Writing Craft Lessons: Writing Horror
This is the text and an example story from a horror writing class taught by me. If you write something inspired by this, please come back and drop me some links. Questions? Ask away.
What Can Horror Be?
In terms of fiction I believe horror encompasses a wide swath of things. Gore, splatter, extreme, the bizarre, etc etc. We can put every label on it but at the core what is it?
Horror is what crawls into our brains and stays there. It’s upsetting in ways that range from mild discomfort to being scarred for life. Horror is the mysterious and uncomfortable other.
Who Can Write Horror?
You can. Everybody can if they want to.
How do I get Started?
My personal method of starting a story can be distilled into one thing-
I am really nosy. I am always wondering, what if? Let yourself go wild. One of the problems I know writers all go through when exploring new territory is that moment where you tell yourself, okay no this is stupid. What’s wrong with me?
One of the most wonderful things about horror both as a fan and as a creator is that, we can do what we want.
You are really only limited by what you allow yourself.
How about some prompts/exercises:
For our purposes I’m going to give a few prompts and you pick the one that tickles your fancy.
#1- Let’s start easy. Add to this-
When the lights finally went out, I took a deep breath and held it in the short perfect silence. When I took my next breath I was ready-
#2- The scenario. Flesh out what is going on, post apocalypse, zombie outbreak, full moon-go for it!
Three days after (insert event here) this is the aftermath.
#3- Get in the body. Bring the reader close.
For this exercise we’re going to explore fear as it happens in bodies.
Write a few paragraphs that focus on how fear is happening in a characters body. How does it progress? Where do they feel it? Dig deep for this, go beyond goosebumps and let’s practice bringing the reader into the body of this character.
#4- Pull inspiration from your day to day life.
For this exercise, we’re going to think about stuff we see daily. Maybe you see a particular car or a funny looking tree. Take that everyday thing and turn it sinister. Try using it as a device to open a portal to another world, maybe the thing is a living being that is plotting to eat you. Try using this as a jumping off point to explore creating a myth or a monster.
A Few Tips for Inspiration at Home:
Let’s talk about some ways to jump start a story or help us get unstuck.
Use your favorites and create something new. Try taking a subject you like: vampires, werewolves, Lovecraft, apocalypse horror-whatever serves and create a new myth. I’ve included a flash horror story where I’ve taken a Lovecraft created bit of mythos and redone it as an example.
Read everything. Not just horror, read classical myths, literary fiction, essays-everything. The more you read the better a writer you will be.
Don’t be afraid to write something terrible. Not every word is golden and some stuff is just not going to good and that’s awesome. Writing isn’t magic, it is hard work and working at it makes you a better writer.
Be nosy. Tuck away bits of what could be useless information to use as inspiration later on. I’m a big fan of weird news stories, odd quotes, funny looking flowers. Keep a folder of bookmarks in your browser for inspiration or save photos in a special folder. We have a limitless amount of inspiration to go around, don’t be afraid to use it.
Some Resources to Check out:
For some practice and friendly writing competition, check out the Yeah Write Challenges weekly. All you need is a blog and some time to write. This is a great community and an amazing way to practice your skills. http://yeahwrite.me/
One of my favorite horror/dark writers Michael Arnzen has prompts he calls Instigations. I have his full book of them and refer to it to give me ideas. You can check those out on the Mastication Publications website: http://masticationpublications.com/blog/
For some resources on writing horror, the industry and things of that nature check out http://horror.org/.
If you are interested in going deep into horror literature, the Thinking Horror journal is amazing. https://thinkinghorrorjournal.wordpress.com/
Example story-Id, Raddow and Freud Was On To Something.
The worst things in The World come from the dreams of children between the ages of two and four. The minds of children at that age are the ripest fruits of terrible creation.
For every elegant Sidus there is a rampant amorphous horror that slides and gibbers and squeals. Things that crawl and move in ways that the adult mind must reject, must believe cannot be real.
They say that all humans are born Generists. As we are born blank slates, ready to be imprinted with civility and humanity, we are born engines of fear. Like many things most humans grow out of it, as they age their wavelengths alter and their nightmares no longer build and create The World. There is a theory among the Professori and other academic or research minded individuals that revolves around the idea that between 2 and 4 our brains are at the perfect moment, we are conscious but not yet at the age of reason. We dream but cannot yet reconcile those as simply bad dreams.
As toddlers we are all the Id unleashed and unchained. Our language is not yet sophisticated enough to do the dreamwork necessary to banish these dreams or shed light on them enough to render the inert. Freud knew:
We assume that mental life is the function of an apparatus to which we ascribe the characteristics of being extended in space and of being made up of several portions [Id, ego, super-ego]. — Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis
A Father sits bolt upright in bed and leaps from the comfort of his blankets into the chill night air. His partner sleeps and their child wails in his room. The sound is high, sharp and full of primitive panic. Without care that he is barefoot and shirtless the Father runs into the small bedroom, he expects blood or an intruder but there is only the child. The child sits up, clutching blankets and screaming the way only small children can.
“Shh, shh Daddy’s here. Daddy’s here, it’s okay, come on, it’s okay don’t cry.”
Wrapped in big strong Daddy arms the child stops screaming and whimpers.
“Daddy? Daddy, don’t want the raddow, raddow Daddy don’t want it.”
The Father frowns, rocking with the child tucked against his chest.
“Shh, it was just a bad dream. Just a bad dream, Daddy’s here.”
The sweating child mutters about raddow and something that says, “thlissss mykid” or something. He doesn’t know. He does what his Father did for him when he had bad dreams. He climbs into the narrow little bed and tucks a stuffed bear against the child and then the child against his chest.
“Hush little baby, don’t say a word-“
The Father closes his eyes, he is so tired. The nightmares have been every night this week. The child watches the darkness with glassy eyes. Daddy falls asleep still singing and the child watches the thing slink out from the shadow of branch on the wall. The child knows, the child hears the chitinous whisper,
“thlisss, my kid. See my kiddie, kiddie.”
The child sees the one luminous eye bright with malice and intent.
There is no more screaming, Daddy is here and the child can’t stay awake any longer. Sleep settles and the thing, the raddow is made and slips out of the world with a whisper and a promise. The child will forget, the father will forget and someday a Warrior or Beholder will happen upon the Raddow and as it whispers to them, all they will think what we all think when we know the thing we fight has come from the mind of a child.
“I hate kids.”
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Wanna read more of my horror work? Check out my tiny flash collection available for Kindle now.