Chapter 3 of Escape from Hell released

Escape from Hell is a fictional, faith-based novelette I’ve written, chronicling the journey of a man into Hell. It is a creative piece where I’ve let my imagination unspool and is intended for adults. Aspects of the subject matter will be unpalatable to some; while it is not my intention to inflict the reader, I have portrayed Hell graphically (and Heaven too).

In today’s posting of Chapter 3: Hell the story begins to get darker.

If you are new to the story, begin at Chapter 1: Death.

I’d love to hear your comments or thoughts about the story. What do you like or don’t like, how would you have done things differently, is it engaging?

Chapter 2 of Escape from Hell released

Escape from Hell is a fictional, faith-based novelette I’ve written, chronicling the journey of a man into Hell. It is a creative piece where I’ve let my imagination unspool and is intended for adults. Aspects of the subject matter will be unpalatable to some; while it is not my intention to inflict the reader, I have portrayed Hell graphically (and Heaven too).

In chapter 1: Death our character dies and must come to terms with his reality radically shifting. Death, it seems is nothing as he expected, and the promises of the afterlife are tantalising.

In chapter 2: The Court it’s time for our character to visit the heavenly court where his actions, words, and thoughts will be judged. It’s the entry-port to Heaven and the wonders of heaven are becoming apparent…

I hope you enjoy chapter 2!

Escape from Hell: Chapter 1: Death

I’ve decided to release (in full) my novelette Escape from Hell as a series of blog posts. I could have held it back and made it into a sellable item, but I’d rather it had wider exposure. This week, chapter 1, entitled Death is available.

If you enjoy it, please pass on a link to your friends. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below the chapter.

Escape from Hell: Too Tough to Read?

I’m not sure what to do with my novelette Escape from Hell. This is a topic I’ve written about before and it’s still ruminating around my brain without an answer appearing. The story is a faith-based fictional story about a man who spends time in both Heaven and Hell. (Spoiler-free post).

The Heaven section (if I am allowed to praise my own work) is heart-warming, uplifting and a worthy attempt at touching the wondrous nature of what I believe Heaven will be. I think that’s a fair evaluation. It will be so different and so amazing that it is beyond comprehension. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the ‘Heaven’ section and love how it’s turned out, and I think most readers will also enjoy it.

The premise I have constructed for Hell is really clever (or at least I think so). However, it’s not a pleasant place. In writing it, I’ve really let my imagination ‘go dark’. (I should caveat this by saying I don’t read or write horror normally). There has been no point where I’ve pulled back from writing something because it was too evil in my descriptions.

That is not to say I’ve picked the worst things I can think of; I haven’t. It isn’t horror-porn but it is horrific-by-intent. I’ve taken literally the maxim that characters should be tortured by the plot. I’ve committed that torture with acts, events, circumstances, relationships and the kitchen sink (okay, not the last one). And the Hell section comprises the majority, in length, of the novelette.

Therein lies the problem: Even reading it, will push a lot of people well out of their comfort zone. The first Hell-based chapter already had a beta-reader squirm. However I think the first chapter is like O[rientation]-week at university, you don’t do much: it’s all fluff and bubbles. I’d say it was a 3 on the nasty-dial. Future chapters dial it up closer to 8. (My dear mum does an editing pass for me to catch what my eyes miss, and I’m not even sure I want her precious and timid soul to read any of the darker chapters!)

If a level 3 causes discomfort, what will an 8 do? Will the readers simply disconnect because it is so unpleasant? For an analogy of how I feel I could use Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or Hacksaw Ridge. Neither movie is enjoyable movie to watch and yet I feel as though both are important to watch. Each movie contains unpleasant truths, very graphically displayed, that are valuable to be remembered. The Passion of the Christ reminds us of the incredible cost Jesus paid to offer a path of reconciliation. Hacksaw Ridge portrays the brutal nature of war which ought to help it be not entered into lightly.

I’m not sure how to deal with this situation. If you have any ideas, I’d really appreciate hearing them in the comments below. I can think of a few possibilities, but I feel as though I need more tools in my toolbox as though I haven’t yet discovered the right answer or combination of answers. And I’d always prefer to have too many options – even some silly ones – because the right answer could be in a synergistic mix.

The simple answer, of course, would be to dial back on the graphic nature of Hell. Take it from and 8 down to a 5. Tone down the violence, obscure the threat, make it a little more pleasant. I could have a good crack at making it more palatable while still keeping the not-a-nice-place vibe. Doing so might mean that it gets more readers who can persist through to the end, not put-off by the yuck-factor.

I am reluctant to do that. I believe Hell is going to be horrific, and I want my character’s experience to be that. In the same way that I think Heaven will be better than we can comprehend, so too I believe Hell will be worse than the human mind can conceive. I’ve taken a stab at describing a pretty diabolical Hell, and I want it to stand out as much as The Passion of the Christ and Hacksaw Ridge. These movies showed something important; they were not feel-good movies where Jesus’ trip to the cross and the Allies victory were Sunday picnics.

Another option is to break up the horror by interspersing it with intermissions. Scene(s) that provide the readers a chance to take a ‘breather’. Something lighter and happier. I’m not a big fan of flashbacks or dream sequences, normally. Initially I didn’t like this idea, but now it’s growing on me. If done correctly, the breather could also fit nicely into the narrative, and might also intensify the ‘dark’ scenes.

Another options is to bring forward the intrigue in the story. Provide the reader with a promise of the direction of the story to encourage them to continue turning (and actually reading) pages.

Of course it’s not all about how I’m writing it. I can also get a better understanding of how if affects the reader by getting more alpha readers. What affects one reader might not affect another. I need more people to properly understand what buttons my story is pushing, and how far those buttons can be pressed.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on how I could tackle this issue, let me know.

A Writing Seed: Unwanted Memories

Sometimes I have small passages pop into my head, or as I call them writing seeds. Small thoughts that have the potential to germinate into something more. Here is one such writing seed, which might inspire you.


“Thank you for your service,” the young boy said to me as he held out his hand. I shook his hand because it was the right thing to do; because I understood what he was trying to do. He wanted to say that he appreciated the time I had spent in Vietnam in the ’50’s.

What he didn’t realise, was that I had no desire to think of those times. I thought about them enough. I certainly didn’t want to be thanked or receive commendations for the distasteful things I had to do over there. I didn’t want to be defined by them, either.

My country had called, and I had answered that call. I didn’t regret what we had to do, but I’ll never be happy about having to do it. Even if we had defeated the Viet Cong, we still wouldn’t have been victors. Not really. There are no winners in war among the soldiers who fought it. I’d lost a lot of good mates, and left some of the best parts of me on the battlefield.

Escaping

In the last couple of weeks I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell, my faith-based story. When I announced the re-write I mentioned my goal was to lengthen the story in order to smooth out the abrupt ending, which almost universally caught readers by surprise.

(Side note: Now that I think about it the abrupt ending was kind of ironic given that the character dies abruptly at the beginning of the story… and that our own deaths can come equally without warning. The unintentional irony works with my dark sense of humour; but that doesn’t mean it makes for a good writing quality).

The story has gone from approximately 9,000 words up to 23,000 in this first draft. I expect it to contract a little as I tighten my prose. The original story wasn’t formatted for chapters; now there are a total of 7 chapters, 3 of which are entirely new content.

The most important question though: is the story better for it? That’s the question I’ll be asking myself (and soon, alpha readers) as I let it’s melody play in the foreground while I do another editing pass. There are definitely elements in which the story has improved: the story has more depth and the ending is smoother now that it has more of a story and character arc. And yet, I’m still a bit apprehensive.

The first few chapters (the pre-existing chapters) that I wrote while highly inspired sing to me. I’m not sure yet if the other subsequent chapters are singing in harmony.

Even my choice of metaphor is suspect: who’d think I’d ever be any kind of singing conductor…

Escaping from Hell

I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell in the last week (hence the pun in the blog title). I’m currently working through the 5th and what was the final chapter of the original story.

The observant among you might notice that doesn’t match my progress bar on the right (and it’s not because I’ve been lazy in updating it… this time). The 50% indicator is because I am strongly considering extending the story by approximately another 4 chapters. In fact the first version of the story didn’t have ‘chapters’ at all. It was a single block of 9,700 words. I’ve broken it into chapters because the text naturally divides into chapters. Plus chapters are friendlier for the reader. If I’m torturing the character in my story, the least I can do is make it convenient for the reader 🙂

There was a time, now thankfully in the past, where the mere idea of lengthening a story would be enough for me to do it. After all, word count was the measure of success, right? Now the important question of any addition or reduction is will it make the story better?

I believe that it will. By lengthening the character arc I can be more nuanced in telling the story and make the ending punchier. I can also explore the themes more. I’m just about ready to sketch out the next few chapters…