(Week 3: January 13 – 19)
I’ve been working on just one story since the start of the year: an M.R. James inspired Christmas ghost story (the idea for which clearly arrived at least two months too late). It’s not an especially original tale, but I often enjoying writing to a particular style as a mini challenge.
I typically think of my writing process as one of adding layers of detail and texture. The first draft is there to get the bare bones of the story down. The second draft fixes up the plot and refines the characterisation. The third (and sometimes final) draft, finesses the flow of the story: tidying up the language, smoothing out rough edges and inconsistencies, making sure the characters are convincing.
With this particular story, I realised, as I started the second draft, that the structure wasn’t quite right. A good horror story needs a few things to work: it needs an escalation of fear (you don’t, after all, want to make things less scary), but it also needs a good hook to grab the reader’s interest in the first place. In this instance, I’d written a pretty good hook, but it came at the start of the second act.
Fixing this wasn’t too tricky as the story had a fairly simple structure. I moved the hook to the start of the first act, and then found an even better lead-in to the second act (one that appropriately escalated things). Otherwise, much of the plotting and dialogue remained largely as it was.
I did still have a small problem with escalation: in this new version, the story begins with one character in a clear state of terror (as opposed to being mildly disturbed). This means that the ‘range of terror’ I have to play with is reduced: I have less capacity to escalate. I have (hopefully) resolved this by spending a bit more time on the relationship between the characters, and adding in just enough background texture to make the setting subtly, but increasingly oppressive.
This is one of the reasons why I often enjoy the editing process more than the initial writing. Sometimes you might get the story more or less right in the first draft, but more often than not it’s the reading of that first draft that truly starts to reveal the possibilities of a story to you.
Fridate Horror this week was the next instalment in our unofficial/occasional rewatch of the Hammer Dracula films; bringing us to Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Spoiler: Dracula rises from the grave and kills people. Remarkably few people, actually.
Following on from the surprising, and very welcome, viciousness of Dracula Prince Of Darkness, this entry was relatively tame but sets the formula of an imperilled damsel and a dashing hero which, I think, gets recycled over the next few films.
The main point of interest remains Christopher Lee. In some respects I find his performance almost comical at times–laughably unthreatening, and occasionally gangly and graceless. However, I recall various other actors who have tried to bring menace and undead life to the Count, and it becomes clear how effortlessly Lee manages it. He only needs to stand there, and maybe snarl a bit, and he’s already nailed it. It remains a bit of a tragedy that he was never given a really, really good Dracula film to, ahem, sink his teeth into.
I finished Doctor Who: Tales Of Terror this week and, while it may not have been the meatiest or most chilling of reads, it was definitely a whole lot of fun. Several stories had the seed of some really horrific material in them, and it was always interesting seeing how well (or otherwise) the writers managed to capture the personality of their particular Doctor.
My summary of the last six stories goes something like this:
- The Seventh Doctor and Ace visit Victorian London, and find something terrible lurking beneath the surface of a tortured painter’s latest work;
- The Eighth Doctor battles a genetically engineered monster on a cruise ship (this was fun, but also laughably terrible—like a high school fiction assignment);
- The Ninth Doctor unmasks a ghostly Pierrot haunting an travelling carnival in what is easily the most horrific story in the collection;
- The Tenth Doctor and Martha encounter the Family of Blood one last time;
- The Eleventh Doctor saves a family from the weeping angels;
- The Twelfth Doctor helps a brother and sister fight off an army of creepy, baby-faced dolls (yes, they’re Autons)
Overall the second half of the book seemed much stronger than the first, with most of the stories working well in their own right, as opposed to feeling like part of a themed collection. I would probably pick the Ninth Doctor story as my favourite, purely because the concept was so appealingly grotesque.
However, kudos go to the Eleventh Doctor story for managing to draw some fresh mileage from the weeping angels, and the Twelfth Doctor tale for brilliantly capturing that Doctor’s personality.