Ghosts and goblins

Hiding in plain sight

Karalee’s Post #7 — Ooooooo… Halloween time again. What’s the intrigue? Is it the free candy? The spookiness? Or is it the hiding in plain sight? All three are worth getting costumed up for, but I bet the thrill comes from “being” someone or something else, even if only for a few hours.

Author and founder of our writing group, Sean Slater, literally has his villain hide in plain sight in his book The Survivor during the Parade of Lost Souls in Vancouver, Canada. For me the book is extra special. Not only do I know the author, it is so cool to read a thriller set in my own city and being able to follow (in my mind) the cop cars chasing down streets in my neighbourhood. Reading the book felt far more intimate than if it was set in places like New York or London (even though I’ve visited both but not lived there).

Why?

For me it’s because my own experience fills in the five senses. If you live in Vancouver you feel what a rainy day is: its dampness; the smell of moss and mustiness; the grey skies hoarding the mountains; the wet dogs and children splashing in puddles, etc. The sound of traffic is louder and the pounding of rain on the roof can be soothing, or annoying if it drips off a crack in the eaves. And if it’s a sunny day in winter, you truly enjoy it because the rain will be back.

So, how does a writer give all this visceral experience to readers unfamiliar with the setting? Pages of explaining can’t do justice to actually living in the place, not even 100,000 words, but if you make your characters experience the setting using all their senses, the reader can “be” there too.

Now back to Halloween. What’s the thrill of hiding? We seem to crave it as children. Who hasn’t played hours or days of Hide-and-Seek? I can still feel my heart pounding while standing in a dark closet or lying under the bed waiting to be caught. At first I wouldn’t want to be found, but if I hid too well the game went lame and the other players would give up.

Now doesn’t that sound like the challenge of writing a novel? How does the author build suspense and follow it through to a satisfying conclusion?

At the beginning our characters start off unknown, as though fully masked. The author reveals a little bit at a time to intrigue the reader and have him/her relate to the characters. If too much is told up front there’s not much left to discover. If there’s not enough revealed along the way, the characters’ actions may seem unrealistic.

It’s a balance. But where’s the thrill?

The reader needs to be entertained. That means being emotionally involved and being in the closet with the protagonist knowing the villain is in the house hunting her down. The protagonist must survive if the book continues. And even more, once the reader feels the thrill, he/she wants it again and again.

Suspense. Climax.  Survival.

Suspense. Climax.  Survival.

And just writing this I can feel the thrill of Hide-and-Seek, not only hiding, but being found, and then racing against my assailant to touch the designated spot in the house that keeps me safe. For me, this is an epiphany, a feeling I want in my writing; a goal to reach two or three times before the last major climax where my protagonist truly must run the race of her life.

I can’t wait to get it all down in writing.

I’ll be interrupted tonight when the ghosts and goblins arrive at my home. But this year when I open the door to the dressed up creatures I will be more in tune with their feelings.

Especially the ones hidden in plain sight.

Sand in my shoe

Helga’s Post #4  If you have followed this blog for the last couple of weeks, you know things are a bit rocky on the writing front. Progress to date has been at snail’s pace (and that’s putting it mildly). Perhaps not at the same level; we heard from Karalee she’s galloping ahead of the pack with her characters (way to go baby!) Sure, our road to Nirvana (another word for getting published), is paved with good intentions, but no matter how we twist and turn, priorities cannot be ignored. Consider the case of Joe: he is facing a brutally short deadline to submit a manuscript that still needs editing. He has to put the 5Writers project on the back burner so that Echo of The Shroudmaiden will finally get the respect she so justly deserves. That’s a no-brainer.

But what about the rest of us? By now we should have somewhere between (gulp) 75 to 100 pages written (see Silk’s haunting Arithmetic post) in order to have a finished manuscript in four months. What is wrong with us! (speaking for myself, getting sidetracked to learn my new writing software StoryMill, for example. Thanks again Paula, for taking time to show me the ropes).

I know we all can see the larger picture. We know what our novels are about and have the plot figured out. More or less anyways. I suspect the devil is in the details.

‘It is not the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.’ (Thank you, Robert W. Service for this morsel of wisdom)

Our trip to the Oregon sand dunes – beautiful, but lots of sand in the shoes

For me, for this project, I know the story I want to tell. The story I am itching to tell. Just like telling bedtime stories to my kids long ago (though I hasten to add that my novel would not fit the mold of a bedtime story). It’s the small details that keep me back: will my readers relate to my characters; do my settings sound realistic and have enough color; does my dialogue ring true?

Gotta shake out that grain of sand in my shoe. Gotta keep looking at the mountain.

My main character, my protagonist, as I alluded in my last post, is unusual. She is smart. She is funny. People like her. I hope my readers will root for her as she tackles some formidable obstacles. Nothing unusual yet. But here’s the rub: When she deals with people who have double-crossed her she is unforgiving. Extremely so. And creative in the way she tilts the scale. Protagonist, you’ll wonder? You wished. Now she’s no Annie Wilkes from Misery, but the name does come to mind. (Don’t tempt me, Annie!)

Watch out Sheldon!

And the villain? He’s done my heroine wrong, no doubt about it. But now the tables may have turned. He’s become the victim. Or has he? The lines become blurred. Villain in one chapter, victim in the next. My heroine seems to go through a metamorphosis. The hunted becomes the huntress. Readers start to identify with and root for my villain. But, as so many inside book flaps promise, or warn, nothing is what it seems.

You may wonder if I’m writing a horror story. I’m not. Not in the strictest sense. My subject deals with a real-life, contemporary phenomenon that I am fictionalizing with invented characters. In fact it defies any horror story.

All to say, when agents or publishers at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference just two weeks away, will ask the inevitable, “can you tell me something about your protagonist, and also about your antagonist?” I may look them in the eye with a villainous glint, and say, “It’s not that simple.”

Because, truth be told, I don’t know myself. Not yet. Not entirely. Because no matter how diligently I have worked on my outline, in the end my characters will do what they want, without my bidding. And that’s something I look forward to: meeting the angels and demons (love your title, Dan Brown), that will populate my novel.

Keeping my eyes peeled on that mountain.
Chilcotin, Northern B.C.