Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Create a Fictional Town

How to Create a Fictional Town


Mini world building.

Write about what you know. That is why it is the easiest to set a story in a real place. Especially, if it is a place that you are familiar with. But there are issues with that. Someone might call you out because you didn't put a building in the right place. Or the real place, doens't quite fit the mood of your story.

For me, it's easier to create a new place. My recent work in progress takes place in a village. And coming up with the basics of the village, took a few hours work.

Here is how I did it:

1st. Think about how much the setting will effect the story. Is it going to have it's own character? Is it just a place? How recognizable do you want it to be?

2. How big? In my Coiree series I came up with Deerbow. A large city somewhere in the midwest. My latest WIP, the little village where everyone thinks they know everyone else. I needed Deerbow to be a large city, so it could hide my characters better. The small village, because how tiny, yet remote it is.

3. Basic layout: There are two ways I have done this.
Deerbow: I hung a piece of blank paper on the wall. I drew some of the major features in, ie: the rivers and where some of neighborhoods were. I didn't have names, but concepts of the what type of neighborhoods they were. As I wrote, I would add details.
The village: I cheated. I found a map of a small town. I didn't copy it exactly. I took the main roads, then filled in my own features. Since the village was named after the falls, the river was the main feature I added. Like Deerbow, the map is hanging on my wall.

Glory in my wonderful map making skills. And the potato I use for a camera.

4. Give the place a personality. Blue-collar? Sports fanatic town? College town? A lot of retired people? A place that has seen better days? A town that only has a population boom in the summer? It's personality should fit with the mood of your story.

As you can see, you don't have to come up with the layout of everybuilsing with a complete history on each one. Make notes as you write. The church you mention in the beginning of the story, might become the scene of a major plot point later. I find it's best, not to spend too much time in the basic planning of the setting.

If a place becomes important. You may need to map out that out and fill it with the imformation you need to write the story.

Also remember, this information is for your benefit, to help set the stage for your characters. If you start to tell the readers the history of every small cafe. Something you might have created for background information, but if the characters don't need to know it. Don't bore your reader with it.

by Mari Miniatt

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why Only Lovers Left Alive is now my favorite vampire film.

Only Lovers Left Alive A movie by Jim Jarmusch.  After watching the film once, it has now taken place as my favorite vampire film. Sorry Near Dark, but you couldn't compete with Tom Hiddleston.

Yes, the appeal of having Tom Hiddleston playing a vampire was the reason I wanted to see the film. Plus, Jim Jarmusch's movies appeal to me, no matter what genre.

A few moments into the film, it became clear, this was not going to be a typical vampire film. When people ask me about the film, I say it's a slice of life type and the main characters happen to be a married vampire couple that don't live together. If you took the word vampire out of that sentence, it would be boring.

The film sets the atmosphere quickly. You are still in the real world, but you are taken into the vampire's perspective of it. What helps with the atmosphere is the ruins of Detroit. But in the film, the urban decay takes on a beauty of its own. Many of the scenes are the couple driving through Detroit looking over ruins of an former industrial giant. Again, that sounds boring, but in this film those become some of the most endearing scenes.

So many vampire films deal with the moral dilemma of being a vampire.  ie. should they kill and does that make them monsters? The film side steps that for a long time. Humans have polluted their own blood. They cannot just take anyone for a meal. Most of their blood is collected for them by medical staff. But that doesn't mean they have stopped being vampires.

A younger, annoying vampire, shows up and disrupts their quiet life together.  And she does kill someone. But their response is more of two people that are tired of her drama, and too tired to make a scene about it.

And there is the music. The soundtrack is enough to keep you watching.

I did like the new twist on the vampires. Humans that were around them, had no clue, unless the vampire had told them, what they were. The vampires struck you as slightly odd, but not menacing. They are the quiet people that sit in the back of the bar, watching everyone, and quietly talking to themselves.

The humor is dry. The observations the main characters make about us "zombies" could be heavy handed, but they are not. Overall a nice refreshing film.

Do I still like my monstrous vampires? Yes, but it is nice to see how they would be when they are not thinking about only hunting humans."

by Mari Miniatt

Monday, February 9, 2015

What is Folk Horror

One of my favorite documentary, or in this case a series, about horror movies is A History of Horror. It was written and presented by Mark Gatiss. He presents the history of horror cinema from a fan's perspective. But he really loves what he is talking about. His awe in seeing Lon Chaney's make up case in not the only time you can see the love of the genre.

One sub-genre of horror he touches upon is folk horror. His examples are very British, of course. Wicker Man (you know, the good one with Christopher Lee) is the shining example of what he means by folk horror. It draws upon folklore and paganism to fill the story. In the British examples; someone comes to a rural area. The locals are weird, maybe a little sinister. The outsider experiences the horror. Not because of the strange locals, but because the outsider is not in the norm of the locals.

In America we also have our version of this type of horror. But the main difference is the horror happens to the outsider because the locals are crazy. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a great example of the American twist on the folk horror. There is barely any folklore, paganism might not even play a part of it. Basically it is the "locals are psychopaths"

Not that there hasn't been attempts to set folk horror in America. And some have been very good.
Two recent movies; Jug Face and We Are What We Are*, are great examples of folk horror done right.


In Jug Face; you meet a small group of people that follow some odd traditions with supernatural origins. In this case, there is no outsider. There is a young woman that tries to change her fate and in the process  causes the horror to touch everyone around her. In We Are What We Are; one family has a horrifying tradition that is force upon the eldest when their mother dies suddenly.

Supernatural may not be the motivation (in Jug Face, it is an influence), but each of the movies present a strong folklore tie. The people involved are influence by the folklore, even if they are not familiar with the folklore.

For me, that is what folk horror is about. It is easy to make up a person or family that is "crazy" and have them be agents of the horror. But it is far more interesting to me to make the people that normally would be cast as the "backwood nut jobs" with more depth. You have no outsiders in Jug Face. The family in We Are What We Are could be considered the outsiders, but they are part of the community. The odd part. Yet, until the events of the movie, no one thinks they are frightening.

Part of me has always been offended a bit by the horror that shows the rural people as crazy with no motivation except they are crazy. The backwards hill billy type with a chainsaw. The civilized person (usually a college student... Why? That could be a whole other blog post) ends up in the rural horror. The fear of the chaos taking over order. That can be terrifying. But it is not folk horror.

Unless there is a supernatural, folk lore, or pre-Christian tie in to the story, you cannot call it folk horror.  Those influences, if used correctly, can change the whole feel of a story. I like the slower reveal of folk horror. When the country side is not used to hide the strangeness, but is part of it, the atmosphere is far more terrifying than the isolated house full of crazies.

*We Are What We Are is a remake of a Mexican horror film; Somos lo que hay, which I have not seen. So I cannot compare the two.

by Mari Miniatt

Monday, February 2, 2015

Still around.

Yes I am still around.
But why haven't I posted? In THREE YEARS
Because real life took center stage. I had to put my writing on slow (not really hold, but my output was lowered)

Basically, this is what happened;

  • I switched jobs.
  • Worked mainly overnight which screwed up my health.
  • That job was stressful, but worked at it for almost 2 years. Let go.
  • Got another job. Daylight hours, but broke my foot.
  • That job stopped when the location closed.
  • Moved.
  • New job, new career. Decided this time to find a job where it would be easier to write.
  • So far working out.
I moved from retail to becoming a baker. That's been a great move.

And my writing?
Finally getting back on track.
I did need to find a new editor. But now I have Surgeon (the last of the Coiree Guardians novel), a fantasy novel, two other novels related to the Coiree Guardians, and a rural horror novel all waiting in line to be edited. So I haven't been lazy. I didn't have the time in the last three years to stay on top of all of it.

Will I be back?
Hopefully, sooner than later.

by Mari Miniatt