“Write what you know,” the so-called experts frequently say. That’s all well and fine, and sometimes it’s easy. You set your stories in your hometown, your characters are based on people you’ve met through the years, you play the “what if” game with scenarios that have actually happened to you.
That part is pretty easy, at least so far as anything that involves reaching into your squirming soul, tearing a chunk of it off, and translating it into words for others to read can be. You may struggle for the words sometimes, may be overcome with doubt and self-loathing, may think it isn’t worth it or that you haven’t done it well.
But sometimes it’s harder. For a horror writer, for example, to make someone else scared, to terrify them with your words, you should tap into the things that terrify you, rip them from your subconscious and paint them on the page in letters writ so large and so bloody that your audience can’t help but shudder themselves.
But what if something that terrifies you beyond all reason is so nonsensical, so stupid and so utterly and completely irrational that you can’t even begin to think of how to translate that? Even pondering it brings a panic state, making it impossible to ponder rationally in an attempt to use it as a metaphor or mine for something else that will lead to the same road.
Yes. Balloons. They are completely spine-curdling, fight-or-flight triggering, madness inducing things to me. Not the balloons themselves, really. And not all balloons. I’m cool with the hot air variety, and water balloons are only mildly offensive due to the mess and physical exertion implied in the activity. Mylar balloons are usually fine, as well, since if they pop, they don’t burst but rather just deflate with a long hiss like the world’s laziest snake. But the plain rubber kind, inflated to maximum capacity with a pin or thumbtack held near it? Absolutely terrifying. Put one near me, and my back tenses up, the flesh on the back of my neck starts to tingle, my eyes slam shut.
I am in utter terror from the possibility of that pop, that horrendous noise that could come at any moment. It doesn’t matter if you give me a count down, or if you don’t actually pop it, it matters that it could happen. To be morbid for a moment, it’s one reason I know with 100% certainty I’ll never be able to off myself with a gun; the equivalency would make me wet myself and faint long before I pulled the trigger. But that’s the reaction I get.
How do I translate that into something that would scare my readers? I don’t even know where to approach that one from, because it’s actively painful to contemplate that. Writing the last couple of paragraphs has been a kind of torture for me, one worse than I suspect pulling nails out would be. Should I ever be captured by illicit government agents intent on using enhanced interrogation techniques on me, they wouldn’t need to break out the waterboarding materials or the industrial batteries; just call in a clown, tell him to start making balloon animals, and bring in a box of thumbtacks. I’ll tell them anything they want to know.
Then there’s the sex thing. Sexiness and suspense tend to go hand in hand, and sometimes my mind wanders in that direction, so it’s going to come up. I think on those occasions I’ve done decently well, though like anything else, that’s for the reader to judge. Of course, I tend to figure it’s like other aspects of storytelling; infuse it with what gives you that emotion or mood, and it will come off better. Problem is, my own kinks and turn-ons, the things that I focus on during a sexual or romantic encounter, are most assuredly not the kinds of things that do it for others. Unless I want to take up a career in niche porn, there’s not really a way to work some of that into the scenes that I am liable to find myself in need of writing. Sure, I could try to start a revolution ala 50 Shades that brings more folks into the fold, but somehow I find that unlikely. Given that I myself am frequently disturbed by my own turn ons, the idea that I would put them into a book and try to start some sort of sexual revolution with them goes right out the window. So I’m left resorting to generic vanilla actions, which can be hot, but often lacks the temperature I want to inject into a scene and feels false and too restrained later when I reread the scene.
What about everyone out there? Have some emotion, memory or concept you wish you could inject into your writing but that you can’t even begin to put on the page in a coherent way? Got some advice for others struggling to do so? Drop your thoughts in the box below!
For your normally scheduled shameless self-promotion, where else to turn but the bottom of the page? I’m trying to spruce things up a bit, break up the wall of text that I usually post. With some software upgrades, I’m taking steps in that direction, and that’s due to the folks who’ve kindly helped out by visiting, donating to and sharing my GoFundMe. If you’re liking the look and would like to see it improve, stop by and drop a buck in the jar or give it a share, would you? To those who helped finance things so far, a thousand thanks!