Craft­ing chills

Pop­u­lar’s 3rd Writ­ing Work­shop was an en­light­en­ing ses­sion of the ‘How To’ of hor­ror.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By TER­ENCE TOH star2@thes­tar.com.my

BOOK fairs are usu­ally con­sid­ered to be pleas­ant af­fairs. Usu­ally held in open, brightly-lit places, they are usu­ally an op­por­tu­nity for book-lovers to con­gre­gate, or for fam­i­lies to spend qual­ity time with each other. It’s hard to imag­ine any­thing more whole­some.

Yet ear­lier in the week, about 30 peo­ple gath­ered at BookFest@ Malaysia with thoughts of gore and the gothic on their minds. And while fair vis­i­tors were look­ing for books and dis­counts, this group sought dark in­spi­ra­tion, hop­ing to weave sto­ries of ghosts, mur­der­ers, and things that go bump in the night.

But there was no need for alarm: these were the par­tic­i­pants of Pop­u­lar’s 3rd Writ­ing Work­shop: Hor­ror Sto­ries.

Held in the Hos­pi­tal­ity Lounge of the Kuala Lumpur Con­ven­tion Cen­tre as part of this year’s BookFest@Malaysia, the work­shop saw as­pir­ing writ­ers be­ing tu­tored by pro­fes­sional au­thors on the art of writ­ing to scare.

The two-day work­shop opened on Sun­day with au­thor Me­gat Ishak (ap­pro­pri­ately wear­ing a Fri­day The 13th T-shirt!) lead­ing a ses­sion on gen­er­at­ing story ideas. The ex­pe­ri­enced hor­ror au­thor said that writ­ers should be­gin by ask­ing them­selves ques­tions such as “do I like what I’m writ­ing?”, and “does it fill a deep crav­ing?”. If the answer to these ques­tions is “yes”, then you have a good start.

Me­gat (au­thor of Hard Core, nom­i­nated in this year’s Read­ers’ Choice Awards – re­sults out to­mor­row) also shared his sources of in­spi­ra­tion, such as dreams, while driv­ing at night, and even at a neigh­bour­hood cafe.

“To be a hor­ror writer, you must love hor­ror. You must like the feel­ing of be­ing scared, and you must like the abil­ity to scare peo­ple.

“Once you have that in­ten­tion in mind, the ideas will come. You can look at any­thing and get your in­spi­ra­tion,” the au­thor said.

Au­thor Eeleen Lee (au­thor of 13 Moons, third prize win­ner, Read­ers’ Choice Awards 2015) spoke on creating ef­fec­tive open­ings and set­tings, as well as de­vel­op­ing mem­o­rable char­ac­ters. Her ses­sions had par­tic­i­pants nam­ing which hor­ror films a scene came from, and dis­cus­sions of what made fa­mous hor­ror char­ac­ters work. One ex­er­cise had par­tic­i­pants imag­in­ing what kind of hor­rors lurked in the stor­age room of a lo­cal con­ve­nience store!

“Whether it’s zom­bies, sharks, ghosts or clowns, the main star of any hor­ror story is the source of the hor­ror it­self. That’s why you buy the ticket, that’s why you pick up the book. You don’t want to read about Mr Smith or Mr Wong. You want to know what sort of sh*t he gets into,” Lee said.

“But your main char­ac­ters also can’t be weak or one-di­men­sional. They need to match the hor­ror. And to do that, they have to be strong too.”

Par­tic­i­pants went home af­ter that (pre­sum­ably to re­cover from all the hor­ror they were ex­posed to!) and the work­shop con­tin­ued on the sec­ond day with Julya Oui’s

ses­sion on creating en­gag­ing cli­maxes and twist end­ings.

Oui ad­viced par­tic­i­pants to de­cide what kind of hor­ror story they wanted to write (Was it ter­ror? Sus­pense? A thriller?) and also con­tem­plat­ing how nec­es­sary a twist at the end was. Would it strengthen the con­clu­sion? Would it jus­tify the en­tire story? Would it sat­isfy the reader? One way of find­ing this out is to re­mem­ber a twist in a movie, and re­call how you felt as it ended.

It’s one thing to write a story, what you do with it after­wards can ac­tu­ally make or break it for you as an au­thor, ac­cord­ing to the fi­nal two ses­sions of the work­shop, on edit­ing and pub­lish­ing.

“When you do your first draft, you say ‘I’m done. I wrote it, I cleaned it up, I printed out a copy, it’s clean, I’m fin­ished.’ No, you’re not.

“A lot of writ­ers think so. They sub­mit their first draft and won­der why it doesn’t get published. Of course not, it’s no good,” au­thor Robert Raymer said in his ses­sion about rewrit­ing and edit­ing (he is the au­thor of Lovers And Strangers Re­vis­ited, win­ner of the 2009 Read­ers’ Choice Awards).

“You haven’t scratched the sur­face. The real part is the rewrit­ing. It’s the hard­est and most chal­leng­ing part of writ­ing.”

His ses­sion cov­ered, among other things, com­mon mis­takes made when sub­mit­ting sto­ries, and ways au­thors sab­o­taged them­selves by con­clud­ing their sto­ries badly. These in­cluded trick or “overly clever” end­ings, dras­ti­cally killing off main char­ac­ters, or worst of all, the “it was all a dream” end­ing.

Wrap­ping up the work­shop was au­thor and pub­lish­ing con­sul­tant Kris Wil­liamson (au­thor of Son Com­plex, 2013), who cov­ered all the steps of pub­lish­ing, from writ­ing query let­ters to social media pres­ence to deal­ing with re­views. His ses­sion also cov­ered the ben­e­fits of self pub­lish­ing ver­sus tra­di­tional pub­lish­ing, and ways to spot “preda­tory pub­lish­ers” – those who pressure au­thors to pay them for do­ing what they are sup­posed to do as pub­lish­ers.

Many of the work­shop par­tic­i­pants said they are now in­spired to try their hand at pen­ning their own spooky sto­ries.

“I found it a good learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, with ideas and con­cepts I

have never thought be­fore. I am in­spired by the work­shop and its speak­ers, and aim to prac­tise what they preach,” said writer Charles Chiam, 28.

“It was very good. Very in­for­ma­tive, and it answers all your ques­tions. And the Q&A ses­sions help you fill in what­ever blank spa­ces that re­mained,” said home­maker Su­bathra Karunakaran, 48.

Here’s hop­ing that we’ll soon be see­ing a tor­rent of ter­ri­fy­ing ti­tles hit our lo­cal book­shelves. Watch out, Stephen King, you may soon have com­pe­ti­tion!

BookFest@Malaysia 2017 is on daily, from 10am to 10pm, un­til Sun­day, at the Kuala Lumpur Con­ven­tion Cen­tre. Ad­mis­sion is with pur­chase of the BookFest cat­a­logue at RM2.50 per en­try or RM10 for mul­ti­ple en­tries. Cat­a­logues are avail­able at all Pop­u­lar and Har­ris book­store out­lets na­tion­wide and also at the event’s en­trance.

En­trance is free for stu­dents 18 years old and be­low and se­nior cit­i­zens aged 60 and above.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit face­book.com/BookFestMalaysia. Star Media Group is a media part­ner of BookFest@ Malaysia 2017.

— S.S KANESAN/The Star

Raymer ex­plain­ing ways to re­work a story dur­ing his ses­sion at the Pop­u­lar’s 3rd Writ­ing Work­shop: Hor­ror Sto­ries. The work­shop was part of the on­go­ing BookFest@Malaysia 2017

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