Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, August 27, 2010

Suspense in I Am Legend

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read I Am Legend (which is nothing like the movie, in my opinion) there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

Richard Matheson builds suspense throughout I Am Legend with a slow release of information and a pattern of ups and downs. He drops clues along the way like pieces of bait--they tempted me toward the hook, encouraged me to continue reading. I loved it, and the pay off in the end was worth it.

Robert Neville talks about the monsters, but he doesn't name them as vampires until page 16. Matheson wants the reader to figure it out for themselves, to guess what it is Neville is up against. The first sentence is the first clue: "On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came . . ." (1). Then we see the cracked mirror he put up, the stakes he makes, and the garlic. "Garlic always worked" (2). I found myself quickly dragged into Neville's world, wondering when he would finally name the monsters he faced.

Matheson doesn't stop there with his slow dissemination of information, though. Another piece of bait is dangled when we find out the body of Neville's wife is sealed away in a coffin. I wanted to know what happened to her, what happened to the daughter he mentions. How exactly did the vampires come about and what tore his family apart? This curiosity and need to find the answers ramps up the suspense, and to keep that suspense going, Matheson deliberately feeds us information bit by bit. Our first major backstory chunk isn't seen until page 39, finally revealing that his wife caught the disease that turned people into vampires.

There was one place in the story where the holding back of information didn't quite work for me. The first flashback concerns his wife getting sick, and his daughter has yet to show any signs of the sickness. On page 57 we finally reach the second flashback, his wife dies. Reading a couple pages into this flashback, though, he talks of giving his daughter's body over to the fire to be burned, which is why he refuses to do the same with his wife. I had to re-read the passage about his daughter several times because the point the information is revealed detracts from the suspense he built up. Instead, I was confused. Matheson jumps around in the timeline too much in this instance, and it interrupts the nice flow of information he developed. I was stopped in my tracks while reading because of the confusion brought about by this slip.

Moving on from how Matheson utilizes the release of information, there is another strong pattern he uses to keep the suspense going. I Am Legend is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, of hope and having that hope crushed. It begins with Neville's search for the answers about how people were turned into vampires. He wants to find a scientific reason, instead of a superstitious one. Right when he thinks he has the answer, he's stripped of it, realizing that it doesn't explain the fear of crosses and their own reflection. Then he has the hope of the dog. This dog is the first living thing he's come across that doesn't seem sick. A companion for Neville's loneliness. Again, his hope shatters when the dog grows sick and dies. Finally, the pinnacle of all hopes, a woman walking in the daylight--someone else that survived. Or so he thinks. These ups and downs, the playing Matheson does with Neville's emotions, makes for an engaging and suspenseful story.

Every story needs suspense, and I Am Legend is infused with it. If you've seen the movie, forget about that drivel and read the book--it's a more compelling and believable story.

Works Cited

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1995.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Move Your Pen to the Music

I have finally added a Writing Prompt to my website, and I figured it would be a good idea to post it on my blog as well. Just follow the link to find any Tips & Prompts I've written up in the past (only one past Tip at this time and the new Prompt).

I have a general update on what's going on with me below the Prompt. ;)

Writing Prompt #1 - Move Your Pen to the Music

Music effects people in different ways--it can be an emotional experience for some. For me, music has always been connected to my writing. Certain songs inspire images that come alive in my mind. A kernel of a story can blossom from a melody or lyrics. For short stories, I usually play a song or two on repeat that I feel has the mood of what I'm writing. Novels, I create an entire soundtrack.

I know, not everyone uses music in their writing, but I still suggest trying the following exercise. If anything, it will get you in touch with the emotion you need to infuse in your writing.

Pick two songs. One should be slow, without words--a classical song would likely be a good choice. The other should have more of an edge to it, can have words, be more fast paced--an alternative rock song, for example. If you do not own any of these styles of music, there are many options for radio stations on the internet.

First, listen to the classical song, and write. It doesn't matter what you write about. There doesn't need to be a plot or even a character. Let the sound of the music wash over you and write something that reflects how you currently feel. Keep going until the end of the song. Next, listen to the alternative rock song, and do the same thing. Allow the music to worm its way into your bones and release those emotions out onto the page.

Now, you have two starts (or maybe middles or ends) of something. Take a close look and compare the two. Did you have a different emotional reaction to each song? Your words should represent the mood you felt when listening to those songs.

If you can see a difference, then you've discovered a way to get yourself into a certain frame of mind depending on what you're writing. Even if you can't write to music, you can always listen to it right before you dive into that novel or short story to get your emotions percolating.

* * * * *

I hope some people find the Prompt helpful. =)

So, I've been sick since last Friday. This has delayed many things on my scary To Do list. I haven't worked on Dead As Dreams since last Wednesday! Here's hoping I feel well enough this weekend to churn some more words out. My goal is to finish the current chapter I'm working on. After that, I have a first draft of a short story that needs writing. I am going to try my hand at writing a story to submit to the Speakeasy anthology. I've done some research already and have a basic idea of my main character, so we'll see how it goes. =D

I've also started the readings for my class. This term I am taking Horror Readings: Monsters. It will be a fun jaunt, looking at the reading list. I am currently reading I Am Legend. This likely means that after this post, my blog will be taken over by class essays. It's a good thing, though. This means tons of content and all about writing--well, at least discussing published novels and short stories (a couple movies too)!

So, if you only see essays and no status updates until December, don't be surprised. You can always watch my Twitter feed as far as my writing progress goes, and perhaps I'll tweet more often about other things going on.

Oh, I updated my website, if you didn't figure that out from the Writing Prompt post. I hope to keep the "What I'm Reading" on the Home page updated consistently, since I'll be reading a lot!

Happy writing, all! =)