THE (EXTREMELY) SHORT GUIDE TO WRITING HORROR BY TIM WAGGONER


Tim Waggoner graciously let me reblog this fascinating little exploration of his on writing horror.

THE (EXTREMELY) SHORT GUIDE TO WRITING HORROR  BY TIM WAGGONER

Horror comes from a fear of the unknown. Keep a sense of mystery going in your story. What’s happening? Why is it happening? What’s going to happen next? How much worse is it going to get?

Horror comes from a violation of what your characters consider to be normal reality. This violation shakes them to their very core because it raises the possibility that everything they thought they knew is wrong and that anything could happen. The Universe isn’t orderly or benign. It’s chaotic and malicious.


Dread is the mounting anticipation of a threat drawing ever closer. Terror is a deep emotional and intellectual reaction to a threat, a profound realization that reality isn’t what we thought it was. Horror is an immediate reaction to a threat – disbelief, denial, turning away. Shock is a surprise, an adrenaline rush, while Disgust is a queasy visceral reaction. Dread and Terror are the most effective weapons in a horror writer’s arsenal – they have a much greater impact on readers – but all the techniques have their strengths.


The horror equivalent of the Hero’s Journey: Some Poor Bastard’s Descent into Hell. Horror works best when it focuses on normal people (hence the “Poor Bastard”), and the characters’ situation steadily and nightmarishly worsens (the “Descent”). “Hell” can be physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, internal, external – or better yet, a combination of them all. Possible Story Outcomes with this pattern: the Poor Bastard Escapes Hell, the Poor Bastard is Eternally Damned, the Poor Bastard Escapes with Severe Wounds and Scars, the Poor Bastard is Transformed by Hell, the Poor Bastard Carries Hell With Him, the Poor Bastard Drags Other to Hell or Brings Hell to Them, and the Poor Bastard Becomes the Devil.


Horror is internal more than external. In the movie Alien, the crew of the Nostromo aren’t trained to deal with monsters, so they’re terrified. In the sequel Aliens, the space marines are trained soldiers and while they might be frightened by the monsters they face, it’s not to the same degree as the characters in the first movie. Alien is a horror film because of the characters’ internal reaction to events. Aliens is an action movie because of how the characters in that film react. Write with a close point of view to show your characters’ emotional reaction to events in order to create effective horror.


Give readers characters they care about. Horror stories aren’t about the monster. They’re about how people react to the monster. (Or in some cases, react to becoming monsters.) If readers care about your characters, if they empathize with them, then the threats these characters face will be meaningful to readers. If your characters are the equivalent of video game avatars with no personality, the threats they face will be meaningless to readers.


Respect your characters – all of them. In horror, sometimes a character’s only function is to die in order to establish how serious the threat is and build suspense. Even if these characters only have a short time on stage, give them their dignity. For the brief time that they appear, try to present them as full, rich characters as much as possible. This will increase your reader’s emotional involvement in the story and make the threat seem even worse.


Avoid clichés. Horror is about the unknown, and once a specific type of character, threat, or story structure becomes too familiar, it loses its power to engage and affect readers – especially in horror.

Make your horror personal. Draw from your own experience, observations, and fears to create horror only you can write – horror that’s yours and no one else’s.


Take new approaches to old archetypes. Instead of writing about a classic vampire, rework that trope. Put a new spin on it. For example, vampires drain lifeforce from their victims. So what if there was a creature that injected lifeforce into its victims? Perhaps the souls of people that have died, souls that eventually try to gain control of their new hosts. Instead of people spending the night in a haunted house, what if the house was broken into hundreds of pieces, and each piece was given to a different person? This way, the haunting comes to them.


There are no limits, but horror elements should serve the story and the characters’ journey. You don’t want your stories to be the equivalent of a simple walk through a carnival spook house, no matter how grotesque and bizarre the attractions inside may be. Character and story come first. After that, your tale can be as weird and extreme as you want to make it.



Physical pain is easy – too easy. In horror, characters are often under the threat of physical violence, injury, and ultimately death. But the mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds characters suffer can be far worse than mere physical pain. Make sure that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen in your horror – not by a long shot.


Don’t save the best for last. In “The Body Politic,” Clive Barker takes the old horror trope of the living severed hand that’s out for revenge and puts a new spin on it. Normally, stories using this trope end with the hand of a dead person returning to enact revenge on its murderer. “Oh my God, the hand is alive!” In “The Body Politic,” Barker begins with the premise that our hands – all of them – have separate lives and personalities, and they wish to be free from “the tyranny of the body.” Barker didn’t save his best idea for last. He began with his best idea and kept going from there. You should do the same.


How you write is just as important as What you write. 
Example Version 1: There was a monster outside the front door. A man opened the door and the monster ate him. 
Example Version 2: Bob had his hand on the knob, was just about to turn it, open the door, and walk outside to check the mail, when he felt the metal vibrate beneath his flesh. Not much, just a little. But it made him think that someone on the other side had put their hand on the outside knob, making it jiggle the tiniest bit. And was the metal starting to feel colder, as if a silent arctic wind caressed the knob outside? It was a ridiculous thought, but he removed his hand from the knob all the same and, without realizing it, took two steps backward. 
The way you tell your story is just as important, if not more so, than the kind of story you’re trying to tell. This is true with any type of fiction, but it’s especially true in horror.


Horror shouldn’t be safe – in any way, shape, or form. Horror should take risks with characters, story elements, and narrative techniques. Readers shouldn’t be able to guess what’s going to happen next, and once they think they have your story figured out, that’s when it should take a shocking left turn. Keep your readers off balance the entire time, and they’ll experience something of what your characters are going through in the story. They won’t feel safe – and they’ll love your stories all the more for it.



RESOURCES FOR FURTHER READING


Horror Writers Association, http://horror.org

International Thriller Writers Association. http://thrillerwriters.org


Supernatural Horror in Literature, H.P. Lovecraft

On Writing, Stephen King

Danse Macabre, Stephen King

On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, ed.

Writers Workshop of Horror, Michael Knost, ed.

How to Write Horror Fiction, William Nolan.

To Each Their Darkness, Gary Braunbeck

Writing the Paranormal Novel, Steven Harper

Dark Dreamers: Conversations with the Masters of Horror, Stanley Wiater

Dark Thoughts on Writing, Stanley Wiater

How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, J.N. Williamson

Now Write: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Laurie Lamsen



About the author:
Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels and three short story collections. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. Visit him on the web at www.timwaggoner.com


Some of Tim's titles: 

http://www.amazon.com/Grimm-Killing-Time-Tim-Waggoner/dp/1781166587/ref=la_B001JP0XFM_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395633512&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Nekropolis-Archives-Tim-Waggoner/dp/0857662082/ref=la_B001JP0XFM_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395633512&sr=1-7

http://www.amazon.com/Supernatural-Carved-Flesh-Tim-Waggoner/dp/1781161135/ref=la_B001JP0XFM_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395633512&sr=1-2








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 Tim Waggoner, Writing Horror, THE (EXTREMELY) SHORT GUIDE TO WRITING HORROR  BY TIM WAGGONER,Grimm, Supernatural



Interview with author Charlee Jacob

"Charlee Jacob...is clearly one of the best new writers working in the horror field today..." 
- Edward Lee, author of City Infernal and Dahmer’s Not Dead


"If horror literature has a queen, it is without a doubt Charlee Jacob." 
- Brian Hopkins, Bram Stoker Award Winning Author


"She has a fevered imagination, flashes of which would certainly give Clive Barker a run for his money...."  
- Brian Hodge, CyberPsychos AOD


"[Charlee] drapes her fiction in mysticism, dives deep into the unexplainable, the enigmatic and the totally insane." 
- Tom Piccirilli, Author of A Lower Deep



http://www.charleejacob.com/


Charlee Jacob - Bio

Charlee Jacob has been a digger for dinosaur bones, a seller of designer rags, and a cook - to mention only a few things. With more than 950 publishing credits, Charlee has been writing dark poetry and prose for more than 25 years. Some of her recent publishing events include the novel STILL (Necro), the poetry collection HERESY (Necro), and the novel DARK MOODS. She is a three-time Bram Stoker Award winner, two of those awards for her novel DREAD IN THE BEAST and the poetry collection SINEATER; the third award for collaborative poetry collection, VECTORS, with Marge Simon. Permanently disabled, she has begun to paint as one of her forms of phsycial therapy. To see some of Charlee's paintings, click here. She lives in Irving, Texas with her husband Jim and a plethora of felines. To view a bibliography of Charlee's works, click here.

Interview with Charlee Jacob

Q: When doing some background research for this interview I found you to be quite an enigma in terms of your online presence. Aside from a handful of interviews there seems to be only a small amount of information available about you and your work. As a fan I find it hard to believe that such a prolific and gifted award-winning author is not better known. Does this frustrate you as an author or do you prefer to let your work speak for itself? 


A: I was beginning to do a lot more about that when, about a decade ago I was declared fully disabled with Fibromyalgia and several other problems that made it nearly impossible to sit up, to walk, or perform most daily functions. Several MRI’s and Neurologists later and they diagnosed me with Parkinson’s. I have also developed Narcolepsy. It is this difficulty that frustrates me, the constant ten out of ten pain level and the inability to stay awake.


Q: Could you please tell the readers some things about your upbringing and how this led to you becoming a writer (of primarily horror fiction)? How much of your childhood, for example, informs the themes and motifs that are threaded through your work?


A: My upbringing was very baby boomer; cold war, and keep your mouth shut about the condition of your family’s dirty laundry. My work appears to be about 80% Post Traumatic Stress. Post Toasties Serial). As experts are fond of saying, “Write what you know.” –and if you don’t know it, all of the ink and your blood put together…well, this is why it’s called fiction.


Q: What I have read of your work gives me a very strong surrealistic impression with the dreamlike prose imbued with such vivid imagery. Do you intentionally write in order to invoke the surreal or otherworldly, or would you just consider it a by-product of your style?


A: Half is written in the liquefied flat line brains of all who have been and will be victimized by the beasts of this and other worlds. As for any of it being the by-product of my style, well, by-products are often the organ meat, gristle, and waste that society rejects.


Q: Do you think that the genre of horror is undervalued by potential readers who have preconceived negative ideas about the genre? Have you ever tried your hand at other forms/types of fiction and do you read much horror fiction yourself?


A: In the early to mid forties and fifties, people did have preconceived notions, dealing with horror not as spiritual (Seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts bake sale style), nor as noirishly chic as Mickey Spillane’s racy parts. I may interject that I write science fiction and used to read it all the time- like Mary Shelley’s ‘Modern Prometheus’.


Q: Your prose is quite often very poetic in the way you use language and the visually imaginative worlds you create. Do you find that when you write a poem it will morph into prose and/or vice versa? How important is the writing of poetry to you in terms of how you write prose – does one influence/inform the other? 


A: Yes and Yes. Twenty two years ago everything I’d published was in poetry. Sometimes I even think and/or talk consciously this way. And as for morphing, what else do you call going to bed one kind of person and waking up almost ten years later as if born again into some persona from a long dream.


Q: Could you please tell us about your writing process? How do you come up with the ideas for your stories and how do you go about writing them? Do you outline your novels or is it more of an ‘organic’ process?


A: Most of my stories originate in nightmares. For others, I start out as I do often to write poetry, meaning I flip through a thesaurus, point at one word with my eyes closed, write that down, repeat the process—and the writing finger having written moves on. This Symbiotic Fascination started this way… first there was the ugly little man. My long poem ‘Taunting the Minotaur’ began in my head with one sentence- “How do I stop the bleeding”? I do outline some novels but always end up changing them.


Q: You write poetry, short fiction, novellas and novels – do you have a preferred medium or form? Do you have any favorite poets?


A: My preferred form is absolutely any path the piece feels like it needs to go down (or up). Three of my favorite poets are Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, and Ann Sexton.


Q: Edward Lee has said you are “armed with a talent to write the most beautiful prose yet [use] that talent to examine the most unspeakable and detestable horror.” Do you use your writing to examine issues that are important to you? Is there any underlying message/s you try to impart to the reader, or do you prefer to think of your work as ‘art for art’s sake’?


A: I have never been able to write on a project if I didn’t care for the subject. If I can’t manage empathy for at least one character, how will I get the reader to do so? I need to write as a form of therapy and catharsis.
  

Q: As part of WiHM (Women in Horror Month) can you point to any female authors in the horror world that stand out to you? Who are your favorite female authors in general and why? 


A: I always liked Melanie Tem, her work being studies in both controlled and free emotion (at least to my repressed obsessions). Lucy Taylor also, facile in her use of degradation that has somehow morphed into great beauty when we were sidetracked by the plot.


Q: What does the future hold for fans of your work? Are you working on anything new that you would like to share with the readers?


A: I have plans for two novels if I can manage to use my hands long enough and make my notes legible. My collection, ‘The Myth of Falling’ is due out any day now.

Cover art by Nick Gucker - http://www.nickthehat.com


It has been an honor to interview you for WiHM. Thank you and I wish you all the best for your forthcoming ventures.



Free Reads from Charlee Jacob
Download a free PDF of the short story "Flesh of Leaves, Bones of Desire," click here.
Download a free PDF of the poem "Why the Journey's Far," click here.

Buy Charlee's Books

STILL
Released in Lmtd. HC (100) and TPB (300), Necro 2008
DARK MOODS
Released in TPB, Wilder 2008
DREAD IN THE BEAST
Released in Lmtd. HC (100) and TPB (300), Necro 2005
Reprinted in TPB, Necro 2008
Released in eBook, Necro 2011
VESTAL
Released in Lmtd. HC (250), Delirium 2005
Released in eBook, Darkside Digital 2011
WORMWOOD NIGHTS (Novella)
Released in Lmtd. HC (52) Chapbook (300), Bloodletting Press 2005
SOMA
(Expanded version of HAUNTER)
Released in Lmtd. leatherbound HC (15) and Lmtd. HC (150), Delirium 2004



HAUNTER
Released in mass market PB, Leisure 2003
THIS SYMBIOTIC FASCINATION
Released in Lmtd. HC (100) and TPB (300), Necro 1997
Released in mass market PB, Leisure 2002




S H O R T S T O R Y C O L L E C T I O N S
THE INDIGO PEOPLE
Released in TPB, Wilder 2007
GEEK POEMS
Released in Lmtd. TPB (300), Necro 2006
GUISES
Released in Lmtd. leatherbound HC (15), Lmtd. HC (150) and TPB (500), Delirium 2002
Released in eBook, Darkside Digital 2011
SKINS OF YOUTH
with Mehitobel Wilson
Released in Chapbook (300) and Lmtd. HC (52), Necro 2002
UP, OUT OF CITIES THAT BLOW HOT AND COLD
Released in Lmtd. leatherbound HC (20) Ltmd. HC (300/abt. 200 printed), Delirium 2000
TPB edition, Delirium 2003
Released in eBook, Darkside Digital 2011
DREAD IN THE BEAST (Collection)
Released in Lmtd. HC (52) and TPB (300), Necro 1998






P O E T R Y C O L L E C T I O N S
HERESY
Released in TPB, Necro 2007
SINEATER
Released in TPB, Cyberpulp 2005
THE DESERT
Released in TPB, Dark Regions Press 2004
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