Friday, June 13, 2008

Old School and Competition, What A Combo

A few weeks ago I wrote about the old school writers, about how their writings were so much more elegant than that of today's stories. The evolution of writing has created our McDonald's Mentality to the point to where we have to devour a quick story so we can get back to the tasks of our lives. I complained about not seeing more stories written with the scenery and mood of the story being set like back in the 'good ole days.'

Part of me will digress a little here. Not all of me, and no, I'm not saying I want the quicker stories. What I want is the stories that go from beginning to middle to end and where it is not just useless nonsensical drivel in between 'Once upon a time' and 'The end.' I want stories that are going to teach me something. Again, I go back to the classics for this one.

Just recently I read Phillip K. Dick's The Father Thing. I found it entertaining, short and every word had a purpose. The setting was complete but not overly done—just enough words to get his point across. The story was straight forward and had that Invasion of the Body Snatchers feel to it. Which is even more interesting—I could be wrong here, but I think The Father Thing was written before Body Snatchers.

At any rate, the story was short, yet complete with few wasted words and extremely enjoyable. Just the way our McDonald's population likes it.

Ah, but wait, there's more. I then turned around and read a couple of H.P. Lovecraft stories. The one that sticks out was The Nameless City, which was also the basis of a prompt for a writing challenge I've been involved in recently. I had never read this story before and even with Lovecraft's love of words which I have know idea what they mean, I found the story very engaging and I couldn't put it down. The setting was there, the mood was there, the slow descent of the main character losing his mind was there. I could picture what was going on, even if I had to look up a couple of the words for good measure. It was another complete story—a classic in every way, shape and form.

Wait, still more to come.

I had never read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson until a couple of months ago. I also read the other short stories in the collection that I had borrowed from a friend of mine. I found most of them delightful to read and I Am Legend left me breathless and maybe even speechless for several moments. Those of you who know me personally know that I am NEVER speechless and sometimes you probably wish I would just close my mouth. The detail given in I Am Legend was vital to the story, to the main character and how he managed to survive through everything that had happened.

What I found most revealing about the story was when Robert Neville's old friend turned vampire, Cortman, is killed near the end. (I hear in the movie it is not like this) Cortman was really Neville's last link to the previous world, to the way things had been and the heart felt sadness he goes through when seeing Cortman die gave the story so much more impact in my eyes.

So, having read several of the classics, I still find myself longing for more of this, even a little Lovecraftian style wouldn't hurt so much.

Speaking of Lovecraft, I think it is interesting that so many writers try to emulate his style, which, to me, is hard to do, but not emulate the styles of other great writers who today would be considered wordy.

Now, this week, as per the challenge I am involved in with several friends of mine, our prompt was, as I mentioned above, an H.P. Lovecraft prompt. It was an homage to The Nameless City. So, what did I do? I had to come up with a story in order to stay in the competition. I plotted and planned and wracked my brain for several hours before almost giving up. Then, a song by System of a Down and a thought I had had a couple of weeks earlier kind of merged at the same time.

The idea began formulating and I took out several sheets of paper and started jotting notes down. By the time I was done, I had a two page outline of a short story titled Where Angels Fear to Tread.

Then came the daunting task: write the story in the vein of Lovecraft. Oh, this is not going to be easy—I'm not all that smart and I don't know a lot of really big words. Well, I have to say I steered clear of a lot of the big words, but I did use a couple and had to look up quite a bit of them.

I sat at my desk and began writing. The first line flowed into the second and then the third. I thought the story out as if I was talking to someone about it and before I knew it, I had pounded out 2200 words. The next day I typed on it again and typed out another 3500 words putting me near 6000. I finally finished the story up at just under 7300 words. When I was done, I was exhausted but elated—I had written a story somewhat in the vein of Lovecraft but probably more so in the vein of other old school writers.

Two friends of mine helped me with translating a sentence into Latin and another friend gave me points on Lovecraft's style and how he wrote at which stages of his life—things that I found vital in writing the story. A little research can go a long way in good story telling.

Now that my story is submitted and I can look back at it, I see a few flaws in it that need to be fixed and a couple of other places where I left things out on purpose to try and not overburden the judges with such a long story. But, even with its flaws, I look at the story as a triumph for me.


Well, I admit that I am not a great scholar of the classics, but by reading them over the last six or so months, I have found that they are such wonderful works of art that everyone should try and read at some point in their lives. I've also found that by trying to emulate the old school styles I am becoming a better writer. And that's what it's all about, right?

Now, I think I am going to go back over The Yellow Wallpaper—I have a story I started a couple of months ago using Charlotte Perkins Gilman's style and never finished it. I think it will be a good one when I am done. I will write and await the judges to either vote me off the island or let me into the final round of competition. But, for now, I'm AJ and I'm out.

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