Category Archives: Emily Godhand

How Dreadful

He is horrible — horrible beyond anything you can imagine — but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.
-H.P Lovecraft, regarding Nyarlathotep.

H.P Lovecraft could spend thirty something pages saying “Guys, no really, this thing is just so awful you wouldn’t even believe me. It’s horrible and beautiful and awful and wonderful and if I even looked at it I would be driven mad.”

Lovecraft didn’t come out and throw the monster screaming in your face like some cheap scare-video. He didn’t let you get jaded to it by constantly showing blood-gore-blood-gore until the reader is going, “Oh. Let me guess. This room is bloody too? Oh look, a foot. Huh. Yawn.”

Oh, no.

There’s something to be said for anticipation and the limitless capacity of the human imagination. Just ask anyone with a fear of needles and an impending hospital visit. Or you’ve just sent a potentially embarrassing message and you keep seeing the ellipses start and stop as you wait for their reply. Or you’re expecting a very important phone call. Or you get a phone call that wasn’t expected at all. 

Building up something without actually showing it can create dread, and dread can be a very powerful tool.
Dread is a more sinister emotion in that it seeps in slowly and festers in a way that is almost maddening; You haven’t seen anything yet, so what is there to be scared of? You don’t know what is going to happen, so why assume it is going to be bad? Because someone or something planted the seed that it would be awful, and your own imagination watered that baby with anxiety and trepidation until it blossomed and it’s grinning and begging you to feed it, Seymour. 

In The Punisher movie, there’s a scene where a man is strung up and Castle is talking about how he’s going to burn the man with a welding torch. He shows the torch to him. Lets him hear the roar of the fire as the torch starts up.

Then Castle explains what it can do to him. He builds up the idea that this is going to hurt and will mess him up something awful. He will feel nothing at first, saying the nerves will be fried away, and he does nothing. He tells him he will smell burning meat, and then sears a steak nearby. He tells him he will feel cold…And then what does he do?


He touches a cold Popsicle to his back (likely cherry flavored). A harmless frozen sweet treat meant for children on a hot summer’s afternoon. The tortured man absolutely loses it and starts screaming in agony.

Why? Because he believed him. Castle built up all this anticipation and dread such that an unpleasant icy feeling was perceived as torture comparable to something Spetsnaz came up with.

So how do you do this in writing?

Plant the seed. Tell them there’s something behind the door that goes to the basement, and most people are going to assume it’s probably an Eldritch horror crafted from their childhood nightmares instead of a surprise birthday party. And then show hints that they’re right.

…about the horror, not the birthday party. I’d love to read that story though.

Weird sounds that could be explained by something benign, but they don’t know. Weird smells. Weird sensations. It could be something perfectly normal, but they don’t know that for sure, and until they know, they’re going to fear.

This is the growls and shadows outside your tent wall when you’re camping.
This is finding one piece of a larger puzzle that something bad happened here, like a pool of blood oozing out from underneath a door.

Do you want to open that door?
(If you answered yes, you might be a horror writer and we should be friends.)

But a better question is: can your character afford not to open that door? Write so that they must confront this thing that they don’t want because not taking action also leads to bad circumstances.

They found that pool of blood? Well, who was hurt? Are they still here? Where are the children?

Evil is coming, and not taking action won’t make it better.

In closing, showing horror and gore and pain can be a useful tool, sure. But sometimes it’s what you don’t see that’s really scary. Because how can you address it if you don’t know?

I leave you with the most succinct example I can think of from Futurama:
“Did he at least die painlessly? …to shreds you say.” -Professor Farnsworth

 

Writer Care 101 – Don’t torture yourself

Quick, describe a writer! I’ll wait, like, ten whole seconds for you to think of one.

. . .

Okay, got it? Now let me guess:

They’re a brooding loner in disheveled, dark clothing that reeks of chain-cigarettes and sadness. They’re crouched over a computer in a dimly lit, smoke-filled room, alone, sipping at another whiskey as they write their demons onto the page. They’ve been awake much too long, but sleep is an evasive beauty because there are deadlines to meet. And even if there aren’t, there are. The deadlines live inside them, monsters kept at bay only by copious amounts of coffee drunk by the pot. Their family is widowed, and their friends mourn, but one day they hope the writer will emerge and join them again.They’re writing about humanity and how people relate, don’t you know. It’s deep, important work and no one really understands their genius. They’re a martyr suffering for their art, and the long night isn’t over yet.

Oh, and it’s 8 o’clock in the morning.

writerstereotype
The creature has also become self-aware.

But of course that’s a stereotype and no one *ahem* would ever live up to it.
And maybe there is some truth behind the fact that artist-types are driven to create, and have a higher correlation with mental illness, but we don’t have to romanticize insufficient self-care to take pride in the work we do.

Please, take care of yourself. The art isn’t more important than you; no one else believes that. Your friends and family love you. They want to see you. Isolating to write can help you focus, but come out now and then to connect with the world. Drink your water. Get some sleep. Make a schedule. See appropriate doctors and therapists if you have the need and the means. Take your medicine. Get your chores done so you can focus on writing. Get your writing done so you can spend time on what’s important to you.

Eat the damn kale if you want.

selfcare
Being in pain and over-tired and stressed constantly doesn’t necessarily make the story better, and it’s not worth the human cost even if it did. If you’re working on writing as a career, consider it a second job. You’d get sleep and eat and prepare and set aside time for your Breadjob, right?

Having a regular writing schedule and maintaining your health the best way you can, whatever that means for your specific needs, creates stability, which can help your writing career in the long-term, because it helps you maintain yourself and balance your life.

The best we can do, is to do what we can with what we have. Things will happen. There will be times when things creep up, and things are thrown off. Maybe we or someone we care for gets injured or physically ill. Maybe there’s a flare-up of mental illness, or common stressors from Breadjobs and relationships. There will be things that will try to throw you off, and by taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to weather them easier.

Most editors and publishers are human with things like ‘feelings’ and ‘empathy’. Scientists are still looking into whether or not there are facts to back that statement up, but in the spirit of unbridled optimism I’m going to believe it’s true.

You’ve taken care of yourself so far, right? That’s helped you meet your deadlines, and you’ve progressed as you’ve liked? But things happen. You’ve given yourself the best chance you could to weather this so far, so you’ll be more likely to handle it and still keep your obligations.

And if you can’t because of conflicts, or you need to prioritize yourself now so that you have a future later, most people will understand and work with you. You’re doing your best, and taking care of yourself, and they’re sure to have seen that.

Granted, even some Breadjobs won’t see it that way, but the rant against differing value systems within a capitalistic structure is for another day. Breadjob or Writing Deadline, you gave yourself the best chance and are doing what you can with the situation as it is.

Life’s hard enough. Torture your characters instead.

…now if you excuse me, my pot of coffee is ready.

June Wrap-Up!

Hey Folks,

I’d first like to thank every one who contributed a post to this month, Fictorian and guests alike!

The idea of a month devoted to not just research collection (because we’d like to spend more time writing instead, right?), but also some new concepts and ideas we might not have thought of to apply to our stories, thus making them more believable, realistic, or even helping us think of what might be true in the future.

Overall, I hope that our information was useful.


Some of my favorites (and there were many), in no particular order:

I started us off with a discussion on why realism and accurate information was so important in media.
Mostly because I was chased by a black bear once, and man, was I ever glad I read Little House on the Prairie.

Buuut also you know not everyone in your story is going to know the most accurate information, or maybe the readers are so used to an inaccurate trope that realism would cause them to cry foul. So sometimes perfectly accurate information isn’t the most important thing to the story.

Kristin Luna explored how gender can influence perceptions of risk-taking characters, particularly young women. We take risks! But perhaps not in the same way as young male characters might.

Guy Anthony De Marco gave us a 101 on proper terminology and use of firearms. Particularly, please don’t have your character take the safety off the revolver unless they’re removing their finger from the trigger. Just…why.

Marta Sprout wrote an excellent guest post on how crime scenes should, and shouldn’t, be investigated.

Kim May implored us to do our research on the particular culture of an Asian character instead of writing them into a stereotype. 

If we don’t care enough to get it right then we offend readers of that ethnicity — thus losing them as readers — AND we mislead and misinform the readers who aren’t familiar with that ethnicity. Also, by misrepresenting that group we’re ultimately contributing to the cultural oppression of that group — even though we don’t mean to.

I shared how to look for, and write about, a character drowning. Also please watch out for everyone at the pool. Even if they’re a strong swimmer. But especially watch the little ones because I had to pull a kid out who was panicking and that was so scary for them. Pools are supposed to be fun and safe summer memories.

I also wrote about the moving definition of ‘death’ and that lead to a whole exploration of what exactly cryonics are, how it all works, and what one might do with that sort of technology in their story. 

M. J. Carlson gave us a Top 10 list of the most used (and misused) injuries in fiction in his very informative guest post.

Mary Pletsch talked about how misconceptions about the military and soldiers can not only lead to inaccurate plotlines and failed missions, but contribute to ugly misconceptions around real service members.

Nathan Barra had so much on how one can accurately portray scientists outside of the stereotypical tropes that he had to split it into Science Fact and Fiction Part 1 and Part 2.

In Healing in Science Fiction, Jace Killian emphasized how quickly technology can change, and the importance of doing your research on current issues when anticipating future technology.


That’s what we have for June! Stay tuned for an interview with an amazing person tomorrow and check back in July as we discuss genre!

– Emily Godhand