Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reading Out Loud - Kirstyn McDermott - Biggest Aha Moments in Writing

We’ve all been to a public reading where, no matter how magical the words might be on the page, the author proves incapable of successfully delivering them aloud to an audience. From the chin-on-chest mumbler, to the atonal reciter of monologues, to the speed reader who blatantly disregards their own punctuation, a bad performance from an author can be painful to witness. Even worse, it can completely put off potential readers and book buyers.

The first time I was invited to do a reading, I was terrified of being one of those authors. A natural introvert, I decided to practise reading my chosen piece aloud several times over in the privacy of my office in order to get the cadence, speed and delivery just right. And I am so glad I did. Not only did my preparation make for an entertaining reading later on, but I ended up spotting several rough patches and making significant – if minor – tweaks to the language of the story. Unfortunately, that piece was already published, but since then I started to read everything I write back to myself before submission/publication. I now regard this as an essential part of my process, the final stage of polishing an otherwise finished draft, or proofing soon-to-be published pages.

Reading out loud is an utterly different experience to simply reading silently from a manuscript. Hearing the words spoken outside of your own head is the best way I’ve found to pick up annoying repetitions, unnecessary speech tags, stilted dialogue, awkward sentence constructions, unwanted tense changes, and a whole host of other linguistic problems that your work will be much better off without. Trust me, it’s a rare eye that will catch everything on the page, but a rare ear that won’t notice when something simply sounds wrong.

Of course, you do need to make allowances for styles and formats that were never intended to be read aloud and perhaps don’t lend themselves to oral performance, but for a basic linguistic once-over, this technique is invaluable. I even read the whole of my last novel aloud – all 120,000 words of it – as part of the copyediting process. It took the best part of three days and I had almost no voice left by the end, but the stumbles and missed beats that my ear was able to pick up and correct made it a much more polished book. So, if you’re not already in the habit of reading your work out loud, why not give it try? Chronic laryngitis notwithstanding, I can guarantee you will become a better writer for it.

 Kirstyn McDermott has been working in the darker alleyways of speculative fiction for much of her career, with many critically acclaimed and award-winning short stories under her authorial belt. Her two novels, *Madigan Mine* (Picador, 2010) and *Perfections* (Xoum, 2012) both won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel in their respective years, and a collection of short fiction, *Caution: Contains Small Parts* was just published by Twelfth Planet Press. While wearing her non-writing hats, Kirstyn co-edited the inaugural issue of *Midnight Echo*, served as Vice President of the Australian Horror Writers Association, and convened Continuum 3, the speculative fiction and pop culture convention. These days, when not wearing her writing hat, she produces and co-hosts a monthly literary discussion podcast, *The Writer and the Critic*, which generally keeps her out of trouble. After many years based in Melbourne, Kirstyn now lives in Ballarat with her husband and fellow scribbler, Jason Nahrung. 

She can be found online (usually far too often) at

Monday, November 4, 2013

Building Tension - Brad Hodson - Biggest 'Aha' Moments in Writing

Most of my Ah-Ha moments in writing came when reading either the Greats or the Trash. Now capital T Trash is not confined to genre, as some snobs might dictate, but can be found in everything from horror to the shelves so generically labelled "Literature" at your local big box store. But there was an epiphany that started to form in reading Hemingway and Le Carre and "`Salem's Lot," as much as it started to form reading bad gorefests and pretentious purple prose that sought more to obfuscate than to illuminate. You should read mostly good books, of course, but reading bad books can show how NOT to do it.

And it, in this case, is tension. The epiphany, which, to be honest, was less of a lightning strike than an electrical hum growing louder over time, was that tension was an art unto itself. It required a few major pieces, but the biggest seemed to be patience. To truly build tension, whether it's in an Elmore Leonard crime caper or a Geoffrey Euginedes story of family, required patience on the part of the writer. You had to be willing to dole out your brilliant story in small pieces that might, on the surface, seem inconsequential. But as they began to stack up, the reader got hooked. They had to know just what puzzle these little pieces they're being given came together to complete.

Sure, there are other components. A healthy dose of paranoia, for one. Mood and atmosphere for another. And character, let's not forget that. But where most of the Trash got it wrong was with pure impatience. The authors of those bad books had ideas they wanted to get across and couldn't wait to put them on the page. Thus, when the tension was non-existent, it was primarily because I had all the pieces to the puzzle too early. I don't care how phenomenal the climactic fight is or how horrible the monster is when confronted if the tension doesn't pull me along to those scenes.

It's a bit like sex without foreplay. Sure, it'll scratch the itch, but it isn't memorable.

You Like What??? - Roy Robbins - Biggest 'Aha' Moments in Writing

You Like What???

            I get a lot of strange looks at church-type events when I reveal that my favorite move of all time is “Silence of the Lambs”. It seems that to some of my Christian friends the love of the Lord and scary movies are mutually exclusive. Not so. I have actually found that my love of “all things scary” has opened up a new venue to evangelize as there are a lot of people just like me who happen to like things that make you crawl out of your own skin. 

            Sadly, I have also come to realize that our genre/business/niche is fraught with a whole lot of people who are just plain “God-Haters”. It seems as if they believe that one cannot write good horror fiction unless there is a disdain for the Lord and all things Christian. Obviously not everyone in our business shares my strong faith in Jesus Christ, but my experience is that I am definitely in a tiny minority in this regard. 

            Case in point. My acceptance speech at the 2012 (for the year 2011) Stoker Awards for Specialty Press of the Year, I opened up by thanking Jesus and the dining room was like a morgue with the exception of a “W00t” yelled out by my friend Roberta Lannes and broad grins from my wife, and friends Liz and Josh Scott. Perhaps a “Hail Satan!” would have elicited a much more robust response from the crowd of stunned onlookers. 

            In the midst of this, I just continue to share my faith at conventions and online, and to publish books, this is what I do best, in that order. Bottom line, if you love horror and are a Christian, know that it is OK and you don’t have to change who you are to fit someone else’s mold. I am also evolving in the way that I respond to others who believe differently than I do, nowadays I try to just “love them as they are”, but admittedly, it is not always easy. As I start seminary in the fall of this year, I may even meet more people who love the Lord but can’t wait for the remake of the latest horror classic, and remark AHA! when they find out I’m waiting too…

Roy Robbins
May 2013
Anaheim, CA.