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The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘writing tricks’

Writing Techniques 101.1

Posted by BigWords on March 5, 2011

If you haven’t managed to write in the last few weeks, you might begin to think that your writing muscles are atrophying. That’s a strange way to begin a blog post, yet I can’t help but think that some of my online peeps are a tad over-stressed at the thought of writing. I’ve seen a bunch of posts recently where the writing process has crawled to a stop, and it worries me that there isn’t enough help out there for those writers who might require a hefty nudge back into the routine of actually writing. Real life tends to get in the way of the creative process, bringing up the kinds of problems which give cause for people to think that maybe they aren’t cut out to do the business of writing on a regular basis. Hell, even the best of us have off days – I’m sure most of the names on the list of all-time greats have sat at their parchment, or typewriter, or computer, and thought “Why am I bothering – this isn’t working…” Do not let the voices in the back of your mind paralyze you through fear. There are a bunch of ways you can start writing again.

I mentioned the series of posts I was planning to do on writing exercises on Twitter, and had to immediately state that these were not about finesse. If the editing, rewrites and crits which get a project up to speed are the fourth innings, then these posts are pre-game warm-ups. Don’t drop everything you are doing to play with them if you are already in the middle of a project, but save them away for the time you need that extra bit of encouragement.

Without further ado, I’ll leap into the first exercise…

Grab yourself a list of words (I suggest Moby Word Lists by Grady Ward as a good place to start) and pick a few words at random (or, if you are feeling brave, let randomiser do the work for you) so you can begin thinking about what you will write – this is all prep which you should have to hand if you are intending to write a lot of material in as quick a time as possible. Taking the first word you get, expand the word into a sentence. For example, if you take “car” as an abstract term, it doesn’t mean so much, but if you describe the vehicle in detail (the make, the model, the condition it is in) you are on your way already. This, as you may have gathered, is merely telling – telling is bad, but there are times when information has to be imparted to the reader, and thus this is an important step in building a piece of writing. Describe where the vehicle is, then pick out another word. Once you have pulled maybe a half dozen words from this particular bag of tricks and spun them into sentences you should have a couple of paragraphs of text. Don’t wory too much right now about crafting story, because this is the baby steps to get you into the habit of writing something each and every day, and it isn’t at all important how you get those words out.

Run through this exercise five times. Don’t second-judge yourself, nor do edits to what you write.

You will be looking at what you have written with a quizzical eye by now, unsure of where these fragments are going. You’re going to need a story to hang the material on, as paragraphs of descriptions might not be igniting the sparks of imagination for you yet. Don’t worry – even if you are coming up blank on story there are ways of generating stories which don’t require a lot of time, and which can sometimes have the effect of bringing out further ideas for you to explore.

The simplest way to get inspiration is using a two line description of an existing story. When I first encountered this technique, even I was dubious – isn’t that cheating? What if someone calls plagiarism? How do I come up with a story different from the one I am retelling? Why isn’t this easier? If it makes you feel any better, use the word ‘prompt’ to describe the sentences you will be using (which, after all, is exactly the purpose we are using these things for here), and try not to dwell too much on the other questions ringing through your head. Those questions are stopping you from writing, and the objective here is wordcount. Everything else can be fixed, but if there are no words to work with later, the writing process will continue to stagnate.

Using something like TV Guide, or a big annual film guide (save for the more verbose tomes) you should pick out a simple description of a story to begin this part of the process. As much as I would like to pimp The Virgin Film Guide (and would, in other circumstances) it contains far too long descriptions of the films it covers – Halliwell’s Film Guide should be on your bookshelf, not only for these writing techniques, but for the wealth of old films and serials it covers. I was going to pull a few choice pieces from it, but I am reverting to type and dragging out The Complete Directory to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Television Series. For those of you who question using television series as prompts, I have a shock for you soon enough, but first lets look at a few of the episode entries to get a feel for the kind of synopsis we are looking for when trying to pull a choice tidbit to get the writing process into full swing:

A deadly prank is pulled on two fraternity boys who pass out after drinking too much.

(Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955); ep235 – Beta Delta Gamma)

A demolition worker unearths a sealed chest, and after opening it discovers a toy horse filled with malevolence.

(Ghost Story; ep16 – Dark Vengeance)

A psychiatrist believes that an autistic girl has uncanny understanding and power.

(Playhouse: The Mind Beyond; ep2 – Double Echo)

The scope each brief description offers is wider than you might think – allowing for both supernatural and psychological interpretations of the story. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the episodes in question (arguably, it is better if you haven’t seen them), the main point of using these little snippets of possible story ideas is to get you thinking about how those couple of paragraphs you created with the first exercise can be expanded into a larger work, with characters, events and locations coming together to give a satisfying story. I mentioned another way of generating story as I was leading up to the second part there, and it is one I often try when there is some free time in my schedule, but it is one which is slightly more complex, and has the worrying side-effect of leading writers to believe that watching television can, in some instances, be passed off as “research”. Seeing as I have tormented you thus far, I might as well give in, and lay it out for you.

Pick a series with no continuity between episodes. The more isolated the story is, the better. Now work out how long the episode is – you might want to record the episode, or buy a DVD of the series, because this is slightly more complex a method of getting the words to flow. Having selected the episode, watch one scene (roughly one third of the episode) and try to write an explanation of the events which places that scene into context. It doesn’t have to be the start of the episode, nor the end of it, but any scene throughout – using chapter select on a DVD is a great way to ensure you do not go over the alloted scene into another scene. Do not watch the rest of the episode just yet – keep working on the story until you are happy with it, and then compare what you have written to the finished episode.

For everyone thinking “Aw man, this is such bullshit” – and there will be naysayers – I’m going to reiterate the purpose of these techniques: This is merely to generate words. We’re filling that daunting white space with text, not setting out to oust the latest bestseller from the top of the book charts. If you are paralyzed by the mere thought of creating something interesting, the use of word lists can be one of the most effective spurs you can try. It removes so much of the inherent stress of trying to be original. Really, even the most lauded works of the last decade have come packed with plenty of cliché, as there is nothing truly new for you to write about.

Don’t fret about your writing so much, and enjoy the process.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

How To… Or Not: Writing Guides Which Promise Too Much

Posted by BigWords on December 18, 2010

This post, as you will probably see soon enough, wasn’t the easiest post to write. There are times when ideas and words come together to make a thought concrete, then there are times when the idea refuses to be ignored, yet the words to describe what is happening in my head refuse to cooperate. This is a case of the latter. I started writing this a couple of days ago, and it still feels as if there are places I could have been clearer. Don’t worry, because that is what the comment box is for. If there are any contradictory, nonsensical, or overly-wordy parts which are confusing, then feel free to call me out on it. The things in this post are long-standing bug-bears which have slowly been revealing themselves to me, but I’m not all the way there yet…

There are a lot of How To books out there – in fact, it seems that there is a new one being released every few months – and despite the fact that so many writers pick up these titles I still retain my reservations about their worth. This is something I’ve come back to occasionally, and I have finally worked out a couple of underlying reasons for my feelings about them. I’ve got nothing against them being perused as an accompanying tool alongside websites, forums and other writing tools available on the internet (often at no cost), but to focus on them as an essential part of the writing accouterments necessary to produce a viable novel is flawed. The best of the How To books, and there are good examples, provide no examples of the finished state of a piece of writing.

It may seem counter-productive to say that there are inherent problems with books which are intended to make the act of writing easier, but the fact that so many of these guides offers what amounts to a game walkthrough for novels can harm a unique voice. The standard list of requirements seen in many – opening, escalation, character development, et cetera – is fairly standard, but there are some titles which demand that there be elements added which (depending on genre, the age range of readers, the tone of the novel) might confuse an already dense plot to the point where the original intention of the author becomes muddied. It’s where the first thought towards an explanation of my reticence became apparent:

How many novels adhere to suggestions made in a ‘How To…’ book?

You may think I am being facetious here, but it is a question which may not come to you if you are focused on improving your novel. If you take a handful of books off your shelf and subject them to the recommendations made in the How To book, then would you find that the books (however well received) fail to make the grade as interesting subjects / concise plots / riveting entertainment – according to the book at hand, of course… I tried to square away a few novels against the advice found in three How To books, and quickly realized that – according to the authors of the How To books – there were probably severe deficiencies in those novels.

I actually thought of the second point whilst pondering the separation between theory and practice, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Staying with the thought that there is a certain amount of ‘wiggle room’ in the recommendations, I pondered ways to make the task of extrapolating a generalized (or abstract) statement more specific to help in the writing of a scene. The best idea I could come up with – aside from an understanding and patient Beta – was to look at books which share common themes with the one being written. This presents a few problems, as there are writers who dislike reading in their genre while in the midst of writing their own material.

Yet there is a way to pinpoint possible areas of weakness through the study of contemporary literature outside of the How To book… For those of you who are well aware of my snarky attitude towards Star Trek in particular, and televised and filmic science fiction in general, then the knowledge that I hold David Gerrold in very high regard should be no surprise. His non-fiction title The World According To Star Trek ranks among the very best of published criticism – not only deconstructing the themes of the series, but explaining (in clear, precise terms) why each thing must be a certain way. I use that title whenever I think of a science fiction idea – weighing the concepts I conjure against the logic Gerrold demands of SF.

Yes, there are other books which do much the same thing, but I like that particular reference book. When I have moments of inspiration which points towards the horror genre, I tend to flick open Stephen King’s Danse Macabre – another book about genre and writing which emphatically isn’t a simple How To book. A similar urge to define the rise of YA drove me to seek out books on the Harry Potter phenomenon. While my non-fiction tastes have largely determined the books I have picked up in this vein, I have attempted to read as widely as I can in the study of preexisting books, and this has greatly assisted in asking specific (rather than abstract) questions about my work. It is a halfway solution to the problems of How To books, but one which I feel much more comfortable with than standard texts on novel construction.

The second point, which I mentioned in passing, is one of comparison. Writing a novel is not the same as baking a cake. Though both require a set of ingredients, you can’t mix and match ingredients from one recipe to another in the blind hope of coming up with an entirely new form of culinary excellence. Writing, unlike bakery, is filled with such things. The experimental fiction of the past twenty years alone has introduced new quirks into the repertoire of established and aspiring novelists, and daring releases will only become more common as further self-published titles break through to a wider audience. This is where specific information, rather than generalities, can be utilized to assist a story through the difficult birthing pangs.

The second point is thus:

Writing a How To… book is similar, in may regards, to cold-reading.

For those of you who have yet to experience a live seance, there are a set of probing questions which, if asked in a particular manner and with enough conviction, can simultaneously get participants to divulge information about the deceased and make it appear as if there is communication with the dead occurring. I dislike cold-reading. You may think that this is a perfect manner in which to learn more about your novel, but (just like those phony seances) you will simply be regurgitating information with the illusion of something greater happening before you. There are few real ways that repetition assists in learning – similarly, one of my arguments against introducing greater digital research exposure in schools is the fear that rote recital could replace understanding of subjects.

There is a third reason why How To books raise my suspicions, and it is the one I have returned to time and time again… The points made from one book to another vary so widely that any reasonable and logical comparison of details from one guide to another is impossible. The notion that the suggestions from general titles are universal to all novels, or that genre-specific guides can steer a genre novel to completion with minimal stress, is one I find wanting. With guides to preexisting novels, the themes and plot points can be compared directly and analyzed at leisure – separate from the originating work, appeasing those who do not wish to be influenced directly or indirectly by the writing of another. Yet again, I have to point out that intelligence and discretion be used in such a process.

I come back to the cold-reading comparison with this thought – if you throw enough questions at someone, then there will undoubtedly be questions which register as a “hit.” These instances where the questions seem to directly address you should be weighed against the questions which fall far from the mark.

This post has, through re-writing, ran on longer than I intended. I might return to the subject if there are enough points remaining to be considered, though for the moment this post can stand as something of a final word regarding How To books, and the way in which they should be treated as a supplement to other writing resources.

Posted in Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Do I Really Want To Write Like George Orwell?

Posted by BigWords on August 18, 2009

The current issue of Writing Magazine (September 2009) contains an article called How To Write Like George Orwell, and the author (Tony Rossiter) makes some good points about clarity and brevity. It’s a useful way to look at any piece of writing, but looking at the work of authors who are acknowledged as being ‘greats’ can hamper as much as inspire. I’m not sure I would ever be able to compare something of mine to another author, even taking loose stylistic similarities into account.

Back to Orwell, and there is sense in his advice…

Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possibly to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules rather than write anything outright barbarous.

Orwell knew what he was talking about, but as time has moved on there have been shifts in society, which make for some difficult choices when considering how to take some of the helpful observations. I’m completely in agreement with the elimination of overused and redundant phrases, primarily because they tend to pull a reader out of the story. Cutting out words which serve no purpose is equally valid, though I am less inclined to remove a word from a kick-ass line for fear that it might neuter the idea.

Yeah, I am familiar with the old “murder your darlings” advice dished out by writing resources. The phrase does, sadly, break Orwell’s first rule, therefore I am going to ignore it. It’s been used so often that it may as well be consigned to the scrapheap straight away, to be replaced with something similar but fresh. “Kill those kids” might be taken the wrong way given the high number of school shootings, but unless anyone has a better line…

Never use a long word. Hmmm. Considering the relative complexity of modern language, there really isn’t any way of eliminating long words. Excessive use of longer words might be limiting as far as audience is concerned, with works being considered ‘difficult’ if they contain too many. It’s a trap that I often find unavoidable. Should I simplify to entertain the masses or remain stoically determined to educate the dumber less verbose audience?

Passive phrases, while frowned upon, have certain uses. It’s unusual to find, but there are instances of passive passages that remain compelling. They have been used to show disassociation with events, and can have a powerful effect in displaying the mental breakdown in a character as they slowly remove themselves from the world around them. I’m out on a limb with this observation, but I stand by the use of passive voice in contained and limited use.

As far as foreign phrases are concerned, I can’t disagree more strongly with Orwell. Heresy? Nyet. As long as the sentence makes sense, and the foreign word doesn’t confuse things, any word can be dropped into a text. Anyway, the internet is so prevalent nowadays that a reader confused by a word can simply look it up. If using strange vocab was good enough for Anthony Burgess, then it’s an acceptable tool in the arsenal of writers interested in broadening the horizon of their work.

Scientific words can go either way. I’m partial to terms that clearly define specific and limited areas. Words which cannot be changed to a simplified alternative are increasing as more and more speciality areas crop up in computing, engineering, archaeology and other occupations. I like seeing specific uses of technical terms, especially in thrillers. Verisimilitude is hard to achieve when you are pulling your punches.

Orwell was smart enough to realize that no rule is unbreakable.

Whenever I see these types of excercises I get the feeling that some people will take the rules too seriously, and that is where pastiches and awful “wannabe” stories crop up. Don’t try to be your writing heroes, but use them as a touchstone to bounce off of every once in a while. It’s very tempting to appropriate the voice of a respected author, but anything written in that voice will be a hollow and transparent copy.

Go read Nineteen Eighty Four and see what Orwell was talking about.

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Bridging The Gap Between Sub-Genres (SF)

Posted by BigWords on August 13, 2009

(note: I don’t normally do BIG SF, so this idea is likely to change.)

There’s a lot to think about when you consider introducing the actual nuts and bolts of space travel into a science fiction novel. I would have said ‘story’ there, but ‘novel’ makes more sense, ’cause there just isn’t room in a short story to get into the how’s, why’s and where’s that would give those big ‘ol spaceships a bit of depth. I’ve been thinking of applying a fresh take on the ancient trope of interstellar combat, but the technology has been bugging me since I started thinking about space travel seriously three or four years ago.

My concepts so far run to extrapolations of current technology and a few sensible adjustments of naval terminology. Everything needs to connect in a way which makes sense of the complications which would arise, though there is damn few things which work across both hard SF and space opera, the two sub-genres I would like to tie together in a way which doesn’t negate either approach. Yeah, it’s asking a lot from the reader to believe 100% in the world and get away with epic storytelling at the same time, but it shouldn’t be this hard.

I’m getting ahead of myself, because we need a chunk of space to drop spaceships into before the mechanics of the universe can be dissected.

The Basics

I’ve started a bit of the basic outlining, such as working out how large the known universe will be, which side the hero will be on, and where everyone is in terms of alliances and emnities. The worlds which I have decided will be used are full of humans, getting rid of several added layers of complexity and staying true to the hard SF side of the mix which has evolved through the story. I’m going to let you in on how I come up with the names of the planets, because it’s only fair that some techniques get aired for future reference.

The colonies are given six-letter names, alongside a numerical reference used for diplomatic and astrological reasons. The numbers are (loosely) based on a three-dimensional grid combined with elements lifted from a Victorian map of London. It’s an eccentric approach, but it seems to adds a layer of realism to the numbering. The names on the other hand, which is what the planets will mostly be called, is pure imagination combined with a level of geekery that I am ashamed to say runs to my core.

So, you’re wondering about the names? Try these out for size:

Reofje, Cilide, Masoun, Yebroa and Maoste.

They are some of the ones which remain in the text (there are more, with even obscurer origins), and serve well to demonstrate the naming of large numbers of objects / places / ideas when I have better things to do than concern myself with minutia. I’ll tell you how I did it now…

I’ve been using a form of shorthand for the better part of a decade now, mostly because I can write incredibly fast when I get excited about an idea. My handwriting goes to shit when I’m typing fast, and is impossible to read past three or four pages. Nuts and bolts: The shorthand eliminates ‘the’ from sentences, using t/ in its place, and unique words or phrases are compressed into a few letters.

So, in this vein, Return Of The Jedi becomes ReOft/Je. When I take out the t/ I am left with ReOfJe, which gets standardized into a normal word, and “Hey presto!” I have the name of a planet, without having to discover everything about the people living there to get the ‘perfect’ name. As if I could actually come up with something better, right? Actually, this isn’t so far from the lame way in which aliens were named in Alien Nation, resulting in characters named after dead actors and cartoon characters. The guys who would name planets would get bored after a while and start calling them whatever cruddy names they felt like.

Which means I now have planets, though the planets need governed. I’ve used a loose appropriation of US politics, mingled freely with 18th and 19th Century British Empire thinking, to create a governmental system which can be seen as both horribly oppressive and wonderfully free without contradicting myself. All colonies are regarded as equal, but those with more natural resources are better than the ones which just come in over the basic requirements for the sustenance of life. It saves building factions and competing powers.

The Space-Docks

When I decided on giant space cruisers as a primary mode of transport I found myself thinking about size. Guys do this a lot, because no matter how often we are told otherwise we will obsess about size. It matters. The bigger the better, right? Well, in deference to the laws of physics I decided that the manufacturing of these behemoths would be done in space, where the issue of weight isn’t a concern. It’s still problematic, because without friction anything which begins to move will keep moving until it hits something.

Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.
Pablo Picasso

I’m taking technologies which exist, so – postulating the advances in technology combined with human ingenuity – I decided that the sensors used in cars to avoid crashes would make the process easier. There is a commercial running at the moment where a car automatically brakes when it comes up behing another car, so that is a nice example of the technology in action.

But the light from the sun is going to make things difficult… Which is where simple manufacturing robots come into their own. I pointed out the ROS being used now, so robots will have hopefully become cheap enough to mass-produce when we finally get into space. I’m not sure they will ever attain sentience, so Data from Star Trek, the annoying gay butler and the Tourettes-suffering dwarf from Star Wars (and even Arnholt from the Terminator films) can be ignored. No droids in my story thankyouverymuch.

Which brings me to A.I., and one of the worst assumptions in film I have seen. Every robot looks the same (sorry for spoiling the film if you haven’t sen it), yet in the real world there is always competition. Numerous companies trying to outdo each other is one of the cornerstones of innovation, and the idea that one single company has cornered the market so completely that no alternatives exist strikes me as ‘off’ somehow. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex handles the idea much better.

But I said there would be no robots chatting with my main characters, so the point is moot.

To be continued…

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Need A Bit Of Assistance With The Story, Huh?

Posted by BigWords on August 8, 2009

There’s as many ways to write a book as there are writers, possibly more. I’m not the kind of person who slavishly devotes time to following How To books, mostly because there is often as much bullshit as there is good advice tucked in the pages of that “best-selling author who want YOU to achieve the same success” and who has outlined their methods in painstaking detail. It always strikes me as fanciful that a person picked off the street at random could be turned into a chart-topping success after reading one of those books.

But that is the belief which How To books exploit, in the hope you will part with your money. Put the cash back in your pocket, and wait a minute before you give your credit card details to the webpage which promises to get you millions of sales. I’ll point you in the direction of a few places which are distilled and undiluted help for the ideas rattling around your brain. They aren’t pretty, and they aren’t particularly long, but they work for me. That’s the important thing, right?

If you have read The Da Vinci Code and thought “How the fuck did that piece of shit get so many readers,” then The Da Vinci Formula: The Da Vinci Code’s Formula For Success is what you need to check out. It was originally published in a writing magazine, but the webpage is easier to find than a back-issue, so I’m directing your attention there.

Please, for the love of Cthulhu, don’t write like Dan Brown, even if you’re just in it for the money… It is more of a brief outline of how it managed to break through popular consciousness than a step-by-step guide to the process of writing such a book. Some parts of the article have been useful in figuring out what I should avoid, rather than copy, but take from it what you will. You could tell that I hated The Dumb Venetian Crud from what I’ve just written, right?

I’ve been a big fan of old pulp magazines for as long as I can remember, possibly due to seeing the Doc Savage movie at an impressionable age, but I digress… The Lester Dent technique for writing pulp stories is a fine tool for short stories and novellas. It is an excellent resource, and one which should be savored for the brevity and intelligence of advice.

An Effective Writing Formula For Unsure Writers is useful, and Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Emmons, Jr., the author of the piece, has a good grasp of the requirements of a riveting story. The numbered outline idea has plenty of followers, but I can’t honestly say that it has ever worked entirely well for me. Things get moved around too much, and I like twisting the story to fill in the blanks when I come to natural pauses, though it might give your story shape.

There’s a special world of How To devoted to getting kids to write, such as Formula Writing originated by Jan Cosner, and anyone wanting to get back to basics should thing about using this to decide if every word is working properly in their stories. I got irritated with the tone after a few minutes, but more patient writers will probably receive some good advice from the work tools. While I’m on the subject of “back to basics” writing, I’ll explain where fairy tales come into the equation:

Most genre fiction (I’m using ‘genre’ even  though it is a moronic word) has a tendency to structure itself around some very basic and intuitive ideas which can be traced back to fairy tale and myth. Substitute magic cloaks of invisibility for chameleon nets, swords for phasers, princesses for diplomats and castles for starships, and that is basically what SF has been using since the creation of the form.

There is a How To article which spells out the writing of fairy tales better than I can, and it should be viewed through a distorted lens of modern ideas to get the most out of the ideas in fairy tales.

I’ve steered clear of some of the better know books on the subject of writing thus far into my meanderings, so it is only fair that I share with you a couple of the titles sitting on my bookshelf which have helped me manage ideas, just to clear up which books are actually useful and which you should take with a grain of salt. I’m starting with Stephen King’s exploration of the horror genre Danse Macabre,which has lots of ideas about the conventions and twists that horror stories use. His tone is, as always, reassuringly chatty, and he never gets too complex for the material he is using.

It might not be of use if you are planning trash like Twilight, but for horror it is one of the few indispensable books out there. On Writing is also up there with some of the best advice you can find.

Most real How To titles are useless for me, but Christopher Kenworthy’s Writing Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror from (ugh…) How To Books is not completely irrelevant. Some of the advice is completely patronizing and redundant, and he has the troublesome knack of finding the most obvious choices in his examples, as if he is trying to show how not to follow an idea through to its’ most interesting angle.

I may come back to this book at a later point for a more detailed reason why I dislike it, but for now I’ll put this post aside for a while.

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Fueling The Insanity Of An Already Mad Story

Posted by BigWords on July 15, 2009

I wanted to share this with people because I am forever grateful to whoever came up with the idea. I love it when I am given a new toy to play with, and this is the best I have come across in a long while. The following is an excerpt from a zombie tale, naturally…

Today hell erupted. Everyone nudges death in shock, coping or managing in noticable grief. I am one of the survivors.
The end is coming. Nearby, under darkness, Grace is noticably getting colder, left outside so everyone realizes… Damn, it’s too bad. I liked her. Don’t you imagine no ghouls shall linger on wherever living yet-
Shit, there’s one… Nudging closer…

It is a bit clunky, and the first person narration seems stilted, but there is good reason. Lets look again.

Today hell erupted. Everyone nudges death in shock, coping or managing in noticable grief. I am one of the survivors.
The end is coming. Nearby, under darkness, Grace is noticably getting colder, left outside so everyone realizes… Damn, it’s too bad. I liked her. Don’t you imagine no ghouls shall linger on wherever living yet-
Shit, there’s one… Nudging closer

Both “The end is coming” and “Nudging closer” are hidden in the preceeding text. But what of Grace? She has been put outside where the undead are shuffling, in the cold of the night… What is she doing?

The end is coming. Nearby, under darkness, Grace is noticably getting colder, left outside so everyone realizes… Damn, it’s too bad. I liked her. Don’t you imagine no ghouls shall linger on wherever living yet-

Oh, so there ain’t gonna be a happy ending then…

It will make editing something so multi-layered next to impossible, but I’m already in love with this idea, subliminally influencing the reader into a certain way of thinking as they unexpectedly get flash-forwards, deja-vu and mild disorientation. I am going to suggest a third layer as well, which will occupy every # word in the text (fourth, tenth, eighteenth, whatever) as an added complication. As I said, the editing of this technique will be next to impossible, but challenges are challenges, and I don’t give in easily.

This idea harkens back to a few cultural touchstones such as The Bible Code, subliminal advertising and classic foreshadowing, but it has the edge of insane brilliance which gets me fired up regardless of its origins. Nearly everything I touch seems to need an extra something which remains tantalizingly out of my grasp, yet this- This is a tool which I need to use. The effectiveness of the text-within-a-text may be unproven, and it may turn out to be unprovable, yet the psychology is sound.

We take in information all of the time without knowing we are absorbing the information. It is how tricksters magicians such a Derrin Brown are able to convince people of the most unbelievable things, or to implant thoughts in the minds of unwary audience members.

Be careful when you read something of mine from now on, I might be prepping your unconscious for a bank job…

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