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Writing Update: Novella Accepted + GameNationSA

“What is the title of your novel.” Nicky asks me in an excited and almost crazed WhatsApp message. “Do you have an idea for a cover? Is there a blurb? We need cover images for the upcoming blog tour!” The message continues. For a moment my mind goes into immediate panic mode before the excitement of this rather random message begins to sink in; my novella is about to get published!

On top of this exciting new journey, there was the rather sad ending of Gamecca Magazine where I had been writing as a game journalist for more the five years. This too came in a rather random phone call from my editor Walt Pretorius, who sadly told me the digital mag was publishing its final issue that coming week. Thankfully I had met with Boris from GameNationSA through a number of gaming events. After contacting him about writing for the gaming site, he was keen for it and this past weekend I went to GeekFest and wrote an article For The Love of Geek. His reply ended with “Welcome on board.”

So what does this all mean…

Naming the Novella:

Coming up with titles is a struggle I’ve had for… well most of my writing life. The draft I sent to Nicky was simply labeled Novella Draft 1 because I had no idea what it was called. How does one get around to coming up with titles? Well some just come to you “Junk Yard Angel for example, while others need nothing more than a single word that explains the plot like “Innocence”.

Here are a few ways to come up with your title:

  1. It’s in the Story: There could be a line in your story that encapsulates the basic premise of your story. It might be dialogue or the hero/villain saying some awesome speech about what their goal or purpose is. It could also be your main character’s profession – your story might just have a title in there. E.g. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, The Black Swan, The Books of Blood.
  2. It’s in the Plot: Perhaps the overall plot of your story has a main premise or character or time period. You can use these in the title of your book to make it obvious what it’s about. E.g. The Mist, Animal Farm, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
  3. Symbolism for your Story: Nothing speaks to us more than metaphors and symbols. Look at how spiritual leaders and the like always use them to teach us some inherent lesson. Your book title could have the same concept, telling a bit about the book or the plot or the character using symbolism. E.g. A Song of Ice and Fire, Altered Carbon, Chicken Soup for the Soul.
  4. Simple Story Synopsis: I’ve seen a lot of the older horror novels use this premise often, usually prefaced by the word “The” and followed by the most basic, single-word, that says exactly what the story is about. E.g. The Dark Tower, The Haunted, The Legacy. Otherwise its just a simple premise as the title: Population Zero, Dark Harvest, American Gods.

While there are other ways to come up with a title, just make sure at the end of the day, the title is:

  • Memorable
  • Tells you about the book
  • Grabs the readers attention

Novella Cover Art

The name of your story can play a large role in the look and feel of your book cover. However there are many other factors to guide the design, as well as various sources for inspiration if the name is not enough. I personally had nothing in my mind and I did not want some clichéd “Goosebumps” cover either.

Here are ways I was inspired for my cover art:

  1. Main Character or World: My novella revolves around two main characters in two different time periods. For my cover, I decided to feature both characters in their respective eras to both display their personalities and to show the alternating timelines. You can do the same, showing your character, a character in their “natural habitat”, or a vision of where the story takes place.

Brian Smith The Killing Kind book cover C.L. Polk Witchmark book cover H.G. Wells The Time Machine book cover

  1. Title as a Picture: I had initially thought of using the name of the book for the cover, but also had a fear it would be too cliched and felt overdone. At the same time, there were also ideas that worked really well using the novellas name. You too can use the title of your book to inspire the cover.

Matt Wallace Greedy Pigs book cover Stieg Larsson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book cover Brandon Sanderson The Final Empire book cover

  1. Mystery Between Title and Cover: This is, to me, one of the better and most effective cover designs used in the published space. Many books I own have this clever symbolism of title and cover and only once you’ve read through the book does the cover really both come alive and make greater sense. This cover usually grabs the readers attention and makes them question what the story is about.

Sean McGuire Every Heart A Doorway book cover  

  1. It’s Really Cool Okay!: Sometimes you can just have a really cool cover…

Ted Dekker Three book cover Ransom Riggs Tales of the Peculiar book cover Ray Bradbury The Illustrated Man book cover

  1. It’s a series: Occasionally series will have amazing covers that carry through with each book.

Scotland Yard's Murder Squad book coversWriting the Blurb

Writing blurbs is never easy. Once the title and cover of your book has drawn the attention of a potential reader, the blurb is either going to put them off or reel them in, and of course you want to reel them in.

So how does one go about writing a blurb?

  1. A Simpler Version of Your Story: Take the central aspects of your story that make it standout, and write a compelling, compressed version.
  2. Best First and Last Line: The opening line of your blurb should immediately pull readers in with a promise of good things. The last line should have the same effect, perhaps even ending on a cliffhanger for that final reel in.
  3. Set the Mood: Another way to write your blurb is to set the tone and mood of your story, so readers know immediately what they can expect both in terms of genre, but also story.
  4. See What Other Authors Did: Sometimes you just need to look at what you like in other books, or blurbs that you feel work and see what formula its built on. Then you can write it in your own style

Blurb for Stephen King’s new book “The Outsider

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.


No promises but as I continue along this whole “my novella is getting published” new phase of my writing, I will attempt to keep you all updated on the progress. Thank you for taking the time to read. What’s happening in your writing/reading world?

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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.

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.

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?

 

Genre Writing: Horror – Crafting the Villain

Oh yes my favourite part of writing horror. The villain. The antagonist. The creature of the dark who stalks their prey with nothing more than malice and a sick, twisted mind. *cue scary music

Okay no that’s not at all what I will be doing. Instead, think of a villain you hate and ask yourself why your hate them. Is it because of what they do? Who they are?

Do you understand why they do what they do?

If you take a look at a lot of villains, from the Joker to the Wicked Witch of the West to Megatron, there is more to their villainy than just pure evil. Each one has some sort of goal, and the only real difference between them and the hero, is that they don’t mind doing the dirty work to achieve that goal. (except you Captain Jack Sparrow – damn pirates). Like an athlete who is willing to trip their competitor (or break their ankle) beforehand in order to win the race.

Also, it’s important to humanize the villain. It makes them relatable and likable, which means you’ll hate/love them more for it. So, how do we do that?


Creating the Perfect Villain

Last week’s post “Genre Writing: Crafting a Character” can be applied to creating the perfect villain. Individuality, motivation, conflict, character flaws and strengths. You must know who they are before they became a villain. Who they are during their villainy, and who they become afterwards.

Multidimensional Villains

No one likes a boring character, let alone a boring villain. So how do you make them interesting? Well, you make them complicated. Consider your own personality, life, character traits, faults and successes. Are they all simple? I hardly think so.

  • Mentally-Multidimensional

Here you consider the intellect of your villain. Are they simple-minded with focus on a single goal and nothing else. Or are they highly intelligent and able to manipulate, and figure out ways to reach their goals. Nothing bores me more than a villain who doesn’t seem to have thought things through and keeps getting foiled (unless its for comedic effect, though even that has limits).

At the same time, when you compare a zombie to a vampire, you can see how both these undead entities vary in intelligence and yet both those attributes are scary in their own way.

  • Emotionally-Multidimensional

Is your villain angry all the time? Why? Can someone be perpetually angry? Or sad. Or bitter. Or paranoid. Etc. You should know how your villain will react when they receive they favourite thing or when they lose it. You should know if your villain could fall in love and what would happen if they were abandoned by the love of their life.

Remember, they do not have villainous thoughts 24/7 after all, even Professor Moriarty spent time reading and drinking tea.

  • Chronologically-Multidimensional

Has your villain been the same as a child or did they grow up to become the Great-Big-Bad? Some, like Dexter (the serial killer cos the other Dexter is still a child sooooo) were born that way, and we see him killing neighbourhood animals as a child. Compared to Anakin Skywalker who was good and his fears drove him to the dark side, leading to him becoming Darth Vader (spoiler?). Was it the old battle of “Nature vs Nurture”? Was it a natural path for them to take? What has happened from their formative years to drive them into villainy?

 

 My Antagonist

As it stands, my antagonist is just a concept. A creature who feeds on the regrets and past failings of your every day Jane/John Doe. I only realised later how close this creature is to a Dementor except Dementors can’t time travel. And they are blind. And they suck the soul out. And float about in dark cloaks. It’s the whole

“they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them.”

That part. That’s very similar to my antagonist.

Of course there is a slight twist to the tale and to tell you what that twist is, is to ruin the coming novel so I’ll leave it there. Nonetheless it will incorporate the multidimensional aspects of character building, which means this won’t be no regular demon of the night.  It will be something worse. Something… terrifying.


How’s your’s NaNo prep going? Did you find my advice useful? Do you have a villain in your story? What are they like in one sentence?

Thanks for dropping by!

Genre Writing: NaNoWriMo Prep

Man oh man is time flying or what. One minute I’m bidding “July” adieu and next moment I’m prepping for NaNoWriMo.  I also wrote and posted my Horror Genre Writing series during September which just flew by. Since it’s October, a.k.a. Halloween, I decided to carry on the series. The difference this time? It’s your journey through my mind as I plan out my NaNoWriMo Horror Novel!


I’m sitting here at my desk, wondering what I will be writing for NaNoWriMo. To be honest, I think my mind is tired and will need to be energized. The reason I say that? Well, when I created my beautiful new NaNo novel on the site, I used the following details:

Title: Some Horror Thing
Author: Silvanthato
Genre: Horror/Supernatural
Synopsis: There was a person and a creature and lots of people died horrible gruesome deaths.

Yes. That is exactly how I will be approaching NaNo this year. Zero plan. One premise. Two characters. Three plot points, and four weeks to coalesce it all into a 50,000 word novel. Fantastic ain’t it? It better be, since you’ll be along with me as we shape and mould nothing into something. I hope to please.

make my writing awesome? Challenge accepted.

The Plan

Right, so this is where I say something like “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” or “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” and extrapolating that into a 1000 word essay on planning. Well I’m sorry to disappoint, this will be very simple:

  1. Figure out an actual story.
  2. Detail actual characters.
  3. Define plot points.
  4. Worldbuild it all together into a masterpiece.
  5. Write 50,000 words. (In November)

This also covers what the following weeks in Genre Writing are going to contain for October. Building a horror story, creating characters for this story, defining horror plot points (without spoilers!), and worldbuilding to correlate characters to story to the world around them.

Onward to NaNo

I don’t really know how I feel about NaNo this year. There’s no real excitement or desire or fear or anything. Just another writing project to get through.

If you have any tips, advice, blogs, websites, Pins, Tumblr accounts, music or even YouTube vids that you think will help me craft a mind-blowing story (horror or not), then please let me know in the comment section below. I’d greatly appreciate your help.

Now back to writing!


Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you have your novel/story idea ready? What helps inspire you during the grueling 30 day challenge?

Genre Writing: Horror – Writing Styles

So this past weekend we celebrated a public holiday known as Heritage Day. It fell on a Sunday which made Monday automatically a public holiday. I was so disorientated I messed up my blog scheduling for this week (too many free days in a row). So this was supposed to be on Tuesday. My book review (condensed version is up on Goodreads) didn’t make it for Wednesday and I completely missed last week’s Friday Fiction (the story I wanted to tell has escaped me too.)

In short, I apologise profusely for my inconsistency. Right on to writing styles…


Writing horror can be quite an interesting experience. In my long history of reading horrors, I have come across varying styles that sway between simple easy horror (Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine) to truly macabre filth (Books of Blood by Clive Barker) and all the in-betweens on that sharpened swinging pendulum. When it comes to my own writing, my style switches with my mood, and my emotions as I stated in my Genre Writing: Fundamentals post.

Before we dig into that, let me give a quick overview of what Writing Styles entail:

Word Choice

Pretty self explanatory but basically it is the selection of words that guide the story. Each word should convey a particular mood, intention or perspective, either towards the character, their disposition, or the world around them.

Sentence Structure

Similar to word choice, sentence structure is how you use your words to build sentences that push the story forward. Things like sentence length, flow, whether it is active or passive voice (uhhh active always please), the type of sentence it is (simple, complex, compound), syntax, punctuation etc. all contribute to the overall perception of the story. These will vary with perspective, character, and voice.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
― Rudyard Kipling

Voice

The voice is the style by which the story is told. A YA novel might have a  more colloquial/informal voice that is light to read, while an adult novel may use a harsher, stark voice that carries stronger undertones. The voice carries the personality/disposition of the character or narrator. You wouldn’t want your nefarious, evil entity to have the voice of a juvenile thirteen year old (unless that’s what you’re going for of course). Voice is very important and can make or break your novel.

Expository/Descriptive/Persuasive/Narrative Styles

Each of these writing styles define the perspective, and the kind of writing you’re doing. Most novels will follow a descriptive (explain a picture through words) or narrative (share a story) style, while how-to’s and academic papers will be expository (explain concepts) and persuasive (convince reader of author’s opinion), respectively. Remember: You still have the option of writing your novel in either of these styles.

In short, a writing style defines how you tell your story. You can have the same scene, in the same genre, written in multiple ways, and each one will be different and unique.

“When you are trying to find your writing voice don’t try to emulate any writer, not even your favorite. Sit quietly, listen, listen again, then listen some more and write out everything the voice says with no censoring – none – not one word.”
― Jan Marquart, The Basket Weaver

My Horror Writing Style

As for me, my writing style varies so much it’s hard to pin-point one particular voice, and my sentence construction flows from the story itself which means it differs per idea. I do know my word choice tends to be quite similar and I always have to have a thesaurus/dictionary open to vary that up. My style is also quite descriptive because I want the reader to see what I’m seeing in my head. (and suffer with me!)

Here is an analysis of my writing styles, each affected by mood.

The “Have a Nice Day” Horror

My writing style when I’m in an uplifted mood, tends to sway towards bright cheery days where evil lurks just around the corner. These will have the everyday Jane and John in a regular situation which ends up going very badly, usually very quickly.

Word Choices: Bright colours. Sunlit environs. Happy general public. Hints at something off-colour or dark.

Sentence Structure: Long, flowing sentences with too much punctuation. Dialogue.

Voice: Optimistic. Innocent. Unoffending. Light.

In these cases, I barely show the horror as visceral (no gore) but rather hint at it. It’s not about experiencing the physical horror, but the psychological horror. Varies between first and third person depending on idea or character.

Example: Friday Fiction: The Playground

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.

 

 

The “I’m Depressed – Hate the World” Horror

My writing style when I’m in a dejected, not-feeling-this-sunlight mood, drifts towards heavy introspection and characters in a dreary state. These will have a particular Jane and John at a low point in their life and things just get worse.

Word Choices: Dull colours. Sunlit but shaded or just grey skies. Non-existent populace or very closed off. Horror disguised as hope.

Sentence Structure: Longer, flowing sentences of descriptions to create an atmosphere of despondency.

Voice: Morose but hopeful. On the line between innocent and guilt. Heavy. Moody.

In these cases, it is about the character themselves and how the mind can bend even the best of things into afflictions. Psychological horror manifesting into physical. Usually third person to detach myself from the character while being true to the character.

Example: Friday Fiction: Fear and Fervor

He sleeps deeply and soundly. The dark tendrils of oily curled hair tumbled down to his chin like a frayed curtain. Near his bare feet lies a canvas still heavy with wet paint. Each corner holds a random item that keeps the canvas from rolling in. An iron stands in one corner, the severed cord wrapped in dark tape. In another corner is the other half of Eduardo’s wearable Jordan’s, the bottom half yawning with yellow strands of loosening superglue. The foot of an aged table, and one of the three metal stools keep the remaining corners down.

 

The – Excited Let’s Terrify Them Horror

This one is rare, and is usually in that phase between the first two styles. Usually the Jane and John see themselves justified in some way but the horror is there to humble them. Or they’ve walked into an unexpected situation that shifts from normal to horror very quickly.

Word Choices: Bright colours mixed in with disgusting variations. Use senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) Sunlit but shaded or almost greying skies. Varied populace and mood to show a more realistic perspective. Blatant horror with gore.

Sentence Structure: Varied, descriptive sentences to break the thin film of normalcy and horror. Fear is key.

Voice: Varied and focused on the psychological turmoil that will be augmented by physical horror. Blurred line between innocence and guilt. Varying mood and atmosphere.

When I’m in this mood, there’s no telling how far I’ll fall to the dark side, and whether I am the abyss you stare into… and I stare back. It’s about the characters and their reaction to the horror they are about to face. Usually first person in order to write what the character experiences.

Example: Friday Fiction: Frank

“Bella? It’s me, William.”

I stepped closer, avoiding the spillage. Iced pins prickled my chest. I fought the thrum rattling my bones – smoothed the aroused hairs along my nape with trembling hand.

“William?”

She began a slow swivel, golden rays refining her locks to dazzling white tresses. The first thing the glare revealed was the braided tongue-like cord, and the dangling pulped egg that was her eye.  My gut lurched with the stench wafting from the gaping abyss that was the rest of her cragged, hollowed face.

“He’s coming Will.” a greyed tongue languidly dripped yolk rivulets to the floor. The muck broiled, a single eye floating to the surface. Frank.


Sorry about the long post, there’s a lot to cover and I didn’t even get through it all. Have you found any distinctions in your writing style between stories? Do you consider voice, word choice, sentence structure etc when you’re writing? Does it change with genre? I would love to know.

Genre Writing: Horror – What is your fear?

We all have fears. They can be legitimate fears like losing a parent or child, losing a job, a ligament and more. Some fears appear in the form of phobias – fear of spiders, clowns, germs, heights etc. Common fears that are almost universal are the fears of anticipated pain, approach of death, of not being in control, and next to them, the fear of the unknown.

Movies like Scream/Friday the 13th, Halloween etc are scary because you don’t know who the killer is, you don’t know where they are or where they will come from. All you can expect is a knife plunging down.

Movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, The Grudge, etc are scary because there’s a supernatural element to the “killer.” You can’t necessarily escape them once they have their sights on you.

Final Destination means you’re definitely going to die soon, unexpectedly and quite possibly, in a horrifying manner. You don’t know where and how death will approach and you can’t beat it.

They are combinations of the unknown, trying to gain control and failing, and the anticipated pain/death. And that’s scary.

The Role of the Author

As much as we all have fears, we do not all have the same fears. Someone could watch the new IT movie and scream the entire time and someone else could watch it unfazed. This is what makes horror such a fickle genre. It is mostly subjective.

When I’m ink-deep in my horror story, there are a number of thoughts that swing through. The main thought is: am I portraying a true reflection of the horror. Here are some factors to consider.

Realism:

How close to real is the story and characters. Are they believable. What are the possibilities that the story could happen, supernatural or not. Do the fantastical elements make the story ridiculous or a little too close to home.

With that I try and add as many facts as possible. Perhaps reference real things that the reader might come across or may have heard about in real life. Things like:

  • It is more effective to sew a human mouth or eyes shut than to use superglue.
  • A medical practitioner has the tools/knowledge/skills required to be a proficient serial killer. (Charles Cullen – a former nurse who is the most prolific serial killer in New Jersey history and is suspected to be the most prolific serial killer in American history.) ~ Charles Cullen
  • Nurses and paramedics have more paranormal “experiences” than most due to being present when someone is about to die. (Apparently the ghost has even been seen down in the ER, ducking in and out of patient rooms and peeking around curtains.) ~ 49 Real Nurses Share The Terrifying Hospital Ghost Stories
  • Most people don’t have foresight before someone close to them dies. Not even twins. (They may be very close, very similar in manner, habits and health, but this doesn’t mean they share some otherworldly connection that the rest of us don’t have.) ~ Can Twins Sense Each Other
  • Sleep apnoea may cause people to have waking nightmares where their bodies are paralysed and they feel a presence in the room, or someone sitting on them. Usually an unidentifiable face or shadow is present. Most attribute it to a supernatural presence. It’s not. ~ Is Sleep Paralysis Linked To Sleep Apnoea?

Sleep Paralysis gif

Logic:

How logical is the story. Do the characters react in a realistic way. Are the events in the story making sense and as close to real as possible. Sure some supernatural elements do not have complete scientific evidence, or anything we can truly attribute them to beyond an unknown force. However, there are physical manifestations that may occur preceding the supernatural, and those can be used to add the “logic” to the story.

13 Famous Curses

As Thomas Busby was being led to his execution, he reportedly shouted that anyone who sat on his favorite chair would die.

Tony Earnshaw was not a superstitious man; he initially dismissed the Busby curse as nonsense and the previous deaths associated with it as coincidences. But then people started dying on his watch. Earnshaw overheard two RAF airmen daring each other to sit on the chair. Both did, and both died in a car crash later that day…

ThinnerCurseStephenKing

Pain (Emotional/Physical):

Pain may be in a physical or emotional level. The actual knife plunging into the victim, or the emotional trauma of waiting for the inevitable knife to plunge into the victim. The emotional side of horror is just as effective as the physical. Perhaps more so. Horror is about the terror than it is about the death after all.

Stephen King’s horror focuses on the characters. Invests the reader in their lives, habits, thoughts and feelings until we are almost seeing the world through their eyes. So when the horror hits, our emotions become entangled with the character and we feel it with them.

Clive Barker on the other hand focuses on the sheer physical manifestation of that horror, both in its visual representation (description) and the brutality of it.He takes great pains in cataloging the look of his creations and the horrors they have to endure.

For me it is a combination of the two. There must be some investment into the character. Enough to make you relate to them in some way. Let you feel empathetic to their situation. The emotional trauma they experience combined with the physical torture they must endure.

“Mommy?” Evie turned from the couch, a questioning look spreading across her face and disheveled hair. Her eyes fell on the axe flashing distorted images of the TV screen.

“Mommy!” Fear laced into the voice as her body attempted to crawl into the safety of the leather. Squeaking with her movement.

Rebecca grimaced,

“I’m not your mommy.” And with all the force she could muster, swung the handle hard and fast towards the girl’s face

~ Faux – A Wattpad Horror

Horror is not Gore – It’s… Paranoia

Many people think horror equals gore. For me it’s not about gore all the time. It is about the characters and the situation leading towards the gore. By the time you as the reader get to that part, where the axe meets the face, you’ve understood the situation.

The horror of relating to the killer.

The horror of being in the victim’s shoes.

Where the dark no longer feels safe and the light can only ease your fears so much. Where every sound makes you shiver. Where fiction crosses over the thin line into reality.


Have you read a book or watched a movie that really scared you enough to be paranoid? What was it? Why do you think it caused those feelings in you? Let’s chat!

 

Genre Writing: Horror – Do’s and Don’ts

That task of writing is never easy. Enjoyable but not easy. Sure one can have a great session and put down five thousand amazing words with little effort. Others have written novels like this (looking at you Anne Rice/Chuck Wending/Stephen King/R.L. Stine). However, the rest of us struggle through each word and sentence and paragraph to get that completed novel. When writing, there are some general do’s and don’ts we must consider regardless of genre, to help us through the task of writing. I tackle some of these below:

First Things First

I am not Stephen King or Clive Barker or any of the amazing horror writers out there. I am me. I have a completely different persona, history, life and ability as myself. So the first thing that I never do is compare myself to the greats. I refer to them and reference them, nothing wrong with that, but when I write I do not write to become King, Lovecraft or Straub. So don’t do it either!

Don’t think cliches are overrated:

This is where people immediately falter when it comes to writing a genre. They hear other writers, published and unpublished, tell them not to write cliches. I personally think they are wrong on a fundamental level. The genre’s work because of these cliches. Look at the Orphan/Chosen One cliche in Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, King Arthur, Wheel of Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Giver and so on and so on. Imagine they told these authors “Chosen one’s are so overrated. Don’t do it.”  and how many of these great books (and movies) we would have lost.

Do it different:

Yes there are a lot of them, but there are many ways that you can write the cliche to make it different. Unique. Start with the cliche (if that’s what you have) and build on it until it’s yours.

“The merit of originality is not novelty, it is sincerity.”

~ Thomas Carlyle

Don’t assume “It’s been done before.”:

Very similar to the cliche but different on one aspect: it may not be a cliche. Think of the Marvel/DC comic book universe and the idea of mutants or humans with super powers. Now think of I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, Jumper by Steven Gould, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and many others (My Hero Academia!?). Each of them talk about super-powered humans but each of them tackle the story in a unique way.

Do it unique:

Very much the same advice as cliches. Find a new way to write the idea but in a unique way. Use the same perspective or character types but different from the norm. Now I’m not saying steal ideas and just re-write the characters or story, that’s a no-no. Nonetheless you can take elements you enjoyed in those and craft your own story.

Everything has already been done. Eevery story has been told, every scene has been shot. It’s our job to do it one better.

~ Stanley Kubrick

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.

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