26 January 2011

Spooky Little Lines by Lynn Viehl

Lynn Viehl is the Word Nerds' guest today and first off, we just have to say, she's a great sport. She posted on her blog about this freaky thing that happened to her while writing and not only did she then agree to come blog over here, she agreed to tell that story. And, when we suggested a giveaway of one book, she said, "How about all three Kyndred novels?"

So -- read her great post about when a character said something unexpected and then enter the great contest to win all three of her Kyndred novels.

Spooky Little Lines, by Lynn Viehl
Most days writing novels is like any regular job. Like millions of other workers, I go to my office, turn on the
computer and get to work. I follow a work schedule and plan when I write. I even use the same methods to write, which is basically to review the plan, visualize the scene from start to finish and then type – nothing really magical there. Most days I can usually knock out at least two scenes; sometimes I manage an entire chapter. It’s all very ordinary.

Until the days when it isn’t, and my job gets a little spooky.

Like last spring, when I was finishing up my latest release, Frostfire. One morning I started writing a chapter where my two protagonists ended up alone in a motel room. According to plan they needed to resolve some issues, make love, and then get some rest. Not an especially tough scene to write.

I should mention one of my writing quirks: I don’t plan any dialogue ahead of time. I compose it spontaneously as I’m writing, and for some reason this approach works for me.

That morning I began writing with my characters ready to resolve their issues, and my protagonist Lilah talked about her mother. Mom was rich, powerful and admired, but she refused to love Lilah or anyone (even herself.) Lilah was determined not to end up like her mother, so she wasn’t afraid of loving Walker, my other protagonist. Even though Walker was angry, bitter and (at times) a little scary, he was the man she loved, and she wasn’t going to run away from him.

A life devoid of love is simply not worth living – Lilah knew this, I knew this; it was all good.

Once Lilah finished talking, Walker was to agree with her, declare his love (which he’d been fighting tooth and nail for ten chapters) and we would move on to the more interesting things they had to do in this motel room. Only when Walker opened his mouth he didn’t declare his love. He asked Lilah if she thought he was like her mother.

I frowned. I needed to get Mom out of the conversation (and the room) so it was time for Lilah to say no, because I know you love me, and kiss me you fool or something like that and then clothes would start coming off and they’d have a lovely romp. Only the line that appeared on the page was this:

“No,” she said simply. “But you do.”

It takes a lot to stop me when I’m writing, but that did. With a four-word line of dialogue, my character completely blew me away. She wasn’t talking about Mom because of herself, and how she felt, as I had wanted. She’d mentioned her mother because of Walker and how he felt -- which she recognized because of Mom.

Worse, she was absolutely right.

Why did that make me walk out of my office and wander around the house shaking and muttering? Well, for one thing, Walker’s name isn’t Walker. I won’t spoil the surprise and tell you who he really is, but I created his character many years ago. Frostfire is actually the third book I’ve written with his character in the story. I created him, built his personality, complicated back story and every other aspect of his entire life. I’ve always known everything about him . . . until Lilah told me that I didn’t.

I never knew that Walker believed he was incapable of love. It wasn’t in the plan, the character outline, either of the other two books he appeared in, or any corner of my skull. So how did my character know that? Let me rephrase: how did an imaginary construct made up of words on paper know that?

Eventually I settled down, accepted that spooky little line which I could not explain, and got back to work. I did mark the occasion by having Walker echo my own reaction in the story (and it was logical because he didn’t realize this about himself, either.) No doubt a shrink would say Walker’s problem was one I always knew on a subconscious level, and that it emerged via the spontaneity of my dialogue writing, and I’d probably agree.

Most days.

Lynn Viehl is a veteran multi-genre New York Times bestselling author who has published forty-seven novels in five genres over the past eleven years.  Her weblog, Paperback Writer, has been providing resources for writers and insight into the professional writing life since 2004.  She is not easily spooked. 

And now! The Contest. Here's what you can win and let me say, if I didn't run this blog, I would be entering like voters in Chicago...
Gift Basket of all three Kyndred novels -- signed -- plus some extra goodies

What's the spookiest moment you've ever had a reader/writer? What tale made you go turn on all the lights at home while reading? When did a character behave on the page so perfectly unexpectedly that you were stunned the moment came out of your jumbled up brain? Can't think of one? Throw your name in the hat anyway. All entries by Feb. 1 at 5 p.m. EST will be accepted even if you've won something from Word Nerd in the past.

46 comments:

Lois2037 said...

I can't think of anything specific (well, it's 6am), but some of the stories in Lovecraft Unboundgave me pause. And many of the events in The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters were surprising and had me sitting up suddenly, saying, "What?!"

B.E. Sanderson said...

I thought that line in Frostfire was frickin' brilliant, Lynn. I was reading along and was all like 'whoa'. Lilah nailed what Walker's problem was, and it came so out of left field for him. Excellent writing.

I can't think of any specific instances off the top of my head, but I'd be thrilled if you'd throw my name in the hat. =o)

Cricket said...

I don't have any spooky writing moments yet...but I hope to have plenty by this time next year! :) I can't wait to read this book, I keep hearing such great things about it...

Robin Bayne said...

what comes to mind happened years ago--I was working alone in a model home, a cloudy afternoon with no prospective buyers strollng through. I decided to read "Pet Sematary" by Stephen King. The customers that finally showed up freaked me out. Funny, now.

Jennifer and Jeff said...

I'm not a writer but I love to read. A spooky moment for me happened while I was reading Silence of the Lambs many years ago. I think I was about 17 or 18. I couldn't put it down but it scared the bejeebers out of me too!
Lynn, thank you again for an interesting insight to your writing process.
Be blessed,
Jennifer

Anne said...

I've had a character develop her own phobia. I though she was complicated enough and had enough problems, but then she decided she was afraid of fire-before I figured out why. I was writing a scene and she panicked and I had to figure it out from there.

CrystalGB said...

Great post. When I read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote I was freaked out some because it was so chilling and a true story.
Crystal816[at]hotmail[dot}com

Tom, Emily & Brenna said...

Oooh, that was SUCH a good part of the book. I am so glad you decided to share that story, because after you mentioned it on your blog I was dying of curiosity!

I have had many scary reading moments, I am easily goosed and have an overactive imagination. Plus I grew up in the middle of the desert with no neighbors and my house was spooky as hell late at night! When I was a teenager Clive Barker scared the stuffing out of me in one of the Books of Blood.

Robin K said...

Armintrout's charater Cyrus scared and enthralled me. Stephen Kings books are always good for a chill as well. :)

robin [at] intensewhisper [dot] com

Summer Writing Program said...

Well...there is that one book...with the sparkling vampires...that terrified me. In some very many ways. Mostly for the future. :) But in all honesty, any book by Samuel R. Delany scares the pants off me.

phsymom said...

The one book that comes to mind is "IT" by Stephen King. That book scared me to death and made it difficult to be in the bathroom alone. Granted I was only 19, but still.

Karen in Texas

Rhianna said...

I'm not frequently surprised in books. I think I might be overanalytical as a blogger/reviewer and I've seen so many tropes over and over it's hard to not assume the outcome. But as a just-for-fun writer years ago I did have one of those brilliant revelation moments with a character I had been writing for a long time. I realized something I was putting her through was my subconcious way of dealing with my own issues. That insight helped me work through them in a strangely theraputic way since I was essentially projecting on to a fictitious character. I could have her deal in different ways and there was always the ability to "do-over".

Great giveaway and cool post Lynn, very interesting! I love hearing about the writing process when it gets so organic. :D

-- Rhianna

always.and.never AT gmail DOT com

Lynn Viehl said...

Lois, if you can think at 6 am, you're way ahead of me. I love books with "What?!" moments. Last one who got me that way was Rob Thurman with Trick of the Light, and I'm pretty sure I yelled it loud enough for her to hear all the way across the country.

Thank you, B., for the kind words and having the same reaction. Sometimes I feel a little silly when I talk about the spooky bits, but it's also why I think writing is real magic. Now if I could just hit on the overnight million-copies-sold spell . . .

Cricket, I hope you find lots of spookiness out there. It keeps you on your toes and it's fun. Once you stop muttering to yourself.

Robin, I've read that book, only once, and you're a much braver woman that I.

Jennifer, Thomas Harris is a master of terror. I remember reading his novel Red Dragon and for years after still getting a bad case of the heebie jeebies every time I took a roll of film to the drugstore be developed.

Anne, that sounds like a really interesting character. Occasionally one of mine refuses to follow the actions I've plotted out for them, and I can't figure out why until I set the story aside and think about it for a while. It annoys me, but never more so than when I'm about a thousand words from finishing a novel. Still, it also results in me finding out something about the character that I needed to know or be reminded of.

Crystal, Capote's book is one I've never read for that same reason; the fact that it actually happened.

Emily, I usually don't get into things like this, but Bethany thought it would make an interesting guest post and I'm trying to change some things I do in keeping with my theme for 2011. I think my practical side is a little embarrassed to admit that there are things about writing that I can't explain or control. I can't help it; I really like being a control freak.

Robin, I agree 100% about Stephen King. His stories are so frightening I never have to reread his books; one time and they stick with me forever.

Summer, I'm not much of a SF fan so I've never read any of Delaney's work, but I would like to try Dhalgren someday. I've heard that the jackasses in the SF community gave him a lot of grief for that one back in the seventies, so it would probably be something I'd enjoy.

Karen, that was another of King's books that I could only manage once, and I had a tough time getting through to the end. I was glad I did, though, because I've never liked balloons or clowns, and afterward I felt very righteous in my lifelong hatred of them.

Jordan Summers said...

Lynn, Great entry as always. That was quite a character twist.

I already own the books, so please don't enter me in the contest. :)

I had a moment like that when I was writing my second Atlantean's book. It had seemed like a fun story, lots of humorous elements. There was a moment when my hero was put into danger and my heroine was trying to save him. She suddenly broke down, reliving a moment when her father passed away. She began to sob. I suddenly realized that saving the hero meant more to her than just getting him out of the situation. It was giving my heroine a second chance to rid herself of long-standing guilt.

Tamara said...

Hmm, the only thing I have read that was creep was Lynn's book Stay the Night.....and it wasn't the story that was creepy, but the cover. PINK! LOL! Seriously though, I don't think I have ever read a story that was creepy/horror to me. Maybe my imagination just doesn't perceive creepy stories in that way. However, to this day I still can't watch Jaws without all the lights on and my feet off the floor!
Tami
Jacksonville

Phoenix-Karenee said...

I get these moments when I read of new discoveries about complex microscopic life forms or the interaction of gravity and electricity, but not for fiction or my own writing. It's awe, I think.

traveler said...

Whenever I read a suspenseful and thrilling mystery which I cannot put down it is completely enthralling and I am entranced with the writing and the plot. Wendy Corsi Staub's books as well as any true story as well.

Kathleen said...

I still remember my horror and shock at the ending of H. Ellison's "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream". To this day, that short story is the scariest thing I have ever read.

Keita SilverWolf said...

I tend to follow the same process you do with dialogue, except for me, whole scenes happen that way. I create the world, the characters...and then I turn them loose in the world. Except for certain main events (who falls for who, and main plot twists), nothing else gets planned. Not even I know what my characters will do until they do it...but I feel I know them well enough to know what they will do. Enough to maybe plot sequals and such...

...until one damn fool got himself killed one day. And he did it by surrendring himself selflessly and dying a terrible, meaningless death. I was happily writing the scene where the tide of battle turned against them when he got on his horse and...rode out to give himself up?! No, no, no! This can't be right. He's supposed to raise the next generation, having learned the lessons of defeat! NOW who's going to raise them? Almost everyone else dies! Argh! *headdesk*

Even more surprising was the reaction of the other characters to what he did. It forced an arrogant, overconfident young woman to grow up and start down the path toward wisdom, a cynical battle-axe of a warrior woman to discover the meaning of life, and for a mystic to discover that it was the simple things in life that had the most meaning. It forced my story down paths I never intended and completely destroyed massive amounts of plot. I don't think I ever forgave him for that. :p

Lynn Viehl said...

Rhianna, you remind me of something Laura Kinsale once told me along the same lines. To paraphrase her, after a while it becomes more difficult to surprise a well-read writer or reader because we already know where all the buttons are. I think that's why I appreciate it so much when another writer does it to me.

Jordan, thanks for the kind words. And what a cool moment to have with your character -- that kind of thing always adds true realism, I think, and makes them come alive even more so on the page.

Tami, that awful pink cover was a horror story of epic proportions; if that didn't scare the wits out of you nothing will! I also agree on Jaws; as much as I love Roy Schieder I watch that one through my fingers.

Stacie Penney said...

I can't watch scary movies, read scary books or I'm terrified for the next several days. It's simply too much. My over active imagination kicks in and I'm done for.

Thanks for the great post, Lynn.

Lisa said...

I try not to read scary books or watch horror movies because I dream about them and that's not fun. LOL To tell you how big of a chicken I am, we went to see Gremlins and I woke up at 1AM, turned on all of the lights and was sure that the little suckers were around the bedroom somewhere. My ex was not pleased. Oh well (snicker).

Pamk said...

absolutely loved Frostfire. And a book that made me turn on the lights was The Stand by Stephen King. Mind you i was 13 at the time. Yeah I pretty much read what I wanted from the time I was 11 or 12 lol. My mom didn't care as long as it was reading.

Lynn Viehl said...

My youngest is like you, Phoenix. She likes fiction well enough, but it never compares to the excitement of a cool snake she finds in the yard, or the latest discovery she's made during her chemistry class.

I've gotten away from reading mysteries, Traveler. Your comment is a good nudge for me to go back to them; I always enjoyed the twists and turns in P.D. James's novels.

I'm trying to think of the scariest short story I've ever read, Kathleen. Probably Poe's The Cask of Amontillado; it terrified me as a kid. I'm sure it influenced some of my choices when I wrote Abbadon and then its later incarnation, Night Lost. I went after that walled-up room (and the way it haunted me) with a sledgehammer.

We probably have the same perenially bruised spot on our brows, Keita. I still carry grudges against certain stories and characters that have railroaded my plans in the exact same way. I think it's one of the most annoying things about being a storyteller. Also one of the best.

Thanks, Stacie. You make me wonder if that's the same reason why I've always avoided most reality shows. The thought of performing in person for critics (who are just waiting to tear you to pieces) makes my stomach shrink into a tiny knot. Then imagining being filmed while doing that and watched by millions -- that's nightmare city!

SquidKiller said...

I was reading Stephen King's "The Dark Half" while working at a mini-storage unit. The unit had a CCTV Security system. I looked up and saw that birds all over the place. Sparrows. Which are psychopomps (guides to the land of the dead), and play a huge role in "The Dark Half."
The freaked me out a bit.
Lynn, I'd love to win this - I've been reading your blog for about two years and keep meaning to read your books. In my spare time.

CatsMeow said...

What a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us. I would like to throw my name into the hat for this terrific contest.

Dawn Montgomery said...

The last freaked out moment for me was reading through some of my old Tales from the Crypt comics with my kids. I had forgotten how dark and twisted they were!

The one that got me was the butterfly collector...he killed a butterfly in the swamp and was then taken by the insects to be part of their human collection. That one totally weirded me out.

Blanca said...

Wow, what a great post!

I don't know if spooky, but I was eleven reading a book with a dozen sci-fi short stories. The ending in one of them (the protagonist -a math scientist trying to solve a complicated series of ecuations on a chalk board- saved his soul by beating the devil-character: he had to find what he couldn't do-- and he couldn't "get lost") haunts me to this day. Thirty years later I still think that was SO clever :)

Lorinda said...

To this day, I cannot stand the sight of open closet doors, courtesy of one of Holly Lisle's books- I think it was Night Echoes. The scene was so well written that I still cannot sleep with the door cracked open, and if I'm being honest, I also check the closet every night before going to bed.

donnas said...

What a great post. Thanks for taking the time and sharing it.

The spookiest moment I ever had as a reader was the first time I read Salem's Lot. Totally freaked me out. And I know Ive been stunned in a book before, but I really cant think of it right now.

bacchus76 at myself dot com

Lynn Viehl said...

It's time for me to head off to dreamland, but before I go I'd like to thank Bethany and Stacie for letting me visit here today at Word Nerd. Ladies, you are terrific hosts, and I had a great time reading everyone's comments.

RJ Hipling said...

I wrote short story for a class in 2005. While editing it, I came across a paragraph I could not remember ever writing. After I read it, I looked over my shoulder despite the fact that I had my back to a wall.

I had chills for a week thinking about it, wondering where the paragraph came from. But I can't complain because the paragraph fit perfectly with the story.

Bibliophile said...

Interesting post, Lynn.

I am not a writer, so I can't comment on that aspect, but as an adult I have only read two books that really spooked me, and they were The Turn of the Screw and The Legend of Hill House. Both had that really tense atmosphere that made one think that something unexpected was just about to happen, and so kept me on my toes the whole time I was reading them. I swear if someone had come up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder when I was reading certain parts of Hill House, I would have had a heart attack.

suelder said...

I'll toss my name in the hat, but if I don't win, I'll be picking up Frostfire. You've got me sold.

petite said...

All of Daphne Du Maurier's novels held me spellbound. The atmosphere and the eerie feelings that these books evoke always kept me on edge.

kkl said...

Years back, while reading the first book of John Flanagan's Ranger series, I was so engrossed that I was startled along with character (I really jumped). I never thought words on a page that was reading, could give me that reaction.

Joyce said...

I try not to read spooky books. Years and years ago I read The Bad Seed by William March and was so startled by the ending that I threw the book across the room (luckily it was a paperback).

Aline Riverside said...

I don't usually have spooky moments, but I have the ones where things suddenly fall together, closing a hole I didn't realise I had. In reading it's most of a "Boggle" moment. I'm stunned for a second and then I have to finish the books. Frostfire did that for me, and I loved it. "Walker" has always been a favorite character of mine.

nightsmusic said...

That line stunned me too because I couldn't quite put my finger on what niggled at me and then that line popped up and it was Whoa! NOW I get it all!

I've never had a moment like that writing yet, but I have to say, I read 'Salem's Lot when it was first released and I didn't open a curtain at night for months! Absolutely terrified me.

luciferxdamien said...

I can't really think of anything, except maybe the Monkey's Paw story, but that was so long ago and in class. But it did freak me out. Still does.

Brandi said...

I can't say there are any stories that have spooked me. I am very visual so scary scenes from films seem to stick with me. Paranormal Activity had me creeped out for weeks.

lxz said...

Like Stacie, I avoid anything remotely spooky since it'll terrify me for days, and I'll have to avoid looking into mirrors in case anything that shouldn't be there looks out, etc.

I remember when I was around 12 and reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and I was at the part in the Shire when the Black Rider was snuffling after the hobbits cowering in a ditch, it so spooked me I had to go and find a room with someone else in it so I could continue reading.

Heather.willis said...

Cant' think of a moment but don't want to miss this competion - throwing name in hat

Heather from Oz

Jessica Strider said...

I was never really scared by movies or books as a kid (I saw Aliens when I was 5 and the chest bursting scene didn't bother me at all) - though that changed as I got older.

Anyway, the only movie I remember as a kid creeping me out was called Runaway. It involved these robotic spiders that killed people. Made me arachniphobic for years.

More recently, I read a collection of short stories by David Nickle. One of them is called Tar Baby, and has a very creepy ending.

Is the contest open to Canadians?

Rosanna said...

This is a really cool post! I think my scariest reader moment has come from "It" by Stephen King. Something about that clown just scares me senseless.

Misha said...

While I can't think of any moments at the moment~ I'd still like to toss in my name for the giveaway. :) I really enjoyed reading this post and can't wait to pick up Frostfire!