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Intimidated by short stories dealing with certain genres

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Miskatonic, Oct 23, 2015.

  1. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Being a huge fan of all the weird tales authors from the first third of the 20th century, and seeing how horror has been a genre with a rich tradition leading up to modern times, I feel intimidated by the idea of having to come up with something fresh when so much has been done already.

    It seems daunting to not get the reader to have a feeling of deja vu, or outright knowing they've seen this type of plot and conclusion before.

    Any advice?
     
  2. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    People still read books?:)

    I wouldn't sweat it, they are making new people everyday.

    Whatever you write today will seem new to them.
     
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  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Freshness is about execution not the plot. I say this all the time but Alien, Jaws, and Halloween/Friday the 13th are the same plot but couldn't be more different to the point I suspect not many would make that association immediately.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2015
  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Humans share almost all their genes in common. In common with some other creatures, too.

    And yet.
     
  5. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I agree with MineOwnKing. How many times have we seen the underdog story? The 'coming home' story? The coming of age, overcoming the monster, rebirth, quest, journey and return, rags to riches, tragedy, comedy...? And yet we continue to read them or watch them over and over, even though we know how it will all come out.

    What he says is true. Whatever you write today will be new today. Even if you use Lovecraft mixed with King mixed with Poe. Through the editing process it will all become 'you'.

    I read a great quote once, and now I can't remember where, but basically he said "If you are using the theme or ideas of one author it is plagiarism. If you are using the themes and ideas of many authors it is 'research'."
     
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The vast majority of people today have never read those great weird tales from that period. Just write it and it will seem fresh to a lot of folks who will be entertained by it.
     
  7. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    You're speaking my language here. This is EXACTLY what I had been doing up until a few months ago.

    I wanted to write epic fantasy and did a bunch of world-building. I realized I couldn't handle it yet and wanted to build up some chops with short stories. But epic-fantasy short stories are, in my view, a contradiction. What was I to write? The answer: my next favorite thing--30's Weird Tales style. My attitude was largely what MineOwnKing has said--I figured the majority of today's readers wouldn't be familiar with this stuff and that I could give it a fresh spin. And because I wanted to write things that took place in the world I'd been developing, I set the stories there. I tended toward the more supernatural kinds of plots for these. They may not be the greatest stories ever, but I learned a ton from working on them. I'm glad I did it that way and I still managed to make these stories 'mine' as much as possible.

    So I say: go for it. I wouldn't mind seeing more writers doing of this kind of thing. And, if for some reason you're interested, I'd be happy to share one or two with you. If so, send me a PM.
     
  8. M P Goodwin

    M P Goodwin Scribe

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    Strange, but I was just discussing The Chronicles of Gor in another forum; classic work that hardly anyone has heard of these days, all written in the 60/70's. Utterly not PC and not in any way YA or Light Fantasy but I loved them at the time.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    First, take a moment and think outside of horror. What's scariest thing from, say . . . Ratatouille, the Pixar movie? To me, it would be the idea of having a rat that can ride a person's head, pull at their hair and control them like a puppet. That sounds like horror, to me - almost classically so. But, by ignoring the classics, and focusing on this horror element from Ratatouille, we've changed the triggers that are inspiring our imagination.

    Now, I'm going to take the hair-tugging = control element, and let's draw from there. What else do you think of when you think of human hair? I think of two things: Wigs. And scalping, like from an old western. Now I have this image of an old cowboy scalping people for their hair and selling off wigs to people he wants to somehow control. For a backstory, we could throw in a history of evil scalping practices and a usurping of old native magics.

    Running with this for a moment, we start with a person who buys a wig. Shortly later, they black out and wake up next to a freshly scalped corpse. Huh, sounds kind of obvious. That's fine, we'll make that happen early, and let the real horror set in when we up the ante: The wig was only a last minute purchase .... by the teacher of a school play. The horror sets in when she, and the readers, realize that the students have been wearing these wigs, and killing people, for weeks.

    To me, that's how horror works: The readers go through what we might call psychological arcs. The horror isn't right there on the page, it's something that you slowly start to realize as you're reading.

    I don't know if any of that helps, but I hope maybe.
     
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  10. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    ^^ This so reminds me of the Halloween Simpsons episode where Homer gets a hair transplant that is 'haunted'. It possesses him regularly and the previous owner of the hair wants to kill Bart--thus the horror.
     
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  11. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Like Miskatonic and Incanus, I am fond of the 'weird fiction' from the first half of the 20th century: Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Bierce, Lieber, and even Howard. These people, along with eight or ten others, pretty much founded what became present day fantasy and science fiction. Yet I also noticed something else:

    The vast majority of the really groundbreaking tales were on the short side - as in under 30,000 words, and frequently under 10,000. Lovecraft, if memory serves, wrote all of two novels, both of them short, and just one published in his lifetime. The original 'Conan' and 'Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser' stories were all under 30,000 words or so. Clark Ashton Smith didn't publish anything over about 15,000 words. Yet despite their brevity, between them, these works laid out a complex mythology, an unique dimension (Dreamlands), and what amounts to two or three or four distinct worlds. And a lot of people, from comic book writers to 'B' Movie producers to best selling authors have been pretty blatantly making use of this universe ever since.

    I took this to heart with my own writing. My style is more suited for novella's and novelettes than 120,000 word novels. Yet Lovecraft's beasties are there, sometimes in the background, sometimes hidden in plane sight. But so are a lot of other things: social turmoil, a protracted war, intrigue, and ordinary people.
     
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  12. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Probably not crucially important, but thought I'd just set the record straight.

    Lovecraft: I think the only work that is considered a novel was 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward'. I'm reasonably sure 'At the Mountains of Madness' and 'Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath' are both novellas, albeit longish ones.

    Howard: he did write one Conan novel, published in his lifetime as a serial. It was originally called 'The Hour of the Dragon' but was also published (and edited) later as 'Conan the Conquerer' (might be wrong about that last title). It's short, probably not even 80,000 words.

    Leiber: There is one Fafhrd and Gray Mouser novel. Again, published with different titles. 'The Mouser goes Below' or 'The Swords of Lankhmar', I think. There are around 5 or 6 novella sized F&GM stories as well.
     
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  13. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    'Mountains of Madness' is novella length, I believe. 'Dream Quest'...well, I count it as a novel, although on the short side.

    I knew Howard was working on a novel length 'Conan' tale, didn't know it was published in his lifetime. Maybe because it was released in pieces, instead of all at once.

    The version I have of the 'Fafhrd and Mouser' collection puts the whole lot in a sequence, but originally the tales were written out of sequence. I knew the overall collection has a good half dozen novellas, but I thought they maxed out at around 30,000 words.

    Point still stands, though: the overwhelming majority of the works put out by these authors was on the shorter side. Very few novel length works, and by todays standards, what few novels they did turn out are on the short side. Yet they created several reasonably detailed worlds and pantheons of mostly unpleasant deities, and did so in such a way they're still remembered. Anymore, that sort of thing takes an epic multi-volume series - at least according to conventional reasoning.

    But since this thread is about our efforts to follow in their footsteps...

    Labyrinth: Journal - Originally intended as a novella or novelette (15,000 - 20,000 words). Current version is about 60,000 - 65,000 words.

    Labyrinth: Seed - Maybe 60,000 words? Hope to get a rough draft done this NaNoWriMo. Current version is about 10,000 words.

    I have one more 'Labyrinth' tale in mind, but only hazy ideas about plot, length, and whatnot.

    'Labyrinth' focuses on something so weird it might as well be Lovecraftian.

    -0-0-0-

    Empire: Country - A 35,000 word novella in the second draft stage.

    Empire: Capital - The closely linked sequel to 'Country,' so closely linked I'm contemplating combining the two. Currently in rough draft state, about 35,000 words.

    Empire: Estate - A little under 35,000 words at present, though that will increase once I flesh out the horrendous opening chapters. I had to end this one in such a way that it feeds directly into the next novella, 'Empire: Metropolis.'

    Two more 'novellas' planned, 'Empire: Spiral,' and 'Empire: Judgment.' 'Spiral' will have serious Carcosa/King in Yellow overtones.

    Social change and traumatized war veterans are big in this series. But two of the more important characters are literally straight out of Lovecraft, albeit under different names, and one of these is a 'hidden POV' character.

    -0-0-0-0-

    Toki/Hock-Nar and Cimmar tales. These are all on the short side; my personal rule with the former is none will be over 10,000 words. Most of the time Toki and Hock-Nar encounter foes of a more ordinary sort - brutal noblemen, hobgoblins, bandits, but they also have a few run-ins with entities straight out of Lovecraft. Currently I have about 10-15 stories that fall into this group, with reasonably solid ideas for 10-15 more.

    Traag War Collection. Might be a few novellas here once finished, possibly even a short novel - but most of these stories are going to be much shorter. And lots of Lovecraft style critters running around loose. Hmm...not sure...maybe eight or ten stories so far. Have to take a look at them sometime.

    -0-0-0-0-

    Incanus, Miskatonic, your turn:
     
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  14. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Yes, sir, ThinkerX. Your main point stands. It stands good and tall as far as I'm concerned. Indeed it was neglectful of me not to confirm/support it.

    I think the bodies of work that we're talking about here are as amazing as they are impressive. What these writers accomplished in the short form is truly remarkable. Linked stories that share a character or setting and that can be read stand-alone, but also add up to a larger universe. To me, that's the stuff. That and epic.

    As for my own stuff, I've been working steadily, but haven't produced much yet. Working on my novel now. I only have three completed stories that are set in my fantasy world. The two shorter ones I spent months on, doing five editing passes on each. It was more about learning than producing. Together, they are only about 15,000 words. The novella is a bit over 36,000. The main influences on that one were Lovecraft (more from the 'dream-cycle' stuff) and Jack Vance (due to the arrogant character). I spent close to a year getting those 51,000 words. Of course it took writing more like 80,000 all told to get there.

    The good news is, despite my snail's pace, I've got just about 22,000 words of my novel so far, first draft. I've worked on it now for 42 days. While slow by most standards, it's no small amount of improvement for me.


    Edit--Wikipedia calls Dream-quest a novella. I think it's around 42,000 words. I'm good with calling it either.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2015
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  15. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Incanus - Read any Gary Myers? (House of the Worm, Snout in the Alcove, Dark Wisdom, Grey Magic). He's done a pile of shorts set in the Dreamlands. He mentioned in passing a few things I took up in earnest. He also wrote several stories about Eibon the Sorcerer, including a novel (though that one could have been better.)

    You might be faster than me. Lessee...I began 'Empire: Capital' the second week of April and finished at the end of May. 35,000 words in...call it 50 days. I started 'Empire: Estate' July 1st, and got the rough finished end of September. Call that 90 days, though I had a lot of real world distractions the past few months. And the 30 - 35 shorts (120,000? words) were written over a period of years.

    Time for Miskatonic to weigh in.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2015
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  16. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    I appreciate all your contributions to the discussion guys.

    I guess part of me doesn't want to feel like I'm copying, but given the themes and the general nature of human fear and how it can manifest itself (and how a writer can exploit that to create the desired mood), is more important than all the specific details.

    All I can hope for is that at the end the reader is left with a feeling of satisfaction at how the tale was resolved, or the climax completed.
     
  17. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Here's the thing, none of the authors we think of as "original" really "originated" what they wrote. They were not creating stories out of thin air. They were "standing on the shoulders of giants".

    This is particularly easy to see in Lovecraft (if you take the time to look). On the surface, Lovecraft seems highly original, but Lovecraft was actually very vocal about the authors he admired and was influenced by. Read The King in Yellow and it's easy to see what an impact it had on Lovecraft's storytelling. Lovecraft even borrowed the name Hastur from The King in Yellow, but the author of The King in Yellow had also borrowed the name from a story by Ambrose Bierce. And so it goes.

    I think originality is the wrong thing to place emphasis on, as a storyteller. None of us are truly original. We are all influenced by countless generations of storytellers that come before us. We are all building on the storytelling culture we are born into. I think it is best to embrace that, accept your influences, but also try to surpass them. Lovecraft, I personally believe, surpassed his influences. The Mythos he created has become a part of our culture and will live on for generations. Not because he was original. But because he knew what he liked and he embraced his influences and used his imagination to go "further up and further in".

    So don't worry about being original. Just focus on being imaginative.
     
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  18. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Very well put!
     
  19. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    Yes it's all in the telling, the tale. As Heinlein said there are only 5 types of Stories.

    after many years at this, my conclusion is that the most important factor in writing is the Narration. How the story is told.
     
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