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


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.


Horror Writers Association,

International Thriller Writers Association.

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

Some of Tim's titles:


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

New Poetry Collection - Corpus Delicti: Selected Poetry

I have nearly completed my next collection of poetry to be (hopefully) published by James Ward Kirk Fiction sometime soon. The title I have chosen is Corpus Delicti: Selected Poetry. Over 150 poems and with an amazing Tais Teng cover thanks to Mr Teng himself via James Ward Kirk. Good people.

Anyway, I'll share the cover as soon as it's finalized. Stay tuned.

P.S. Here's some poetry that is included in the collection:


some say it takes a lot of things
to break you down
but when it is given from above
one time – without justification
is all it takes to break
your world
when above
is where you only look

& more times
are sure to follow
as the hunter stalks prey
& this one time
            is all it takes
            to allow more of the same

the chocks beneath the wheels
have been removed
have disappeared, like so much dust
to set in motion
this caboose of pain
careening down your life
a drunken master steering

these are the cards
we’re dealt
objectively, almost

like so much propagation
in a petrii dish of sorts
a la bacterium
this roll of the dice.

Observations in a den of inequity

went to the casino the other night
sitting there

pumping coins into a whore
of a machine
& she wasn’t giving me anything
in return

in this Mickey-mouse
neon tragedy
with all its banal bells & whistles
I looked around
at the dead flowers
being ground, into the putrid colours
of the casino carpet

& everyone looks like they’re going down
on this sinking ship
& everyone looks like me
Christ! even forty years

Hungry for Oblivion

the neighbours are at it again
i can hear their screams & grunts
& thuds & things
i just want to scream
but i don’t

i just lay in bed with blood
pumping through my temples
plotting violent means
for violent solutions

i concentrate on a dog barking
a little further up the street
“just go back to sleep,” she says to me
i roll over and dream of a river of cold beer
just before i dive in
my mouth salivating
erect as a pigeon with rigor mortis
hungry for oblivion

just before i dive in
the fucking siren hits the end of the street
& pretty soon
the slap of feet on pavement running
wading thru my river
radios crackling
thuds & thumps arrest the echo of the previous

& i know that they had just gone back to bed
sore & bruised but nonetheless exhausted
& resolved to sleep
just as i had been
yet somehow there is cold comfort
in this new noise of violence
relief i guess
that i’m not on the end of it
& it’s us grumbling in the dark
about those fucking neighbours
i try dreaming of something stronger
maybe a river of whisky this time

Past Midnight

past midnight
tired as hell
eyes cracked/crapped
blood bulbs/egg shells
& the fingers click
on the keyboard, arthritic
& it’s medicinal heaven – eyes zoom in
eyes zoom out
u tripping
or just flippin’ me the bird?
yeah, me the bird
& i’m flying home to you
that’s right
if your looks could kill
i’d be cut up
mutha . . . .

o, never mind then
just go.

you better call the shots
see the arrows             for
where they lay & cast your gaze
‘cross that beautiful smile
in the mirror
of my heart

& then he wakes up

from his vaselined dream
& his bed’s still single
& he’s still stoned
thinking about that other one
you know the one
the  brunette one that lives
down memory lane
at number 2
it’s a split life
so just obey
the hunger of your heart
dear one.

Evil Speaks

evil speaks to me
like a mother fucker
spitting words into my ear
like a dirty punk
hell-bent on scalping me
of my last twenty dollars
for nothing
i couldn’t give myself
like a cop with an attitude
hell-bent on half measures
& beating the difference
out of some poor sap

violence with words
stabbed me to near death

i’m speaking good stuff
but i ain’t listening
and you keep talking, evil
i can smell your breath on my neck
as you molest me again
i can feel your sweet fluid
drowning my lungs
with your malt whisky love

i listen to your music
& it ain’t mine
but the beat goes on
& glasses clink & clank together
in this slow motion murder show
played out before my tired eyes
it reminds me of a dark night under a damp jetty
the cold ocean
lapping at my soaked shoes
dead again to the world
survived again
another night alive again
evil speaking
clichés & come ons
into the dawn

In the meantime, want some more poetry?

 Poetry, Death Quartet, Moment of Freedom, Temper of the Tide, Corpus Delicti, Tais Teng, James Ward Kirk,

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