If you are anything like me, the moment you saw the trailers for AMC’s new show, The Terror, you couldn’t help but be intrigued. The horror. The history. And the name Ridley Scott at the end, I was sold long before I even knew the plot. The show is based upon the novel of the same name by Dan Simmion, which provides a fictionalized account of the ill-fated expedition by the British Navy to map the Northwestern passage trough the Arctic.
In real life, Sir John Franklin brought two ships – the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus – into the Arctic Circle in the 1840s, only to disappear. Those ships, and their crew of 129 sailors were lost for more than 160 years. Simmons books, published in 2007 (a decade before the real-life discovery of those two ships), provide a fictionalized account of what may have happened. However, the books are more than just historical fiction, they provide a supernatural-horror account of how the expedition may have met its grizzly end. Needless to say, when the first two episodes premiered, I simply had to watch.
We have great news for fiction and narrative nonfiction writers: we are launching a new quarterly literary journal to be published in print and online.
The to-be-named publication will feature emerging authors from our writing programs, but will also be open to submissions from authors and writers of any background. With the goal of cultivating short stories and narrative nonfiction work that wrestles with themes of liberty and freedom, the journal will publish a collection of 7-8 short works each quarter.
Stay tuned for more details, but if you’d like to submit something for consideration, please adhere to the following guidelines:
Fiction word count: 5,000-10,000 words
Memoir word count: 1,200-5,000 words
Essay word count: 500-2,500 words
Must grapple with liberty-related themes in some way
Was anyone else assigned A Wrinkle in Time in middle school but couldn’t remember the plot if your life depended on it? Well fear not because it’s hitting the big screen on March 9th. To get you ready for this trip down faded memory lane, check out these fake spoilers:
Writing tends to be a lonely pursuit. Hours spent writing characters and imagining storylines doesn’t exactly count as social interaction. Plus, how is a writer to know if their manuscript is even working? The answer can be found in a strong writerly community. But if you are a writer that cares about liberty, free markets and the founding principles of America, you’ll find that your options for community are quite limited. Last year, I stumbled upon a little saving grace: the Calliope Authors Workshop, a program dedicated to fiction and nonfiction authors who share an interest in liberty-oriented themes.
Shady Grove Rest Home promises residents tranquility in their final years. Instead, it delivers terror in the form of Bingo, a palliative care cat that snuggles up to whichever resident is next to die. Is Bingo’s power supernatural, or is something more ominous at play?
Death Cat is written by SCC contributors James C. Harberson III & Frazer C. Rice with the script by Harberson III. Artist is Stephen Baskerville, a brilliantly-talented comic book, video game, and advertising artist. He has worked for, inter alia, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Egmont Fleetway, Curve Studios, Asylum Entertainment, and KUJU Entertainment. He resides in the UK and you can learn more about him here.
Click top right arrows for full screen.
[The NSFW version is available after the page break.]
In my last post for Smash Cut Culture, I wrote about the importance of suspension of disbelief and the necessity of internal logic within a fictional narrative universe.
Picking up where I left off, Elizabeth Wolfe wrote another wonderful article, “Literature You Should Know: Tolkien’s Tree and Leaf” elaborating on that idea with quotes and examples from J.R.R. Tolkien. While thinking about that piece, it occurred to me that everything that is true of great fiction story-telling is also true in non-fiction.
Consider my condensed view of Elizabeth’s piece on Tolkien.
I’m not the first person to notice this, but his whole approach to writing was rather Biblical. First, he created the world: Middle Earth. Then he created the seas, and the mountains, the forests and the grasslands – he drew maps, and charted geographies. Then he created the flora and the fauna, and filled his world with life – dragons, trolls, Balrogs, Nazgul, and giant spiders; but also pigs, horses, bears, and birds. Finally, he created the people – human and non-human characters with free will and individual agency, histories, genealogies, and languages – and then he wrote epic stories about those people.
There are plenty of things that I think Tolkien did wrong as a writer, and there are many instances in which he clearly took unnecessary shortcuts (cough-deux ex giant eagle-cough cough) in his books which stand in sharp contrast to realism of the world; but overall, I believe that his level of sophistication and care in building a believable world is what we should all strive for as story-tellers, regardless of the medium. Showcasing a rich, deep universe, filled with complex characters and interesting stories should not just be limited to fiction.
Recently, I also read an article at Slate describing the current time as a “golden age of documentaries”. As (primarily) a documentary producer myself, I have to agree.
There are more incredible stories being told through that medium than ever before, and thanks to a handful of our documentarian fore-bearers (Albert Maysles, Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, D.A. Pennebaker, etc.) and some up and coming greats, I think we’re finally starting to learn how to tell true stories in as creative and sophisticated ways as film-makers have more frequently told the made-up ones. The only real difference is that instead of inventing a universe and characters from scratch, it is the documentary producer’s job to carve away at the shallow outer layers of the subject, and expose the complexities underneath – to piece together a clearly structured story, centered on the actions and emotions of interesting characters who inhabit a believable world.
Whether fiction or non-fiction, the story-telling principles are fundamentally the same. Non-fiction just means you can’t cheat (with magic eagles, for example). I only really came to understand this through producing my last few documentaries, No Vans Land & Locked Out.
Documentary editing is ridiculously difficult. When you’re staring at 60-70 hours worth of raw material and no no script, knowing that you need to cut it all down to a half an hour of clear, yet emotionally moving, cinema; it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed. But if you treat a documentary the same as you’d treat a narrative film that you were writing from scratch, things get a little easier to manage (only a little, though).
When I get stuck, I often find myself referring back to the lessons I’ve learned from writers like Tolkien, along with stuff like Joseph Campbell’s view of The Hero’s Journey which describes broad story structures and character archetypes common across multiple story-telling traditions, and also about Emma Coates’ set of Pixar Story Rules.
Her whole set is great, but even just the first four are simple and valuable:
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
Most people writing about drama specifically have narrative fiction in mind, but increasingly, I find that they’re every bit as good when you’re trying to figure out how to craft a solid story out of disparate documentary footage.