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

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