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Atmosphere Part 2: Okay, Also Atmosphere is Literally Just Background Noise Too

So the other day I joked about how atmosphere is literally just the weather (mostly fog).  But there’s more to it than that.

There’s also background noise.*

Go back to your list of atmospheric movies and/or novels, and pull up a scene/page from one of the items on the list.  The first movie on my list was “Seven,” and the first scene that I was able to pull up was the “What’s in the box?” scene.

The scene starts out with Morgan Freeman in front of an old-gold-colored sky.  The sun is about to set, I think, and the light is golden.

Background noise:  several types of birds chirping, wind blowing.  Nobody speaks, we just hear the sounds of Morgan Freeman cutting open that cardboard box with a pocket knife.  We switch over to Brad Pitt, and suddenly there’s the sound of a helicopter in the background.  As Morgan Freeman opens the box, the wind rises.  We get a cut of a helicopter coming in, a voice over the radio.  Then back to Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey, with a big background of desert hills and powerlines behind them.  Then we start getting background music.

I recommend going to whatever movie/novel you think is most strikingly atmospheric, and looking for a) the weather, and b) background noises, and especially c) the weather making background noises.


*Also known as ambient noise, a synonym for atmospheric.

The That’s-Not-A-Christmas-Movie Christmas Movie List

I consider Die Hard to be a Chrismas movie.  I asked for other people’s suggestions to add to my list.  I got suggestions that had nothing to do with the winter holidays, some that were traditional Christmas movies (some of which I’ll include, oh well), and a few that people started getting snarky about because they weren’t good enough movies.

AND A LOT OF GREAT NON-CHRISTMASY CHRISTMAS MOVIE SUGGESTIONS.  If it had some kind of winter holiday reference, I leaned toward including it, quality be damned.  Please note, I grew up with Christmas as my winter holiday, but I would be delighted to get a wider variety of holidays in here too.

Here it is.  Just in case you get bored.

  • Die Hard – #1
  • Hogfather (okay, my second favorite Christmas movie)
    • The Rise of the Guardians, which has a similar plotline, is the most Christmasy Easter movie ever made, and I’m not sure about adding it, but here it is, the recommender was most firm about this.
  • Christmas Horror
    • Rare Exports
    • Invader Zim Christmas Special
    • Krampus (please note, the actual holiday movie Home for the Holidays seems to be the light-side version of the same flick)
    • Silent Night Deadly Night
    • Black Christmas/Black X-Mas (1974/2006)
    • Better Watch Out
    • Holidays (2016, anthology)
    • Christmas Evil
    • A Christmas Horror Movie
    • Sint
    • The Children
    • Jack Frost (1997)
    • Elves
    • Home for the Holidays (1972)
  • Shane Black Movies
    • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
    • Lethal Weapon
    • The Long Kiss Goodnight
    • Iron Man 3
    • I’m looking forward to the Shane-Black-directed Doc Savage movie with the Rock, and I HOPE THERE’S A CHRISTMAS SCENE.
  • Terry Gilliam Movies
  • Classic Movies
    • The Thin Man (the suggestor mentioned the tree shooting scene, here)
    • The Lion in Winter
    • The Shop Around the Corner
    • Bell Book and Candle (Jimmy Stewart!)
  • Chris Columbus Films
    • Harry Potter movies almost always have a good Christmas scene, especially the Chris Columbus ones.
    • Gremlins
    • Home Alone
    • Jingle All the Way
    • Rent (the non-Christmas Christmas musical?)
  • Tim Burton Movies
    • Edward Scissorhands
    • Batman Returns
    • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Actual At Least Kind of Christmas Movies that Aren’t Too Sweet
    • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
    • The Grinch that Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff Cartoon only)
    • A Christmas Story
    • Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol
    • The Muppet Christmas Carol
    • Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas, which I’d never heard of and had to look up.  Jim Henson.
    • The Holiday
  •  Misc
    • RED
    • Children of Men
    • Love Actually
    • Hebrew Hammer (Hanukkah)
    • Bad Santa
    • The Addams Family (remember the Christmas Carolers)
    • The Ref
    • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (MST3K option available)
    • When Harry Met Sally
    • The Ice Harvest
    • Scrooged
    • A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
    • Fargo
    • Babe (la la laaaaaa!)
    • Funny Farm (has a Christmas scene)
    • A Tuna Christmas (which is actually a Christmas play about the folks in Tuna, Texas, trying to put on a production of A Christmas Carol)

Let me know if you have more.  I’ll add ’em if I feel like it, which I probably will, unless you’re like, “But It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t that sweet…?”

Atmosphere Part 1: Atmosphere Is Literally Just Fog

A thought experiment for you:

Do a Google search for “atmospheric movies.”

Check out how many of the movies had posters with some sort of fog, weather, smoke, or translucence in them.  Of the ones that don’t, if you’ve seen the movie, ask yourself, “Is some element of the weather a factor in the story?”

Now ask yourself if you liked most of those movies.  You can, of course, do the same thing for novels.

Your book doesn’t have to start with a dark and stormy night, but it doesn’t actually hurt.

Simple Mystery Plots, Part 4: The Big Twist

I’m not sure I’m going to do this one justice, so I saved it for last (so far).  I’m calling it The Big Twist.

  1. A crime occurs.
  2. By design or accident, the crime is completely misinterpreted.
  3. The solver(s) proceeds forward in good faith, as if it were one of the other types of simple mysteries or whatever.
  4. Discrepancies build up.
  5. The crime is revealed to be not what it was supposed to be.
  6. Wrap-up, the end.

A note, the solvers are often in some kind of danger.  This is stuff like Shutter Island, Gone Girl, and And Then There Were None.


Simple Mystery Plots, Part 3: The Two Cases

Another mystery plot.  This one I like to call The Two Cases.

  1. Crime #1 occurs.
  2. Crime #2, a minor/funny crime, occurs.
  3. The solver tries to track down one of the two crimes, but it’s no good.
  4. They run into something from the one crime that reminds them of the other crime.
  5. Wait wait both these crimes are related.
  6. Switching from one crime to the other reveals both.  Wrapup, the end.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Inspector Montalbano mysteries lately.  Like that.  This seems like a good Police Procedural template, because it’s easy to believe they’re juggling multiple things at once.  They aren’t as limited by location as a cozy, but they do have to center around one location (their district), so this is a good way to jerk the reader around realistically by overwhelming them with two sets of clues.

Simple Mystery Plots, Part 2: The Lead

Another simple mystery plot.  This one I’ve got mentally labeled The Lead.

  1. A crime occurs.
  2. The solver follows leads as though they were a labyrinth.
  3. Some of the leads are dead ends.
  4. Some of the leads are live ends.
  5. One of the leads that looks like a dead end is a live end.
  6. The solver keeps an eye on the dead-alive end, while appearing to follow the other leads exclusively.
  7. The solver pounces on the criminal out of the blue.
  8. Climactic struggle, wrapup, the end.

I’m working on this plot right now for an upcoming series.  More on that later.  Variations on this one show up a lot in detective-type novels.

Simple Mystery Plots, Part 1: The Mistake

I’m slowly getting a grasp on (some) types of mystery plots.  Here’s my first one, which I’m going to call The Mistake.

  1. A crime occurs.
  2. There are three suspects.
  3. The criminal is not one of those three suspects.
  4. The solver rotates through investigating the three suspects, and may even form a valid-sounding theory about one of the three suspects as the criminal.
  5. Then something knocks everything over for the solver and they realized they were wrong all along, and the criminal was this other person.
  6. Big reveal, wrapup, the end.

I’ve been doing this one mostly in ghostwritten cozies, so I can’t direct you toward any that I’ve written.  Yet.  You’ll see this one mostly in cozies (although it certainly isn’t the only possible cozy plot!); it’s good for distracting the reader without leaving an area.  Agatha Christie likes to make the criminal one of the initial suspects, “prove” that they couldn’t have done it somehow, then actually prove later that they did.

Increasing Wordcount Means…All the Drama

It’s not you, or rather it’s not you you.

Every time you want to change a habit, there’s a price to pay.  The number of days before you can establish a habit varies wildly.  Adding workload to your brain uses a disproportionate amount of calories.  The cycle of adapting to change is practically the same one that you go through for grief.  It’s so close that businesses are advised to use the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief in order to coach their employees through a big business change.


Every time you try to bump up your wordcount, you are:

  • Trying to establish a new habit
  • While effectively on an unexpected diet
  • While going through a grieving process.

I’m trying to bump up my wordcount–to make it more consistent.  I’m going through all this.  It’s drama.  I’m trying not to splatter it all over my family and friends.  But I still feel it.

This is hard, and some of the mechanics of your brain are fighting you on a subconscious level.  You’re not a bad writer, this isn’t pointless, and yes, you can do this.  Probably you should expect to eat a few extra cookies while you’re doing it, though.


Book Business Idea If You Want One: Tailored Indie Book Boxes

I’ve never understood Book of the Month clubs.  But then…I read a lot of books.*


Am I willing to pay a premium for that?

Insert whimper-nod here.

Inspired by my clothes-of-the-month boxes, I’ve gone onto Amazon to look for more clothes.  Yay!  Clothes!

I have yet to buy clothes for myself from Amazon.  Too much stuff, no way to tell if it fits, NO accounting for tastes or quality, oh ye gods too much stuff.  Meh.

I’m not sure what that means for me, personally, but I think there’s room out there for a similar service that does indie books.  Indie book boxes, catered to your individual tastes.  Not “everyone read the same book this month” club.  But “I read some Le Carré the other day and liked it.  What have you got like that in indie?” club.  Say one print or e-book a month, selected by readers in the genre, with the option to hit a button and have the rest of the series sent to you automatically–all at once, when they come out, or one a month, whatever.

Charge the authors a nominal reading fee and Bob’s your uncle.


BUY MY CRAP:  I have a new short story out, “The Foundations.” When your basement is haunted in your brand-new house AND THE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY WON’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.  Short horror story, 99c. Click here.


*I used to be part of the Science Fiction Book Club, back when I lived in a small town with an underfunded library and an hour’s drive to the nearest bookstore (and was like, “OMG!  Only an hour!” because we’d moved from somewhere even more remote).   This was before Amazon.  I still have my collected Amber series hardbacks.

Breaking the System: When Your Series Sneaks Up on You

So I’m working on a series, A Fairy’s Tale, which so far is made up of a bunch of loosely related twists on ’80s-style horror novels/movies.

Books have rules, right?  Things like, “The magic system, if any, is X” or “The main character gets the most POV chapters” or “The writing style in this book has a 1920s flavor to it, see?”  What the rules are doesn’t matter–as long as they’re appropriate for that book.

I knew that series would have rules, too, but I had no idea how deep that would go.

  • All plots based on ’80s-style horror.
  • The main character is a woman with agency, not just a screaming victim.
  • The “magic” is some kind of weird extra-dimensional science.
  • There are extra dimensions that interact with our own.
  • The “fae” are extra-dimensional beings.
  • The stories center around an unnamed Midwestern college town in the middle of nowhere.
  • It’s easy to cross from the fae dimension to this one in certain areas, of which the town is one.
  • The fae have been trying to hack human genetics so they can long-term make the jump out of their own universe before it gets destroyed.
  • The fae can only stay in our universe so long before they start to fail.  Like days at most.
  • The fae have “powers” that allow them to manipulate non-animate object to make them animate.  The more I find out about the universe, the more I realize this is because the fae, for all that they are afraid of the “Others” destroying their own universe, are using the Others’ techniques–because the imps are definitely something that only the Others should be able to do.
  • The Others want to destroy existence, Cthulhu-style.

TL:DR – Worldbuilding stuff about the rules of the world.

What I didn’t realized was that the series is also built so:

  • There are certain locations in town that have to be mentioned in any modern story, like Betty’s diner and The Page Turner bookstore.
  • If I don’t, the plot gets stuck.

I’ll probably find more things like that.  The subconscious.  It has plans that I know nothing about.  You can find the first novel, One Dark Summer Night, the you-done-meddled-where-you-shouldn’t novel, here.  I’m currently working on Under Twilight’s Spreading Blight, which is the on-a-dare-let’s-go-to-the-haunted-house-for-a-sleepover-what-could-possibly-go-wrong novel.

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