Good news! I was able to make some decent use of the early morning hours. I woke up at five and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to make use of that quiet time to work on a story I’ve been grinding away at for the past couple weeks. The rough draft looks to be more novella length than novel, but maybe the story will expand when I progress to revisions later.
In the meantime, I got a really good idea for a story yesterday on my walk. I will carry on with the rough draft before I go back to revisions of this recently finished project. The working title for my next project: Nightmare Shards. I’m going to have some fun playing with the werewolf myth.
Rami Ungar is a novelist from Columbus, Ohio who has enjoyed writing and scaring people silly since he was young. He has both self-published and traditionally published short stories and novels, including Snake, Rose and The Pure World Comes. When not writing, Rami enjoys anime and manga, reading, and giving people the impression that he’s not entirely human.
Tell us a bit about the stories you write. What do they mean to you, and why do you think readers will love them?
I tend to write horror and supernatural stories. I love a scary monster, some weird concept or idea turned into a full story. Especially if I can take my interests or my eccentricities and put them into a story. That’s what my stories are, in a way: they’re my love of the dark and the strange, a crystallization of the macabre with my eclectic interests (which includes the macabre). And I think people will not only love the stories for their plots and unique touches, but also for the love and passion I include in my stories.
Do you remember that first moment when the horror genre attracted you?
I think it might have been Stephen King’s IT. I was on vacation and we stopped at a bookstore because my family always needs something to read. I recognized IT from seeing a DVD copy of the miniseries once, so I thought I’d check it out. Probably one of the best decisions of my life, nightmares notwithstanding.
What is your creative process?
When I decide to work on a story, I come up with a few central characters and their key traits/role in the story. I then work on and outline the story, and then I write the darn thing. I’ll usually have music on in the background, a tea or soda nearby and some incense burning. All those things really help me get the words out (along with a good story, of course).
What are some of your favorite books and movies?
Good question. As you might have guessed, my favorite books are mainly horror. Kill Creek by Scott Thomas is my current favorite, though something else might replace it someday. I’m also a huge fan of writers like Stephen King, Ania Ahlborn, Anne Rice, HP Lovecraft, and many others. As for movies, there are a lot of horror movies there too: Overlord, Perfect Blue, Prince of Darkness. That being said, Avengers: Endgame and The Prom is what I watch when I need a mood lift. And I have a soft spot for Titanic.
What else are you passionate about besides writing?
I’m a huge fan of anime and manga. Every week, I watch several episodes of new and old shows and go through at least four or five volumes of manga a week. I also enjoy going to the movies, seeing live shows like musicals and ballets, and cooking. If there’s a box that I fit neatly into, I haven’t met it yet.
What advice would you give to the novice writer?
Actually carve out the time to write. A time fairy isn’t going to come by and grant you that time to write. You have to make it yourself. Stephen King used to give himself time to write when he was still teaching high school. Back then, he lived in a trailer with several small children and wrote in the laundry room. Yet he still put out several pages a day. Imagine what you could do if you did the same.
I know you’re passionate about Halloween. Tell us a bit about your love for Halloween.
Halloween is such a fun time! For a short while, a lot of people and places share in my love of the dark and the macabre. I have such fun memories of decorating my house, watching scary movies, putting on creepy costumes and eating way too much candy. It’s because of Halloween that I have the best roommate, the skeleton Jonesy, as well as so many creepy decorations! Not to mention some of the best scary movies come out around this time of year.
By the way, how’s Jonesy?
He’s good. He’s hanging around in my apartment, as per usual.
Tell us a little bit about your current work in progress and future plans you might have.
I’m actually editing the last story of a collection of short stories. Once it’s done, I want to try shopping it around and find a publisher. I also have some other works I need to edit, and a few more short stories to write. And I’m thinking of writing another novel, one that’s been building in my twisted mind for the past several years. Fingers crossed I not only get to work on it, but that it turns out awesome.
To learn more about Rami Ungar, you can follow his blog: ramiungarthewriter.com.
My writing process has definitely changed in small ways over time. Some tools I’ve held onto, while others I’ve completely discarded or modified to befit my own personal needs.
Back in my early teen years I was sure I wanted to be a screenwriter. A brother in-law supported my interest and photocopied a book for me all about filmmaking. The first section of the book focused on building the script, providing examples of different ways a screenwriter will present their work to a producer: it starts with the simple “concept,” a short paragraph summary of the movie’s basic premise; the “scene outline” follows, which is a shallow summary of what occurs in each scene; the “treatment” looks a lot like a novelization of the scene outline with detailed descriptions of what happens in each scene. Finally, the “master script,” including all the key details and character dialogue. I followed these illustrations like they were a step by step process on how to write a screenplay. My school buddies and I spent hours pretending to be the next Steven Spielberg or George Lucas with the little video camera I got for Christmas one year.
Years later someone gave me the idea I could skip the production pains of filmmaking and write a novel instead. During this time someone else gave me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft.I took a very different approach to writing my first novel, diving right into composition, putting down my thousand words a day like Mr. King suggested. It was a start. Stephen King’s book definitely inspired the work ethic I hoped to one day achieve.
Throughout my college years I became somewhat obsessed with learning about how different writers approach the craft, trying a variety of methods and tools. One of the most bizarre revision tools I discovered involved making a list of the most repeated word in your story, and then sort of creating a revised spine for your second draft using the themes you derive from this word collage. It was interesting, but I’ve never used it again.
The most helpful tool came from David Morrell’s book The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing. I love this method for its simple ingenuity. Mr. Morrell suggests that while you’re spending all that time contemplating and focusing your idea, why not record it on paper as a conversation with yourself? Many would argue this is just like an outline, and it is technically an outline. The difference is you can sprawl. A conversation with myself on paper is informal; I’m not boxing myself in with all those carefully aligned Roman numerals and strict lists. A conversation is loose, allowing me to pick up and test ideas and easily discard what I don’t like. This sprawling freedom allows for depth and detail as well, which in my opinion is more conducive to creativity.
My writing process these days has become focused to four drafts. Before starting each draft I begin by using Mr. Morrell’s method of a written conversation, discussing plot, character, research (if necessary), structure, and viewpoint. Subsequent written conversations analyze and revise these elements in each draft. The final fourth draft is typically a line edit.
I published “Lights Out” back in the Spring of 2010, but I wrote the rough draft back in 2007. This story went through many incarnations. Most of them were completely ridiculous. Let me tell you why.
Beta readers can be a wonderful asset. Sometimes writers can get too close to their work, falling so deeply in love with their own writing that they miss major plot holes or wonky characterizations. Or the complete opposite occurs and the writer thinks their story is a total drag, an embarrassing mess that should be deleted to the void and forgotten about forever. The beta reader can help us writers in a few ways.
1) They can bring us to the realization that our literary darlings aren’t as dazzling as we think they are, bringing us back down to earth from our ethereal writing heaven.
2) They can emphasize what is working when we falsely think every word is dead on the page.
3) They can drive us crazy, sending us in a vicious cycle of endless revisions and editing.
Number three is what happened to me. At the time I was writing “Lights Out”, I was also taking my first creative writing class. The idea for the story had been on my mind for some time and I decided I could use it for the class and find ways to really improve the story from class instruction. Early on, the instructor for the class, a stocky bald man who went by Dr. Armstrong, emphasized the importance of dramatization, especially when writing a short story of eight pages. In the first draft I summarized too much. You know the old saying every writer gets pounded on the head with now and then: “show don’t tell.” I was telling too much. “Too much exegesis. Dramatize. Cinematic rendering.” I think these were some of the comments my instructor wrote on the first draft.
When it came to my fellow classmates’ comments, they had a far different issue with my story. Their issue had something to do with my use of enigma. “Lights Out” is a story about a detective investigating a scene where a young boy’s parents have mysteriously died. Blood seeps out their ears, darkness has engulfed their eyes. The boy feels certain he is the cause of their death, and Detective Palmer believes this troubled guilty reaction is just the trauma talking. He plans to take the boy to his grandma’s after further investigation at the police station. Matters turn very bad on the drive to town. A deer runs out in the road, causing the detective to wreck the car into a tree. Stranded and waiting for backup, the boy unveils to Detective Palmer that he has a strange light inside him, a power, an entity, that when awakened can cause devastating effects. This power is demonstrated, and when other detectives arrive on the crash scene, Detective Palmer is dead (exhibiting the same death signs as the boy’s parents), and the little boy is gone, until they get a clue of his whereabouts, a mad cackling in the woods.
Fellow classmates liked the story. They were fascinated by the concept and the eerie atmosphere of it, but the enigmatic ending bothered them. Many of my classmates deluged me with numerous ideas of how the story should end; they wanted it wrapped up in a pretty bow. Others suggested the eight pages written were the prologue to a novel (this I have considered, though I haven’t seen the rest of the story yet). I took every one of their comments seriously. I wanted to please every one of them. Let the maddening vicious cycle begin. I ended up rewriting the story nearly a dozen times, trying to correct what everyone saw wrong with the ending. My various incarnations of the story grew so out of hand that they no longer resembled the original draft.
One day Dr. Armstrong flat out told me just to ignore them. I was hesitant to do this. Wasn’t that rude? Didn’t they have something helpful to add to my story? My instructor insisted, “Ignore them.” I did.
A couple years later I returned to the original draft of this story, polished it up again, and submitted it to Dark Gothic Resurrected. The chief editor, Cinsearae S. appreciated it, replying in the acceptance letter that it was “creepy as hell.” I was glad it found a home. All these years later it has found a new home, a reprinting in Dark Dossier.
I learned a couple lessons from writing this story. Even though beta readers are invaluable for the purpose of helping you see your story in new ways, at the end of the day you’re not going to please them all. You’re the boss of your story when it comes down to the bottom line. Also, not every suggestion they make is correct. I think the enigmatic ending of my dark tale works better than a more unambiguous ending. The enigma sends that thrilling shiver up your spine and stimulates conversation amongst readers, allowing them the pleasure to puzzle over together what happened in the ending.
If you’d like the pleasure to puzzle over this dark mystery of my imagination, you can find my story in two locations below:
Story ideas can knock around in a writer’s head for a long time. Inception can happen in a variety of ways: an image of a particular character, an inspiring passage, a plot element, theme (though many authors emphasize never to start with theme), what have you. Nearly fourteen years ago inception happened to me in the form of a title and a memory: The Butterfly Girl.
I knew a girl in high school with that nickname. I can’t remember precisely, but it seemed she liked to sport butterfly hair clips, so classmates gave her the alias. As I reflected on the memory of that girl, I found myself repeatedly saying to myself her nickname. It had a catchy quality to it. I thought it might serve as a great title. There was a mysterious quality to it, suggesting all kinds of connotations. Since my imagination often wanders into the strange shadows of the horror tale, I began to imagine a transformation story, one with monstrous possibilities.
Writers will often use metaphor in the attempt to understand what they do. Thomas Williams described the writing process in his novel “The Hair of Harold Roux” akin to characters standing around a small fire, their faces barely visible in the dim light. The author’s job is to keep the fire ablaze, keep the sparks flying, or the characters will be swallowed up in the dark and forgotten. Stephen King has described the writing process as like excavating a fossil. An idea, character, or phrase is the location of a fossil. Writing the story is the work of digging up the bones. Revision then must be cleaning off the bones and connecting them in their proper formation. I’ve heard others describe the writing process as like planting a seed in the ground and giving it a place to grow. The rough draft is the hedge bush grown to its most rampant potential, shaggy and shapeless. Revision is seeing the true shape that could exist, and making the proper cuts to bring that shape to life. With my story, the title was the first spark of story-creation fire. The title was the first protruding hint of a fossil to be dug up. It was the germinating seed.
Since then “The Butterfly Girl” has now become a full-length story. Right now I’m in the process of cleaning off the fossil and realizing how it all fits together.