It’s been a while since I last posted, and much has happened in that time. I’m currently writing my thesis for my MA in Literature and Creative Writing. It’s a collection of short stories that will be accompanied by a critical essay, and in this essay I have to explore why I write what I write. The questions I’m thinking about now, and I’d love to hear people’s answers to, are why do we write horror? Why not tell the same story in another genre? Or can horror stories be told in any other genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
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Here are some prompts to get that creative blood pumping through your writing veins:
- Pick your least favorite book from your collection, use the first line of this book to start your own story in a the horror genre.
- What color is the room you are sitting painted? What color could it be underneath that first layer and what could be hidden under all that paint?
- Think of someone who has the same first name as you. It can be your friend, neighbor, colleague or even a celebrity, as long as you know a little something about them. Write a story in which that person is in the top wanted list for committing a crime.
- Where did that pen that you lost go?
- Parting is such sweet sorrow. Or is it? When would you be happy to see someone leave and how far would you go to make it happen?
Go on, have fun with these! Let your imagination run wild (and don’t forget to let it tilt towards the dark side…).
Stephen King is synonymous with horror. There are few authors who can compare when it comes to his skill, number of books written and number of books sold. So why do I love Stephen King? Here are five reasons:
(1) He spooked an entire generation
When King write ‘IT’, I wonder if he knew that he would kill a whole generation’s love of clowns. I know few people who don’t have that infamous creature’s image come to mind when they think of clowns, and even less who can suppress a shiver when you talk about that film. The new generation feels little for IT, but for those of us who watched it when we were young, we’ll never be the same…
Carrie White embodies the feelings of all teenagers. She was a victim, an outcast and a character who we couldn’t help but identify with. Having to face the overbearing parent, the unsympathetic school teachers and the vicious class mates every day are something that we have all gone through. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to have had her powers at that age? To have been able to have inflicted revenge on those horrendous creatures that are known as teenagers? As much as we tell ourselves that we would have had more control over her powers than she did, we know deep inside that ultimately anyone in that situation would go down in flames.
The power of Carrie is in that while King makes us sympathize with her, he also makes us realize that we would have jumped on that tampon throwing, pig blood dousing bandwagon rather than defend her. We loved Carrie because we hated her.
(2) The Moving Finger
I first read ‘The Moving Finger’ when I was about twelve and it has been the only story I have read that I was too scared to finish. Finally, after 14 years I’m admitting that that short story scared me. Yet I went back for more and finished it. So how did that gem manage to freak me out? Because the characters and setting were so commonplace and the finger was so bizarre. Yet possible!
I still pick up the story once in a while and read it, hoping to find a glimpse of that horror from years ago, but I never find do it. I chuckle when i think that it could have scared me, because really, it shouldn’t have. No story has scared me since, yet I find myself hoping that every new book I read will have something of that essence, of that primal inexplicable fear, that special something that makes me glad I have a hair trap in my sink. But I’ve never found it, and King will forever be the first (and only) author who scared me.
(3) Everyday objects
Chattery teeth, a toy monkey, cars, fridges and don’t forget the Hadley-Watson Model-6 Speed Ironer and Folder. Each of these objects became something sinister, something other than what they were, and while it seems pretty lame in hindsight, when you’re reading them they draw you in. Hi subtle yet powerful characters are confronted with the bizarre, and I find myself thinking what I would do in that situation. The odds are I’d end up as the characters did…
(4) The Jaunt
One of the few stories that I’ve read and could actually hear a characters voice ringing in my head long after I put it down. The Jaunt is a little long winded but worth it. The sheer horror smacks you in the face after listening to the father tell his calming tale before the jaunt. You almost find yourself expecting to blink and wake up on Mars, only hear the commotion and see the… well… you’ll have to read it for yourself. After all, it’s longer than you think… right?
(5) He made me cry
While it wasn’t the gut wrenching full waterworks, a tear or two did fall at the end of the book Cujo. If you’ve seen the film, read the book instead. While I the horror genre doesn’t have a lot of happy endings, it doesn’t have a lot of tear jerkers either. Cujo is about more than just a dog, and when you finish that last page you can’t help but feel sad.
If you’re a King fan, you’ll have noticed that these references all come from early on in his career. I love King’s writing and continue to be a faithful reader, but my dedication to him has wavered somewhat over the years (round about the time The Dark Tower series came out). In my opinion, his best work came in the form of his early short stories, where his work was still filled with raw emotion and wrote for the effect – for the horror – no matter what people had to say.
If you want to write poetry, you need to read it. The good and the bad!
When reading poetry your mind instinctively judges the poems. This doesn’t mean that it is or isn’t worth reading for everyone, but for you it’s important to listen to your instincts. By reading a variety of poetry you will be able to see what works for you, but the key is to figure out why you think it’s a good poem.
You don’t need to do a line by line analysis to work out why you like a poem. Here are some of the aspects of a poem to look at when reading, and some questions to ask yourself:
A theme is underlying idea in the poem, it is the main message that the poet is trying to get across. Ask yourself what the meaning of the poem is as a whole, and then look at each stanza and see if they say similar things or something else entirely. Why does or doesn’t this theme appeal to you?
What emotions do you feel when reading this poem? Does it make you smile, or make you sad or are you left feeling indifferent? It doesn’t matter what you feel, only that it makes you feel something at all. A poem that leaves you feeling not much of anything hasn’t appealed to you, and you should ask yourself why this is.
Who is the speaker in the poem? Who is talking? Is it the poet or is it a character they have created? Is there more than one person speaking? As in a narrative, the author chooses a point of view to tell the story from. Ask yourself if the message in the poem would be different if told from another point of view, and if the poem would be better or worse for you if another character narrated it.
Rhythm and flow:
How does the poem sound if you read it aloud? Do the words flow together like a gentle tide lapping at the shore, or are they forceful and jagged like waves crashing against a cliff? Rhyme, punctuation and spacing can add to flow of a poem, but the individual word choice is the biggest factor. Why did the poet choose those specific words? Would you have chosen other words with the same meaning but a different sound?
What images are created by the poet? Are they linked to the feel and theme of the poem, or do they seem to contradict them? Poets choose their imagery as they do their words: with a specific intention. Do you add imagery into your poem because it ‘looks’ nice, or do use it to enhance to change the meaning of the words?
How could you improve the poem?
Take a few moments to pinpoint the ‘flaws’ in the poem. How would you improve on them and why? Are they flaws for the poem itself, or just for you?
By looking at these aspects of a poem you will discover what you like in poetry. If it works for you when reading the poem, it should work for you when writing it. Pay attention to the finer details of the work, and see if you can achieve the same effect in your own work. If you start reading a poem and it turns out that you don’t like it, then finish reading and ask yourself why. Knowing why the good is good should include knowing why the bad is bad.
Understanding what makes a good poem will help you to write one, but don’t only rely on what others tell you, let yourself discover it on your own.
Think of writing horror as being a magician. You don’t want to reveal all your tricks at the start of the show and then have the crowd walk out halfway through. You also don’t want the opposite to happen – bore the reader while you delay your climax so that they drop the book before the action starts.
Timing and pacing are different. Pacing involves varying the tempo and setting your reader on a ride much like a roller-coaster, with ups and downs, twists and turns. You can use each little event to create a knock-on effect where the tension multiplies and grows until your reader is sitting on the edge of their seat with anticipation of what’s to come.
You need to start off with simple tricks that grow in complexity until your climax. Think of each scene in your short story or chapter in your novel as a different trick in a magic show which add up to creat the whole performance. Imagine yourself on stage and how the audience responds to your actions. Do you need half-naked girls and giant bursts of flame to make the show look good, or will the audience be amazed by the act without the setup?
Keep impressing the reader with your illusions and sleight of hand. Make each trick more difficult than the next until you reach the show stopping climax. But remember to save one or two tricks for the dénouement. Dont let your story fizzle out after the bang, throw in a twist that will leave your reader questioning what they see around them and sleeping with the light on.
Timing is knowing when to have the boogeyman jump out of the closet. You use pacing to build suspense but having your crazed cannibals eat the brave explorers too soon will negate the tension that you’ve worked so hard building. Spending too much time setting up a scene can leave your readers time to predict what will happen or to lose interest in the scene. Just how long can you have the crazed serial killer stalking the protagonist from room to room in the abandoned hotel before it loses its impact?
The question of timing comes down to skill. As a writer, you will have to assess how much (or little) you need to set up your scene before the climax. This comes with practice and requires a certain skill – much like a magician who plans her act before the performance. Don’t be afraid to use misdirection and illusions, all great tricks use these, there is no real magic behind it.
So go on, give your work some thought and put on a show that entices, amazes and terrifies your reader!