Although Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie, is about telekinetic forces, I reading it as inspiration for a novel I’m writing about spirit possession. You know, trying to learn from spooky uncle Stephen about the ways of horror.
Much of the novel is written in an epistolary format. Using fictional textbooks and interviews to help the storytelling. Few books are able to employ this technique successfully. It’s not a style I enjoy reading, I understand the appeal as a device. As it used in this book, it reveals too much of the ending. By the end of the first act, the reader knows how many people survive “Prom Night.”
Carrie is a pitiable character. Through the abuse at home and school, King creates a character that we care about. We are given a clear enemy in Sue Snell and Chris. We hate them as we hate our own bullies and mean girls from our past.
I’m not here to bash on the book or tell you that it isn’t one of the classics of the Horror genre, I’m discussing the lessons I’ve learned only halfway through.
King is a master of his craft and much can be learned from his strengths as well as his weaknesses.
While my first novel, White Hell, was solidly a thriller, I have always been a voracious reader of King and Koontz since sixth grade. There’s always more to learn. A new lesson in each reading: how they foreshadow or build an antagonist.
The Harlequin Great Dane was maybe two years old and almost grown into his over-sized puppy paws. His massive head bigger than a basketball with quizzical deep brown eyes. Porter admired the dog’s unblemished gray coat.
“I guess I’ve taken to calling him Boo Boo,” Jo said as she shrugged.
“Isn’t he yours?” Porter asked.
“Naw. He just showed up last night. Now he won’t leave my side.”
“If he’s Boo Boo, does that make you Yogi?” Porter asked.
“Maybe. But Boo Boo was the smart one. Yogi was a con man.”
“Interesting spin on the pursuit of pic-a-nic baskets.”
Last summer while housebound after ankle surgery, I started journaling each morning. At first they were rambling entries until I focused on intention, priories and gratitude.
Intention was my word of the year in 2019. Each morning I choose an intention for the day: rest, lead by example, set the pace, etc. Even if I don’t use the intention as a mantra throughout the day, it does inform my actions.
Priorities. I write three priorities each morning. Most days my priorities are an extension of my intention (that rhymes) and also encompass my to-do list. A priority might be to tidy up and the to-do list will include cleaning tasks. No more than three priorities otherwise your risk diluting your intention.
Gratitude. I won’t spend a whole lot of time selling you on implementing a gratitude practice. Each morning I write five to ten things I’m grateful for. These are often memories from the day before and have been fun to look back on. Again this helps me focus my day to acknowledge small moments of joy.
I read a lot of fiction as every fiction writer should. But I make time for selected nonfiction. I’m currently reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. Books and podcasts like this help me focus on my goals.
There’s nothing earth shattering in the book, except concision. Clear takes the theories and methods of others and makes them concise with actionable steps. I highly recommend the book for anyone trying to make small changes.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” James Clear.
Rather setting a goal, you are encouraged to create specific systems to reach the goal. If your goal is to write a book, you must create specific, actionable daily habits. For example, everyday I will wake up at 5 am and write five pages at my office computer.
In all practicality, I struggle to take my medicine each day and brush my teeth before bed. Using the methods at the beginning of the book, so far I’ve taken all my pills and brushed my teeth multiple days in a row. What else could I accomplish this way?
“If our memories make us who we are, who is a man without any? Nameless has only a gun, missions from a shadowy agency, and one dead aim: dispense justice when the law fails. As he moves from town to town, driven by splintered visions of the past and future, he’s headed toward the ultimate confrontation in this propulsive series of short thrillers.” From Dean Koontz’s website.
This collection is exclusively found on Amazon Kindle the best platform for shorter fiction since the demise of the Saturday Evening Post.
I’ve read most of them and consider their short length refreshing. While I’ve been focused on my own writing as well as a change in career direction, I haven’t had the brain-power to devote to a longer piece of fiction.
A writerly friend gifted me a year’s subscription to MasterClass and it has been AWESOME! I watch a lesson or two or ten each day as I’m getting ready for the day or cooking or some other mindless task.
I’m making my through many of the writing classes led by Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, and many others. I’ve gained some insights into my own writing process or ways to bolster my current writing project.
Occasionally, I’ll watch a non-writing course. Anna Wintour’s discussion of her role at Vogue and Conde Nast publishing was interesting. Bobbi Brown changed the way I apply makeup. Spike Lee talks about his writing process.
Next I’ll explore some of the cooking lessons. Who doesn’t want to learn knife skills from Gordon Ramsey?
I’ve been struggling to find a groove with my current writing project. I take lots of notes on my phone, in my work notebook and in my personal bullet journal. Then I try to translate it all into a Google document. This process isn’t going well.
I picked up an older journal where I’d attempted Morning Pages and magic happened. I write a header at the top of the page as to what chapter I’m writing. I scribble about 3-10 pages each day. Some times it is just broad strokes of actions or character descriptions. Other times I write detailed chapters.
I’m not scared of the word processor. This is my process for this novel.
When I’ve completed a beginning, middle and end, I’ll start the process of transcription. This will complete my second draft. I’ll flesh out those broad strokes, correct inconsistencies and maybe strengthen theme.
I used to question my process until it started working for me.
Spike Lee’s first drafts are written entirely on 5 by 7 index cards. Each note card contained snippets of the whole: thoughts on theme, dialogue, setting, character descriptions, etc. Then he sorts them into order and begins writing a longhand screenplay. It works for him and he’s one of my favorite filmmakers.
I’ve carried a small Swiss Army Knife on my key chain since I could drive, over two decades. I replace it every few years when it gets dull or too banged up. I think this speaks to my pragmatism.
Ask any man what he carries everyday or what’s in his wallet and you’ll get a story about who he is: sentimental, minimalist, laborer or pack rat.
What does your character carry? How can that inform the reader about who they are? How can those items move the plot forward?
Betty is a worrier that’s been in many car accidents. Her car stocked with a sleeping bag, spare clothes, water, extra wiper fluid and jumper cables. This sets her up for survival when the alien invasion block her way home.
In the Dan Brown books, Robert Langdon wears a Mickey Mouse wristwatch. This informs his whimsical nature and potentially being a neophyte.
What do you carry everyday that informs your character?
As the sun moved ever west, light inched across the wall. One moment the wall was dark the next moment it was lit with dazzling spangles as the sun slanted across the horizon of the San Juan Mountains creating a premature or sunset.
The ice shimmered with brilliant shades of yellow and read and orange like the frozen waterfall was now molten gold tumbling down the mountain to pool in snow. Porter stood and stared in wonderment, while Jo snapped her handheld camera and the tripod camera’s shutter clicked every ten seconds taking a time lapse. The light was so fleeting like the sun sped closer to twilight with its foot firmly on the galactic gas pedal. The light show was over in a matter of ten minutes. The sun dipped below the mountains in a premature sunset.
Cam stroked the icy surface. Tapped it to listen its thickness. Some taps sounded hollow where the sheet had not adhered to the cliff face or where air pockets lie under its depth. He pulled off his thick ski gloves and stroked the sheet allowing his fingers to explore its cracked and pitted surface. The sensation calmed him, pulled back the cloak of anxiety to reveal deep, centered calm.
This happened often, this meditation and zen state as a result of connection with the natural world. As a child, he would flee his high-strung nature or the strictures of his mother’s overbearing and smothering good intentions when he’d lie down in the yard and breathe in the grassy green scent. During recess he’d escape to a far corner of the school grounds and plant himself under a Blue Spruce tree and put dried pine needles in his pocket.
The calm put his mind right. No longer wading through nervous apprehension about the semester ahead or fears from ending his most recent relationship. Elena wanted too much time, lacked her own confidence and needed constant reassurance of her place in his life. She was jealous of his alone time. Given the option, she’d fill his every quiet moment with mindless chatter about the minutiae of her inconsequential day. After six months of enthusiastic sex and endless banality, he ended the relationship days after Christmas.