Seduction: The lessons I learnt from monsters

Writing is a learning process. Whether you’re an fully fledged bestselling author such as Stephen King or a youngster jotting down the details of ‘what I did during my summer holiday’; the art of extracting, communicating and articulating ones thoughts is a craft that, is at best, delivered competently, but never mastered. There is always room for improvement. Always a way to tell the story better, to describe a scene or setting more vividly and portray events and characters more believably. And as with all arts, in learning to be proficient, one must practice.

There are other avenues that the would be writer would do well to explore though. Reading is obviously the most trodden path on the way to competency, as is being well versed in language, but so too is the examination of others work. It is this that I concern myself with today.

When I first read a book, I simply let it tell it’s tale to me. I allow myself to be swept away by it’s narrative; I place my self at the mercy of the author. I want to be seduced, and it is the writers job to woo me. When a story is told well, I’m left fulfilled, other times the foreplay has me excited but leads to nothing. There are books that leave me cold, and some that have me reaching for a cigarette on closing, yes, a climax can be that good. Each is a relationship between the author and the reader, and just like in the physical plane, the one relating to sweat and fluids, some are worth a second date.

The good books are worth going back to. Not only to re-read, but to examine. What was it that made you like it so much? How did the author bring the characters to life with what appeared effortless ease? How did they in one sentence break your heart / hold your breath / scare you to death? Conundrums all. But by looking back over a books text the answers to these riddles can be solved.

Once a week, I take time to go over a story I enjoyed and delve into it’s mystery’s. And believe me, a lot can be learnt. Today, I looked into one of Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’ tales: The Inhuman Condition’. It’s a good horror story. It moves at a good pace, is well written and is filled with the kind of eloquent description and other worldliness that he has since became known for. For a story concerning monsters, it spends little time describing the said beasts though. We get snippets here and there but Barker has wisely allowed us to fill in the blanks, and in doing so each of us create in our minds eye a terror that is each our own.

From it’s camouflage of leaves the waiting beast leaned down towards Karney and exhaled a single, chilly breath. It smelt of the river at low tide, of vegetation gone to rot. Karney was about to ask what it was again when he realised that the exhalation was the beast’s reply. All it could speak of it’s condition was contained in that bitter and rancid breath.

Lovely. As you can see in the above paragraph, there is little to go on, but it’s enough. Enough to know the creature is foul. In just a few lines we are already building up a mental image of the thing confronting Karney, and yet there is no mention of the creatures sizes, colour or height. It’s a simple trick, but one worth remembering.

Later in the story the character of Karney has to tell all that has been happening to his friend Brendan. For a writer, retelling events the reader is already privy to, is a big no-no. It slows down the pace and will pretty much break any spell the teller as weaved thus far. But how to go about it? Here Barker glides over the problem in a matter of lines.

Karney told Brendan the story as best he could. Once he had taken the plunge and begun it from the beginning, he discovered it had it’s own momentum, which carried him through to the present tense with relatively little hesitation. He finished, saying: ‘’I know it sounds wild, but it’s true.’’

Now, You could argue that he could have just written: ‘He told Brendan everything’. It would be a good argument, and in some cases such a simple sentence would suffice. But, in this instance, it would have broken the flow of the narrators voice. By the time Karney decides to unburden himself on Brendan, we are already on the way to seduction (yes, we’re back to that again). We have come to know the authors style, his tone; the way he constructs sentences. As any hypnotist knows, a sudden change of voice can render all that has gone before it useless. The spell, subtly crafted, is all too easily broken by a miss- step Ah, that was another lesson learnt. See, I told you it would be worthwhile.

Another passage that I made a mental note of was one that concerns the demise of the character Red. It only consists of a few lines, but it’s worth mentioning I think.

His brain, deprived of oxygen, threw a firework display in celebration of his imminent departure: roman candles, star shells, catherine wheels. The pyrotechnics were all too brief; too soon, the darkness.

So much nicer than ‘Red’s guts spilled out upon the floor, bringing steam to his already clouded vision’. Where’s the lesson you ask? If the story is graphic, don’t be afraid to write that way. But, also practice restraint. Pages upon pages of brutal blood letting will have readers closing a book quicker that a door on a Jehovah witness.

These are some of the things I have taken notice of today in my re-read. Simple lessons; ones that are perhaps familiar to you, but we all learn at different paces, do we not? The main thing is to not quickly discount the books you read. Pick them up again and look at them with fresh eyes. Pick out points of interest, jot down lines or words that interest you. You may, as I have, find it beneficial to your writing.

If we want to seduce a reader it’s worth putting the time in to learn how. Who knows, we may yet give Casanova a run for his money.

Until next time.

P.s Always wear a condom.

Category(s): Uncategorized

Comments are closed.