Monday, October 24, 2011

Ooo, eerie

When I first started writing--as in, seriously writing with the intent of completing a book--I had a number of failed attempts. Likely because I was attempting fantasy and, frankly, I'm really effing lazy and couldn't be bothered with all the world-building involved. I grew up reading primarily fantasy (HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones, and the ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES by Patricia C. Wrede, for instance) so I couldn't understand why I wasn't able to write in the genre I was familiar with as a kid.

My second thought was that I'd love to write horror. Except I find it very hard to place into words things I think are frightening. This might be partly to do with the fact books aren't really don't frighten me in the way movies do, likely because I'm such a visual person. There are exceptions (though I'm drawing a blank while trying to think of one, uh).

(When I was younger, this wasn't so much the case. I remember reading THE LANCASTER WITCH by Carol H. Behrman, and THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS by Betty Ren Wright, both of which scared the hell out of me. I can't remember now why, but I'd be curious to reread those books all these years later and see if I can figure it out.)

(This thing? Also scares the crap out of me. It's the breathing. Every time Wife and I get to this part of the game with the Iron Maidens and Regenerators, I have to give the controller to her.)

My point being, every genre is so unique in its own right, and every genre requires a certain knack for an author to pull off what they want their readers to feel. In regards to horror, I personally think it's a difficult genre to get right.

I think this is because fear can be so subjective. Not everyone is afraid of what's under the bed, while others aren't afraid of the slasher sneaking into their house in the middle of the night. I'm no horror-writing expert, since my works tend to lean toward thriller-esque, but some suggestions I can toss out there as a reader:

1. Don't be afraid of bad endings. Especially in horror, happy endings aren't necessary. In fact, I grow bored with authors I know will always deliver me a happy ending even in this genre. How am I supposed to be afraid and suspenseful if I know there's no real chance of things ending poorly? (My favorite horror endings are the ones that appear to be hopeful, until the last page/few seconds. Think Dawn of the Dead.)

2. During suspenseful scenes, cut the purple prose and long sentences. These are emotionally-heavy scenes. Make us feel that. Stay away from describing anything that doesn't build on the suspense. Use all your senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch. When people are afraid, their senses become hyper-aware because they're trying to sense danger.

3. Don't over-explain. One nitpick I have about so many of the Americanization of foreign horrors movies is America's need to explain everything. Why do we need the back story and plotted out details of everything's motive? Why can't something be evil for the sake of being evil? There's nothing wrong with leaving the 'why' and 'how' to reader speculation. Again, fear of the unknown.

4. It's all about atmosphere. Weather and setting are important in horror. I remember watching Pulse and thinking that the movie was perfect because of the dark, gritty nature of every scene. It was dreary and depressing, which fit with the mood of the story.

5. Study what makes you scared. Pick out your favorite horror books and movies, and study them. I recommend this for everything (especially fight scenes, which I talked about ages ago). Pick out what exactly it is that scares you in a particular scene and try to put it into words, as practice for your own writing.

Maybe we have some horror pros out there reading who can offer advice, too, and what helps them when writing something scary. For the rest of you, what are you guys afraid of?

For me, it's stories of Shadow people, and zombies. I have zombie nightmares a lot.

Happy Halloween, y'all. ;)

And if you haven't already, there are only 7 more days to sign up for the I LOVE DARK YA blogfest. It's a low-commitment fest, so come join us and help spread the word!


  1. Excited for the Dark YA blogfest. And yes, it IS all about atmosphere. Great post

  2. Yay for horror-writing! I babbled about this to some extent on my blog last week, but for me, when I write horror, I try to evoke that creepy campfire story feeling. The scary moments are as much about the building tension as the eventual reveal.

    As for what scares me... probably the idea of a safe place turned unsafe. And yet I still watch all those Criminal Minds episodes about home invasion. Eek.

  3. I love horror movies, but I don't read as much in the genre. Like you, I am more of a visual person when it comes to the scary stuff. I would say, leave more to the imagination. Nothing is scarier than the unknown because your mind will usually work up worse scenarios than the actual events.