If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency. emergency.cdc.gov
Subscribe to darkfictionmuse, my mailing list!
Interested in posting your reviews or guest articles at this site? Then fill out the form HERE.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Resolutions For Writers

Okay, so every year I say I'm going to make resolutions. Making them is cool and I even keep to them through January, but when February 1st rolls around, they might as well blow away on the first breeze that passes through my window. Here are some of those resolutions, which I think we can and should all make. If you have any more, please let us know.

  1. Write Every Day. Even if it's a paragraph, a journal entry, something in my blog, or some story ideas, try to get something down each and every day.
  2. Send More Things Out. I have a ton of short stories sitting on my computer. There's no reason for them to be ignored and gathering cyber dust.
  3. Read More. I need to broaden my library. Not only do I need to read more in my favorite genres, but I should be reading more in other genres as well.
  4. Finish An Unfinished Work. Yes, I have lots of stories sitting here half-finished. It wouldn't take much to sit down and start working on them again.
  5. Make Writing Contacts. It helps a lot if you make connections in the writing field, whether it's to network with other writers in your genre or to make acquaintances with an editor/publisher at the next convention.
  6. Research New Markets. Always try to keep abreast of the markets where my stories might fit, even the new ones.
  7. Update My Website. I put up a nifty site years ago, then never touched it until recently. I need to keep my writing site updated on a regular basis. If you don't have a site, why not?
  8. Attend A Writer's Conference. As of yet, I have never once been to a conference, convention, or workshop. From what I hear, they are excellent places to meet people, gain knowledge into the writing field, and have fun.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Writer's Work Is Never Done!

As far as I know, no one's work is perfect the first time around. A good writer knows they have to revise and rework their pieces before they will be acceptable. Will they ever be perfect? I don't think there is such a thing. I read stuff that I have gotten published and I still see things that could be revised. A writer's work is never done, it seems.

So what do you look for when you have to edit your story before sending it out? Here are some things that I would work on. Feel free to add your own ideas here.

  • Does my opening scene grab the readers attention? Have I included important elements that my readers need to know in order to continue with the story? Are my characters introduced properly?
  • Have I used too much passive voice or do my verbs show action?
  • Are my sentences of varying lengths?
  • Is my imagery effective? Have I provided enough "seeing" that my readers can picture what I'm talking about?
  • Does my dialogue sound natural and smooth? Have I used dialect that halts the speech patterns of my characters?
  • Do my scene transitions flow into one another?
  • Have I cut all unnecessary words or cliches?
  • Is my ending conclusive and believable? Have I given the reader a complete story and left nothing lacking?
  • Is my manuscript formatted properly?
  • Have I proofed and run a spell check?

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Exercise: Santa's Out To Get Me!

It’s Christmas, the happiest time of the year. Or so you thought. Scrooge is here to turn all your Christmas dreams into nightmares. Santa is climbing down the chimney, but he’s not bringing you a bag of toys. The reindeer are pawing at the rooftop, but why is their fur all mussed up and their eyes blood red? The Christmas tree is lit up beautifully, except every time you touch it, you start scratching like mad. The elves are dancing around the house, or are they elves at all?

Find your favorite Christmas icon and turn it into a horror story/scene. Give us the scariest, chilliest, most horrible Christmas time that we’ll remember.

Friday, December 1, 2006

The Art of Outlining

I'd like to discuss one of the age-old questions that writers have come across -- to outline or not to outline? Outlining is an art and only those skilled enough to venture into it can write a clean, crisp summary of their work. It works for some and others not.

For me, I could never sit down and write an outline of my stories before I start them. Part of the attraction of writing is not knowing where the story is going. I like to let it write itself practically. I can't plan out my entire piece in my head before I start working on it because I don't know how it's going to end. I don't even know where it's going to go yet.

Plus, let's not forget the fact that stories can change when we least expect it. Outlines are not made to be written in stone. If that's the case, then why write one at all? If you don't stick to your outline, isn't it just a waste of time? Absolutely not, for some people.

I know people who can't write a story without some sort of framework to follow. They are more organized and need to plan out their stories before ever throwing their characters into the mix. And that's perfectly fine.

But for others, spontaneity in writing keeps them interested.

So what's the answer to this question? There is none. Outlining is good for some and not so good for others. However, before you decide if it's right for you, I urge you to try it both ways. If you normally outline something before you write it, try writing something off the top of your head and see how that works out. If you usually write by the seat of your pants, then try putting out an outline first on your next story. You just might be surprised at what happens next.

Now, let us know. Do you outline or not? :-)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Mini-Exercise: Create Your Own Metaphor

What is a metaphor? We have all used them at some point in our life, whether we knew it or not. Simply put, a metaphor is a comparison of two things without using the words like or as. Some popular metaphors include raining cats and dogs, all the world's a stage, you are my sunshine, and she's the apple of my eye. Now it's your turn. Get those wheels turning inside your mind and come up with your own metaphors. Let's see what you got.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Critiquing Tips

You spend a long time writing and crafting and your story, wrestling with it night and day, pouring your heart into it, until at last, you're finished. With nail-biting anxiety, you decide to take the next step – letting someone else read it and give their impressions on it. Will they like it, or will they think the writing is just plain awful?

If we want to be great storytellers, this is something all serious writers should put their writing through. The best way to get your story masterfully crafted is to endure a professional critique – a detailed, rip it up and tear it apart review, where the critiquer hits the story from all angles, exposing every possible weakness, leaving your tale dripping raw and bloody.

If you have never given a critique before or have never had one done for your writing, then here are some tips on how to critique or what to expect from a critique.

  • If this is not your favorite type of writing, let the author know right away.
  • Don't read other critiques yet. It might bias your review.
  • Write down your first impressions as a reader. Was the story captivating? Did you enjoy it? Do you think the story has sales potential?
  • Try to give feedback on what could be changed. Identify the weaknesses. Offer constructive advice that might lead to improvement in the story.
  • Give examples of improvements, wherever necessary.
  • Praise where praise is due. Always try to add some positive comments into your critique. Let the author know where the strengths in the story lie.
  • Never criticize the author personally. Focus your attention on the story itself.
  • Critique as you would want to be critiqued.
  • Be honest, but kind. Do not leave something out due to fear of hurting the author's feelings, but do try to give constructive criticism.
  • Try to word your comments diplomatically. "Comma's were misused throughout the story" is much better than saying, "The author does not know how to use comma's."

A good critique is done well that the author feels as if he or she has received some excellent helpful advice. A critiquer's job is not to be harsh and cruel or to give the author a thick skin. It is not to crush the fragile ego of a budding writer or to lord it over a writer in some form of power struggle. It is to help the writer improve his or her story.

Some phrases to consider when critiquing include, "In my opinion", "I'm not sure but", "Have you considered", "You might think about", "possibly", "another idea might be", "maybe". These are the hallmarks of a tactful, softer phrasing.

If the manuscript is horribly mutilated, beyond recognition, and you just would like to grab the author by the throat and strangle him for even submitting it for your critique, then the best advice would be to not read the manuscript. Pick another one to critique. If there aren't any more, then give the author a nice excuse on why you had to pass. However, if you feel that you must critique the story, offer up some suggestions, not demands. Who knows the author's circumstances? Perhaps the author is a twelve-year-old with a fanciful imagination who just hasn't grasped the English language yet.

So remember, a critique is not just what you say, it's about how you say it too. Be tactful and honest and you will help other writers improve on their writing.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What is Horror?

I love horror, but when I tell people I write horror, I can see the wheels turning in their minds. The first thing they see is blood and gore and they think I'm some sort of psycho. It's easy to understand their thoughts, though, as today's modern movies incorporate a lot of unnecessary evils. However, to those of us who live in the horror genre, we know differently. Horror is not about how much blood you can shed. It's about real people eliciting a real emotion from the reader.

When I pick up a horror book, I like to be scared. I like to sit on the edge of my seat, wondering what is going to happen next. Will the monster triumph? Will the main character be able to get out of a sticky situation before they become the next victim? Will I be afraid to go to sleep at night, thinking that something evil might claw its way out from under my bed and take me to a place I'd rather not go?

That is the true face of horror. If I can walk away from a book feeling nervous, scared, or afraid to turn out the lights, then the author has done its job.

I'm a big fan of the less is more concept. The less blood shown spurting from the victim's head as the demon crushes them, the better. Early horror classics never had much blood and gore thrown in. They left that up to the imagination, which is sometimes a lot worse than being shown.

To me, the best horror elements are a sense of evil/dread and evoking fear. Some people can write what they classify as horror by using hospital scenes and people dying. While that may be horror in real life, it doesn't appeal to me. I like to distance myself from real life situations by throwing real life characters into supernatural settings. But remember, the reader must always find a way to get involved with the character or the story will fall flat. If the reader doesn't care about the characters, he/she won't care about the story being told either.

So, how do you define horror?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Exercise: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

Okay, this is the start of my monthly exercises. With Thanksgiving arriving next week, I thought I would cater to the holiday. Stretch your creative muscles and give this little exercise a try. Feel free to send it to me or post it in a comment here (if it's short enough).

------- Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? --------

Thanksgiving Day is finally here. All your guests have arrived. Your turkey is in the oven. Drinks and stories are circulating. This day couldn't be more perfect, or so you thought. Just minutes before you are ready to put the dinner on the table, the doorbell rings. Without thinking, you answer it and immediately regret it. Your ex (spouse, boy/girl friend, friend, etc.) is standing there and he/she is stone drunk. They stumble past you, into the living room, speaking in a loud voice, telling everyone what a horrible person you are. You rush into the room, trying to corral the poor soul away from your guests. You usher him/her into the bathroom, where they collapse into a heap. You close the door, leaving your ex alone, to return to your guests. Things settle back down and you temporarily forget the intrusion. Dinner is served. You have a wonderful meal. After dinner, one of your guests disappears. A scream is heard, coming from the bathroom. You rush in to find that your ex is lying in a pool of blood, apparently the victim of a murder. Who would have done this? You reach for the phone, but find no dial tone. As you turn to go find your cell phone, the lights go out, throwing the place into complete darkness...


Okay, now your turn. Take this story and run with it. Who murdered your ex? What happened to the phone and now the power? Will one of your guests be next, or is the killer amongst you? Have fun!