Does writing horror give you the horrors?

The horror genre is one of the most difficult genres to write in. This is because the story has more to do with the way it’s told than the story itself. A good romance or drama can have a great plot with average writing, but a good horror story has to have good writing in order for it to succeed. So how do you write a good horror story? Here are some tips from an avid horror fan:

What scares you?

One of the best ways to give your work more impact is to write about something that scares you. Be it the monster in the closet, the feeling of someone else in the room, or your neighbor’s vacuum cleaner that just doesn’t feel right, if you are freaked out then you can transfer that feeling into your character and thus into your reader.

Where do you get scared?

Settings are often underrated, but with a genre that thrives on atmosphere, they shouldn’t be neglected. The cliché of graveyards and abandoned houses on a stormy night have been overused, so think of a place that makes you feel uneasy. It could be a children’s playground after dark, the desolate street corner in the middle of the day when everyone is at work or your normal looking basement that just doesn’t feel right. Regardless of what your story is about, remember to take advantage of your settings to emphasize the mood or to create a sense of unease or dislocation.

Would you do that?

When the crazed killer is chasing the young teenage cheerleader through her house, would she really run straight past the front door and up the stairs to the second floor (like we’ve seen in so many teen slasher movies), or would she bolt through that door and search for help instead? Ask yourself what you would do in that situation and let your answer depict the characters actions. Character’s actions should seem like the most likely choice for that person to make and not like an action chosen merely to advance the plot.

Got a case of that Writers Itch?

Have you felt the need to write a specific story but stopped because you’ve felt it’s all been done before? Don’t let that stop you from trying your hand at the haunted house story; give it your own unique touch by writing it with your own characters, your own ghosts  and most importantly your own words. Because that’s what we writers do: we take a plot, an idea or a person and we make it our own.

Be elegant:

For me, the key to a good horror story is elegance. The finely woven tale of suspense and tension, mixing the known with the unknown, is far more terrifying than an axe wielding psycho who slashes his way through the plot and characters. Subtly often has more of an impact than the in-your-face blood and guts style, so be cunning and you will catch your reader off guard.

Ultimately, horror comes down to finding the right combination of plot, atmosphere and character. What scares your reader should terrify your character because if your character isn’t scared, your readers won’t be either. And remember this valuable piece of advice: when it comes to horror, it’s not the story that makes it good but the way that it’s told.

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Settings: the neglected tool

Settings in fiction run the risk of being neglected. It’s easy to be vague about where your story is set, or choosing a setting just because you need one, but in doing so you are forgetting to make use of an important writing tool.

 

Settings serve a purpose:

Settings work the same way that real places do, they all serve a purpose. A playground is for playing and a library for reading and borrowing books. What purpose does your setting serve? How do your settings relate to and work with your plot?

 

What does a setting mean to your character?

Be it a playground, a place of worship, a library, a police station, people associate specific feelings with them. For some a police station is a place of safety, for others a place to avoid and for a selected few, a place of terror. Ask yourself what your setting means to your character, and link that into your story.

 

Play with stereotypes:

While writers are often told to avoid stereotypes, they can work to your advantage when it comes to settings. A cemetery is associated with death, ghosts and sadness, so if you need to invoke those feelings then consider it as a setting for one of your scenes. Think of all the stereotypical places that you have seen in movies or read about in books: the abandoned mental institution, bachelor pad, haunted house, spinster’s house, morgue, church, high school. What feelings does each of these places invoke in you?

 

Contrast:

While playing on stereotypical settings can work to your advantage, so too can going against what is expected. Does a ghost story need to be set in an old, dilapidated house with a raging storm trapping the unsuspecting victims inside? Why not set it in a modern-day, high-tech office building? The horror genre took an interesting turn when monsters left the mountains of Transylvania and far-reaching, foreign countries and turned up on the doorsteps of suburbia. Placing the expected in an unexpected setting can add to feelings of abnormality, wrongness and fear in your readers.

 

In essence, neglecting the setting when writing your story is a mistake. There is so much that setting can add to the atmosphere, feel and underlying emotions of your scenes, so much that it can say without you needing to spell it out for the reader.

Tips on Writing Horror

The horror genre is one of the most difficult genres to write in. This is because the story has more to do with the way it’s told than the story itself. A good romance or drama can have a great plot with average writing, but a good horror story has to have good writing in order for it to succeed. So how do you write a good horror story? Here are some tips from an avid horror fan:

 

What scares you?

One of the best ways to give your work more impact is to write about something that scares you. Be it the monster in the closet, the feeling of someone else in the room, or your neighbor’s vacuum cleaner that just doesn’t feel right, if you are freaked out then you can transfer that feeling into your character and thus into your reader.

 

Where do you get scared?

Settings are often underrated, but with a genre that thrives on atmosphere, they shouldn’t be neglected. The cliché of graveyards and abandoned houses on a stormy night have been overused, so think of a place that makes you feel uneasy. It could be a children’s playground after dark, the desolate street corner in the middle of the day when everyone is at work or your normal looking basement that just doesn’t feel right. Regardless of what your story is about, remember to take advantage of your settings to emphasize the mood or to create a sense of unease or dislocation.

 

Would you do that?

When the crazed killer is chasing the young teenage cheerleader through her house, would she really run straight past the front door and up the stairs to the second floor (like we’ve seen in so many teen slasher movies), or would she bolt through that door and search for help instead? Ask yourself what you would do in that situation and let your answer depict the characters actions. Character’s actions should seem like the most likely choice for that person to make and not like an action chosen merely to advance the plot.

 

Got a case of that Writers Itch?

Have you felt the need to write a specific story but stopped because you’ve felt it’s all been done before? Don’t let that stop you from trying your hand at the haunted house story; give it your own unique touch by writing it with your own characters, your own ghosts  and most importantly your own words. Because that’s what we writers do: we take a plot, an idea or a person and we make it our own.

 

Be elegant:

For me, the key to a good horror story is elegance. The finely woven tale of suspense and tension, mixing the known with the unknown, is far more terrifying than an axe wielding psycho who slashes his way through the plot and characters. Subtly often has more of an impact than the in-your-face blood and guts style, so be cunning and you will catch your reader off guard.

 

Ultimately, horror comes down to finding the right combination of plot, atmosphere and character. What scares your reader should terrify your character because if your character isn’t scared, your readers won’t be either. And remember this valuable piece of advice: when it comes to horror, it’s not the story that makes it good but the way that it’s told.

Tips on submitting your manuscript:

This article focuses on short story submissions to electronic and print media.

We all want our submissions to get published, but often a simple error or two will have your story in the trash before its has been read. Here are some tips on getting your story published:

(1) Familiarize yourself with the publication:

Go through the publication’s website and familiarize yourself with its content. What sort of information do they have on their site, what links do they have and, most importantly, do they give you access to previous issues or examples of work that they accept? Getting to know what they specialize in, and what they think sets them apart from their competitors, will help you to assess if your story is right for them. If your story doesn’t fit in with what they like, then you’re wasting your time and theirs by submitting it.

(2) Read the guidelines:

If your manuscript is formatted incorrectly, then you stand a slim chance if being read, let alond published! Writers should make their work look as professional as possible but different publications have different requirements, so take a look at the submission guidelines and pay close attention!

– Check you spelling and grammar!

– Double check the submission e-mail address and what to put in the message header.

– Add a cover letter and give them a little information about what your story is about and who you are.

– If you can find the editors name, then address your cover letter to them personally.

– If there are no specific guidelines, then look up the standard manuscript format and follow that.

– If you are sending your manuscript via snail mail, then add a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for replies and / or for the return of your manuscript.

Getting your work published comes down to getting it noticed, and the first step in that process is submitting a professional manuscript!

Stress, sweat and strain: how to heighten tension in your story

 

We all love a good fast paced, page-turning read, but how does a writer achieve this? There are various methods that an author can use to get their readers’ blood pumping, and while they appear obvious as I list them, they can often be neglected when you’re writing:

 

(1)    What’s at stake:

What does your character have to lose and how much is it worth to them? Letting your reader know what’s at risk will help them to see how important it is for your character to succeed.  It also adds to your character’s motivation.

Why would a man cross a ragged rope bridge strung between two cliffs with a raging river at the bottom? Is it to save his wife and child, or to collect a treasure chest?

(2)    Increase Pressure:

Does your character have the ability, knowledge and inclination to achieve the goals that you have set for them? Is the woman trying to rescue her kidnapped child a police detective with the resources and training to find her baby or is she a housewife with no experience except what she’s seen on TV?

(3)    Watch the clock:

Do your characters have five hours or five months to solve the problem? Where’s the excitement in having to defuse a bomb when its still got six hours on the clock? Give your protagonist six minutes and the pressures on!

An event that takes place over a long period of time can lose its effect and slow the pacing of your story. The less time you give your character to solve the problem, the more pressure they are under. Think of the Saw movies: would the scenes in which the victims try to escape the traps be as intense if they had no time limit?

(4)    Do your characters want to succeed?

A hero or protagonist who is willing to risk it all for a cause without any concerns or doubts will be a less interesting character than one who has uncertainties and fears about the task at hand. Even when we as people follow our desires, we will always doubts about the outcome.

(5)    Throw rocks:

Create additional obstacles for your character to overcome. Make use of your secondary characters: are they helping or hindering your character and what do they get out of your protagonist’s success or failure?

(6)    Decisions:

Don’t let your character have it easy. Force them to make choices by creating dilemmas that play on the pressure, time limit and conflicts that you have already created. Does the bomb squad choose to defuse the bomb or leave and save their own lives even though others may die? Do the victims in the Saw movies save others to their own detriment or do they save themselves first?

(7)    Roll the Dice:

Adding a wild card that changes the rules of the game helps to increase the tension. This could be a new (or old) character, or an accidental or uncontrollable event. But remember to play fair. Don’t swindle your readers by creating an easy way out for your character’s hazardous situation or a miraculous answer to their dilemma.

By focusing on each of these aspects in your writing, you can increase the tension for both your characters and your readers!