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GW: A Mother’s Grief – Before I Wake

From my experience watching and reading horror novels, grief always leaves an indelible impression on characters, even more so when those characters are parents, and deeper still when the grief is driven by the loss of a child.

In some cases it is not the loss of a child physically but mentally, that old case where rearing children in a particular way leads the child to exhibiting unexpected behaviour. The “christian” parents whose child abandons the faith. The overprotective parents whose child rebels. And so on.

Sadly, in most cases, it does not take a supernatural occurrence to drive the child into that state, but adding the hyperbole that is horror into the mix, we as the audience see the depths that grief can bring out in people.

It’s not always extreme cases, such as the abuse Carrie White faces from her peers and mother in Carrie, or Alessa Gillespie’s abuse and eventual immolation in Silent Hill or the abusive history of Toshio Saeki in The Grudge.

Sometimes it’s much, much less subtle, such as Cody in Before I Wake:

Still mourning the death of their son, Mark and Jessie Hobson welcome foster child Cody into their lives. Soon they discover he has a strange ability.

The Story

The premise for this dark-fantasy horror film is quite simple. Cody has the ability to make his dreams come to life while he is asleep, and they vanish as soon as he wakes. Sadly he can’t control the ability, and as you can imagine, his nightmares are inevitable.

Writing Style / Atmosphere

Before I Wake carries less of a grisly/dark atmosphere prevalent in horror films. Initially it is much brighter, creating a false sense of security and augmented by Cody’s first dreams coming to life as beautiful blue butterflies, real as they are surreal.

As the story progresses, so does the growing oppressive aura around the whole film, deepened at night when shadows loom around every corner, automatically drawing our eyes to them as we anticipate something lurking in the darkness. This digression is then shown when the butterflies become moths.

Writing: Word choice is as important to creating this gloomy atmosphere as lighting and camera technique is to movies. Not every scene should be foreboding, but there will be elements that coalesce to paint an overarching mood/ambience.

  • Word choice will hint at the unsaid, willing the reader to see more than you’ve told.
  • Foreshadowing gives readers a glimpses of what is to or may come, increasing the sense of apprehension.
  • Sub-plots that seem minor or circumstantial (The Cranker Man) can merge with the bigger picture to tell a much deeper, darker story.
  • A few deaths necessary to the plot will help add to the reality of this horror.

Fear Factor

Before I Wake centers around a child’s known fear they can’t explain, made manifest by parents who downplay that fear.

The character development of both Jessie and Cody, intertwine perfectly to bring this fear alive. Cody is aware that his nightmares coming to life could mean losing his parents both a) physically from the nightmare monster, and b) physically as his ability may scare them off and send him to another foster home. To a child’s mind, these are very real fears.

You see how he attempts to overcome it in the choices he makes, such as reading books about butterflies to keep the nightmares away (among others), and drinking anything to keep himself awake.

Writing: Writing about a fear is never easy. This is why character development plays an important role in creating that sense of unease and dread.

  • Let the fear correlate with the characters. Cody’s main fear is the nightmare creature he calls “The Cranker Man” and later on in the movie we get the full story of where the name comes from and why he is so afraid of him.
  • Ground the fear into the characters until its almost tangible enough that it manifests itself into an almost irrational terror. Cody forced to stay awake leads to an incident that literally haunts him later in the movie, solidifying his fear of both sleeping and The Cranker Man.
  • Not all fears are rational, however, how you inject and show that fear in characters will make it more plausible and relatable. This helps you turn even the most irrational fear into a paranoid-fueled rational fear.

Character Flaw

The true horror is not in the fact that Cody’s nightmares come to life per se, but grief.

Cody’s grief created The Cranker Man.

Jessie Hobson’s indomitable grief drove her to use Cody’s abilities for herself. Her first child accidentally drowned in the bath so, as a recently grieving mother also suffering from deep-seated guilt, you can imagine the appeal of your new foster child bringing your dead child to life at the mere cost of sleeping. This obsession eventually blurs the line between being a good mom and being a grieving mother.

Mark, Jessie’s husband, sees his wife’s digression and gets drawn in too at first. Sadly he does little to help comfort her, even when he realises just how far she’s been willing to go to use Cody’s abilities.

Writing: In my opinion, writing horror shouldn’t only be about scares and gore and ghosts (among other things). Yes there’s a place for it, but looking at Before I Wake, there’s also delving into the human psyche.

  • Put yourself in each character’s shoes and ask yourself how you would react in that situation. More importantly, why.
  • Asking why helps build solid characters. Does the answer slowly grind away at the character’s sanity or belief to the point where logic and realism blur with the illogical and surreal.
  • What are your character’s flaws? Test them severely. Usually in horrors, the characters end up making bad decisions. (Running up the stairs, going into the basement, playing that evil blues record they were told not to).

It would have been easy for this movie to simply be about Jessie and Mark trying to figure out what causes Cody’s dreams coming to life, but before that we see Jessie’s character digression, fueled by the very real and palpable experience of grief. We see innocents suffer for it too. This character flaw not only frustrates (don’t go there!), but shows us that sometimes we’re willing to justify doing the unthinkable for the sake of getting what we think we need. Whether its safety or

Isn’t that true horror?

The Twist

The visible “Cranker Man” is not the villain of this film. He is actually a physical manifestation of Cody’s fear, interlinked with an event in his past and his own coping mechanism for that trauma. He is more Cody’s protector than some nightmare creature like Freddy Kruger would be.

Cody himself is not the villain of this film. Sure it’s his nightmares and physically materialised creature that threatens those around him, but it’s really just how his young mind is trying to cope.

Jessie herself is not the villain either, though her actions are selfish and put her herself, husband and Cody in danger. But as explained, she too is suffering and this is her way of coping, though in her eventual effort to finally solve the mystery of Cody’s dream, she helps bring closure to everyone.

The real villain is actually something more real and not at all supernatural or otherwise. It’s a reality that affects many people in the real world, and this film is about how it affects those around people who fall victim to both its effect and high mortality rate. It was given a personification in Before I Wake, the hyperbole of horror, to show how devastating its effects would be.

Spoiler – highlight to read it.

“The Cranker Man” is Cody mispronouncing the word cancer, which is how his biological mother died, and the Cranker Man is the only way his young mind is able to grasp this unseen monster. This real killer.

Writing: There’s a lot to pull out of this in terms of writing, and how it is the reason why the story, fear factor, character flaw, and final twist work so well together. This is because the horror is not a supernatural being, or some otherworldly creature that one can simply overcome by stabbing or shutting a door leading to the “beyond”. Nor is it a masked killer who is actually just human. It is the real horror of every day life for some people.

  • Not every creature/entity has to be mythological or supernatural. Sometimes its something as simple as a virus e.g. zombie apocalypse.
  • The story itself is not always about the creature/entity, but how those around it are coping with the reality of its existence. The entities add the suspense and action. E.g. The Mist by Stephen King.
  • Not every horror ends in despondency. Sometimes there really is light at the end of the tunnel, and they live on past the darkness.

Fun Fact

Before I Wake was initially called Somnia and was co-written by Director Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard. Flanagan had to say about writing the script for this film:

“I think that for someone like me, monsters and ghosts are very real but only in so much as the ones we create, the ones we are all haunted by. They have everything to do with our past, with regrets, mistakes we’ve made, people and time we’ve lost … Somnia, even more than Oculus, is dealing with intense feelings of loss, and of the worse kind. I don’t know if there’s any real world horror, or a personal level at least, that can compare with losing a child. I think my other movies have been building up to Somnia in a way.”

 

Here’s a trailer for the movie…


Let me know if you’ve seen this film and your thoughts about it. If you’re a writer, horror or otherwise, was this helpful to you? Any way that it could be improved? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Shining/Doctor Sleep – Stephen King #BookRecommendation

 

The Shining

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

Doctor Sleep

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.


I loved both these books, and are few of Stephen King’s novels that really hit on the “horror” aspect of his writing. At the same time the character progression is palpable and real, with both Jack and Dan Torrance having to face more than just their own demons. A brilliant series and must read for King fans.

Genre Writing: Story Crafting in Horror Movies

It has been a while since I wrote anything in the horror genre, and as a horror writer I feel as though that is repugnant. Which is why today I announce a rather new endeavour in my genre writing segment which has been on hold since October 2017 (where has the time gone?) You can read those previous iterations here to catch up.

Story Crafting in Movies

The idea for this particular series was borne from two thoughts merging into one. The first is my desire to watch more horror movies as a source of inspiration for future works. The second is the lack of horror content on this blog connected to the sad truth that I haven’t actually written any bone-chilling tales in a while – or rather, haven’t published them to the public.

The idea itself will be simple. Each week I will watch one horror movie and from it, look at the story and how I feel it was crafted, why or why not it worked (in my opinion), look at character and character development, and see what kind of horror trope it falls under if any. I hope to look at as many types of horror movies too, from the old to the new, from slashers to supernatural to psychological and all others in-between. I predict many nightmares in my future.

So Movie Reviews?

The purpose of this genre writing segment isn’t so much to review the movie, as it is to draw out the narrative being told. To see how those elements of story telling were woven together to craft the final work and how it can be applied to your own writing (or mine). It will also include segmenting it into some of the elements I highlighted in Genre Writing: Horror – World Building which looked at the following:

  • Writing style
  • Atmosphere
  • Fear Factor
  • Character Flaws
  • Twists
  • Realism vs Logic
  • Emotional vs Psychological
  • Gore
  • and Cliches

From here I hope to see how they could be applied to writing, and then hopefully craft a story for Friday Fiction to show how I would apply those elements into my own little flash fiction.


On that note, if you know of any horror movies (good or bad) let me know in the comments please, you will definitely get a shout out.

Shrike – Joe Donnelly #BookRecommendation #Horror

Blurb

When old spiritualist Marta Herkik gathers together a group of lost souls, each hopes for a change of luck that will help them. But during the séance, the old woman taps into something dark, something with a hunger.

Policeman Jack Fallon, investigating a series of killings, can find no logical reason behind the violence that has visited his town. The killer seems to like high, dark places, but it leaves no clues. The investigation leads him to Lorna Breck, a young highland woman who is gifted, or cursed, with a kind of second sight. She seems to know what is happening, and often knows before it even happens. Only she can unlock the mystery, and only she can lead Jack Fallon to the Shrike.

But the thing brought into the world in a séance gone wrong, is waiting for them.


Joe Donnelly is the author of eight horror chillers and the Jack Flint trilogy for young readers.  Joe was born in Glasgow, in Scotland, close to the River Clyde, but at a very young age he came to live in Dumbarton, which is some miles from the city and close to Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond and the Scottish Highlands. At the age of 18, he decided to become a journalist and found a job in the Helensburgh Advertiser, a local paper in a neighbouring town where he learned the first essential of writing: how to type. Quickly.

During his career he won several awards for newspaper work including Reporter of the Year, Campaigning Journalist and Consumer Journalist. It was while working in newspapers that he wrote his first novel, Bane, an adult chiller, which was followed by eight other novels, mostly set in and around the West of Scotland and loosely based on Celtic Mythology.

Recently he completed the Jack Flint trilogy for children, although he says his books are aimed at “young people of all ages…those with some adventure in their soul.”

Camp NaNo 2018: The Dilemma of Stagnant Progress

It’s been a slow week for me this Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve restarted about five times, struggled to write that killer opening line, and now I’m trying to get my story going. As slow as it’s going, I’m working on not quitting. I think there’s a gem in this story somewhere and I just have to keep chipping away until it reveals itself. I will probably re-write it anyway but for now it’s all about getting that word count going yeah? Speaking of which, here’s my current progress:

 

 

Writing Without a Plan:

The idea formed back in March (how is it April already!?) and back then I couldn’t wait to write. So I put down the basic thought and left it to simmer. What happened between then and now? Who knows. I didn’t want to think about the story in case I write it before I write it. You know? It’s playing out in your head, building itself up but not in any physical sense? Yeah that. Only when I sat down to start writing, I found that the story had lost its bulk and become a wasted, formless thing. Skulking in the dark recess of my mind on its last leg.

I didn’t know where to start or how. Couldn’t figure out where I wanted the story to go. I still don’t, but it’s beginning to take some shape again. My little ball of unformed clay spinning and spinning and spinning while my dirty hands form and reform the piece of clay into something. Anything.

Getting Over It

As much as I hate that “Just get over it” phrase that we sometimes use, with the expectation that the recipient of the advice will simply overcome their struggle and be fine, I’ve had to tell myself the same thing. It didn’t work, of course, but it changed my mindset a little. Set a silver lining against the clouds of doubt forming. This was augmented by:

  • Reading: Okay so maybe Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Brandon Sanderson aren’t the greatest motivators, when they know how to spin engaging stories so well and seemingly easily. Nonetheless reading their works has helped clarify some of my own writing issues. Especially with the skeletal framework that is my current WIP. I just finished King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and looking to finish The Illustrated Man by Bradbury. I’m feeling a shift in the winds.

      

  • Music: I’m writing a horror so I needed something heavy. That turned out to be Lamb of God, Slipknot, and the occasional Paramore because there’s apparently romance in my story. Hearing the heavy guitar riffs and deep vocals from these metal bands (not you Hayley Williams, your voice is a dream) I find the scenes writing themselves out naturally.
  • Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Manga: Movies, series, anime, and manga – that’s the good life. There’s a lot of good content out there, with unique stories and characters. How they form all of those smaller intricacies that later reveal themselves to be key sub-plots to an even bigger (and mind-blowing) main arc still baffles me. It also motivates me.

Not My Best – That’s For My Editor

Nicky, if you’re reading this, I apologise in advance haha. I’m not really happy or proud of this novella, but I’m writing it. I will finish it. By the 30th of APril (hopefully sooner) I will have 30 000 words of story. Of writing. Of content that later can be tweaked and refined and made better. Maybe this is my Carrie (Stephen King threw it in the trash. His wife rescued it. It was his first published work). Maybe. Nonetheless I will keep writing.

And that’s all I can do right now.

Writing Hiatus (Not Really)

Hey all,

I guess it’s been a long time since I updated the blog and the reason for that is my mind just failing to wrap itself around life in general. Just a lot of things happening all in all which makes writing difficult. No it’s not writers block, and nothing health wise. Just choices I’ve been making in the last couple of months all catching up at the same time, and emotionally I’m frayed.

At the same time, yesterday I churned out 3000 words in about an hour as two different intros for an idea I have. Each of them an intro to a new story twirling about in my mind like a ballerina doing an endless series of pirouettes. So rather than trying to catch up to March blog posts and book reviews and the endless list of books I keep adding to my reading list, I’ll be going on a mini-hiatus.

So what will I be doing in the mean time?

Camp NaNo Prep

Camp NaNoWrimo is coming up next month. I’ve decided to write another novella (while my other one is still with my editor/publisher). The story is a horror romance temporarily named Upon an Endless Sea. That’s about all I have (I doubt I will use all previous drafts I’ve written haha) so I’ll be using the rest of March to put down some characters and a plot of some sort so I can pants my way through April.

Reading

I am so behind on my reading. Not that I haven’t been reading. On my bedside table (and following me around like a demonic shadow) is the book Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams. It’s about an angel who goes into hell to rescue his demon lover. Beautiful ain’t it? Not so much. It’s like Williams was playing DnD with his characters and every side of the die was an even worse situation than before. A true descent – pun intended. I also have to finish The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradubury and a bunch of other author requested book reviews.

Binge Watching (a.k.a Inspiration)

Yes, yes, yes. I will be watching all the series and movies and anime I haven’t seen yet. Me and Netflix/Crunchyroll gonna have a good time. On my list is:

  1. Altered Carbon
  2. Blade Runner 2049
  3. Insidious 2 + 3 (watched first already)
  4. Baywatch (Don’t even ask)
  5. Dexter
  6. The Machinist
  7. The Taxi Driver
  8. Jacob’s Ladder
  9. Requiem for a dream
  10. Zodiac
  11. A list-full of Anime

Talk about distractions inspiration. Anyway, here’s to a productive March of planning and onwards to an April of writing.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll see ya’ll in April yeah!?

The Store by Bentley Little #TBR

In a small Arizona town, a man counts his blessings: a loving wife, two teenage daughters, and a job that allows him to work at home. Then “The Store” announces plans to open a local outlet, which will surely finish off the small downtown shops. His concerns grow when “The Store’s” builders ignore all the town’s zoning laws during its construction. Then dead animals are found on “The Store’s” grounds. Inside, customers are hounded by obnoxious sales people, and strange products appear on the shelves. Before long the town’s remaining small shop owners disappear, and “The Store” spreads its influence to the city council and the police force, taking over the town! It’s up to one man to confront “The Store’s” mysterious owner and to save his community, his family, and his life!


A shout out to Lionel Green for giving me a heads up about this author. I’ve been looking for new horror authors and books and his article mentioned quite a lot of horror authors. Which means I have more books to buy and read. At this rate I’m going to need to move into a library…

Also, this particular book reminded me of Needful Things by Stephen King. Of a random shop owner showing up and causing havoc. I read the book and watched the movie so The Store is right up there on my next TBR list.

Bentley Little is an American author of numerous horror novels. He was discovered by Dean Koontz.

Little was born one month after his mother attended the world premiere of Psycho. He published his first novel, The Revelation, with St. Martin’s Press in 1990. After reading it, Stephen King became a vocal fan of Little’s work, and Little won the Bram Stoker Award for “Best First Novel” in 1990. He moved to New American Library for his next two novels, but was dropped from the company after he refused to write a police procedural as his next novel. He eventually returned to New American Library, with whom he continues to publish his novels.

Little has stated on several occasions that he considers himself a horror novelist, and that he writes in the horror genre, not the “suspense” or “dark fantasy” genres. He is an unabashed supporter of horror fiction and has been described as a disciple of Stephen King.

The King in Yellow #Recommendation

“Every story of The King in Yellow has something riveting about it … so perfectly realized, they became the model for much of twentieth-century horror/fantasy.” — New York Press
One of the most important works of American supernatural fiction since those of Poe, The King in Yellow was among the first attempts to establish the horror of the nameless and the unimaginable. A treasured source used by almost all the significant writers in the American pulp tradition — H. P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and many others — it endures as a work of remarkable power and one of the most chillingly original books in the genre.
This collection reprints all the supernatural stories from The King in Yellow, including the grisly “Yellow Sign,” the disquieting “Repairer of Reputations,” the tender “Demoiselle d’Ys,” and others. Robert W. Chambers’ finest stories from other sources have also been added, such as the thrilling “Maker of Moons” and “The Messenger.” In addition, an unusual pleasure awaits those who know Chambers only by his horror stories: three of his finest early biological science-fiction fantasies from In Search of the Unknown appear here as well.


If you read my this past Friday Fiction, The Best Gift, then you know how influential this book became to my writing. I’ll probably do a review for it this Wednesday too. A great read for horror writers and readers.

Robert William Chambers was an American artist and writer. His most famous, and perhaps most meritorious, effort is The King in Yellow, a collection of weird short stories, connected by the theme of the fictitious drama The King in Yellow, which drives those who read it insane.

Chambers returned to the weird genre in his later short story collections The Maker of Moons and The Tree of Heaven, but neither earned him such success as The King in Yellow.

Chambers later turned to writing romantic fiction to earn a living. According to some estimates, Chambers was one of the most successful literary careers of his period, his later novels selling well and a handful achieving best-seller status. Many of his works were also serialized in magazines. After 1924 he devoted himself solely to writing historical fiction.

Chambers died at his home in the village of Broadalbin, New York, on December 16th 1933.

Friday Fiction: The Best Gift

Prompt comes courtesy of my good friend and fellow author/blogger, Rachel Poli:

Write about a character who gets something special they’ve always wanted.

The Best Gift

Words: 596


The idea of a Secret Santa may as well be as old as the very concept of merry ol’ St. Nicholas. St. Dominic’s Primary School became the haven of such a tradition in its truest form since the school’s conception in 1895, when Sister Ignatius placed square, brown-paper packages within the 85 desks of her students prior the last day of school. The following day was followed by a chorus of joyous squeals as boys and girls ripped through paper and tape to find within the objects of their uttermost desire. The best gift.

As tradition wore on through the years, even when money seemed hard to come by, there happened to be one particular child with an almost unattainable desire. One that could not be wrapped save for in prayer. Furtive supplications cast to the Almighty in hopes of repairing broken families, sick fathers and mothers, dying brothers and sisters, and on more than enough occasion, for death’s repeal.

Where these gifts could not be attained, it was their next appealed desire wrapped and placed with the more modern school desks. The School Governing Body, with now over 300 students within the expanded bricked building, would question how such a tradition could be continued, and as with every Principal that had followed Sister Ignatius’ example would proclaim to those who questioned the gifts,

“The Lord provides.”

And truly, each year, He did.

As corporate and government and school slowly intertwined with the passing of time, and the education system turned into a business venture rather than a place of tutelage, the nuns of previous generations were replaced with CEOs and businessmen toting degrees and masters in Business Management. They did not, however, truly possess the spiritual depth and leadership of their predecessors. And yet, despite all of this, every year, the students of St. Dominic’s Primary School, received their annual gifts out of miraculous providence.

In the year 1995, on the last day of school following the newly elected Principal, as the muted excitement, and muffled bubbles of laughter echoed across the span of the school, there came a single ear-splitting scream. The school fell into utter silence. As though the wind itself had ceased to exist, the trees shaken to quiet, and the hum of traffic come to a standstill. Hairs on napes rose. Flowing blood seemingly turned to ice and coursed through each student and teacher alike as a virus through a body.

Young Francis had opened his package with frenzied anticipation, his particular gift sizable in comparison to his peers, and decidedly oddly shaped in almost rotund oblong contours. As the paper ripped between his fingers, he was struck by an odd smell. One that reminded him of his lunch tin when he had left it in the playground for a week and opened the lid to find the festering green and white mould growing within. Only this smell seemed different. There was also a sticky liquid trailing along the inside and staining his palms scarlet. By now the entire classroom had turned to see what he’d received. Curiousity emblazoned on rapt young eyes, lips parting in awe and wonder. At last Francis ripped the entire wrapping off, arms rising as expanded energy threw them upwards. For a moment he could only stare at the thing rolling out from the paper to stare up at him with glazed eye sockets and a gaping abyss marking misshapen ebony dentures. Only he couldn’t deny the jade green orbs gazing past and through him. For there sitting on his desk… was the head of his father.


Word to the wise: Don’t read The King in Yellow, and expect your mind to remain the same. See the true face of horror.

Genre Writing: Horror – World Building

Oh man I really enjoyed doing this Genre Writing series. But alas it has come to an end as I turn my focus towards NaNoWriMo. Will it return? I think I said it would in a previous blog post which means technically I am held accountable by a past me with too much optimism in his head. Nonetheless, hopefully you’ll be staying with me on the blog right? Why? Well… I still have great content to share with you as we embark on this writing/reading/blogging journey.

I have written so much content on world building on this blog. Don’t believe me? Just scroll through: WORLD BUILDING POSTS!. Oh and this doesn’t even include the four-part Guest Post I did with Rachel Poli. So what I am doing different this time? Well for starters my focus will be world building for horror and the second is that it’s world building for my NaNo novel.

So let’s dive in. *Cue creepy Halloween music


Fundamentals of Horror

If you’ve been following along with my Genre Writing: Horror series then you’ll know we’ve covered quite a lot of things. We’ve spoken about the fundamentals of horror, namely:

Atmosphere:  The mood and setting of the story, intended to guide the reader’s mind towards understanding that bad things are going to happen.

Fear Factor: The reason the story is a horror. Anything from spiders and clowns, to Lovecraftian entities, and demons, to serial killers.

Character Flaws: No one acts rationally when placed into an irrational situation. You’ve probably done it too, checked the wardrobe to make sure there’s no monster in there. Luckily there wasn’t. Not in horror. There’s a monster in there.

The Twist: Not all horrors have a twist, but a lot do. The creature the hero defeated is not dead and in the last scene the decapitated head winks.

Putting the Fear into the Story

I also spoke about creating the sense of fear into the reader and how I go about doing that.

Role of the Author: As the author, you must understand that we won’t all have the same fears. What you must do is put that fear into the reader. Look at Stephen King’s early novels, Cujo, Christine, Pet Semetary, IT, The Mist etc. He took mundane things and made us, the readers, fear them.

Realism/Logic: A lot of people get put off by some horror books because the scenes are beyond believable. Using realism and logic to craft a believable horror puts readers into a position where they think “This could happen.” Once that thought enters their mind, you’ve done your job.

Pain vs Paranoia – Emotional vs Physical: Invest into your characters. They are the driving force of horror. Your reader must suddenly find themselves in the shoes of the characters, their paranoia and fear growing with each turning page.

Defining Your Writing Style

I did a comprehensive look at writing styles, talking word choice, voice, sentence structure, and writing style (expository/descriptive/narrative). This, combined with my own ideas/emotions defined the kind of horror I would write. While horror is a general term, there are different variations of it. From Gothic horror to contemporary to Weird fiction to your serial killer stories.

To Gore or not to Gore: Horror is not defined by blood splatter, although it is a nice to have. Figure out if the story you’re writing needs to be gory to be a good horror or if you can get away with less.

Psychological Horror: Sometimes humans are monsters. Psychological horror shows us the depth of human depravity. We are exposed to our vulnerabilities in light of mental and emotional fears revealing the darker side of the human psyche.

Through the Eyes of One: A worldview is how someone sees the world. Whether its through rose-tinted glasses or through filth stained glasses. Telling from the killer’s eyes will mean your writing reflects his thoughts. He won’t mind kicking a puppy. As opposed to telling the story through the eyes of a child with an innocent mindset. Varying perspectives can give the story a new edge that pushes it from mediocre to brilliant.

The Hero vs the Monster

This is usually the defining factor of your horror which is why I left it for last. The question is, what kind of monster do you want to write about? The haunted house? The possessed child? The monster under the bed? The supernatural? Or human monsters. Or the Old Ones?

Character/Monster Building: There’s a whole post on this so read it when you get a chance. Important things to note are individuality, motivation, strengths, weaknesses and conflict to name a few. Make them multi-dimensional in their interests, in their goals, in their emotions, and in their thinking. Give them a past that explains who and why they are who they are.

Cliches Everywhere: I’ve spoken about this before, that cliches aren’t necessarily bad. It’s about how you write them. There are plenty of novels about possessions, and haunted houses, and vampires and it seems every week a new Cthulu novella is announced. At the same time we are all individuals with differing upbringing, inspirations, etc and can be unique even in our cliches. Just don’t copy your favourite author. You’re not them.

 

World Building for Horror

If you were confused about how everything I wrote fits into world building, well let me tell you. That was the world building.

The fundamentals defined what kind of world your story will be in, mostly displayed by the atmosphere you’re going for. So in your mind you have a place – a location – where everything will take place. That’s the first part of your world.

Fear introduced a monster into your environment. They skulk about in this created world. They possibly have a place they call their own or somewhere where they came from. Everything that makes the monster defines its “home” as a spider has a web.  You’ve added another location to your world.

Writing style and character/monster building, gives you the worldview of the story and its characters. Are we seeing it from the perspective of a regular human? Adult or child? Killer? Family man? Student? These will define the environments they go to which gives you more locations such as home, office, school, local park etc. It also defines how they see things around them. A cemetery may be scary for a child, but the perfect location to hide dead bodies for a killer.

My NaNo Novel:
Some Horror Thing (Working title)

Tomorrow I begin to write my novel. I have my characters, I have an idea of a story, and I have an idea of where its all going to take place. It will be set in our current world and time, with “flashes” to the past as we (yes both of us) watch how the monster became the monster. The whole Genre Writing segment has been world building.

Now I’m ready


*Gifs from Silent Hill because it’s just beautiful!

Have these tips helped you? Are you ready for NaNo?

 

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