Thursday, September 18, 2008

In the Swamp

Writing about the supernatural is hard to do without coming across as campy or cheap. Especially when it all centers around things like mind readers, ghosts, and spirits. I've spent a fair amount of time actually studying the "greats", trying to get a bead on exactly why their work stood out in memory. There are so many ways to write this kind of thing badly, and so few ways to do it right.

Since so much of this story centers around witchcraft, I've suffered through various stages of self doubt, sometimes sitting on a scene for two or three days before I decide what to do next. I want readers to suspend their level of disbelief and that can't be done if it reads as a "save" ("Oh! I know! I'll infuse them with special powers). I want creepy, I want chills, I want them turning the pages and cheering in the right places,. I don't want them to blink.

55,000 and going strong . . .


Debby said...

Good for you, Mary. The other day, I wondered how it was going...

Scotty said...


Slow and steady by the sounds of things.


Big Plain V said...

Totally agree with what you said about writing supernatural. I try to describe it as matter-of-factly as possible, but sometimes it's just too outrageous to be believable.

Debby said...

Steven King has made a great deal of money from delving into the unbelievable.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Just keep going and remember that all of the great supernatural, horror and sci-fi novels are those that concentrate on the characters reactions to events, rather than the events themselves. It's also what marks a great film from an effects-heavy pile of trash.

Mary Paddock said...

Debby, actually thank you for wondering. :) It's nice to know someone's keeping track.

Scotty--Yes. It's the slow part that worries me. :)

Ray--One of my least favorite Stephen King scenes of all time was the one in The Shining where the topiary comes to life. It was simply too cartoonish and over the top to help me maintain a "suspension of belief" mindset. That's what I worry about doing.

Stevyn--That's among some of the best advice I've ever gotten. Thank you. It does put a new spin on the process.

Anonymous said...

"I've spent a fair amount of time actually studying the "greats", trying to get a bead on exactly why their work stood out in memory".

Hi Mary,

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
"My wife took a look at a first version and said, 'That's high school stuff.' I had to tell her to wait until the seventh draft." A first draft is nothing more than raw potential; to rewrite is to take that potential and use it to create a complete story or novel, which is just as much an art form as a painting or a symphony. –James Thurber.
I’m sure it’s the same with the “greats” of the horror genre. They make sure that their writing (about the supernatural) doesn’t come across as “campy or cheap” by doing the necessary number of rewrites to excise those negative qualities from their work, whether that number be 7, 39, or 739.