Tag Archives: storytelling

Women in Horror: Danica Lorer

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteStoryteller, poet, TV show host Danica Horror talks today about researching scary tales to tell and captivating your audience. From Canada, here’s Danica for Women in Horror Month.

Staged Fright

The first time I told a story in front of a burlesque audience I was terrified. New audiences always make me nervous, but this was different; this time I didn’t have the option of picturing them naked. In moments, they would be seeing the performers stripping off almost everything! It was a Menagerie Burlesque Company show called “Dirty Birds, Dirty Words” and they booked dancers and spoken word poets and storytellers. I was scared; this audience was there for the skin, I was offering raw words instead of bare flesh and keeping my clothes on. I soon learned that burlesque audiences are some of the best for story. They are vibrating with anticipation, they are fully engaged in what is going on in front of them, and they are ready to follow you wherever you take them.

Lorer

Danica performing “The Bride Wore Black.”

The Rosebud Burlesque Club also invites variety acts to perform with them. They put out calls for their theme shows throughout the year. When they advertised for their Peek-A-Boo Halloween show in 2016 I pitched a ghost story. The venue is a desanctified church now serving as a dance studio. It was perfect—what’s better than a creepy little white church with a bright red door to serve as a home for a lost soul? Out of respect I asked the owner if the church was haunted and when she said it wasn’t my imagination took over. “The Bride Wore Black” is a story with creepy sensory revelations rooted in the teenage date night memories of boys taking girls out into the country and stopping at little churches and graveyards to frighten them into their arms. As I told it to the crowd I could see the audience members’ eyes shine, the shivers, and the wariness. I played with words, appealed to the sense of nostalgia, and offered a facepaint reveal at the end.

Lorer 2

Danica Lorer’s bride reveals the truth of her tale.

Once you’ve scared or even unsettled an audience, they begin to expect something more. The next year I began researching local ghost stories. The Saskatoon (Canada) Storytelling Guild was moving its monthly circles from a Unitarian Centre to a downtown pub. Our first night in the new place was near the end of October and the host had chosen the theme “Spirits.” It made perfect sense. We had been meeting in a spiritual centre, we were moving into a place known for its liquid spirits, and I was pretty sure the place could be haunted. I thought about the tales friends had told about their experiences at the city’s oldest hotels and did a little research about the historic Senator Hotel. I knew that the basement, where we would be meeting, had recently been opened after years of being sealed closed. Again, the setting for the gathering made its way into the story. The basement is dank and dark, the walls are crumbling brick, there are rooms and tunnels, and strange hisses and clanks. I found out a little about Jimmy Flanagan, the hotel’s first owner and how he died young and had been very popular. I was delighted to find out he was reputed to be a storyteller himself. My google search revealed that a paranormal investigation team had spent an uncomfortable and eventful night filming in one of the rooms for their TV program. I also had a foggy memory of friends stopping over for breakfast after staying in the hotel and telling me how disturbing their night had been. I texted both of them independently to find out more. She replied that they had felt “bad vibes” in room 22, that her normally calm and loving partner woke up angry and yelling with no recollection of it the next day. “That room does not make me feel comfortable or safe,” she said. When I asked him if he had ever experienced anything spooky there, he replied, “Nope. Some evil hangovers.” I had a story for the guild and the location couldn’t be more perfect for the telling.

Lorer 4

Sometimes creepy dolls follow where you go.

When the Rosebud’s put out a call for their next Peek-A-Boo burlesque show subtitled “Scared Shirtless” I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve always been fascinated by creepy dolls. I’ve always been fascinated by creepy dolls. My daughter had a toy doll that talked, sometimes in the middle of the night when no one was around. It had to be moved from the toy box to the backyard.  I had seen many staring at me while visiting historical museums, and I could barely touch them in thrift stores. I decided to write a story bringing together the misplaced doll with the hotel themes. There was enough truth about our downtown core in the story that it connected immediately to the audience. I know dozens of people who are terrified of dolls and to make things even creepier I found a previously loved vintage curly-haired baby to set at the back of the performance space. I was told later that she kept several people from sitting in her section and that her eyes seemed to follow them throughout the space. I chose to dress as a creepy doll and finished the story staring ahead with a soft and high “Mama.”

Lorer 3

Danica Lorer becomes a doll.

It is incredibly satisfying to share something scary with a live audience, with low lights, and the naturally creepy sounds that seem to amplify when you let the silences creep in and you listen a little closer. I bring my own fears intensified by the audience, the space we’re in, and the shared contagious energy that flows through a group focused on one voice. I love to imagine how readers will react to what I put down on the page, but I adore the rush of seeing their instant reaction from the stage as we experience the story together. Storytelling isn’t just for kids and horror is an incredible genre for the art form.

Happy Creepy Women in Horror Month to you all!

Danica Lorer has spent the past twenty years as a professional storyteller. She has been struck by lightning, a moose, a rogue semi-tire, vehicles, and the odd strange idea. She is a freelance writer, workshop facilitator, face and body painter, poet, and the host of Shaw’s literary arts program “Lit Happens.” She has been published in untethered, Poetry All Over the Floor, Grain, release any words stuck inside of you, and Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland.

 You can hear Danica storytelling at the beginning of this piece. Her literary arts TV show Lit Happens has 9-minute interviews with local authors.  

Leave a comment

Filed under entertainment, horror, people, poetry, Publishing, Writing

Women in Horror: Jennifer Kennedy

WiHMX-horizontal-White

It’s Feb. 1 and that means it’s Women in Horror Month. I will ambitiously try to feature a guest each day of this month who will speak about horror. Today I have Jennifer Kennedy who talks about storytelling and writing horror.

About twenty years ago, I joined a storytelling organization, and shortly afterward volunteered to tell a story at a local Halloween event. I found myself telling alongside Marie Anne McLean, whose hair-raising versions of urban myths, re-set in and around Edmonton, set a very high bar. I still shudder when I think of the first time I heard her tell “The Furry Collar.” We both continued to tell at this event in the years that followed, and in the process I experimented with many different stories, some of which were more successfully frightening than others. One particular story was without a doubt my most successful: “The Night Doctors.”

I came across the basis for this story in a book of African-American folk tales. The entry

Kennedy

Jennifer Kennedy likes to tell tales that scare

was quite short: just a paragraph or two. It was an urban legend from an earlier time, according to which there were certain doctors in the Southern U.S. who were famous for their experimental work during the time of slavery, and suspected of using human subjects. The story was that after emancipation, they were not willing to give up their research, and so they began snatching people at night, sneaking up on them in carriages with muffled wheels, and shooting them with drugged needles.

I imagined that these Night Doctors were still active, even in modern times, and came up with a story about a teenage boy who is captured by them. He almost escapes but is injured and foolishly goes to a hospital for help. I think that what made this story effective was not just the twist at the end, but the setting. There are few situations in our lives when we are more vulnerable than when we place ourselves under the care of medical professionals. In developing the story, I had tapped into some of my own fears, and it was clear from the reaction I got that I touched a nerve in others as well. It seemed like most of the really scary urban legends had crazed serial killers as villains, but in some ways those were easier to disassociate from than a killer who might be lurking behind a surgical mask.

More recently, I became an actor at Deadmonton haunted house. The theme in 2018 was Quarantine and I ended up playing the part of a military nurse who checks people for signs of infection before they go into the building. Once again, it was clear that I was tapping into a deep discomfort in many people. One of the characters that came to mind as inspiration for the part was Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was not surprised to learn that many people rate Nurse Ratched as one of the most chilling characters in film. One of the essential traits of the character I was playing was the ability to dehumanize: to view anyone who was infected with our fictional virus as essentially written off as a human being. In a similar way, Nurse Ratched first writes off her patient as mentally unfit and then actually acts to erase the humanity he tries so hard to assert. In a similar way, the Night Doctors choose to regard their victims as less than human.

Kennedy 2

J.Y.T. Kennedy has been published in these anthologies.

Institutions, and particularly hospitals and asylums, are always dehumanizing to some extent, and that is surely a large part of why they make us feel so vulnerable. Prototypical crazed serial killers also dehumanize their victims, but they do not generally change their status in the eyes of the outside world. There is something particularly disturbing about a monster that has authority behind them, and a society that, whether blindly or with complicity, places people in their power.

I have tried a few times to come up with a written version of my Night Doctors story, but I find that for me, some stories lend themselves to telling, and others to writing, and this was definitely a story for telling. Conversely, an unsuccessful attempt at an original ghost story to tell at the same event ended up working better written down, and was published in an anthology as “The Fatality Sign.” I expect I will come back to villains with a medical bent though, whether in writing or other mediums. The details of the story may not translate, but the fear that drives it remains powerful.

Jennifer Kennedy lives in Alberta, where she writes under the byline J.Y.T. Kennedy, as well as occasionally appearing as a storyteller or in other guises. Her poem, “The King in Red” appeared in the Alice Unbound anthology in 2018. Information on some of her other work can be found on her website.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under entertainment, fairy tales, horror, Writing

Writing: Passive Language

I’m looking at a story for a friend right now and I’m reminded of a couple of things that new writers often do. One is using passive language. Passive language slows down action and in general creates lag in the plot. It might be best used when talking in the past. Stories are most often written in past tense but this does not mean that it is the past as far as the action goes.

Confusing? Yes. The modern convention is to write what is called past simple tense, such as, “He tossed the ball and caught it.” Present tense is, “He tosses the ball and catches it.” There are finer points with past and present tense and variations but the most common past tense for storytelling is simple past. Once we get into the other forms (He had tossed the ball… or He had been tossing the ball) we start to move away from the most direct route for action to occur.

Pacing is a difficult and important aspect to any story, whether you’re reading it on the page or watching it on the screen. Too slow and the reader/audience becomes bored. Too fast and it can get confusing. Being too fast in a written story is not so much an issue unless actions happen so quickly that they are not described adequately for the reader to envision them or they skip crucial elements of action.

But the story must flow and move along. Passive language is not that suitable for actions. Words that bring about the slowing of action, where it no longer seems immediate, are past progressive and past progressive simple. These words are had/has/have been, was/were and gerunds, the words that end in “ing.” He tossed the ball,” is more immediate than “He had tossed ball,” or “He had been tossing the ball,” or “He was tossing the ball.” However, in writing there is a place for all of these versions of past tense. The last example is used when the action is still happening while some other event occurs. “He was tossing the ball when the van hit him.”

The best rule of thumb for new writers is to look at a sentence and see if it can work without the had/have and gerunds. In most cases it will make a tighter, better flowing story where the action seems immediate and intense.

Another example: “He was thinking that he had to drive through the tunnel so his evading techniques would confuse them.” A pretty bad sentence (none of these examples are from my friend’s story BTW). “He was thinking” is very passive and not needed. If you’re in the point of view of the character you’re going to know it is his thoughts. A better choice would be “He drove through the tunnel hoping to evade and confuse his pursuers.” Hoping is a gerund but it’s needed in this instance.

Without actually understanding the full use of the different past tenses, a person can just use the simple exercise of looking for every word that ends in “ing” and seeing if it can be rewritten otherwise: he was walking=he walked, they were screamed=they screamed, I was laughing at him=I laughed at him. It can make a story just that much better with a bit of slashing.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Culture, Publishing, Writing