Writing The Rites – A Retrospective

"Liminal Rites  Cover" by C.A.Brown

“Liminal Rites Cover” by C.A.Brown

Well, forty chapters, an epilogue, a prologue and 30,000 words later – it’s over. “Liminal Rites” is finished.

I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Liminal Rites” was my second, and longest, attempt at writing a daily episodic story and I have to admit that my exhausted reaction when I finished the epilogue was something along the lines of ‘never again!’. I’d be lying if I said that writing “Liminal Rites” was anything but intense.

Still, it was fun. And it is also the longest story I’ve ever written too.

In case anyone is wondering, my original inspiration for this story was a dream I had on the 11th July. Whilst the content of the dream was quite different to this story, it was filled with a constant feeling of being stuck in between two places. When I woke up, I felt like turning it into a story of some kind – but I didn’t know how. Eventually, later that evening, I suddenly thought ‘I should make it completely and totally bizarre!’.

And, in that moment, “Liminal Rites” was born.

I launched myself into writing it and making this blog for it fairly quickly and my my mind was filled with all sorts of strange ideas about it. However, just after I’d posted the prologue online I suddenly realised the enormity of what I’d just committed myself to. A story (which could easily turn into a novel) that I had to update daily. I have to admit that I felt like a total idiot, but it seemed too late to turn back.

So, I carried on writing.

And that’s how “Liminal Rites” got started.

I have to admit that it ended up being a slightly different story to what I expected (the spectral hand I drew on the cover never made an appearance, but the dark scenery I chose for the background of the cover and this blog was oddly prescient).

Another thing that turned out differently about this story was the general tone of it too. When I started writing “Liminal Rites”, I pre-emptively flagged it as “mature content”, since I expected it to be this gruesome and bizarre horror story. However, in the end, it turned out to be something which – if it was a film – would probably be at the very upper end of the “12A”/ “PG-13” categories (or possibly very slightly higher). I don’t know, I guess that I tend to write horror a lot differently than I used to.

Something else I didn’t realise about daily writing until I started this story was how intense it was. Even though I quickly made a large “buffer” of chapters which gave me a bit of space to take a break – writing this much this quickly had quite an impact on my writing style in general. For starters, my writing style quickly ended up becoming a lot more “functional” than I expected and, due to time reasons, some parts of this story read like a first draft too.

I don’t know, all in all, making “Liminal Rites” was certainly quite an interesting experience and I hope that reading it was too ๐Ÿ™‚

Six Ways To Come Up With Good Chapter Titles

2013 Artwork Chapter Titles Sketch

Well, since I seem to be writing an episodic novel/novella at the moment (it’s called “Liminal Rites”and it can be found here – it’s also updated every night at 22:30 GMT) – I thought that I’d write an article about coming up with good chapter titles. The art of writing chapter titles seems to be going into decline slightly these days and many novels (or at least the ones I’ve read) just have chapter numbers and nothing else. Still, I feel that well-written chapter titles can really add a lot to a story for several reasons.

Firstly, it provides your readers an overview of the story as a whole. Secondly, there are a lot of fun things you can do with chapter titles (more on that later). Thirdly, it will help you – as a writer- to geek out about your story and, finally, it can make your readers more curious about what will happen later in the story.

So, without any further ado, here are six ways to come up with good chapter titles:

1) Choose a single word or a few words which sums up the chapter: This is the most obvious way to write a chapter title, but it’s a good idea to make sure that you do something slightly more inventive than just using keywords (like you might do when you were posting something on the internet) for all of your chapter titles. Ideally, the word/words which sum up your chapter should have a double meaning of some kind (for example, chapter nine of “Liminal Rites” will be titled ‘This Place Is Dead’).

Likewise, using a short quote from the dialogue or narration (no more than 6-8 words) in your chapter can be a good way to come up with a chapter title. This is especially useful if the quote has a slightly different meaning, on it’s own, than it does in the context of your story.

Naming one or two things which appear in your chapter can also be a good way to come up with a chapter title – especially if it’s something intriguingly unusual (for example, the prologue of “Liminal Rites” is titled “Rasputin And The Mammoth”)

2) Find an old-fashioned word which sums up the main part of your chapter: This can be done seriously or for laughs, but it can really add a sense of mystery and grandeur to your chapter titles. What’s more, these days, you can just use a search engine to find old words rather than having to trudge through a thesaurus.

This probably won’t work for every chapter, but it’s a technique which can come in handy (for example, chapter eight of “Liminal Rites” is titled “Tasseomancy”, which is the old fashioned word for reading tea leaves)

3) Use place and character names: Using place names for your chapter titles can be a good way of introducing a new location in your story, especially if it has a slightly unusual name. Likewise, it can be used to add a sense of mystery to your chapter too – especially if the place name sounds incredibly ordinary too. However, if you use ordinary place names for your chapter title too often, then this might end up becoming annoying or boring.

Likewise, you can also introduce a new character by using their name as the title for the chapter where they make their first appearance.

4) Turn to television for inspiration: One way of getting a good sense of what does and doesn’t work as a chapter title is to look at episode titles for TV shows that you like. Many TV shows (or at least detective, comedy and sci-fi shows) often use interesting episode titles both in order make prospective viewers curious enough to watch an episode and also as a way of keeping the fans interested in the series.

Yes, there are a lot of cliched episode titles – but if you’re looking for examples of good chapter titles, you can do a lot worse than looking at episode titles for TV shows.

5) Use your chapter titles as part of your story: This is really fun to do and there are a lot of different ways you can do this (which depend on the story that you’re writing). But, to give you one example, I wrote an (unpublished) sci-fi thriller novella in 2010 called “Ephemera” and chapter sixteen ends with the narrator throwing two grenades at some henchmen who are chasing her and counting down the time until they explode. Chapter seventeen is titled “Boom!”.

As I said, there are many ways to make your chapter titles a part of the story itself and I can’t really give you any solid advice on this (since every story is different). But, if you see a chance to make your chapter titles part of your story, then do it. You won’t regret it.

6) Geeky in-jokes and references: As long as it’s relevant to what happens in your chapter, then you can have a lot of fun with this too. Not only that, if your readers have the same interests as you – then it’ll either make them laugh and/or become more interested in your story. If your readers don’t understand the reference, then they’ll probably just ignore it and carry on reading the story – so, you can’t really lose with this.

I’m not sure if there are any copyright issues with using references – although it probably depends on the level of detail/length of the reference and whether you change the context of it significantly etc…. But, on the whole, small references generally seem to be alright (although I’m obviously not a lawyer or an expert on this subject).

Ideally, you should probably just hint at something when you’re referencing it in your chapter title rather than directly quoting from anything (unless it’s the title of something- since, although titles can be trademarked, they aren’t covered by copyright. Again, I’m not a lawyer – be sure to check the laws in your country too).

Likewise, using geeky in-jokes about your own story in the chapter titles can be a good way to provide “added value” for readers who are re-reading your story too.

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Anyway, I hope that this has been useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Five Tips For Writing An Episodic / Serialised Story

2013 Artwork Episodic Story Sketch

Well, since I’m still writing an episodic surreal detective story called “Liminal Rites” which is updated once a day (so far at least), I thought I’d offer some of my thoughts and advice about writing in this particular way – since it’s quite different to writing an “ordinary” story story, novella or novel in terms of the techniques and structure which you need to use.

Ideally, you should probably have some experience with writing short stories (since it’s closer to writing these than it is to writing a novella/novel) before you attempt to write an episodic story. Seriously, if you’re just learning how to be a writer – then start with a type of fiction which is more forgiving and less intense than episodic stories. You have been warned.

Apart from a seven part “CRIT” short story (“Episode Three – The Place of Dead Screens”) I wrote in January, I’m still reasonably new to writing serialised stories, so this article only reflects what I’ve learnt so far.

Although I’ve covered some of these points in my article about series writing , I thought that it was about time that I focused specifically on writing episodic prose fiction rather than comics.

Anyway, if you’re writing an episodic /serialised story – here are some things to bear in mind….

1) Choose somewhere to publish it: In the 19th century and early-mid 20th century, serialised stories tended to be published regularly in magazines – these days they’re a of a lot less common. However, we have something that they didn’t – the internet.

There are lots of places where you can post your story online – for starters, you can do what I did for “Liminal Rites” and set up a separate blog on WordPress for it. Of course, there are plenty of other free blogging sites you can use for your story too (eg: Blogspot and Livejournal).

Likewise, although it’s primarily an art site, you can also upload fiction onto DeviantART too.

If you’re feeling really adventurous or want to promote your story even more, it can be worth publishing it on multiple sites – or, if you have another blog, then you can feature the occasional chapter of your story on your other blog (like chapter two of “Liminal Rites” on this blog).

Just do your research before you choose a site – most blogging sites are fairly similar, so it’ll probably mostly just be a matter of preference. But, be sure to check out the content policies of your prospective sites and also check whether they have a feature which allows you to automatically publish posts at a pre-arranged time too (WordPress has this feature, DeviantART doesn’t.)

2) Make sure that you really like your story idea and make sure that it can go in many different directions: Firstly, you’re probably going to be working on this story for a while – so it’s extremely important to make sure that it’s an idea that you are really interested in and enthusiastic about (ideally something you can geek out about ). Trust me, there is nothing worse than losing interest in a story a few days after you’ve committed yourself to writing it.

Secondly, make sure that your story has a lot of room to go in different directions. This may sounds slightly odd, but it’s another extremely important thing for two reasons:

Firstly, it’s a good defence against writer’s block – if you’re on a schedule, then writer’s block can be an even more severe problem than it normally is. In fact, it can pretty much kill your serial if you’re not careful (yes, it’s a serial killer! Sorry, I couldn’t resist making that joke…).

By coming up with a story idea which can go in all sorts of different directions, you can just switch to another plot idea if the one you were going to use just isn’t working out.

Secondly, it makes your story less predictable. I’ll be dealing with this subject more later on in this article, but a good serialised story needs to be something that makes your readers curious enough to keep reading it every day or every week. If your story is fairly predictable, then people are less likely to keep reading it.

3) Write short chapters that end on a cliffhanger of some kind: Short chapters (ideally 500-1000 words) are important for both you and your readers – they’re important for you, since you will probably be writing quite regularly and churning out novel-length chapters (eg: 1000-3000 words) on a daily or weekly basis will probably get very exhausting very quickly. So, for the sake of time and your sanity – keep your chapters fairly short.

As for your readers, if they’re reading something every day, then they might not have the time to read a full-length chapter. So, keeping your chapters short saves them time too and it might also make them eager to read more of the story too.

Secondly, your chapters should end on a cliffhanger of some kind or other as often as possible. This is important, since it makes your readers curious about what will happen in the next chapter and it will (hopefully) keep them interested in your story.

This doesn’t have to be something melodramatic – but it should be something that either raises a question (eg: chapter one of “Liminal Rites” ends with Claura receiving a mysterious scrap of paper and the chapter ends just before she reads what has been written on it) or makes your reader curious about what happens next (eg: if your chapter ends at a dramatic point in the middle of a conversation etc…).

[Oh, I forgot to mention – the first line of each chapter should also be something dramatic/interesting too (like the first line of a short story). Since, although new readers might not see the first chapter of your story when they take their first look at your chapter – if you start every chapter with a good opening line, then it might make them curious about the earlier parts of the story too.]

4) Make a schedule and stick to it as much as possible: Regularity is very important for episodic stories – if your readers are interested in your story, then they will be following it closely and probably eagerly awaiting the next update. As such, it’s important that new chapters appear at regular intervals. It’s up to you how often you update your story – but you should set a regular schedule (eg: every day, every two days, every week etc…) which you feel that you are realistically able to follow.

If you’re publishing your story on WordPress, then be sure to take full advantage of the “publish”/”schedule” feature [on the right-hand side of the “add new post” screen] which allows you to choose when your posts will be published on the site (at the moment, chapters of “Liminal Rites” are published daily at 22:30 GMT/ 23:30 BST). If you use this carefully, then you can have a couple of days worth of updates queued up in advance – this will take some of the pressure off of you when it comes to writing your story.

I forgot to do this with “Liminal Rites“, but it’s usually a good idea to write the first couple of chapters in advance before you post the first one online, since this gives you a “buffer” of time which can come in handy if you get writer’s block or are busy.

5) Don’t worry if you have a bad day every now and then: If you’re writing something every day, then you’re not going to have the same luxury of time that you might have for an “ordinary” novel/novella/short story – so you might end up producing the occasional chapter which isn’t as good as the other chapters. Don’t worry about it, it happens to everyone. As long as your badly-written chapter keeps the story moving and you don’t produce too many of them, then it’s ok.

As I pointed out in the previous point on this list, regularity is the important thing with episodic/ serialised stories. Or, to put it another way, it’s better to upload a badly-written chapter on time than it is to not upload anything at all because you’re worried about how good or bad your next chapter is.

Oh, in case anyone is interested – I’ve already had two badly-written chapters of “Liminal Rites” so far (chapters one and four). Seriously, it happens to everyone.

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Anyway, I hope that this is useful and I wish you all the best of luck with your episodic story ๐Ÿ™‚

From “Liminal Rites” – Chapter Two: Jasmine Tea (Fiction)

Liminal Rites” is a surreal detective/horror/dark comedy story which I’m writing at the moment. It will be published on its own blog (which can be found here) and, so far, the prologue and the first five chapters can be found there and the story is still getting started.

I might publish selected chapters (probably the less strange and horrific ones) on here too. So, here’s chapter two – it’s one of my favourite chapters [along with the prologue, chapter three, chapter five and chapter six (coming soon…)] which introduces The Caffe Noire, which will probably be one of the main settings in this story.

Anyway, without any further ado, I am very proud to present chapter two of “Liminal Rites”.

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Chapter Two – Jasmine Tea

All it said was ‘Jasmine Tea, The Caffe Noire’.

Ten minutes later, I was walking along the high street. Since the other students had already left and the tourists hadn’t arrived, the town looked as deflated as a punctured blowfish. The extravagant novelty had been sucked out of it and only an unremarkable shell remained. All of the shops were still open though, with no-one but the staff standing behind the counters and the occasional customer perched over a shelf like a raven pecking away at a bus after the apocalypse had hit.

Yeah, if this town was anything at the moment, it was ripe for an apocalypse. Even the cars crawled along the main street slowly, dodging the occasional carrier bag which rolled like tumbleweed across the road. Even my empty house had more life than this place. Still, I had a case to solve.

I’d never actually been to The Caffe Noire before, but I’d walked past it on a couple of hazy nights out. In daylight, it looked almost pathetic – a thin spite house of a building leaning against the wall of the alleyway next to the Regal Court pub. The leaking drain on the side of it just confirmed my idea that it had been inspired by the thousands of drunk guys who had left their mark on the walls of this alleyway over the years.

Still, it apparently served jasmine tea. And, well, a case is a case and tea is tea.

I walked over to the door and turned the handle. Despite the “open” sign in the window, the door didn’t even budge. This wasn’t a good sign. I was about to turn away when I saw movement behind the window. So, wincing slightly, I turned the handle again and put my shoulder to the door. With a loud creak and a sprinkle of red paint flakes, it opened reluctantly.

"The Caffe Noire" By C. A. Brown (This image is released under a Creative Commons BY- NC- ND licence).

“The Caffe Noire” By C. A. Brown (This image is released under a Creative Commons BY- NC- ND licence).

To my surprise, the cafe was pretty much full. In fact, in all of my time in this town, I’d never seen a single one of the customers before. Most of them looked fairly ordinary, but a woman in an extravagant floral dress sitting in the corner caught my eye. She couldn’t have been much older than thirty, but she looked like she’d stepped out of an old novel. Likewise with the old guy in the yellow suit leaning against the faded mural on the far wall.

As I neared on the counter, I found myself staring at the tip bowl. It was filled with pennies and was watched over by the beady eyes of a blue plastic Chameleon. Someone had painted it’s eyes with glow in the dark paint and, in the gloom of the cafe, they glowed like luminol-soaked blood under UV light. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t somewhere you would bring your friends to. Well, maybe not all of them.

‘What can I get you?’ The voice came from behind a stack of boxes on the other end of the counter.

‘Er… A jasmine tea please.’ I stuttered as I rustled a fiver out of my purse..

The whole place went silent before I could even get the last syllable out. Everyone looked at me. Obviously they didn’t like jasmine tea here.

Finally, a short man with a grey moustache and a blue apron emerged from behind the boxes and joined the others in staring at me. I raised an eyebrow and asked again. Speaking the two words as if they were some kind of magic incantation. Jas-mine tea. The silence deepened and everyone’s eyes widened.

After what felt like a minute, the man behind the counter took my money with trembling hands and just said: ‘One jasmine tea. Give me a minute…’

Everyone kept staring at me.

Introducing “Liminal Rites – A Surreal Detective Story”

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[Edited 14/7/13]

Well, I am very proud to announce my latest creative project “Liminal Rites – A Surreal Detective Story” [Note: This may end up turning into a horror story. You have been warned…].

Liminal Rites” will be a novella/novel which will be released episodically (probably either daily and/or whenever I write any of it) on it’s own blog, which can be found here. The first four chapters are online right now, with chapters five and six on the way over the next couple of days….

“Liminal Rites” follows Claura Draine, amateur detective and soon-to-be-former university student who is still hanging around in town at the end of term, waiting for the lease on her student house to end. The last thing she expects is a new case which will take her to the very edge of reality and beyondโ€ฆ

I should probably point out that since “Liminal Rites” is a surreal dark comedy/horror/mystery story in the tradition of Warren Ellis, William S.Burroughs, Hunter S.Thompson, Satoshi Kon and David Cronenburg – it will probably contain disturbing imagery, strong language, horror and other things which are more suitable for mature audiences.