In a previous blog, I talked a little about horror stories in general. Now I’ll get more specific. How does a person write a horror story? What makes a great one? How can you make a convincing story about a monster if monsters aren’t real?
First, it’s important to realize that horror can take many forms — gore-filled splatter-punk with buckets of blood… mysterious, cursed people living in isolated Gothic castles (or even tropical islands!)… psychological, unsettling horror that makes you feel uneasy… or your ordinary “classic monsters” such as vampires, ghosts, zombies, and werewolves. Each kind of horror story has its fans, probably because everyone is scared of different things (heights, monkeys, bridges, etc.). But whatever type of horror story you write (or read) there are a few universal elements that should go into any horror tale.
An important element in writing horror is to invent a believable horror universe where monsters, angels, vampires, and other paranormal elements are possible – and conflict with the characters you’ve created.
The TV show “Supernatural” is an excellent example of horror world building. The Winchesters go around hunting “things” for a living. They were raised believing that paranormal creatures were more than legends – to them, they’re 100% real, no question. That’s what every horror author has to do – make the reader believe in the element of horror (whether it’s a nightmare-invading serial killer, a 60 foot sea-creature, or a ghost) and take the reader on a journey with the main characters. The situations need to be plausible and told in a way that grips the reader, even if the premise seems a bit far-fetched (at first).
As with any story, the author has to establish a believable setting. Whether your tale takes place in a gritty, post-apocalyptic city or a foggy rural graveyard, you need to give your readers a concrete foundation of where the story is taking place. Use lots of details and props to make your descriptions come alive. Ask yourself why your story has to take place where it does, then take your reader there. My story, “Kropsy’s Curse” makes great use of setting. What’s better than a horror story set in a graveyard on Halloween? It’s available on www.fictionwise.com. The link is: http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook17627.htm
Remember that all characters (even the monsters) need to have a purpose. Why are your zombies in Wegmans? Your readers will want to know why (and how) the events in your story are happening. Your job as a writer is to get readers to suspend their (dis)belief and buy into your story. This is done by giving characters a goal and following it up with in-depth characterization and details. You don’t have to go into a lengthy explanation, just give your readers a reason, have your characters believe it, and move on. In my story, “The Man in Apt. 3-A”, the main character really didn’t believe a vampire lived upstairs…until he met him. (Read it for free in the horror section of my site!)
And try to avoid clichés like the plague! Masked killers hunting campers in the woods, serial-killing cannibal families, miserable Goth vampires in ruffles, and mindless zombie attacks have all been done to… well, death. When writing horror, don’t be afraid to break patterns, make your characters different or have them go against the stereotype. Give readers something unexpected, turn a cliché on its ear, or use a different point of view — it’ll make your story stand out. Why not set your werewolf story in Hawaii? My flash fiction story, “Guest of Honor” uses setting, mood, and purpose to deliver a clever ending. It was featured in The Best of the First Line. Read more about it here: http://www.kelliwilkins.com/horror01.html
My flash fiction story, “Death is Just a Tick Away” appeared in the premiere issue of Dark Moon Digest’s e-magazine (Issue #1) this summer. The story is based on a real superstition! You can order a Kindle version here: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Moon-Digest-Magazine-ebook/dp/B005BSSL66/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_7
Look for a special Halloween-themed blog next week, then exciting changes in the new year!