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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are We in the Golden Age of Fantasy?

Are you stoked about all the great fantasy now available to read? Are you deliriously happy that we live in the time that Peter Jackson produced unbelievably super cool movies of The Lord of the Rings?

If so, check out my article by clicking on:

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Suspense Technique #6: Snoopy May Be On To Something!

So far, our efforts to conjure up suspense have leaned mainly on things happening: characters in danger, something unknown or unexpected occurring, depriving our protagonist of his/her goal, etc. But suspense can be built in your descriptive elements as well. While Snoopy rarely got past his famous opening lines, I think even he understood that developing mood and atmosphere creates suspense.

Suspense Technique #6:
Mood and Atmosphere

Your goal is to describe things with a certain reader-response-emotion in mind. Foreboding, fear, anxiety, disquiet, anticipation, etc.--all ideally will keep your readers flipping the pages. This is why movies have soundtracks, right? Would Jaws have had you on the edge of your seat without "Duhhh, nuuuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh?" And John Carpenter just about scared me out of my skin with his spine-tingling piano-key chiller in the movie Halloween.

But writers don't have the luxury of a soundtrack to put along with their words. Words are all you've got. Fortunately, words are more than enough to send the imagination spinning. An aside: this ability to use words to bring about an emotional response was one of the things that drew me to writing in the first place. I remember as a teenager reading Stephen King's Christine up in my bedroom and being scared to death. Now, Christine is about a deadly, demonic car…A CAR!! And there I was on the bed in my 2nd floor room--afraid of a car! What was Christine supposed to do…drive up the stairs and knock on my bedroom door?

Still, Mr. King created such a freaky atmosphere that I kept reading late into the night, and…I kept buying his books. To make a reader feel a certain emotion takes talent and skill--but more than anything it takes a willingness to experiment with language. Begin with the emotional atmosphere you are trying to develop. If it's fear, you could throw some dark, shadowy places into the scene. Maybe the hoot of an owl, the scrape of a blade on stone. Make it cold. Invoke as many of the senses as you can. If the mood is discomfort, make it hot, humid, and sticky. Let there be little gnats or mosquitoes buzzing around the protagonist's head.

Another mood-building trick is to make the most of end words (words that end lines, paragraphs, and pages. Here's why. The reader's eye lingers on the word at the end word of a line or paragraph for a few seconds while it does a return sweep (like an old typewriter drops down to the beginning of the new line). The reader's eyes linger even longer on the last word of a page because it takes the reader a moment or two to physically turn the page. The end word floats there in the reader's subconscious…where it paints a lovely mood!

Here's an example of Mood and Atmosphere from my next book, Isle of Swords:

Clouds gathered over Dominica, casting a pall on the stained glass window of the church in Misson. Brother Jerome, one of the monks who helped Father Espinosa care for Misson’s faithful, wiped the sweat from his brow and continued sweeping the stone walk that divided the graveyard behind the church. Father Espinosa, of course, had gone to help fight the fires that sprang up all around what remained of St. Pierre’s mill. And that left Brother Jerome alone in the graveyard. Not that he was afraid to be there alone. After all, Jerome was in the prime of manhood, strong and confident. And it was, in spite of the new cloud cover . . . daytime.

Brother Jerome stopped sweeping a moment and adjusted the collar of his brown robe. The stone walk before him stretched over a hill and followed the graveyard down into a semi-wooded hollow. Brother Jerome swallowed. Wisps of smoke had drifted down into the low-lying areas and now curled slowly around the skeletal trees, the ever-staring statues, and the looming monuments. “Ah! Ridiculous pagan superstition!” he scoffed aloud, finding the sound of his own voice a little bit comforting. “It is nothing. Smoke from a dozen little fires being put out.”

He continued sweeping, whistling a favorite hymn, as he worked his way over the hill and down into the hollow. It seemed to grow quieter as he descended. The gloom deepened as well as he worked his way down the stone walk that wound under the canopies of trees and ended near the shadow of the higher hills. Brother Jerome looked back up the hill to the church, which suddenly seemed a hundred miles away. Feeling as if someone were watching him, he spun around. But the only thing there was a stone angel. She guarded a grave site with outstretched wings. Her large blank eyes made Jerome shiver. Calm yourself! You’ve been down here a thousand times, he told himself.

Then, he heard a short scraping sound—like stone grating against stone. Brother Jerome wheeled around holding up his broom like a weapon. He looked at a large stone sarcophagus just ten feet away. The name engraved there identified the deceased as Jourdan Sebastian Prewitt. Born 1659. Died 1712. Dead only a few years, thought Jerome. The inscription along the side of the stone coffin was in Latin. Thanks to the expert teaching of Father Espinosa, Jerome could read Latin very well. Just this once, he wished he hadn’t been such a good student. The inscription read: Venio cum gladio de mortuis.

I come with sword from death. Jerome started to shake. He heard the scraping sound again. This time longer. And he noticed the slab lid of the sarcophagus had shifted. Then, he heard an otherworldly voice, spoken from far away and yet, still near.

“ . . . waited long enough,” said the voice, heavily accented in French. Jourdan Sebastian Prewitt, thought Brother Jerome. That is a Frenchman’s name!
The stone lid began to move. He could now see a dark gap where the slab had moved away. Tendrils of dust drifted out and curled like fingers around the sarcophagus. “Time to escape this foul tomb,” said the voice. “Time to rise . . .”

Now, it's your turn. Write an opening line, paragraph or two that
will really hook us using Mood and Atmosphere Post it here.

Once I have twenty or thirty of them, I'll have my veteran Quality Fiction Team {ie: my lovely wife and me} select a winner who will receive a signed copy of Isle of Swords OR
The Door Within Paperback with "Lost Chapters!"

Only two entries per person, so get crafting and submit them when they are ready!