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 Category:  General Non-Fiction
  Posted: September 4, 2021      Views: 100

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Giraffmang is a Northern Irish writer who likes to blur the boundaries between genres.

He has achieved an honourable mention in the L.Ron Hubbard 'Writers of the Future' competition in 2015, 2019 and again in 2022. In 2016, he - more...

He is a top ranked author at the #5 position.

The Seal of Quality committee has rewarded him with 7 seals. He is also an active reviewer and is holding the #56 spot on the top ranked reviewer list.

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This work has reached the exceptional level
easier said than done
"The Horror..." by giraffmang

There has been an increase on the site recently of small ‘horror’ pieces coming to the fore. This is a good thing, but it is worth bearing in mind how complex horror writing is. It’s not just subject matter or context. There are many elements involved in creating a good horror story.

Dean Kuch was this site’s premier horror writer before his passing away a couple of years ago. He was a great source of inspiration and gave me great advice whilst an active member. We chatted a fair bit about horror as a genre and what it takes to write good horror. Writers of horror have oft been derided and looked down upon in literary circles. However, writing horror is a very skilful endeavour, if not relying on cliches and cheap tricks to achieve the goals.

The Oxford English dictionary gives the following definition of horror:
  • an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.
Furthermore, it is derived from the Latin word ‘horrere’ which means to shudder or tremble.

Therefore, the simple aim of any book / story pertaining to horror is to make the reader shudder or tremble from a mixture of fear, shock and/or disgust
But… how exactly does one go about this task?

True horror is a feeling, emotion, or reaction, not necessarily a genre in and of itself. We can all write about ghosts, spirits, haunted houses, the undead, vampires and so on but if you do not have the elements of fear, shock, or disgust these simply become other tales. A haunted house story, a ghost story… but not horror. It’s an easy mistake to make. It comes down to the telling, the language, the atmosphere the writer creates. It’s an essence and a style, not just a setting or subject matter.

The writer needs to have a very specific skill set. They need to explore the wicked and malevolent phenomena, deeds, and character. The writing must produce feelings of horror, giving a sense that things are not all they at first appear. Revel in the mystery of it all, in the unknown and play on the moods and emotions of the readers. Above all, shock and scare the reader, make the plot twist and unbalance, and unsettle the reader.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? So how does the writer achieve this?

This is probably the most key element to achieving your goals as a horror writer. If you use cliches and set elements of “horror stories” but write it like a MR MEN book, or, heaven forbid, Harry Potter, it’s going to miss the mark.

“Then Mr Happy opened the pantry door. Oh dear! Standing before him was a white shape resembling a pristine tablecloth. A large grin spread across what may have been its face. ‘Boo!’ shouted the apparition. ‘Well I never!’ exclaimed Mr Happy and ran from the room.”
“Harper’s eyes grew wide as the noises from behind the pantry door increased. Please let it be mice. She inched forward, the candle she carried flickered and finally went out. Cold sweat coursed down her back. Be strong… only mice. She reached out a trembling hand and grasped the brass doorknob. The noises stopped. She started to turn the doorknob, grasping it tighter to compensate for her sweaty palm. The door violently rattled in the frame causing her to flinch away, dropping the candle. The wood cracked and splintered. Harper scuttled backwards across the cobbled floor as far as she could and curled against the far wall, terrified but unable to look away…”

Tone, mood and atmosphere are what puts the readers on edge long before the characters start making the predictable bad decisions.

This can manifest itself in all or some areas of the write: in the depictions of the settings, actions, and movements throughout the story. Word choice is crucial with dark and scary being the order of the day. Everything and anything, animate or inanimate can hold a dark secret or threat.

It is important that the antagonist has the motivation for their deeds. It is possibly even more crucial for this to be the case than that of the protagonist. Nothing stops a reader short quicker than a page-thin villain. Evil for its own sake is unappealing. Very little exists within a vacuum. By giving the protagonist motivation it helps to ground the story in a way that is accessible and real for the reader.

Whatever evil lies at the heart of the story, its motivations should be directly equal in magnitude to the malevolent acts it carries out. A haunted house that kills everyone who enters because it has a cluttered attic would be a tad ridiculous.

The only way no motivation works is if the antagonist is evil itself or the personification of such, but the writing needs to be good to pull this off.

Tragedy can be a of great benefit for the horror writer and is at the core of many a terrible tale. It means there are emotions already at play within the characters which the writer can then exploit for the purposes of horror. The tragedy can stem from anything – fundamental flaws in character, bad choices, circumstances, life…

A character suffering some form if tragedy is more easily relatable to the reader and the reader will want to root for them even before the proverbial poo-poo hits the fan!

The danger with using tragedy is that I can quickly step into cliché or parody. How often does the character in a horror tale make a wrong decision that leaves the reader slapping their own foreheads?

However, the flip side of this for the reader is we can see it coming and often we get concerned or scared on the character’s behalf - if the writer has done their job well.

Common fears
Tap into common fears. It is highly likely that the readers will be of human origin so use this fact! There are numerous lists on the internet (a personal fear in and of itself) about phobias and fears. Use them in unusual ways or the writer can tap into their own fears about certain things to better enhance the write.

Horror, not terror
There’s a line between horror and fear and a writer should be aware of it. Terror is extreme fear. Horror is fear. There is an element of intimidation involved with terror. Whilst horror does seek to shock and surprise, it’s in the creation of mood over graphic depiction that can win out the horror without resorting to baser depictions which stray into terror territory.

Okay, this is a no-brainer. It’s the same for every type of writing imaginable. If a writer wants to know how to do something, they need to do the research. There really is no substitute. Horror covers so many different things. When you know what kind of tale you want to spin, find the best and read their work but do it objectively, not as a fan. Note what works well. Note how they achieve their mood and evoke feelings.

In conclusion, mastering all types of writing takes time and practice. The art of horror is no different. Play around with tone and mood, sketch your characters (flaws and all intrinsic tragedy aspects), word choice and so on. Write out a scary scenario and play around with the aforementioned components.

And remember to keep the lights on…



Author Notes
If you want to see some excellent horror writing, especially flash horror (which is a particularly difficult endeavour) I would urge you to check out Dean Kuch's portfolio. It is still active due to his eternal flame option being activated. He has an extensive library there.
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