Thursday, October 27, 2011

Writing DNA #3

Listen up all you crime scene investigators, writing is a tough gig, even for the best of us. When things get overwhelming, a little inspiration is a wonderful thing. As part of Writing DNA Thursdays, we're going to clue you to what our detectives do to keep their muses on the grind. So break out your lab kits and see what you can make of these DNA samples:

The Palos Verdes Peninsula

 Kristen Kittscher: One of the advantages of having grown up in so many places is that it's easy for me to conjure up specific childhood memories just by remembering the house and neighborhood I lived in at the time. If I want to feel like I'm 9, I travel back in my mind's eye to my room in the house we lived in outside of San Francisco for a year. Or maybe I need to tap into seventh grade -- so I mentally transport myself to Reno, Nevada. I'll look at old pictures of my room, remember my friends, the many dramas -- both major and minor -- and then free-write a bit before I dig into writing a scene in my manuscript. Though the setting and characters are entirely different from reality, the mental exercise helps me tap into an emotional truth and inspires better work. I loosely based the setting in my debut novel on a stunning Los Angeles-area peninsula where I was lucky enough to spend sixth grade. Since I live close by, I visited there from time to time while writing, which inspired me even more. 

Photo by Dave Dyet
Laura Ellen: The dark, scary, not-so-nice characters and scenes are what make any mystery or thriller suspenseful and exciting. But sometimes the villain and the dark, edgy events that occur thanks to that villain or villains are the hardest to write. As authors, we don't want to seem like we identify with the thief or the murderer or the arsonist. We don't want readers thinking that if we could imagine something so dark or twisted, it must be in our DNA; we must be evil too. And so, we avoid writing these scenes; we get stuck; or we write something way too nice and safe to be a mystery. The thing to remember is that we all have a bit of evil in us. Yes, you do! Haven't you been so envious of your sister's new toy, sweater, whatever - that you borrowed it without asking? Or broke  something you weren't supposed to have and lied about how it got that way? Have you ever been so angry at someone or so jealous of someone that you did or said something you later regretted? Every villain has a motive spurred on by anger or envy or jealousy or revenge. So . . .when you are writing your edgy, dark, villain scenes, figure out what your villain's motivation is by tapping into a time when you felt those same emotions. How did you feel? What did you do? What did you feel like doing? Then, take that and put it into your story. What is your villain feeling? What does he want to do? How might he do that and get away with it?  Don't be nice. This isn't the place for it. Escalate those emotions, those actions, those fears until you've written the darkest, edgiest, most suspenseful scene possible.

Elisa Ludwig: There was a period of time in my life when I'd just graduated from college and I was living at my parents' house and working in a video store. I'd get home late at night and, too wired to sleep, I'd settle in front of the TV. Many times I'd use the hour or two to catch up on the classic/foreign/art house films I was supposed to be personally recommending to customers, but just as often I would watch reruns of the original episodes of Unsolved Mysteries that aired nightly on Lifetime. The pounding synth soundtrack, the dramatically lit reenactments, the suspicious talking-head interviews—it was all conceived perfectly to draw you right in. Eeriest of all was Robert Stack, who stalked around in his trenchcoat and offered a husky-voiced narration. The first frame warned "this is not a news program," but because the stories were ostensibly true, the show never failed to give me shivers. There were nights when I'd be so spooked out by a story of a woman gone missing or a creepy encounter with the paranormal that I'd have to stay up and watch a Godard film just to get it out of my head. The show was resurrected in 2008, and I haven't seen any of the newer episodes, but I suspect that without Stack (he died in 2003) it's just not the same.

Lamar "L.R." Giles: When I gear up to bring the scary I tend to think about the masters. King, Lovecraft, Matheson...and I remember that less is more (well, maybe not for Lovecraft). I revisit the novels and scenes that scared me most and I realize there's never as much detail as I remember. The masters are good at giving you just enough to get your imagination going, then your own fears fill in the gaps. I try hard to do the same.

Diana Renn: When I need to write something scary, the night is my friend. I cannot draft anything remotely spine-tingling or creepy in the light of day. I need a dark house, and a soft pool of light on my desk. Wind howling is a bonus. I open window shades so that I'm confronted with darkness outside, so that I can feel it pressing in on me. This summer, I wrote the scariest scene in my novel at a vacation cottage on Cape Cod, where there were no outside lights and the moths hurled themselves against the screen I sat by to get to my computer screen glow. One huge bug was as large as a small bat. Maybe it was. I hate bugs. I hate bats more. I was terrified. I wrote on.

We're giving away a copy of Dan Poblocki's book THE MYSTERIOUS FOUR: HAUNTINGS AND HEISTS. Comment on any Sleuths, Spies & Alibis blog post by 10/31. Simply fill out our contest form here.

1 comment:

  1. Elisa, your entry on Unsolved Mysteries takes me back -- that show gave me nightmares!


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