady that likes making dolls resembling some of your family members just might be a witch. The man that prepares your favorite oatmeal in the morning may sprinkle a special dust concocted at night to insure you lose your memory on a gradual basis. Let’s not forget the barber who uses a unique tonic on your hair under the guise of cleansing the hair particles when in fact each time you visit, the heathen has to utilize all of his skills to mask the fact you are going bald at an alarming rate. Hereditary my eye!

     One thing I have found to be true is that at night dreams are born. Magical possibilities can be given an opportunity to breathe. Despair can fester and grow into uncanny situations filled with heart wrenching experiences for your characters. Imagination is the key. What if your character is haunted by a drunken ghost? What if your sweet, innocent child character holds the key to the world’s destruction? What if the power to harness the sun’s energy is hidden in the most timid of mankind? At night, the possibilities are endless.

     Naturally, not all horror occurs at night, but the purpose of this entry: I want to show that while you sleep, insidious nocturnal creatures may be at work with evil deeds.

     Take comfort that in real life, heroes do exist and they seldom sleep, day or night.

Happy New Year Everyone

Nomar Knight