Scary stories free in the public domain

I hope those of you reading this blog also like to read other stories. Why would you follow an author if you didn’t like to read, right? 🙂

Through the years I have read quite a few books and one of my favorite genres is horror. Ever since I was a kid I loved to read scary ghost stories. I still have most of the books I had when I was younger and have been reading some of them over – still good stuff.

One of the benefits of the internet at this time in history is that quite a few of the classic stories we think of as scary are now free. Their copyright has expired and the works are now in the public domain, meaning anyone can get them to read for free. I’m not talking about illegal, pirated books.

This is absolutely wonderful, as some of these are great stories. Keep in mind that stories from 100+ years ago can be quite a bit different from today’s stories. There is more of an atmosphere about them. They seem to play on the senses or scare through subtleties in perception. Plus a lot of them aren’t scary stories so much as a statement on the day and age.

There is a site I love – The Gutenberg Project. This site has been trying to collect as many books and stories that are in the public domain as they possibly can. They want to preserve these books and stories and offer them for download on the website in various formats. If you’ve never been there, check it out.

A couple that may be of interest during Halloween time:

Frankenstein – not only is this arguably the first science fiction story it is also written by a woman, which is pretty fantastic for the time period. While you may be familiar with the various movies, the story is much more than that. Like many classic, Victorian-era stories, the true monster isn’t who we think. It is also a commentary on the new science that was evolving at this time and how man thinks they can play god. My kids have been reading and studying this in school, it really is worth a read if you never have.

Dracula – again, not what you would think. If you think you’re getting an action vampire movie of a story, think again. This is a pretty hefty book, but its very good. It is actually more of a love story than a scary ghost story, but I love the Victorian atmosphere, gothic in every sense, and how the story is so much more than we think of it today.

The Vampyre, a tale – not as well known, but may be the first vampire story. It’s short but a little harder to get through than some others. Worth reading if for no other reason than it’s the start of our modern vampire story.

And if you think Nightmare Before Christmas is part Halloween and part Christmas, check out A Christmas Carol. Yup, the classic with Scrooge and the three ghosts. Did you ever wonder about ghosts in a Christmas story? It’s really a ghost story! I have read this story every year at Christmas as a tradition, but it fits equally well in October.

There are a few to get you started. If you like to read and have said you should read some of the classics, check this site out. There are so many good books you may be there a while and suddenly find your Kindle full.

POV

One of the aspects of writing that is difficult for me is Point of View (POV).

Point of view is basically who is telling the story you are reading. The easy example is first person point of view – I walked my dog in the park when I saw a wonderous site. A UFO landed right in front of me and I couldn’t believe it. My dog, of course, went crazy.

The other one that is popular and fairly easy is third person – George walked his dog in the park and saw something wondrous. A UFO landed in front of him and he was shocked. His dog barked at it.

There are some slightly different variations and there is also 2nd point of view, but I’m not going to go into that much here.

My problem is something they call head hopping. When you right from a third person point of view, you can be omniscient or focused. When omniscient, you can see in the heads of all the characters and when focused, you usually stay with one character. The problem is, in any scene you should stay focused on one character or it gets confusing. That is something I have a hard time with and it’s hard for me to even recognize it.

Here is an example my editor gave me. It is from Martin & James vs. The Masked Moss-Trooper.

Martin’s POV is red, while James’ is blue.

Martin grabbed the ladder and climbed hurriedly. A noise below caused him to glance down and see James climbing. 

“James, do go into the car and wait for me. It is much too dangerous up here. I cannot be responsible for you and apprehend Victor at the same time.”

The little face looked up, voice whining. “But sir, I’m your partner.” Not getting the reaction he wanted, James tried again.  “Please, I won’t screw up like last time, I promise. Cross my heart, well, if I wasn’t holding a ladder I’d cross my heart.”

You can probably see fairly easily how the first part is as if we were in Martin’s head and the next part we are in James head. When I was writing it and reading it and re-writing it, that never stood out to me.

Here it is rewritten:

Martin grabbed the ladder and climbed hurriedly. A noise below caused him to glance down and see James climbing. 

“James, do go into the car and wait for me. It is much too dangerous up here. I cannot be responsible for you and apprehend Victor at the same time.”

The little face looked up, voice whining. “But sir, I’m your partner.” When Martin didn’t respond, he took another step up the rung.  “Please, I won’t screw up like last time, I promise. Cross my heart, well, if I wasn’t holding a ladder I’d cross my heart.

It’s subtle and the rewritten part says the same thing, it’s just the way it’s said. Some people don’t find it jarring and think it sounds fine the first way. This isn’t the best example, so let me try another one. Here is an example from later in the story when Martin is facing Vincent.

The triangle shape made this blade unique and Martin knew he had to be careful or he’d receive more than a cut from it. (Martin POV) Vincent tensed, readying himself, knowing he could overtake the other man, but before he could close the distance, there was a clatter as the door behind him opened. (Vincent POV) 

That one is much more clear. The POV definitely shifts between the two characters. We head hop from one to the other.

The triangle shape made this blade unique and Martin knew he had to be careful or he’d receive more than a cut from it. Martin readied himself as he saw Vincent tense. He knew he could overtake the other man if he was careful of the blade. Before he could close the distance, there was a clatter as the door behind Vincent opened.

This is an area of writing I still struggle with and will continue to work on. I want to thank Cate Hogan for helping with the examples above. I hope that I can use the knowledge I’ve gained to be able to go through my manuscripts and fix them so that they read better, because getting people to read them is the whole point.

writing exercise

There are many ways to improve your writing. The first, and most obvious, is just to write more. With more practice you should get better. Part of that process is to get feedback from others. What we think we are writing is not always what is coming across to others.

It can be very difficult to put your work out there and get feedback. One problem, though, is that many people don’t want to hurt your feelings and just tell you “Oh, that’s great, loved it.” That doesn’t really help you because if all the feedback you get is so positive, once you submit to the world or even just to an agent or publisher, you’ll get devastated when told how bad things may be.

But that feedback is so very important because it is a great way to see where your writing lacks and how to improve it.

There are also various exercises you can do. For example – get a topic or situation and just write about it. I have several weekly contests I belong to that do just that. Each week they have a topic or story starter and you have to take that and make a full fledged story. It’s fun and helps because you may write something you may not have any other time. You stretch, which is a great way to get better at writing. It’s also nice to get feedback on these writings because you may not be so emotionally attached to it, so any feedback can be viewed with a more critical eye. That will carry over to your other writing.

Another exercise I like to do is re-writing. I take a section of a book and then re-write it in several ways. I’ve done this with Harry Potter and below I’m doing it with The Shining.

I did 2 sections from Stephen King’s book. They are in bold. I then rewrote it as you might as a new writer. I wrote it again as someone that is over compensating or that hasn’t learned to trim down their writing. Then I wrote it and made other word choices.

Am I saying I can write better than you or Stephen King? No, not at all. This is just an exercise meant to stretch my abilities. I could have chosen to rewrite it as my dog might write.  I could have chosen to write it like Charles Dicken’s might have written it. Whatever. You can also choose any book or passage. It’s probably a good idea to choose something not in your favorite genre at times.

I’m interested in what others think of my choices and if you’ve done this exercise yourself and what the results were.  Here is what I have for this one:

Jack came out onto the porch, tugging the tab of his zipper up under his chin, blinking into the bright air. In his left hand he was holding a battery-powered hedge-clipper. He tugged a fresh handkerchief out of his back pocket with his right hand, wiped his lips with it, and tucked it away. Snow, they had said on the radio. It was hard to believe, even though he could see the clouds building up on the far horizon.

 

Newbie and dry:

Jack walked onto the porch. He zipped up his jacket and blinked in the light. He pulled a handkerchief out and wiped his lips. He then put it back in his pocket. In his other hand he carried a hadge-clipper. He looked at the clouds. The radio had said there would be snow.

 

More full blow:

Jack took a step onto the porch. He grabbed the tab for his jacket zipper, pulled it and zipped it all the way up to his chin as he blinked into the bright light and the air. In his left hand he carried a hedge-clipper. The hedge-clipper was battery powered. Reaching into his back pocket with his right hand, he took out a handkerchief. He used the clean, new handkerchief to wipe his lips and then he moved his arm and put the handkerchief back in his back pocket. He had heard on the radio that the weather was calling for snow. He found it hard to believe that it might snow, but he could see snow clouds on the horizon. They were still far away.

 

Changed words:

Jack stepped onto the porch, pulling the little zipper tab up under his chin as he blinked into the brightness of the air. He carried a hedge-clipper, battery powered. Using his free hand, he pulled a crisp handkerchief from his back pocket and proceeded to wipe his lips before tucking it away. As he looked at the sky, he thought it hard to believe that the radio had predicted snow, but sure enough, he could see the build-up of clouds on the horizon.

 

 

He started down the path to the topiary, switching the hedge-clipper over to the other hand. It wouldn’t be a long job, he thought; a little touch-up would do it. The cold nights had surely stunted their growth. The rabbit’s ears looked a little fuzzy, and two of the dog’s legs had grown fuzzy green bonespurs, but the lions and the buffalo looked fine. Just a little haircut would do the trick, and then let the snow come.

 

 

Newbie and dry:

He walked down the path to the topiary. He moved the hedge-clipper to his other hand. It wouldn’t take long to touch up the shrubs he thought. They were probably not growing because of the cold nights. He thought the rabbit’s ears and dog’s legs may need trimmed. He didn’t think the lion nor buffalo needed trimmed. Once he finished, the snow could come.

 

More full blown:

Jack started walking down the path to the topiary. As he walked along ,he moved the hedge-clipper from one hand to the other. He was thinking that it wouldn’t be a tough job at all. He thought that the shrubs just needed a bit of a touch up. The nights had been cold and that would have stunted the growth of the shrubs. He thought the rabbit’s ears might have looked a little bit fuzzy. He also thought at least two of the dog’s legs had grown some making it look like they had bonespurs. Looking at the lion and the buffalo, he didn’t think the needed trimmed at all. After he finished trimming just a little it, the snow could come and he wouldn’t care.

 

Changed words:

He switched the hedge-clipper’s to his other hand as he walked the path to the topiary. All they needed was a touch-up, he thought. The cold nights had surely stunted their growth, making this a quick job. The rabbit’s ears looked a little fuzzy, and a couple of the dog’s legs had grown leafy bonespurs, but the lion and buffalo looked fine. After a bit of a haircut, the snow could fly all it wanted.

 

Get to reading – the Great American Read

Have you heard of the Great American Read?

Sponsored by PBS, this documentary special is a celebration of reading. There are 100 books on the list, and you can vote for your favorite. There will be 1 winner based on these votes.

http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/vote/

It’s pretty cool and exciting, go check out the list. Going through, there are many I have read and there are many that are surprising. Tom Sawyer is on the list, of course. But so is Ready Player One, which was interesting. So it’s not just a list of books that are more than 100 years old, though many of those are pretty good.

There are some books I’d still like to read, but here are the ones that I’ve actually read:

1984

Adventures of Tom Sawyer (personal recommendation)

Alex Cross

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (personal recommendation)

Call of the Wild (personal recommendation)

Charlotte’s Web (I like the overall theme of this one)

Chronicles of Narnia

Count of Monte Cristo

DaVinci Code

Dune

Flowers in the Attic

Frankenstein

Giver

Gone with the Wind

Grapes of Wrath

Gulliver’s Travels

Harry Potter (recommended, well duh)

Hatchet

Hunt for Red October

Jurassic Park (one of my top 3 books ever)

Little Women

Moby Dick

Ready Player One

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (highly recommended)

Hunger Games

Lord of the Rings

Martian (one of my all-time favorites)

Outsiders

Stand

Watchers

Where the Red Fern Grows (recommended)

 

Thirty-one out of 100 – not great, but not bad. There are a couple still on my list to read, so that will bring it up. Likewise, there are a couple that I’ve tried to read but couldn’t get into and didn’t care for. That’s ok, you’re allowed to not like a book.

Parents, if you are looking for a good summer read for the kids:

Charlotte’s Web, Tom Sawyer, Where the Red Fern Grows, Hatchet would be good ones. Alice’s Adventures is a good one to read together, it’s trippy and is great with a discussion.

For the older kids, try: Outsiders, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Call of the Wild and Harry Potter.

How many have you read? Go vote!

http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/vote/

Writing with balance

Many writers, including yours truly, struggle to write not just well but the bestest words. See that, I need to edit that. It’s very difficult to write out what you want to say. Sometimes you write the most perfect thing, then get disgusted when you read it back.

“How could I write that?! Why did I think that was so great!?” Those words can probably be heard often – if not out loud, at least echoing in someone’s head.

For me, coming up with a story isn’t that hard. Even writing it down isn’t that difficult. But then, reading it and editing it – that can be very difficult.

One problem I, and I’m sure many others struggle with, is writing with balance. Writing with balance can mean a couple things, so let me tell you what I mean.

For this post, writing with balance means putting the words on the page to say what you want to say, without those words sucking. I know someone laughed reading that, but I bet many writers are going, “yeah, that’s pretty hard to do.”

Maybe giving examples will help best rather than lecturing. Here is a bit of the infamous Harry Potter story:

From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets chapter 10 The Rogue Bludger

Harry had no time to reply. At that very moment, a heavy black Bludger came pelting toward him; he avoided it so narrowly that he felt it ruffle his hair as it passed.
“Close one, Harry!” said George, streaking past him with his
club in his hand, ready to knock the Bludger back toward a Slytherin.
Harry saw George give the Bludger a powerful whack in the direction of Adrian Pucey, but the Bludger changed direction in midair and shot straight for Harry again.
Harry dropped quickly to avoid it, and George managed to hit it hard toward Malfoy. Once again, the Bludger swerved like a boomerang and shot at Harry’s head.
Harry put on a burst of speed and zoomed toward the other end of the field. He could hear the Bludger whistling along behind him. What was going on? Bludgers never concentrated on one player like this; it was their job to try and unseat as many people as possible. . . .
Fred Weasley was waiting for the Bludger at the other end.
Harry ducked as Fred swung at the Bludger with all his might; the
Bludger was knocked off course.
“Gotcha!” Fred yelled happily, but he was wrong; as though it
was magnetically attracted to Harry, the Bludger pelted after him
once more and Harry was forced to fly off at full speed.

 

If you haven’t read this series, you really should, if for no other reason than to know what everyone else is talking about.

Is this the most perfect section of prose you will ever read? No, probably not. Would Ms. Rowling say she wrote the best piece of literature ever? I doubt it. That’s kind of the point. Sometimes we get so caught up in making every bit of it perfect that it never actually gets written. The little inaccuracies and personal choices are what help define our voice and make us unique and interesting. There’s the wisdom of the day, young Padawan.

Ok, now, what could she have written? I’ve got a couple examples below of how it could have been written. I know I have caught myself writing this way and have heard many other authors write this way at times.

 

Alternate Universe 1 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets chapter 10 The Rogue Bludger

Harry had no time to reply. A Bludger came toward him. He swerved. The Bludger flew close to him. His hair was ruffled by Bludger passing by.
“Close one, Harry!” said George. George flew past Harry. George carried his club. Goerge hit the Bludger toward Adrian Pucey. The Bludger change direction and flew toward Harry.
Harry dropped to avoid the Bludger. George hit the Bludger toward Malfoy. The Bludger swerved toward Harry again.
Harry sped up and flew to the other end of the field. The Bludger flew behind him, making a whistling sound.  Harry wondered why the Bludger was after him and not others.
At the end of the field, Fred Weasley waited. Harry ducked as he flew by Fred. Fred swung at the Bludger. The Bludger was knocked off course.
“Gotcha!” Fred yelled. He was wrong. The Bludger after Harry. Harry flew off.

 

I think you would agree, that wasn’t as interesting. Was it telling the same thing? Yes, but it sounded more like reading the directions to a recipe than telling a gripping section of the story.

Again, I’m not being mean or critical of the work. Nor am I saying I write better, believe me, I don’t. I am using this to gain a better understanding of writing with that balance of saying what needs said and saying it well. Or saying it goodly if you like.

The next example is one I’ve seen quite a bit. It is the opposite of the first example. Instead of being dry and cut down, it goes the opposite way and says way too much. In an effort to make it interesting, the author gets it too flowery and has the opposite effect of what they want.

 

Alternate Universe 2 From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets chapter 10 The Rogue Bludger

Harry couldn’t reply, he had too many things happening at once. He turned his head and looked over to see a heavy black Bludger flying toward him. Shifiting his weight and gripping the handle of his flying broomstick, he adjusted his course and avoided the Bludger that had been flying towards him.
“Close one, Harry!” said George. George flew past him lifting his arm which held his club. He looked at Harry, waving his club in the air with his arm. Harry watched George shift on the broomstick, guiding it toward the Bludger. George flew at the flying ball and Harry knew he was going to swing his arm and hit it toward a Slytherin.
Harry saw George hit the Bludger. George swung his arm and the club hit the Bludger. He hit it with a strong whack. The Bludger flew in the direction of Adrian Pucey. The Bludger changed direction, flying one way and then turning in the air toward Harry again.
Harry flew across the field and saw the Bludger heading toward him. Shifting his weight, Harry adjusted the broom’s course and dropped quickly to avoid the Bludger. He flew through the air with the Bludger flying behind him. Harry saw the Bludger getting closer. Again, Harry, turned the broom, flying in a different direction, and the Bludger followed him. Harry saw George and flew the broom toward him. As he flew by, George swung at the Bludger. George connected, hitting the Bludger toward Malfoy. The Bludger flew hard toward the opponent who looked to see it coming. Once again, the Bludger swerved and changed direction, turning and flying toward Harry again. The Bludger was flying toward’s Harry’s head.
Harry saw the Bludger flying towards him again. Flying faster, Harry flew towards the other end of the field. Behind him, he heard the Bludger flying quickly, making a whistling sound as it flew through the air.  Harry glanced worriedly behind him, seeing the Bludger close. What was going on? Bludgers never concentrated on one player like this; it was their job to try and unseat as many people as possible. . . .
Fred Weasley was at the other end. Harry flew toward Fred as Fred held his club, ready to hit the Bludger.
As he flew by Fred, Harry ducked, flying lower. Fred swung his club at the Bludger flying through the air. He hit the Bludger and knocked it off course. The Bludger flew away after being hit so hard by Fred.
“Gotcha!” Fred yelled. He was happy that he had hit the Bludger. He wasn’t happy when the Bludger changed direction. It flew through the air again towards Harry, seeming to be attracted to him. Harry turned his head and looked the Bludger. He saw the Bludger flying right towards him again. Harry turned the broom and adjusted his flight. The Bludger flew after Harry as Harry flew off across the field.

 

 

Compared to the example from the book. that was a lot of words and a lot of excess description. That can realy bog down a manuscript. If you compare each example with the original, you can see how the word choices in the original lead to a more pleasant reading experience. Could you find some things that could be different or even improved? Yeah, I’m sure you could and someone else may find something completely different that they think should be changed, and they would probably be right also. That’s what is great about stories – there is no one way to tell any story. There may be better ways, and by finding those better ways, you can improve your own writing.

Try to do what I’ve done – take an example from whatever book you are reading and rewrite parts of it. Start by writing out the original. It’s best if you do this by hand on paper. This sounds very tedious, but it can open your eyes to how a section is written and what the author is doing to make the story enjoyable and say it in their own voice.

Once you have the original copied out, rewrite it. Try to pare it down to the bare bones. Then try to rewrite it with the most extravagent flourishes possible. Maybe rewrite it as if another favorite author had written it. How would Harry Potter sound if H.G. Wells had written it? What about if Charles Schultz had written it? If you don’t know who they are, I’ll let you Google that on your own.

 

 

 

They say we need a writing prompt, not a revolution

When my kids were in middle school, they participated in a program called Power of the Pen. A group of them would meet once a week after school and work on writing. At the end of the year, there was a contest amongst multiple schools. During the day, the kids would be given a writing prompt and would have a set time to write something about that prompt.

If you’ve never done much writing and aren’t sure what a writing prompt is, it’s just an idea or a sentence to spark your creativity. They are designed to make you think of something different and get the juices flowing so you can write.
Recently I have run into a great weekly writing prompt subscription. These are from Reedsy, a job type website where authors can connect with and hire editors and other professionals to help with their book publishing.

On Fridays, a list of writing prompts is sent out and displayed on their website at http://www.reedsy.com/writing. You can write anything you want based on any of the writing prompt ideas and submit them. They pick one to publish on their blog and receive $50.

I believe that most school kids are too young to legally enter the contest, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the writing prompts. Go to the website each week to see the new prompts. Use your imagination and write a short story. Then, the following week, go compare your story to the one that was chosen. Think it stacks up?

Recenty, my favorite writing prompt was this:

In the human world, a magician reaches into a hat and pulls out a rabbit. In the rabbit world, the God hand has appeared again and a sacrifice must be made. This time, the Council of the Hop has chosen you.

That’s pretty good and sounds like it could be a fun story. This also seems to be appropriate for middle school kids, so it could be used with almost any age.

Even if your kids aren’t in a writing club, they can still do this on their own. Or, how about at breakfast or the dinner table? Look at the writing prompts and choose one for each night and everyone can make up a story on the spot or do a group story where everyone contributes.

These also would be great for trips. Throw out a writing prompt and makeup stories.

If you’ve been looking for a way to get kids interested in writing, start with just making stories. And if you aren’t good at coming up with the ideas, these are a great way to help get started.

 

First weekend writing

Many people have ideas for stories or want to write a novel. Most of those people never will.

I was one of those people. I had ideas but it was always too hard and would take too long. I’d do it sometime in the future.

Finally, I realized I would never do it unless I just sat down and did it. That’s just what I did in February of 2016.

Without any preconceived notions or worrying if it would be perfect or wondering if anyone would buy it, I started writing. By the end of the weekend I had written almost 15,000 words!

It was a fantastic start. If I did that every weekend for a month I would have a 60,000 word novel done. So why didn’t I do that?

Good question. Like most people life happened. Other things took my focus. I started telling myself that it sucked. Etc etc. I did finally finish the book and sent it to an editor. It was over a month before I got it back and then I couldn’t look at what the editor said right away.

When I did look at it I got what you’d expect. A lot of notes to point out to the newbie author where the writing and the story were less than par. Not the great American Novel I had hoped for. After reading over the editor’s notes I agreed with almost everything and could see the weaknesses in the story.

What did I do? I ripped out about half of the book. Stuff that really did stink. Leaving some good writing. What about the writing I did the initial weekend, how did that fare.

Actually, I kept most of it. It wasn’t bad. When I didn’t care how things went or how things sounded, I wrote pretty good. What made the writing take longer was I started actually trying and thinking about it.

There’s the lesson. We can be much better writer’s when we don’t worry about our writing. We get so caught up in our hopes and desires and we want it to be perfect that we actually are less perfect than we would be if we didn’t care about any of that.