Rules of Fiction “The Terror Feels so Real” with Ken Brosky

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The Terror Feels So Real!

Alma Katsu’s The Deep is beautifully written. It’s the kind of creepy, unsettling book that pulls you in quickly, drowning you in fantastic prose. The story revolves around one of the survivors of the Titanic sinking, Annie Hebbley, whose voyage on the famed ship was anything but normal. Now she finds herself on the Titanic’s sister ship, The Britannic … and comes face-to-face with another survivor whose presence could potentially expose long-held secrets!

There’s hauntings. There’s death. There’s romance and war and seances and terror. Katsu’s writing is wonderful in and of itself, as shown in an early scene where a few people aboard the Titanic attempt to communicate with the dead (never a good idea):


The surface of the water in the scrying bowl went choppy, like a storm at sea, then splashed from the scrying bowl onto the white tablecloth. It spread in gray patches …

Wind swept through the room, lashing the flames. Then–they were out, twisted plumes of smoke rising from the wicks. They were plunged into darkness, the only light spilling in from around Anne Hebbley’s form, silhouetting her … 

And then there was a scream. Madeleine Astor’s. A scream of such terror and sadness that Caroline had no doubt as to what had happened, even before she’d followed the sound, in an out-of-body rush, to the room and seen it for herself.

I’ve condensed some of the action here to showcase her writing style. But look at the way she writes! This is award-winning prose, folks.

Katsu also deploys a couple writing techniques that serve her story well. For example, there’s letters and correspondence peppered throughout, serving as a bridge between characters and revealing a few secrets along the way. The story moves between moments on the Titanic (in the past) and moments on the Britannic (in the present).

But what makes Katsu’s story stand out–and makes the horror feel all the more real–is the detail. Man, oh man … when you’re reading this book, you feel like you’re aboard these two ships. Katsu’s book is impeccable in its details, a testament to the research she put into her project. And it makes every crucial moment in the story feel real.


Writing Activity: The Marathon from Hell!

Research for fiction projects can be the difference between “believable” and “ridiculous.” Remember the old adage “Romans don’t wear wristwatches”? It’s a sly reference to an old movie that was so lazy in its production that no one even noticed the Roman extras wearing timepieces! Obviously this is a pretty egregious example, but it serves a point: every time a historical story gets some little fact wrong, the audience’s faith falters.

But let’s not focus on the negative. Research can bring a story to life. It can add depth and flavor on such a level that your audience can lose themselves in each scene. It can, and should, be your best friend.

To practice, you’re going to write a fictional story about the 1904 Olympic Marathon. Why? Because it was so bonkers and wild that it’s just begging to be used in fiction. Click the link to learn more about it.

See what I mean? It’s got everything: deceit, violence, intrigue, humor, gambling, and performance-enhancing drugs! I’m going to give you everything you need to write about it with a series of prompts. So let’s get started.


Step one: Pick a genre. If you read the link, you can see a couple options: humor, or mystery, or even a thriller. Heck, make it a horror: why not turn one of the marathon runners into a demon? Clive Barker did this once in a short story!


Step two: Develop a character. Don’t be afraid to Google some of the names mentioned in the link. Find out more about them. There are sooooo many great runners from this event! Use any details you like.


Step three: Develop the setting. This is where your research gets deeper. Google “1904 St. Louis Olympic Marathon” as a starting point. Use multiple sources for your research. Try to find more details about the location of the marathon. Write them all down. You want the reader to feel the hot temperature so much that they need a drink of water.


Step four: Write the story. Make it take place during the marathon. Think about your character’s ending first (especially since this story is about a race!). Then work your way back as you plot out the main points.


Most important of all: have fun with this. The historical details are wild enough that your story–no matter the genre–should be a ton of fun to read. Lean into the cheating and danger and outright scandal. Incorporate your research so your reader comes away from your story feeling as if your character truly did participate in the 1904 Olympic Marathon!

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