Horror Factor - Horror Writing Tips for Writing Horror Fiction

Writing Index Home Article Index Horror Writing Courses Info For Writers Writer's Resources Horror Links Getting Published Horror E-Publishers Horror Print Publishers Market Listings Horror Anthology Markets Horror Short Story Markets Horror Writing Contests Horror Writer's Store Horror BookStore Horror Writer's Store Horror Toy Store Fiction Factor Office Site Map Advertise With Us Contact Us Visit Our Parent Site, Fiction Factor No Bones About It: How to Write Today's Horror Part III: What Today's Readers Don't Want by David Taylor An important part of writing successfully in any genre is learning what not to do. Unfortunately, the path to publication is not straight and narrow, nor without blind alleys and sloughs of despair. To avoid the pitfalls one must discover not only what a good horror story is, but also what one isn't. Just as these students were unanimous in what they wanted most from a horror story (fast-paced suspense), they were equally adamant about what ruins their fun: anything that smacks of a "literary" treatment and slows down the pace. Eighty-one percent made comments like:

"Please don't tell me he's good literature. bore upon bore!" One student opined simply: "Literary horror yuck!" On the surface. Too much of a good thing blurs the boundary between the horror story (a literature of fear and the fantastic) and the mainstream literary story (a literature of character and theme) which they've come to associate with school. Failure to avoid those extremes was the pitfall most frequently cited by these students." "I don't like stories that go into so much detail about everything that I lose the plot and my head spins by the time I'm through reading. balancing between predictability and obscurity. students have had to analyze. suspense and extremes gives back to literature what schools have managed to strip away: its pleasure. saying again and again: "I don't like authors who give away too much too soon. For these students."Can't stand long. Eighty-eight percent complained about predictability. As one student begged when we were about to discuss Stephen King for the first time." Sadly. description upon description. realistic characters and settings are important props in the entertainment. But these students are actually displaying a solid understanding of this genre and its uniqueness: As readers of horror. drawn-out stories which overkill with background and details about characters and about life makes for tiresome reading. wherein the writer tries to stay always one step ahead. "lit-ra-ture" for many young readers has become associated solely with the stories of mainstream realism chosen by authority figures for textbooks. horror with its emphasis on plot. I like him too much. doling out just enough information to keep the story intriguing and coherent yet the reader still guessing and in suspense. Several students wrote: "An obvious ending ruins the whole story." "Detail upon detail. fun." Their comments here also reaffirm the importance of the ending in this genre. those elements must be kept secondary. entertainment. For years. telling neither too much nor too little. take tests on and regurgitate teachers' interpretations of these stories a useless and demeaning experience at best. they expect to be entertained by a suspenseful tale of dark fantasy. The Guessing Game A lot of the fun in this genre comes from the important game that goes on between writer and reader." One student made an impassioned plea to writers: . such comments seem to contradict the need for finely-drawn characters and setting. Their comments imply that while theme. The horror writer must walk a tightrope.

who once said: "In the worst horror fiction. "A horror story that loses me is boring. suggest that explicitness contains its own antidote: boredom." was also serving notice about his tolerance for literary innovation. Sixty-nine percent objected to "stories where everything is a confused jumble of events. their skepticism on hold. The fact that only the English majors in the class enjoyed those stories further underscores the expectations of the majority: A story that is entertaining does not make unusual. They would agree with Ramsey Campbell. The student who wrote." "Blood and guts shouldn't be used unnecessarily. Be a Believer These readers also strongly objected to what they called "unbelievable" writing: setting. style. characters. some writers don't understand this. Their reaction is a typical one. but it won't necessarily do well in the bookstore."To all horror authors: please don't give away the ending before I get there. I can't very well enjoy it.to twenty-year-olds. A majority flatly rejected gratuitous acts of sex and violence. products of the sexual revolution. Experimentation may be important for an artist's and a genre's growth. One Man's Meat These students were traditional in another way." Their typical reaction was not one that bodes well for repeat sales: "Too much confusion in a story and I just give up. "literary" demands on its readers. author of The Influence. violence is a substitute for imagination and just about everything else one might look for in fiction. If I can't understand it." I should add that Moravian College is church-afffliated in name only. They wrote: . and it helps answer a question posed by many social critics and parents about how far explicitness can go in the media: Where will it end? What's the stopping point? These eighteen. or story logic that failed to keep them immersed in the tale. thesi are typical students from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds." Campbell was drawing the same distinction between sensationalism and the legitimate use of violence as my students did: "Stories that have no justification for their violence bore me." Some of these comments arose from our reading of several experimental stories in which authors challenged the reader by violating one or more traditional rules of narrative and attempting to let the form of the story mirror a character's confused mental state or be a comment on the illusory nature of reality. It makes me want my money back!" These students also grew impatient with authors who withheld too much information and left readers baffled about what really happened." "What ruins a story for me? Too much purposeless blood and gore.

there is a keen demand for raw imaginative power and an unorthodox daring-do of mind that can take writer and reader where others fear to tread. To quote another grand pere of the modern horror story: "Pound for pound. the twist or payoff must be new. so realistically that the reader achieves a "willing suspension of disbelief" in the face of the patently unreal. the plotting finesse of the mystery writer. If the theme is old. characters and esp." These readers demanded that "a plot should not seem even remotely familiar. but what truly excites these students' lust for story is . the observational skills of the mainstream realist." Like Bloch. Saul Bellow." "I have to be able to believe in the setting. The students were laying down an important caveat for aspiring horror writers: In a genre which attempts to entertain with suspense and dark fantasy." My students couldn't agree more. . Getting fresh Robert Bloch. Fantasy and Science Fiction that: " . Anne Tyler."The horror has to be made believable. even if their teachers don't. writing believably means more than just capturing everyday reality. it must have a new twist." Their comments touch on one of the paradoxes and challenges of dark fantasy: An author must write so convincingly. in order for a writer to do his or her best. Contemporary horror fiction taps an excitement for reading in them that is almost always absent from a classroom dominated by the classics and the modern darlings of English Departments. Most English professors. fantasy makes a tougher opponent for the creative person." Richard Matheson Horror fans know that. If not. . and John Fowles are fine writers. the monsters etc. It's the End Young readers have a genuine enthusiasm for this literature. and then to move the reader beyond it into the realm of the fantastic while maintaining his belief in something that just isn't so." and that "if the supernatural is used. the students seemed to recognize that each genre places a premium on different writing talents: the extrapolative powers of the SF author. then the story has nothing for me. he must incorporate originality. It means using the same qualities of prose found in the best mainstream writing to set up a quotidian reality. would have a difficult time understanding the pitfall that these students are pointing out. a prime ingredient for success. whose Psycho staked out fresh territory for the psychological horror story. remarked in his introduction to How to Write Tales of Horror. whose primary focus is the "slice of life" moralistic tale. They derided "stories that seem to be carbon copies of others. Horror fans know that. in this genre.

Although no formula can guarantee writing success.com Visit Our Horror ToyStore | Home | Articles | Horror Book Store | Horror Links | . All Rights Reserved. and a guide to nonfiction writing. especially in characterization. They demand quality writing." In the end. Both are available at http://www. His 1990 short story "Lessons in Wildlife" earned an honorable mention in that year's "Best Horror. While they can appreciate the graphic detail and daring assaults of extreme horror. today's readers still want genuine characters inside a vividly written story based on a fresh and frightening premise. that one is a good place to start. although the surface features of the horror tale have changed to reflect the times. and in magazines like Cemetery Dance. Sci-Fi Channel Magazine and Gorezone.com Sponsors Recommended Buy Through Amazon.peakwriting. Pulphouse and Scare Care. Science Fiction and Fantasy" awards. David's latest works are a collection of short stories. These readers have also a clear set of their own standards. and the supernatural" as did those who said. An equal number of students wrote "A good horror story blends reality. One of the more hotly contested questions among critics whether horror should be psychologically or supernaturally based doesn't seem important to them. fantasy. Their response to horror fiction reaffirms the force that literature can have in young lives when teachers allow it. David Taylor's horror and dark suspense fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Masques. Hell is for Children. It speaks to them in a way that Silas Marner does not. pulled together by a suspenseful plot that keeps them turning the pages rapidly. Copyright © by David Taylor. "I like stories that can really happen because they scare me the most. they still insist certain boundaries be observed. The Freelance Success Book. Author and coauthor of five horror novels.horror.

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