Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Now accepting entries for the next Storyblogging Carnival

The next Storyblogging Carnival will be the one hundred and tenth. It will be hosted here, at Back of the Envelope, and going up on Monday, July 5th. If you use your blog to share your fiction, then the Storyblogging Carnival is your opportunity. Here we host any and all forms of storytelling in blog format. If you're curious about what this looks like, have a look at some examples of previous storyblogging carnivals.

If you'd like to participate, please e-mail your story submissions to me at dscrank-at-alum-dot-mit-dot-edu (or post in my comments), including the following information:
  • Name of your blog
  • URL of your blog
  • Title of the story
  • URL for the blog entry where the story is posted
  • (OPTIONAL) Author's name
  • (OPTIONAL) A suggested rating for adult content (G, PG, PG-13, R)
  • A word count
  • A short blurb describing the story
The post may be of any age, from a week old to years old. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, July 3rd. More detailed information follows (same as always):
  1. The story or excerpt submitted must be posted on-line as a blog entry, and while fiction is preferred, non-fiction storytelling is acceptable.
  2. The story can be any length, but the Carnival will list them in order of length, from shortest to longest, and include a word count for each one.
  3. You may either send a complete story, a story in progress, or a lengthy excerpt. You should indicate the word count for both the excerpt and the complete story in the submission, and you should say how the reader can find more of the story in the post itself.
  4. If the story spans multiple posts, each post should contain a link to the beginning of the story, and a link to the next post. You may submit the whole story, the first post, or, if you've previously submitted earlier posts to the Carnival, the next post which you have not submitted. Please indicate the length of the entire story, as well as the portion which you are submitting.
  5. The host has sole discretion to decide whether the story will be included or not, or whether to indicate that the story has pornographic or graphically violent content. The ratings for the story will be decided by the host. I expect I'll be pretty lenient on that sort of thing, but I have some limits, and others may draw the line elsewhere. Aside from noting potentially offensive content, while I may say nice things about stories I like, I won't be panning anyone's work. I expect other hosts to be similarly polite.
  6. The story may be the blogger's own or posted with permission, but if it is not his own work he should gain permission from the author before submitting to the Carnival.
If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list, please let me know. Finally, I appreciate folks promoting the carnival on their own blogs, and I'm always looking for bloggers willing to host future carnivals.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What is Christian horror?

Old Post: My earlier post addressed the question of "What is horror?"

Since I've already addressed the question of what is horror, the next question is "What is Christian horror?" To answer that, I first have to answer the question, "What is Christian fiction?" This is a topic I've addressed before, but I'll do so again here. There are several possible answers:
  1. It's written by a Christian.
  2. It's written for a Christian audience.
  3. It incorporates a Christian worldview.
Now, I left out some variants, such as "presenting the gospel message," but while that would definitely make something Christian, I don't believe that it's a necessary condition. And what I'm looking for is what is necessary for something to be considered a Christian work of fiction. Often what we mean by Christian fiction is something that incorporates all three: it's written by Christians, for Christians, about Christian things. Can horror do that? Well horror can definitely be written by Christians, and there are Christians that read horror, so I suppose 1 and 2 are possible. Is three? Notice that I said that it incorporates a Christian worldview--not that it advocates it. It needs to acknowledge and address the Christian worldview, not necessarily preach it.

And herein, I believe, lies the essence of Christian horror. It lies in challenging the Christian worldview. Or more specifically, in challenging the safe, conventional beliefs of the Christian worldview which very often have weak theological foundations. It means asking the hard questions and rejecting the easy answers. You see, Christians believe all sorts of scary things. We believe in demons--dark supernatural powers who wish us harm. We believe in the possibility of eternal damnation. We believe in a God who does not shy away from judgment. And we tell ourselves that we are safe from these things. God loves us and saves us and protects us. And yet... why are we so certain? Anyone who's read the Bible knows that for every passage that offers reassurance, there's another that challenges and condemns us. Writing Christian horror is not Biblical exegesis. It is not the writer's job to explain why the world is not safe, why Christians still suffer and die, why not everyone is saved. It is his job to show that these things are so.

For the Christian, the universe is not meaningless. There is a God, and he has a purpose. But that purpose is unfathomable to us--too deep for us to fully understand in this lifetime (and there aren't any promises for the next). It is bigger than us, vast and unmeasurable, but it is aware of us. We are caught up in it whether we want to be or not.

This is rich material for the writer to mine, and the inability to write horror when you have this to work with is more a failure of imagination than anything else.

New Post: More on the subject here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What is horror?

On her blog, Kristin, who's just finished Coach's Midnight Diner: The Back from the Dead Edition, asks whether there's such a thing as Christian horror:
One thing that the anthology got me thinking about is whether there can even be such a thing as Christian horror. I’m not talking about the window dressing of horror, the zombies and demons and serial killers and such. What I mean is that many critics seem to be arguing that one of the essential features of horror fiction is, at its core, a sense that everything is meaningless. That there’s no underlying purpose to our lives, or to life in general; or if there is, then the mind behind that purpose (if there is such a mind) does not wish us well. Most Christians would agree, I think, that this worldview is antithetical to the essential doctrines of Christianity.

I realize that Coach’s Midnight Diner doesn’t limit itself to horror fiction. But having read the anthology didn’t do much to convince me that there is such a thing as Christian horror. Most of the best stories were neither horror, nor particularly Christian (I don’t mean that they were anti-Christian, just that Christianity wasn’t relevant to the story). Some were one, but not the other. Even stories with horrific or frightening elements often ended on too much of a redemptive note to seem true to the grim and hopeless horror aesthetic.

I think one of the reasons I especially liked “Flowers for Shelly”, though, is that it did a better job than any of the other stories at walking the line between Christian faith (the first person narrator who turns into a zombie is a devout Christian, and of course there’s the question of how God could allow a zombie apocalypse to happen to good people), and grim hopelessness (perhaps there’s a purpose, but the zombified protagonist isn’t going to find out what it is). It’s also a bleakly funny story.

The problem I have with this definition of horror, that everything is meaningless, is that it's simply not true for all, or even most, horror stories. Stephen King and Dean Koontz, two of the most popular horror writers, do not write stories set in a meaningless universe (Koontz should be self-evident, but read King's Dark Tower series for evidence of how he thinks). Nor is it true for classics of the genre, such as Frankenstein or Dracula. So if it's not true of the classics or the popular modern fiction, I think said critics are defining horror too narrowly. Horror is more than Lovecraft and his successors.

As a Christian and sometime horror writer myself, I have a somewhat different definition of horror, which I know I've expounded on in this blog, but I think it was lost in the transition. Horror should disturb us, not just scare us. It should undercut our assumptions, challenge our beliefs, question our certainties about the universe, and make us feel a little less safe. Notice that meaninglessness can be a part of this, but it's neither the beginning nor the end. In fact, I think meaninglessness can defeat the purpose of horror, leading to a kind of apathy. If nothing matters, why get so worked up about it? Once you decide that the universe is meaningless, what's the big deal about zombies or vampires or one more meaningless thing out to destroy meaningless you? The only reason that meaninglessness is horrifying to us is because we do have hope in a purpose, because it challenges and makes us question that hope. If it ever completely succeeds, it loses its power. So I think horror is most effective when it leaves us an out, when it allows for the possibility of hope, when it can challenge without completely destroying.

Notice that I focused on meaning, but my definition allows for attacks on other foundations of our universe. Our sense of safety and security, for instance. Our faith in God, reality, ourselves, or each other. Horror frightens us because it makes us less sure, and there are myriad ways it can do so. Those who think horror is only about meaninglessness are writing themselves into a box, and I invite them to see what they can do if they explore what else horror can do.

Tell, don't show

A recent critique of one of my stories in my writer's group got me thinking. "Show don't tell" is a mantra of writing instructors everywhere. It's also overly simplistic. When writers choose whether to narrate or dramatize, they have to keep more than "show don't tell" in mind, because there really are places where you need to tell. For example:
  1. When it's boring. This is the first and foremost reason to tell rather than show. Sometimes what happens next in the story just isn't that interesting. Let's say your main character drives to the airport. You can say, "Roger drove to the airport." Or you can say, "Roger picked up his keys from the hutch on his way out the door. The ground was still damp from the afternoon's rain, and water clung to his shoes as he hurried through the grass. He pressed the key fob to unlock the door, listening for the audible click before pulling open the wet handle. He wiped his now damp hand on his khakis, and ducked into the car, cold droplets of water landing on his head." You get the picture. At this rate it'll take fifty pages to get to the stupid airport, and during all that time not a darn thing of any import to the story will happen. Which brings us to number 2...
  2. When it causes the story to drag. This is a subtle distinction from 1. Usually when something drags, it's because it's boring. But even when what happens is interesting to show, it can still interfere with the pace of the story, and fail to contribute meaningfully to it.
  3. When it's too long. Yeah, it doesn't seem very artistic to narrate just to keep the word count down. But don't fool yourself: word count always matters. Even when no one tells you what your word limit is, it still affects whether the story you're writing is a short story, a novella, a novel, a trilogy, an endless series... Whether someone will read it depends at least partly on how well you can manage your length.
  4. When it's tangential. Not every plot point needs to be shown in detail. Some of the side stories can be relevant to the plot, but aren't worth dramatizing. This is especially true when it's the side characters whose role would be dramatized.
  5. When giving the big picture. When you're talking about events that happen over days or weeks or even longer, or when you're describing events happening throughout a town or even a country, it's often most effective to step back and narrate. There are other techniques: vignettes, dialogue. Sometimes these work, and sometimes they're just contrived. Select the one that works best, but don't discount narration.
  6. When it's painful. All right, here's one you have to be careful with. You don't want to shy away from difficult topics. If your story needs sex and violence, then by all means put it in there. But when you describe sex and violence in detail, then it changes the nature of your story. Be careful about doing that. If it's painful for your reader, he may just put the book down. And sometimes, simply saying what happened is more effective than wallowing in the details. Subtlety and understatement can get the point across where it most matters, in the reader's imagination, far more effectively than a clumsily written scene, or even a well-written one that turns the reader's stomach.
Now hopefully that's not just my way of justifying my own story.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Storyblogging CIX

And this time I delayed a month. On the bright side, it looks like it worked--I had plenty of stories after waiting. Here is this month's Storyblogging Carnival.

Glittering Void
by Robert Lew Terrell of The Reflected Moon
An 11 word brief story rated PG.

A haiku.
Miserly Limerick
by Madeleine Begun Kane of Mad Kane's Humor Blog
A under 100 word brief story rated PG.

A tale of a miser in limerick form.

First Impressions Matter
by Stephen Kavita of Self Improvement Tips
A 295 word brief story rated G.

His friend sits down on the dark oily wooden benches inside the dusty, unclean hotel and comfortably orders for a burger and a mug of tea. He calmly asked his friend, “Ah…my friend, is…is this the best hotel in Nairobi?” His friend answers confidently, “Well it is definitely the cheapest in town.” He then took his smartly dressed friend to ...

[I tend not to include stories on marketing web sites, which this admittedly is. You have to scroll down to get to the story. Once you do, though, it is a story, so I included it. -DSC]

Weekend Special
by Lovelyn of Nebulous Mooch
A 336 word brief story rated PG-13.

A car accident.

Cracks in my Heart
by Jean of Cherry Vomit | My Life in Tansition
A 530 word brief story rated PG.

A break-up.

Resolving Things Like Gentlemen
by Walter of Henry's Trashcan
A 834 word short story rated PG.

Two men are locked in a dungeon and hold a talent show to see who gets to eat a dead rat.
The Grandfather I Never Knew
by JHS of Writing My Life
A 1,088 word short story rated PG.

"He said very lit­tle. As I think back on those vis­its now, I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of him ever directly address­ing me, and yet I tell myself that he must have at least asked me how I was, how things were at school …"

Pure Joy
by Jenn of Mixed Metaphor.net
A 1,330 word short story rated PG-13.

"The past five days were just a bad nightmare now."

This concludes the one hundred and ninth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's √úberCarnival.