Wednesday, January 15

Narrative Setting: Part Three

Yesterday I mentioned I'd read The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. 


Truby has an excellent section on developing your story's setting. Even though I wanted (really really wanted) to finish this series today, I'm going to tack on another article and go into Truby's insights on how to develop a setting that will make any story more engaging. Here's a peek:

Truby writes: 

"To sum up this part of the writing process [developing a setting]: you start with a simple story line (the seven steps) and a set of characters. You then create the exterior forms and spaces that express these story elements, and these forms and spaces have the desired effect in the hearts and minds of your audience."

I'll go into what Truby means by a story line, the seven steps, and so on, in the fourth (and final!) part of this series. (The previous parts can be found here and here.)

Today, though, let's get back on track and talk about how setting can introduce, and increase, story conflict.

3. The setting of a story can be used to introduce, and increase, conflict.

Let's look at what conflict is. Simply stated, I think of conflict as what results when a character's efforts to attain a goal are opposed/frustrated.

Many times what opposes a character's efforts to attain their goal is another character. But the environment can do this as well.

For instance, perhaps your protagonist, Hank, is a teenager and his goal is to win the prestigious Sunnyside Surfing Competition but he can't win unless he trains for it.

Big problem! Hanks family recently moved from the sunny, sandy, beaches of Sunnyside to Montreal ... and it's winter! Hank can't train for the competition so he's sure to lose. 

That sets up a problem, an obstacle Hank must solve, and all because of a change of setting.

Many times I forget to take advantage of opportunities to introduce, or increase, conflict the setting could provide. 

An example of using setting to increase conflict

Have you ever watched Mr. Monk? That show was fabulous at using setting to introduce conflict.

In the third episode of season one, Monk is introduced to the police commissioner--an important person and someone he will have to impress with his detective skills if he is ever to get back on the force, and getting back on the force is Monk's great overriding goal.

Monk's desire: to be on his best behavior, appear normal, and impress the man.

Problem/obstacle/complication: the commissioner has a few crumbs on his jacket.

Conflict: Monk wants to brush the crumbs off but he knows that's not a good idea.

Outcome: Monk can't help himself and brushes the crumbs off anyway.

Here the crumbs were used to provoke an action that not only shows Monk's obsessive-compulsive disorder but it also introduces conflict. 

Here's another example, one you've probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: a waiter stumbles, spilling scalding coffee into the protagonist's lap when he needs to be on his best behavior. How he handles this situation will reveal his/her character and could introduce conflict.

Does he turn it into a joke? Is he gracious? Arrogant? Condescending? If it happens just before a job interview how does he explain the stain to the interviewer? Does it fluster him? Does he shrug it off? Does it make him so distracted he can't complete the interview? Does it make him so angry he makes a terrible impression?

The trick is to always be on the lookout for opportunities to use setting to introduce, or increase, conflict.

Example: How setting can affect mood

Here's another example. Let's say we're writing a horror story. What mood do we wish to evoke in our readers? We wish to horrify them. What evokes horror?

In a sense, fear is acknowledgement of, or recognition of, the imminence of danger.

So, what evokes horror?
- Recognition of the imminence of death. Your death as well as the deaths of those you love.
- Recognition of the imminence of pain.
- Recognition of the imminence of the unknown.
- Recognition of the imminence of disfigurement. (Think of slasher films like Saw. Gorn.)
- Recognition of the imminence of confinement, of imprisonment. Of being at the mercy of an imaginative and well-equipped sadist.
- Recognition of the imminence of disillusionment. The imminence of destructive revelation.

What sort of setting would help communicate these sort of feelings/thoughts to the reader? 

The Dark

The dark hides things. It makes the familiar alien. It manufactures the unknown.


The isolation of the hero means no outside help. They are stranded, all alone. If the hero wins and escapes the horrors, they will have to do it relying on only what is within them.


I think the best monsters--(for me) the scariest--are normal things that have been twisted in some way. I haven't been the same since I watched Pet Sematary

Speaking of the twisted, just yesterday, +John Ward sent out a link to this article about creepypasta. Here's an example of twisting a familiar setting to create horror:
‘Daddy, I had a bad dream.’

You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness — it’s 3:23. ‘Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?’

‘No, Daddy.’

The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter’s pale form in the darkness of your room. ‘Why not, sweetie?’

‘Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy’s skin sat up.’

For a moment, you feel paralysed; you can’t take your eyes off of your daughter. The covers behind you begin to shift.

By the way, that's also an excellent use of the seldom used second person POV!

I thought that piece of microfiction nicely illustrated how important setting is to evoking emotion. 

The setting used in the above story is familiar. Intimate. Would the story have the same impact if it was morning, rather than the witching hour, and the exchange took place while the child's parents were busy preparing for work? I don't think so.

Surprise & Disorientation

Surprise and disorientation are used to generate a feeling of horror and, often, setting is instrumental in this. The dark, the isolation, the monster under the bed. Think of the last part of Alien when Sigourney Weaver makes her way to the shuttle, running down the twisting hallways, expecting danger at every turn. For me, it was the most suspenseful part of the movie.

By the way, IMHO, a movie that did a terrific job of using setting to communicate mood, and using both mood and setting to demonstrate character, was Pi.

Okay, that's it for now. Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-006 blue monday morning" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, January 13

John Truby And The Anatomy Of Story

John Truby And The Anatomy Of Story

Yesterday I read John Truby's, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. I've had the book for ages, many people recommended it, but something was always more important than sitting down to study it. Or so I thought. 

Big mistake! 

Today I'm going to talk about John Truby's answer to the question: What is a story and what do we want it to do?

(Note: I was going to post the third and final part of my "Narrative Setting" series today. I will post that on Wednesday instead.)

What Stories Are

Imagine you're telling a story to a group of people. Truby writes that if the story you tell is a good story, two things will happen:

1. Your reader/listener will be emotionally enmeshed in the life of the protagonist.

In other words, a good story makes the reader identify with the protagonist. 

But, more than this, the reader will (ideally) be so caught up in the story they will experience her emotions, they will feel her both her happiness and her pain. This is what happens when we cry at the end of a sad story.

Truby writes that:

"[...] The storyteller is really selecting, connecting, and building a series of intense moments. These moments are so charged that the listener feels he is living them himself. Good storytelling doesn't just tell audiences what happened in a life. It gives them the experience of that life. [...]

"Good storytelling lets the audience relive events in the present so they can understand the forces, choices, and emotions that led the character to do what he did. [Emphasis mine]"

2. Your reader/listener will be engaged in a verbal game you are playing.

Truby writes:

"The storyteller is first and foremost someone who plays. Stories are verbal games the author plays with the audience."


"As a creator of verbal games that let the audience relive a life, the storyteller is constructing a kind of puzzle about people and asking the listener to figure it out. The author creates this puzzle in two major ways: he tells the audience certain information about a made-up character and he withholds certain information."

Why withholding information is important:

We've all heard this advice before: Don't overexplain! (Often there are several exclamation marks.) And it's great advice. But why

Why is overexplanation--and it's cousin, the premature information dump--such poison to a reader's enjoyment of a story?

Truby offers this cogent explanation:

"Withholding, or hiding, information is crucial to the storyteller's make-believe. It forces the audience to figure out who the character is and what he is doing and so draws the audience into the story."


These are the two main parts of story:

1. Feeling: Character Identification

Members of the audience--the audience as a whole--must feel as though (this is the goal) they have lived through the events of the story with the protagonist. This is part of character identification.

Truby holds that three things must happen for an audience to identify with a character. The audience must:

a. Understand the forces that led the protagonist to do what he does.
b. Understand the choices that led the protagonist to do what he does.
c. Understand the emotions that led the protagonist to do what he does.

2. Thinking: A verbal game or puzzle

We need to give the audience enough information about a character to identify with them, but withhold enough so that they are still curious, so that they want more."

We need to force the audience to:

a. Figure out who the character is.
b. Figure out what he is doing.

Change: The heart of story

Change lies at the heart of every story. 

What causes change? What inspires it? What drives it?

Truby writes:

"... change is fuelled by desire."

Desire is what "propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he'll do to get it, and what costs he'll have to pay along the way."

"A character pursuing a desire takes actions to get what he wants, and he learns new information about better ways to get it. Whenever he learns new information, he makes a decision and changes his course of action."

"Any character who goes after a desire and is impeded is forced to struggle (otherwise the story is over). And that struggle makes him change."

The Climax Of A Story

At the end of a story we have the culminating event. This is what everything so far has let up to, all the character identification, all the verbal puzzles. Truby writes:

"The focal point [of a story] is the moment of change, the impact, when a person breaks free of habits and weaknesses and ghosts from his past and transforms to a richer and fuller self."

A word of caution

I agree with Truby that, generally, usually, the culmination of a story is that point--usually toward the end of the a story--it is that point of internal change, when the hero goes through an internal transformation.

That is, I agree with him to a point. I think it depends on the kind of story one wishes to write. 

Take Indiana Jones And Raiders of The Lost Ark as an example. The movie did very well at the box office and enjoys high reviews (for example, it ranks at 95% at

Indiana Jones didn't have a focal point. He didn't have a moment of change. He didn't have a transformation of any sort. At least, not that I could tell. (Perhaps, though, I enjoy the movie so much as an action tale I've missed it. That's possible.)

I'm sorry, I have to say this: The ark was the only arc in that movie!

(Sorry, couldn't resist. Won't happen again.)

I read somewhere that Raiders was intended to be a homage to the pulp heroes of the 40s and 50s, and pulp heroes, in general, didn't have character arcs. (At least, the few that I've read didn't.) That movie was just about being a terrific action tale and, of course, answering the question: What will happen if they open the ark?

Truby focuses on internal change--and so he should. I'm not arguing with that. 

Really, I'm not. 

I'm just pointing out that not all financially successful and well loved heroes have both an internal and an external arc. Some, like Indy in Raiders, only have an external one.

That's it! On Wednesday I'll finish up my three part series on narrative setting by talking about how setting can help build conflict. Also, at some point in the future I'll discuss Truby's Seven Key Structure Steps.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "Ellipse" by Daniele Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, January 11

Narrative Setting: Part Two

Narrative Setting: Part Two

This is part two of a three part series about narrative setting. In part one (Narrative Setting) I talked about what setting is. Today, in part two, I'll go over how setting can be used to develop character. In part three I'll focus on how setting can be used to introduce--and increase--conflict.

Before I talk about setting and character, let me tie up a loose end from my Narrative Setting post and talk briefly about how setting can affect the mood of a story.

Setting And Mood

"Mood creates an emotional setting that envelops the reader." 

The key point here is that mood is something that is created in the reader. (Tone, on the other hand, has to do with the voice of the narrator.) Recall that since our goal in telling a story is to evoke certain emotions in the reader, creating the right sort of mood is important.

I'll be talking a bit more about mood in my third post when I discuss examples.

All right! On to the topic of todays blog post: how a good setting helps us develop our characters' character.

Ways In Which Setting Can Be Used To Develop Character

1. Setting is essential to bring the story world to life through the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing.

2. Setting is essential for situating the character in--not just surroundings--but a society, a culture.

3. The setting of a story can be used to introduce, and increase, conflict.
Let's take these point by point.

1. Setting is essential to bring the world of the story to life through the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing.

The following is from Dwight V. Swain's excellent book, "Techniques of the Selling Writer":
"... How do you bring a setting to life?

"The answer, of course, lies in the human animal himself. His world is a sensory world—a world of green grass and white houses . . . purring kittens and thundering trucks . . . Chanel No. 5 and curling wood smoke . . . fresh cold orange juice and hot crisp bacon . . . silk’s rich smoothness and the harsh grit of volcanic ash.

"So, you build your story world of these same sensory impressions—the seen, the heard, the smelled, the touched, the tasted. Emphasis is on the vivid image and the impactful figure of speech."
A trick I sometimes use--I suppose it's not really a trick, more like a practise or a habit--is to keep lists of sensory words close at hand and review them periodically. 

Also, if I come across a particularly vivid turn of phrase--for instance, "curling wood smoke"--I write it down. And, as I write, I say it aloud. Picture it. For me, "curling wood smoke," that phrase, gives a certain feeling, it conveys a certain mood. It invokes memories of campfires and long warm nights up at my parents' place. Think how you could describe something else and invoke the same, or a similar, memory/feeling.

Here are a few links to lists of words that evoke the senses:








2. Developing a milieu is essential for situating the character in--not just surroundings--but a society, a culture.

I talked a bit about this last time. This advice is from Dwight V. Swain and appears in his book "Creating Characters." He writes:
"Milieu is a word I like. Because while, technically, it’s defined as environment or surroundings, it implies a great deal more.

"Specifically, it captures the feeling not just of setting or landscape, but of a society; a social as well as a physical locale. Growing up in San Francisco implies more than just the Golden Gate, Pacific Park, and Union Square. Life in the Mississippi Delta is one thing; that in a Pennsylvania Amish community, another. And double that in spades for a past in the slums of Juarez, the singles bars of New York’s Upper West Side, or a French convent.

"Such social settings reach out to embrace people as well as geography. They mold the various strata of society that fix standards, for mutually accepted norms and rules are the glue that bonds any group or class together. Shared customs, which clothes are acceptable for which occasions, and how to behave in church or mosque or synagogue are what create a society."
Dwight V. Swain continues on to say that writers must know at least these two things regarding a character in a society:

1. "[...] know the rules and conduct patterns that govern behavior in that particular setting;"

2. "[...] know the degree to which Character follows these rules;"

This presents the writer with three questions:
a) What are the rules of your particular society (or societies)?

b) Does your character know the rules? (Did he grow up in this society or is he a stranger?)

c) Does your character follow the rules?
That's it! Next time we'll finish off this series by looking at how to use setting to increase conflict. 

Update: Here's the link to Narrative Setting: Part Three.

Stay tuned. Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-009 - dry folsom" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, January 8

Narrative Setting

Narrative Setting

I've wanted to write an article about setting for what seems like ages. I've wanted to talk about what setting is and how it can be used to increase character identification and, as a result, narrative drive (/suspense). 

I wanted this to be one article--I really really did!--but it grew into two. In the first part, here, I talk about what narrative drive is and why we, writers, should care. In the second part, I talk about how to use setting to hook into a character and help make them three-dimensional.

What Is Setting?

For the purposes of this article, here's how I define setting:
The setting of a story concerns the time, place and circumstances of the narrative.
That definition comes from, Settings.

I looked at a few different definitions, but that one came closest to how I think of it. Also, it's simple. Simple is good (but often not easy).

Before I go any further, I'd like to take a quick look at something I'm going to revisit toward the end of this article: Why should a writer care about setting? What does it do in a story? What is its function, its role? How does it help the writer accomplish his/her ends/goal of evoking emotion in readers?

The Goal of Storytelling

The goal of storytelling--this is what I think--is to invoke, or possibly provoke, emotions in an audience. In the case of writers, these are our readers.

How does narrative setting help a writer reach this goal? In other words, what is its function?

The Functions of Setting

1. The setting helps establish the mood of the story.
2. The setting reflects the theme.
3. The setting aids in character explication and reader identification.

Before we can explore each of these aspects of setting--how a writer can exploit setting to aid in character identification--we need to take a closer look at what setting is.

The Elements of Setting


- Historical epoch: Does the story take place in the past? During what we now call the industrial revolution? At the height of the Roman Empire? At some point in the undreamt of future? Or perhaps the story is a strange, twisted, far-earth scenario?

- Seasons: What time of year is it? Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter? If this is a fictional world, does it have seasons?

- Day: What time of day is it? Day? Night? Twilight? The witching hour?

- Flow of time: Is there anything unusual about the flow of time in your narrative? Is your story written as a stream of consciousness? Does your novel employ time-jumps to convey the story? 


Where does your story take place?

- Location: 
If your world is fictional, what is its geography? Is it an unexplored wilderness or is it well populated? If your world is not one great wilderness, does the story take place in a town? A city? A jungle? A forest? Is the place barren? Lush? Isolated? Densely populated?

- Geography:
Is there much water nearby? Is the air dry or wet? Is there snow at Christmas time? Does it matter? What sports or hobbies could a person easily engage in given the features of the area? Snowboarding? Skiing? Swimming? Surfing? What sports couldn't your characters do? (Could your characters swim without risking hypothermia in December?)

Setting as it relates to each scene

I've touched on some of this information, above, but now we get specific.

- What time of day is it? Is it day? Night? Twilight? The witching hour? Lunch? Dinner? What associations do the main characters have about this time? What memories might it provoke? For instance, a character might wake during the witching hour and remember a nightmare they had as a child.

- Indoors? Outdoors?
- Outdoors: What's the weather like? Is the sun hidden behind clouds making it dark as night? Is it nighttime, yet lightning flashes make the landscape bright as day? Is it snowing? Raining? Sunny with the unbearable heat of the desert beating down? Are your characters in the Antarctic? Are they isolated by the distance and the unbearable, bitter, cold?
- Indoors: What are the characters' surroundings like? Are they lavish? Poor? Shabby? Ostentatious? Is it a human-made structure or natural, something like a cave. If man-made, were they invited here? Does the character find the place comfortable? 

The room could be lavish and yet uncomfortable if the character is too worried about ruining expensive furnishings to use them. This would be one way to show character, to demonstrate what kind of environment they were used to.

That's it! Stay tuned for part two where I'll talk about how to use narrative setting to make characters more interesting.

Update: Here's a link to Narrative Setting: Part Two.

Photo credit: "Catwoman Dark" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, January 6

409 Horror Tropes And Suptropes

409 Horror Tropes And Suptropes

I'm in the process of revising my post on How To Write A Horror Story and, as part of that, just came across a massive list of horror tropes over at

Below are 409 horror tropes. All of these--all of them--are from the article (just ONE article) I linked to in my last sentence. AND each one has a link to its own article, one that will tell you more than you'll likely ever need to know about the troupe.

Just for fun, why not pick a random number between 1 and 409 (if you like, you can do this by heading on over to and exploring the associated trope? Or how about picking two or three random tropes and using them to write a piece of flash fiction?

What twists could you add? Which non-standard characters could you use?

Click here for a list of character tropes: Characters.

409 Horror Tropes & Subtropes

Once again, these tropes are from: Horror Tropes.

1 Abandoned Area
2        Abandoned Hospital
3            Abandoned Hospital Awakening
4        Abandoned Playground
5        Abandoned Warehouse
6        Ghost City
7        Ghost Town
8        Ghost Planet
9        Haunted Castle
10        Haunted House
11    Absurdly Ineffective Barricade
12    The Adjectival Man
13    Afterlife Express
14    Alien Geometries
15    All Hallows' Eve
16    All in the Eyes
17    All Webbed Up
18    Alucard
19    Always Night
20    Anal Probing
21    Ancient Tomb
22    And I Must Scream
23    And Show It to You
24    Ankle Drag
25    Another Man's Terror
26    Apocalyptic Log
27    Artifact of Doom
28        Artifact of Death
29        Summoning Artifact
30        Tome of Eldritch Lore
31    Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever
32    Attack of the Killer Whatever
33    Attack of the Monster Appendage
34    Autocannibalism
35    Ax-Crazy
36    Backstory Horror
37    Bad Black Barf
38    Bad Humor Truck
39    Barred from the Afterlife
40    Barrier-Busting Blow
41    Bat out of Hell
42    Bat Scare
43    Bear Trap
44 "    Beat Still, My Heart"
45    Belly Mouth
46    Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts
47    The Blank
48    Blood Bath
49    Bloody Handprint
50    Blue-Collar Warlock
51    Body and Host
52    Body Horror
53    Body of Bodies
54    Brain Food
55    Broken Heel
56    Buried Alive
57    The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House
58    Campbell Country
59    Camp Unsafe Isn't Safe Anymore
60    Cannibal Clan
61    Cannibalism Superpower
62    Cat Scare
63    The Chain of Harm (especially #4 and #5)
64    Chest Burster
65        Spawn Broodling
66    Child by Rape
67    Chinese Vampire
68    Chupacabra
69    Circus of Fear
70    Clingy Costume
71    Cobweb Jungle
72    Complete Monster
73    Conjoined Twins
74    Connect the Deaths
75    Corpse Land
76    The Corruption
77    Cosmic Horror Story
78    Creepily Long Arms
79    Creepy Basement
80    Creepy Cemetery
81    Creepy Changing Painting
82    Creepy Child
83    Creepy Children Singing
84    Creepy Circus Music
85    Creepy Doll
86    Creepy Housekeeper
87    Creepy Long Fingers
88    Creepy Souvenir
89    Crop Circles
90    Cruel and Unusual Death
91    Crusty Caretaker
92    Curiosity Killed the Cast
93    Damsel in Distress
94    Dangerous Key Fumble
95    Dangerous Windows
96    Danger Takes a Backseat
97    Dark Lord on Life Support
98    Darkness Equals Death
99    The Darkness Gazes Back
100    Dark World
101    Daylight Horror
102    The Dead Can Dance
103        Vampire Dance
104    Deadly Bath
105    Deadly Prank
106    Deadly Road Trip
107    Death by Materialism
108    Death by Mocking
109    Death by Sex
110    Defanged Horrors
111    Demonic Dummy
112    Depraved Dentist
113    Developing Doomed Characters
114    Distress Call
115    The Doll Episode
116    Don't Go in the Woods
117        Stay on the Path
118    Drool Hello
119    Ear Ache
120    Eaten Alive
121    Electromagnetic Ghosts
122    The End of the World as We Know It
123    The End... Or Is It?
124    Enemy Rising Behind
125    Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette
126 "    Everybody's Dead, Dave"
127    Evil Elevator
128    Evil Hand
129    Evil Is Visceral
130    Evil Phone
131    Exorcist Head
132    Extremely Dusty Home
133    Eye Awaken
134    Eyeless Face
135    Eye Scream
136    Eyes Are Unbreakable
137    The Eyes Have It
138    Face Revealing Turn
139    Facial Horror
140        Tear Off Your Face
141    False Innocence Trick
142    The Family That Slays Together
143    Faux Horror Film
144    Faux Horrific: Pretending something is scary for laughs.
145    A Fête Worse than Death
146    Final Girl
147    Fingore
148    Flat Scare
149    Flaying Alive
150    Flies Equals Evil
151    Food Chain of Evil
152    Footprints Of Muck
153    For Doom the Bell Tolls
154    The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You
155    Freak Lab Accident
156    Gate of Truth
157    Ghostapo
158    Ghost Butler
159    Ghost Story
160    Ghostly Chill
161    Ghostly Goals
162    Ghostly Glide
163    Giant Eye Of Doom
164    Giant Spider
165    God and Satan Are Both Jerks
166    Gory Deadly Overkill Title of Fatal Death
167    Gory Discretion Shot
168        Sound-Only Death
169    Gross-Up Close-Up
170    Grotesque Gallery
171    Gutted Like a Fish
172    Gypsy Curse
173    Half the Man He Used to Be
174    Halloweentown
175    Hair-Raising Hare
176    Harbinger of Impending Doom
177    Haunted Fetter
178    Haunted Headquarters
179    Haunted Heroine
180    Haunted House Historian
181    Haunted Technology
182    Hazardous Water
183    Headless Horseman
184    Hell Hotel
185    Hell Is That Noise
186    Hockey Mask and Chainsaw
187    Hollywood Exorcism
188    Homicide Machines
189    Horny Devils
190    Horrifying the Horror
191    Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday
192    Horror Host
193    Horror Struck
194    A House Divided
195    Humanoid Abomination
196    Human Resources
197    Human To Werewolf Footprints
198    I Can See You
199 "    I Hate You, Vampire Dad"
200    I Love the Dead
201    Inescapable Horror
202    I'm a Humanitarian
203        Cannibal Clan
204        Cannibal Tribe
205        Horror Hunger
206        Invited As Dinner
207        No Party Like a Donner Party
208        Picky People Eater
209            Brain Food
210    I'm Cold... So Cold...
211    Impromptu Tracheotomy
212    Indian Burial Ground
213    Infernal Retaliation
214    Initiation Ceremony
215    Inn of No Return
216    Inscrutable Aliens
217    In That Order
218    Ironic Nursery Tune
219    It Can Think
220    It Won't Turn Off
221    The Jersey Devil
222    Jump Scare
223    Kaiju
224    Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge
225    Kensington Gore
226    Lamprey Mouth
227    Life or Limb Decision
228        Amputation Stops Spread
229    Light-Flicker Teleportation
230    Lightmare Fuel
231    The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday
232    Living Bodysuit
233    Living Shadow
234    Long Neck
235    Losing Your Head
236    Lost in the Maize
237    Made from Real Girl Scouts
238    Made of Plasticine
239    Madwoman in the Attic
240    Magnetic Medium
241    Malevolent Masked Men
242    Malevolent Mutilation
243    Man-Eating Plant
244    Marionette Motion
245    Meat Moss
246    Meaningful Background Event
247    Medical Horror
248    Menstrual Menace
249    Mirror Monster
250    Mirror Scare
251    Mobile Menace
252    Monster Clown
253    Monster Progenitor
254    Monsters Anonymous
255    Monstrous Humanoid
256    Mook Horror Show
257    The Most Dangerous Video Game
258    Mother of a Thousand Young
259    Mouth Stitched Shut
260    Mummy
261    Mummies at the Dinner Table
262    Mundanger
263    Murder by Cremation
264    Murder Water
265    Murderous Mannequin
266    Murderous Mask
267    Museum of the Strange and Unusual
268    Nested Mouths
269    Never Sleep Again
270    New House New Problems
271    Nightmare Face
272    Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book
273    Night Swim Equals Death
274    No Face Under The Mask
275    No Immortal Inertia
276    Not a Mask
277    Nothing but Skulls
278    Nothing Is Scarier
279    Not Using the Z Word
280    Occult Detective
281    Occult Law Firm
282    Offscreen Teleportation
283    Ominous Crack
284    Ominous Fog
285        Fog of Doom
286    Ominously Open Door
287    Ominous Music Box Tune
288    Once is Not Enough
289    Organ Theft
290    Orifice Invasion
291        Orifice Evacuation
292    Our Werewolves Are Different
293    Paint the Town Red
294    Peek-A-Boo Corpse
295    People Farms
296    Personal Horror
297    Perverse Puppet
298    Phlegmings
299    Picky People Eater
300    Pleasure Island
301    The Power of Blood
302    Prank Date
303    Pretend We're Dead
304    Protect This House
305    Psychological Horror
306    Psychological Torment Zone
307    Psycho Party Member
308    Puppeteer Parasite
309    Over The Shoulder Murder Shot
310    Rain of Blood
311    Raising the Steaks
312    Razor Apples
313    Regret Eating Me
314    Resist The Beast
315    Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain
316    Rise from Your Grave
317    Room 101
318    Room Full of Crazy
319    Room Full Of Zombies
320    Rule of Scary
321    Sadist
322    Safe Zone Hope Spot
323    The Savage South
324    Scare Chord
325    Scary Flashlight Face
326    Scary Jack In The Box
327    Scary Scarecrows
328    Scary Scorpions
329    Screamer Trailer
330    Screaming Woman
331    The Secret of Long Pork Pies
332    Security Cling
333    See-Thru Specs
334    Senseless Phagia
335    Sensor Suspense
336    Sensory Abuse
337    Serial Killer
338    The Seven Mysteries
339    Shadow Discretion Shot
340    Shaggy Search Technique
341    Silver Bullet
342    Sinister Scraping Sound
343    Skele Bot 9000
344    Skeleton Crew
345    Slashers Prefer Blondes
346    Slow Transformation
347    Sole Surviving Scientist
348    Sorting Algorithm of Mortality
349    Spiders Are Scary
350    Spooky Painting
351    Spooky Photographs
352    Spooky Seance
353    Spring Loaded Corpse
354    Stages of Monster Grief
355    Staking the Loved One
356    The Stars Are Going Out
357    Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome
358    Supernatural Proof Father
359    Surprisingly Sudden Death
360    Surreal Horror
361    Swarm of Rats
362    Taxidermy Is Creepy
363    Taxidermy Terror
364    Tentative Light
365    Television Portal
366    Terror At Make Out Point
367    Too Much For Man To Handle
368    These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know
369    Things That Go Bump in the Night
370    Through the Eyes of Madness
371    Too Many Mouths
372    Touch of the Monster
373    Tongue Trauma
374    Torso with a View
375    Torture Cellar
376    Town with a Dark Secret
377    Traumatic C-Section
378    Tulpa
379    Überwald
380    Ultimate Evil
381    Uncanny Valley
382        Uncanny Valley Makeup
383    Undead Author
384    Unexpectedly Abandoned
385    Unfinished Business
386    Urban Legends
387    Vampire Invitation
388    Vagina Dentata
389    Van Helsing Hate Crimes
390    Very Loosely Based on a True Story
391    Viral Transformation
392    The Virus
393        The Corruption
394    Virus Victim Symptoms
395    Walking Backwards
396    Wax Museum Morgue
397    We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties
398    Wendigo
399    What Happened To Mommy?
400    White Mask of Doom
401    Who You Gonna Call?
402    Wipe That Smile Off Your Face
403    With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
404    Word Salad Horror
405    The Worm That Walks
406    You Are Who You Eat
407    You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost
408    Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb
409    Zombie Apocalypse

Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-005 pulvis et umbra" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, January 3

Theme: What It Is And Why Your Story Needs One

Today I'd like to talk about theme, what it is and why it's important.


Before I say anything about theme, though, I'd like to direct you to a marvelous article about theme by Chuck Wendig, although, fair warning, Chuck loves making creative use of adult words and ... er ... images (some of which it may take a while to forget--and not in a good way). You've been warned! Here's the link: 25 Things Writers Should Know About Theme.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we talk about what theme is and why we should care about it, lets look at a couple of examples of well-known themes.

J.R.R. Tolkien & The Lord of the Rings

Here's what J.R.R. Tolkien had to say about the theme of his Lord of the Rings trilogy:
"But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man!" (Letter 203, 1957)

"It is mainly concerned with Death, and Immortality; and the 'escapes': serial longevity, and hoarding memory." (Letter 211, 1958)
Those quotations were from the Wikipedia article, Themes of Lord of the Rings.

What is stronger than the fear of death? Love and friendship

J.K. Rowling & Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling in a 2006 interview with The Telegraph, "There Would Be So Much To Tell Her ..."
"Death is the key to understanding J K Rowling. Her greatest fear - and she is completely unhesitant about this - is of someone she loves dying. 'My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic.

"'I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it.'"
Here, again, we see death as the theme. How the fear of death can give rise to all the evils of the world. 

I would suggest that the theme for many of J.K. Rowling's books can be summed up as: "Love conquers death."

Although J.K. Rowling's theme was inspired by her mother's passing--she had started writing the first of the novels as, unknown to her, her mother lay dying--it is interesting how similar it is to that of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

(This is slightly off-topic but I'll mention it since we're discussing death in Tolkien's novels and death as a theme. 

In Tolkien's universe elves lived in the past. In one of his many letters Tolkien wrote that the elves' memories were more real to them than their existence, their actions, in the present. Contrast this with humans. For humans, memories (usually) are like dreams, dimly remembered.

Where elves lived in the past, humans lived in the future. Some humans, fully apprised of the inevitability of death, were obsessed with averting it. It was this conflict--between the mortal and the immortal (between men and the elves, between the mortal Frodo and the immortal Sauron)--that fueled the events of the The Lord of the Rings

Hobbits, on the other hand, lived in the now. They knew how to enjoy a meal and delight in the company of friends. One could argue that they had the greatest of all gifts; greater even than immortality or great riches: they possessed the ability to be happy--or at least content.)

Okay, back to theme!

Theme: What Is It And Why Should I Care?

What is "theme"?

Put simply, theme is whatever it is that gives a story purpose.

A story as a whole should demonstrate the truth of a single statement. That statement is the story's thesis. Although we don't have to call such a statement a thesis. We could talk, instead, about a story's premise.

Lajos Egri held that the essence of any dramatic story is "character through conflict leading to a conclusion". The theme, or premise, of a story is what guides the characters through the story toward the conclusion. The premise puts bounds on the story, limiting it, structuring it.

Frey writes, "When you formulate your premise, remember the three C's: character, conflict, and conclusion. A dramatic story is the transformation of character thorugh crisis; the premise is a succinct statement of that transformation."

So here's what we have:
i. A character in crisis.
ii. A goal plus opposition to attaining that goal (often supplied by the antagonistic force) equels conflict.
iii. The conclusions, or resolution, of the crisis in a satisfying manner. How does the hero resolve the crisis? Does he achieve what he/she set out to? Did it resolve the crisis?
I think, explained this way, we can see the theme as an abstract articulation of the structure of the story; a generalization of the plot.

For instance, in "The Reichenbach Fall" (season 2, episode 3 of Sherlock) [spoiler warning] we see that even though Sherlock Holmes has the emotional intelligence of a dust mite, he loves his friends. He would give up his life if it meant saving theirs.

There's an expression I remember from childhood--it comes from John 15:3--"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". So, perhaps, we could state the theme of the episode as, "Love sacrifices all," or, "Love would sacrifice all".
i. A character in crisis. Sherlock was in crisis because (apparently) he was faced with a choice: live and take revenge on Moriarty OR accept defeat, die, but save his friends.

ii. Sherlock has a goal: Moriarty wants to make London his plaything. Sherlock wants to stop him. Moriarty resists by destroying Sherlock's reputation.

iii. The matter is (or seems to be) concluded when Sherlock defeats Moriarty, fakes his death and goes into hiding.
In this way the plot can be seen as articulating the theme.

Why you should care: Your theme helps determine what material should be included, as well as excluded, from the story.

One of the advantages of knowning your story's thesis (not all stories have them, but nearly all dramatic stories do) is that it will help you figure out what should be included. It will help you structure your novel.

W.T. Price in "The Analysis of Play Construction and Dramatic Principle" claims that the underlying, unifying,  principle of a work is "the brief, logical statement or syllogism of that which has to be demonstrated by the complete action of the play."

The theme is the root idea of a story; the theme articulates its driving force.

In other words, a story is the proof of the premise given by the theme. If your premise is love conquers all then you have to make sure that, within the pages of your novel, love does indeed conquer all.

This means that if a part of your story doesn't go toward proving the premise, scrutinize it. Perhaps it needs to go. Ask yourself: if this scene were not in the novel would it be weakened? Would there be any difference? If the answer to either of those questions is "no" then I'd advise you to grit your teeth and toss it.

Okay, that's it! Often talk of theme is rather nebulous. I've tried to pin down what theme is and why it is important to writers, why having a theme can make writing simpler. And stronger.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "My hangover coffee" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, January 2

Point Of View: First, Second And Third

The point of view of a story (whether first, second or third) determines the perspective the story is viewed through.

Narrative voice has to do with the way a story is told.

And, yes, that was cribbed from Wikipedia! But, honestly, Wikipedia has an excellent article on point of view and the closely related topic of narrative voice. Definitely worth the read.

What follows is my summary of the subject. 

First Person Perspective

- Story is told by a narrator who is also a character in the story.
- Narrator uses the pronouns "I," "we," "me," "us," "my/mine," "our/ours".
- The narrator is often the protagonist.

Advantages to using the first person perspective:

Since the reader has intimate access to the thoughts and feelings of the viewpoint character some feel it's easier for readers to identify with--to care about--them. This is especially welcome if you wish your readers to identify with and care about a character whose actions seem unmotivated, antisocial or destructive.

Beginning writers often find it easier to keep from 'head-hopping,' and stick to a single, consistent, point of view, when they use the a first person perspective.

Disadvantages to using the first person perspective:

Story events can only be shared if the viewpoint character is nearby (or if they have the ability to project their consciousness.)

Orson Scott Card has an excellent discussion--the best I've read--about the pros and cons of using the first person perspective in his book "Character And Viewpoint." He includes easy to understand, and fabulously written, examples. (By the way, OSC argues that writing in the third person is easier for beginning writers.)

Second Person Point of View

- Story is told by a narrator who is often a character in the story.
- Narrator uses the pronouns "you," "your," "yours".
- The narrator is often the protagonist.

Advantages to using the second person perspective:

Makes the reader feel as though they are a character within the story, putting them into the action of the story.

Disadvantages of using the second person perspective:

Can have a jarring effect on the reader by reminding them they are reading a story.

The second person point of view isn't used much, though it is interesting (to me at least) that it is often used in blog posts! Every time I talk to "you," dear reader, I'm using the second person. It's also often used by journalists.

Third Person Point of View

- Story is told by a narrator who often is not a character in the story.
- Narrator uses the pronouns: "he," "she," "it," "they".
- The narrator is often not the protagonist.

Advantages of the third person perspective:

The third person point of view gives a writer the greatest flexibility, allowing them to pick any character in the story as the POV character.

Disadvantages of the third person perspective:

Every point of view character should have a distinct voice. G.R.R. Martin does this exceptionally well but many writers try to minimize this disadvantage by sticking to only one or two point of view characters (depending on the length of the story).

Character Voice

Often--usually--a character within the story (as opposed to a disembodied voice) takes the role of the narrator. Such an entity is known is the viewpoint character, the character through which the story is told, the character through which the reader "sees" the world.

Viewpoint Character vs Focal Character

The viewpoint character is often the focal character--the person the story is about--but not always. For instance, in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories the focal character is Sherlock Holmes but they are told from the point of view of his trusted friend and helper, John Watson.

Narrative Points of View: Limited, Objective, Omniscient

The voice of the third person narrator can be limited, objective or omniscient.

Third Person Limited

The narrator is limited to the thoughts and feelings of one character. Throughout the course of the story the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of many different characters may be explored but, traditionally, only one head may be explored at a time. To do otherwise can often be confusing and, as a result, irritating.

Violation of this rule provokes accusations of "head hopping."

In my experience, a number of writers do violate this rule occasionally, but the trick is to do it in a way that doesn't confuse the reader. Clarity is king.

Third person limited, is much like the first person point of view except for the use of third person pronouns.

Third Person Objective

In third person objective the narrator does not have access to any of the character's thoughts or feelings. This point of view is often called "fly-on-the-wall" and is often adopted when the storyteller wishes to be dispassionate and objective--or perceived as such. For instance, most news stories are written in third person objective.

Third Person Omniscient

An omniscient narrator knows everything that happens in the world of the story including the thoughts and feeling of each of the characters.

Pros and cons of using the third person omniscient

The omniscient perspective is good for telling complex stories involving many characters and/or great spans of time.

An undesirable side effect of using third person omniscient is that it can seem impersonal and make it more difficult for readers to identify with the characters. As a result readers might not care as much about what happens to them.

Which would be bad since, arguably, the goal of storytelling is to elicit deep emotions in readers.

That's it! I hope you all had a marvellous Christmas and a very merry New Year's Eve!

Photo credit: "2014-001 like it's the first time" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.