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Friday Fiction: The Playground


The four fundamental elements I spoke about in Genre Writing: Horror Fundamentals are: Atmosphere. Fear Factor. Character Flaw. Plot Twist.

The sunlit jungle gyms and slides were half obscured by uniformed, screaming children. They scampered about like mice, eyes alive, front teeth missing, dirt and dust over their shorts and skirts and shirts and knee length socks. One of them, on his way down the scorching, silver pole leading to the graveled floor, looked across the playground. Three of the fourth graders were leading a second grader towards Big School. They weren’t allowed there during school hours. Not at all.

He slid down quickly and started to follow,

“Where you going Ted?” Leena asked. Ted shot her a dark look, index finger rising to his lips,

“I’m coming now.” Ted whispered, turning to see the other kids slip through the side gate.

Ted ran as quickly and quietly as he could. Were they trying to get the second grader in trouble, his mind asked. Was the kid in trouble? Why was he following them at all?

As he peeked around the corner, he felt the hairs on the nape of his neck rise. They weren’t going to the Big School after all. They were heading to the disused toilets in the back corner of the old classrooms. A bricked wall separated the two halves of the school, which had cut off the toilets from being seen. Since no one used it, there were no lights inside, and to enter you had to walk through a small corridor. All in total darkness.

Ted shivered.

Sometimes, he and his friends would dare each other to run past. Once he’d dared his friend Johnny to knock on the door. Johnny did. A moment later he’d ran out crying, claiming he’d seen massive red eyes staring at him. They never did go back.

Ted wouldn’t have followed these kids today. Not since that day with Johnny. In fact, not ever. But what if the kid was going to get fed to that red-eyed thing Johnny saw. What if the fourth graders didn’t know? What if they did know?

He thought about calling a teacher but it was already too late. They were approaching the corridor and he could hear the older boy’s snicker. The other kid was crying. But what could he really do? He didn’t know but when all the kids stepped into the corridor, Ted hurried after them.

The entrance was dark. Just a rectangular wall of black. Ted had never seen the sun shine on this side of the building. From inside he could hear whispers, and the younger boy’s sobbing. Someone told him to shut up or they’d leave him inside. Then it went eerily quiet. As though all sound had been cut off from inside.

Ted waited at edge of the corridor, leaning in to hear better. He thought he could hear shuffling. Or maybe mumbling. He wasn’t sure.

Then someone screamed and all the blood drained from his veins and filled up with liquid ice. He stood frozen. Another scream jerked him backwards against the wall. He couldn’t see or feel the shivers that took over his body. He stared at the darkness and he felt it stare back at him.

Then two red eyes blinked open. Ted screamed. His body came back to life and he pushed away from the wall to run. A warm hand gripped his calf. He screamed again.

“Ted! Ted!” He turned around and it was the second grader. He was okay. Ted fought to calm down but then he saw the streaks of red on the kid’s arm.

“What… what happened?”

The kid smiled, revealing more of the red on his teeth.

“Well… we won’t be having a bullying problem anymore.”

Did you pick up the four elements inside the story? What basics do you use to craft your story?

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Genre Writing: Horror Fundamentals

It was a dark and stormy night. The monster under the bed reached for my dangling arm. Little did it know, I was waiting for it instead.

And that’s how you write a horror story. Well not really, but the little piece of micro fiction above uses basic elements I include into all my horror stories. In today’s segment, I will be breaking down the story to show you how I write horror.

Remember, this isn’t the only way or the best way to write horror, it’s my method for building the foundation of a horror. Right, let’s get into it.

It’s All About Atmosphere – It was a dark and stormy night.

Atmosphere is such an important aspect of horror. It creates the mood of the story and helps put the reader’s frame of mind into the right state. Subconsciously, the reader knows the story is going to be dark. You see it on TV and in movies. The Blacklist is my favourite TV series. It has a dark grungy tinge to it compared to NCIS Los Angeles where everything looks hued in gold (ugh). If you watch horror films, you’ll notice that there’s a dark tinge to everything, even during the day.

Which is why the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night.” became so popular in writing. People knew immediately that what was to follow wouldn’t be good. Because good things never happen during stormy nights.

Vocabulary Is Important: I am a descriptive writer. I want you to have a strong image of the world, characters, mood, and world as you read. Each word I use must convey something. Whether it is unease, foreboding, anxiety, apprehension, or tension. From describing the world to describing the character. Atmosphere is my scary soundtrack playing in the background, building you up for the scare.

At night however, the park was a void surrounded by dark, silent husks, watching over the emptiness.

~Current WIP

Fear Factor: The monster under the bed.

Everyone has a fear. It could be spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, clowns, snakes and various other things. There are movies and books for each of those fears I’ve listed. The greatest fear however, is the fear of the unknown. You may not be afraid of spiders because you’ve had a pet spider and you think they are adorable. But what if the spider started acting in a way you’re not used to. Uncharacteristically. Malicious. Vicious. Dangerous. Would you be afraid then?

Then of course you have the occult and that’s a whole different set of unknown variables.

 

Create the Fear: When I write horror, I do not know what everyone’s fear is. In that case, I will either use my own fears, or find a situation that could induce fear with the right elements. Things like:

  • I’m home alone… but there’s a noise in the house.
  • I find an old journal… but it starts filling itself out.
  • I wake up… it’s the middle of the night and there’s a shadow at the foot of my bed.

Occasionally I will use real-life experiences (sleep apnea – sleep paralysis) or really creepy facts, for the basis of my horror.

Did you know that when you wake up at around 2-3AM without reason, there’s an 80% chance that someone is staring at you?

The Characters Are Flawed – …reached for my dangling arm.

Some horror writers use subtle descriptions to show a character flaw, something as mundane as hair, nails, a smile, eyes etc. These specific details become the medium to show how characters digress during the course of the story. We are shown that they are “real” people. At the same time they begin to fall into a character type. Things like artificial features create a character trope. The flawless cheerleader equals killer fodder. The grungy outcast equals the hero. The religious zealot equals crazy misunderstood sub-antagonist.

Also, when someone is in a stressful situation they may lose their sense of self, letting themselves go, lack sleep etc which may cause them to make bad decisions. Actions may also show a break in their character, like leaving an arm dangling over the edge of a bed (bad mistake) when they would have snuggled into their blankets. When someone is put into an unknown situation, they may react differently to their usual self. Fear does that. The teen getting chased who goes upstairs. The kid who tries to get over their fear by going to the basement. The character who stands to fight instead of running.

Describe Their Digression: Characters barely start off insane (unless you’re writing from the “killer’s” perspective.) I’ll start off with the character being “normal”, doing the right things and being a productive member of society. Then slowly I let the paranoia sink in. Something as routine as opening the wardrobe becomes an anxiety inducing experience. The sense of “safety” vanishes and the characters have nervous breakdowns during regular everyday occurrences. The fear becomes irrationally real. When done right, you too as the reader will feel their apprehension.

It was a door. Just a door. Wood. Golden handle. Keyhole. A door. Nothing seemed to exist past the door; not the voices from the television set in the lounge, not the incessant banging from the brat in the adjacent apartment, and not the beep of the microwave stating its completed cycle. Only the door.

~ Current WIP

The Twist – Little did it know, I was waiting for it instead.

Horror is a delve into the darker, perhaps more realistic side of humanity. The side where bad things happen to good people. Adding a twist to the story can create strong tension between the reader and the unfolding story.

Foreshadowing works wonders when creating clever, unexpected twists. For instance, there might be a monster that appears under a bed. You show a new character buying a new bed and bringing it home. At night they go to bed and they hear scratching below. The reader anticipates the monster but when the character checks under the bed, there’s nothing. As they rise back to get into bed… BOOM monster is under the sheets.

Make or Break The Cliche: Cliche’s are great because they work. The monster under/in the bed/wardrobe/basement/attic is a common component in horror. Much like the dilapidated haunted house. They work because there are a lot of unknown variables attached to them. And its dark in there.

I use cliche’s often. What I do, however, is add a twist to them just to mix things up. I direct the reader through the usual expected path, then throw in hints that imply one thing, only to reveal it to be something else. For instance, writing about a haunted house, but making the monsters inside be the victims instead. Here’s one story playing on this idea: Friday Fiction – Random Prompt

Stephen King is an example of an author who varies the stories he writes. For instance, he writes the cliched haunted house story in The Shining. On the other hand, he takes a mundane object like a car, and turns it into Christine, the car with a mind of its own.

The Beauty of Horror

While horror freaks me out, it is that very fact that makes it such a beautiful thing. That words on paper could induce as much fear and paranoia as a movie. How words can impact the mind and emotions. It’s just great.


In my next segment I’ll talk about my research. It’s quite interesting if I do say so myself and the first rule of research is… don’t get freaked out haha.

Have these points helped you out in anyway? Are there any fundamentals that you use in your writing, horror or otherwise? You got any tips of your own? I would love to know.

Genre Writing: Fundamentals

Much of what I’ve read when it comes to choosing a genre is confusing. The reason it’s confusing? Motivation.

I’ve read articles that tell you not to limit yourself to a genre – you’ll stifle your writing. Some are references to other authors who have a multi-genre story where the novels they write are not defined by a type… and shouldn’t be. These blog posts have said things like,

“The easiest choice to make is not to choose at all. By choosing to stay open to writing in any genre you are free to pursue any idea that grabs you.”

Some articles are geared towards what the audience/publisher wants or how to get published. They say things like,

“Choosing the right genre makes it easier to get your book into the hands of readers who are likely to enjoy it the most.” and “Stay current with what’s showing up in the market.”

As for me personally, I write according to what I want to write. Similar to the former point above with one exception; I gear the idea towards a genre or let the genre guide the idea. I limit myself or have free reign. The only time I have an audience or publisher in mind, is if I’m entering a competition or given specifics about what to write.

How do I Choose a Genre?

There are two contributing factors that determine what kind of story I’m going to write. They are Emotion and Idea.

Emotion

I’m a pretty emotional guy. Well maybe that’s the wrong way to put it… I am temperamental when it comes to my stories… uhhhh, okay I am affected by mood. Yes that’s it, I am affected by mood. How does that work? Well here are some examples.

  • Genre: I can write a horror story at any time. It’s my default genre. The genre then guides the idea forward into a story where I flesh out the idea but always referring to the genre. Examples are:
    • Horror: Scare the living daylights out of the reader. What are things I am afraid of? How do I set the mood to reflect fear? How do the characters deal with this fear?
    • Sci-fi: Futuristic technology at its finest. What is something on the fringe of technological possibility that tells a great story? What setting best captures this world? How do the characters react to this world?
    • Fantasy: Knights and Magic. What world suits this genre? What kind of characters can I expect? What epic adventure can the characters undertake to capture this genre?

However, depending on how I’m feeling, a genre can become multiple genres. This is how my emotions affect the genre:

  • Horror Romance: When I feel happiness or joy I am able to write something light, but my love of horror twists it into a dark tale.
  • Dark Fantasy: Excitement courses through my veins and I’m inspired by the idea of an adventure but horror twists it into something darker.

Idea

Like many creatives, I get sparks of ideas that start off with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” From there on the idea manifests itself into a genre. Examples are:

  • What if Idea: There was a girl who found a coin…
    • Horror: The coin belonged to a demonic being who slowly starts to possess her the longer she keeps it.
    • Sci-fi: The coin has “3017” on it with the face of a robot. She’s then pulled into the future.
    • Fantasy: The coin allows her to cast “magic” and she finds there are more people with these special coins.
    • Romance: A boy runs up to her and says it’s his coin and they find a common ground on coins.
    • Steampunk: The coin only works on a specific automaton that powers a steam-powered machine.

Sometimes emotion can affect the idea, but on most parts it plays a lesser role and I try to match my emotions/mood to the idea. Unless it sparks a beautiful new story from the idea…

Fundamental of Genre Writing

These are just some of the basic ways that I will come up with a story. For the next segments I will discuss how I brainstorm ideas when writing horror, and more in-depth. I will show the tips and tricks I use, the research sites and the whole process. With it, I will post a short story on Friday to show how I implemented it.

Looking forward to seeing you.


How do you come up with ideas for a story you’re writing? Do emotions play any role? Is genre important or the idea or both?

As a reader, have you ever wondered how an author came up with an idea? Do you only read certain genres or read specific authors because they focus on your favourite genre?

I’d love to know.

New Segment – Genre Writing

Writing for a specific genre is not always easy. There are elements to consider. Writing styles to keep to. Subject matter to think about. The whole spiel.

I’ve decided to share with you my personal writing processes for specific genres. Every month I will select a genre I have worked on and give insights as to how I write stories for it.

Why am I doing this?

There are so many of us writing out there. There are plenty of advice blogs, writing blogs, and tips galore. You just have to Google “How to write *insert genre* stories” and you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. While I have done the same, I find that not all of them work for me. I don’t expect my little segment to be useful to everyone, but maybe you’ll find something helpful nonetheless.

Am I sharing advice?

While general advice is good, it’s still… general. Yes, you as the author must take that general advice and turn it into your own unique story. We may use the same basics but the results we produce are unique to each of us.

Think of clay. In its liquid state it is shapeless potential. That is your idea. There are techniques used to shape the clay and that is general advice. The kiln used to harden the clay is editing. Adding finishing touches like paint is your final draft.

My goal here is to show you how I turn my clay into specific pottery wares.

What genres will I be covering?

At this point there are four genre’s I’d like to focus on. This will start officially in September.

  1. Horror
  2. Steampunk
  3. Sci-fi
  4. Fantasy

That will take me up to December. If it works well enough, I’ll work on other genres too.

What I hope to accomplish

This segment is for me as much as it is for you, dear reader. My writing processes change so much that I become inconsistent between works. Maybe that is something you deal with too, or maybe you want a different perspective. For me, it is a way to learn more about my writing style, while figuring out the fundamentals I use consistently.

I do hope you will comment your own thoughts, ideas and advice with each segment. This is for both readers and writers alike. I’m no expert so perhaps you have insights I’m lacking. Either way, I do hope we can grow together and help each other.

Now, onward to writing!

Lorraine Ambers

Writer & Queen of Daydreams

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