Posts Tagged ‘emotional impact’


It’s been thirteen months since me and my mentor/friend/writing partner Kim Williams-Justesen began writing our collaborative horror novel. Although technically finished several months ago, we are now in the process of revising the final draft. Currently, we’ve been spending anywhere between two and four hours on each chapter and have worked most days of the week. In a novel that contains a total of twenty-four chapters, that’s a lot of hours. (But as I write this, we only have two more chapters to go!)

Although the final round is probably the most arduous part of this process for me, it’s also the most rewarding.  Since writing the words The End, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this novel front to back, but I’m guessing this must be the fifth or sixth time. Needless to say, I would have expected to be sick and tired of this novel by now. I would have expected that whatever passion I’d begun the novel with would have flickered out and died months ago. Strangely though, that isn’t the case. In fact, as we have labored to tighten and refine the novel, my passion has been not only been reignited, but it has climbed to greater heights than ever. I think it’s because this is where writers get to see their work come together, and can view the novel as a whole rather than in fractions. Also, the final round is your last shot to prevent embarrassing yourself before you place the manuscript in the hands of your trusted Beta Readers~ and these are the reasons why I believe this the most important part of the process.

The final round of revisions is the time to address all of the things that bothered you in the previous readings. This is where you must tackle those irritating little, (and sometimes big) weaknesses you’ve been putting off. This is where you add lines, subtract passages, sprinkle detail, rearrange dialogue, fill  in the plot-holes, fine-tune your characters, slaughter your “sacred cows”, and scrutinize all the text in search of grammatical errors and technical blunders. Kim and I currently live several states away from each other, so for us this requires a lot of sitting in front of the computer Skyping and IMing. Currently, my computer sits on a black ottoman in the middle of my living room where I sit on the floor to work. This has given me leg cramps, back aches, and neck and shoulder pain… not to mention a likely addiction to dramamine, given a ridiculously elevated proneness to motion sickness which I seem to have been born with. But that’s okay. This is where the real magic happens.

I went into the final round of revisions with a very clear, singular goal: to heighten the emotional impact. I decided that if something in the story was supposed to have a creepy effect, I wanted my skin to crawl. If a certain scene was supposed to make me feel sad, I wanted to be on the brink of tears. And if something was meant to be sickening, I wanted to feel the bile rise in my stomach. I decided I wanted to know what each character looks like, how each room smells, and mostly, I wanted to feel what every character was feeling.

As we have yet to be finished with these final edits, I can’t be sure how well we’ve done our jobs, but given my own emotional responses as we’ve fine-tuned the story these past weeks, I’m pretty confident we’re damned close to having what we want. In fact, just earlier today, due to my own mounting nausea, I had to take a breather from a particularly graphic scene and ask Kim to please not expound anymore on the topic. I don’t squirm easily, so to me, that’s a good sign.

As an added plus, the final round can reveal some wonderful new concepts. Today, I think Kim and I stumbled upon our perfect working title. As we were rewriting a scene, Kim wrote this beautiful passage that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and both of us paused a moment, thinking the exact same thing. The project that began as An Evil Heart and soon became Gallery of Dolls, is now about to take a new name entirely: Beautiful Monster. Not that a books title won’t possibly change (or be changed) down the road, but I think it’s important to have a strong title. I liked Gallery of Dolls, but it always sounded too much like The Valley of the Dolls (a novel written by Jacqueline Susann in 1966) for my taste. Besides, I think the phrase “Beautiful Monster” in and of itself, is as contrasted as the personalities of our two main characters and therefore a pretty solid title for this book. Plus, to me, Beautiful Monster just kind of pops.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I haven’t been doing much blogging lately due to the demands of Beautiful Monster (I really do dig that title!), so I just wanted to take some time today to keep the connection in tact. Blogging is a bad habit to break!  In the meantime, my third novel is underway (with a much bigger set of balls now), and due to some weaknesses I’m just realizing, I plan to take my first novel, The White Room off the table for a few months to revisit it and give it some upgrades. I predict that in the next five to seven days, Beautiful Monster will be fit to be looked over by some Beta’s and from there, it’s just a matter of fixing any errors they might find, and then sending it out the door to find a home. By this time next year, my goal is to have three (maybe even four!) full-length works circulating throughout the world of agents and publishers… and to be well into the next big literary adventure.

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Yesterday I received a text from a friend of mine who has been reading my manuscript, The White Room. “I can’t believe you killed him!” he said, referring to one of the characters in the story. I explained to my friend the reasons behind the macabre act and why it had to be done… and it got me to thinking about the reasons we kill some of our favorite characters.

 

When killing a character that the reader has invested in, an author walks a fine line between further engaging the audience and losing them altogether. The key to successfully murdering a make-believe person without repelling the reader lies in the reasons behind the character’s death and the string of events and ultimate outcome it provides.

We’ve all read stories or seen movies where a character we love dies for no good reason. At best, this divorces us from the active role we felt we were playing in the story. At worst, it offends and alienates us entirely, angering us enough to put the book down, change the channel, or otherwise find new and better things to invest our time in. Shock value, convenience, gore factor or just plain whimsy are not good enough reasons to kill someone you’ve asked the audience to care about.

The character my friend was referring to was the hardest character I’ve ever had to kill. My initial intention was to let the guy live, but as was pointed out to me in the process of writing the book, he had to die. He had to die not only for the sake of moving the story forward with its integrity in tact, but mostly, for the sake of propelling my protagonist forward and arming him with the conviction and wrath he would need in order to believably make the choices he had to make.

I did everything I could to find a way to reach the end of my story without killing this guy. For many reasons, I was incredibly attached to this character and accepting that he had to die was a gradual process that took place in slow sections. I fought with myself and with my mentor the whole way… but when the story was finished, I understood. Reading the manuscript from beginning to end, I realized that this character’s death was vital in the overall power of the story.

Murdering my all time favorite character was a good learning experience for me as a writer. I learned that, as it is in life, some things need to be compromised for the greater good; that even in the world of fiction, there is a price for everything… and if you want to write a good, strong story with enough emotional impact to keep the readers reading, sometimes you have to do things you don’t necessarily want to. I learned to tiptoe the precarious edge of good storytelling and cheap shots; that the death of a beloved character must be a kind of fictional human sacrifice for the greater good of the story. I learned the bottom line of all storytelling:  if it serves to further strengthen the story, do it… and if not, don’t.