Horror writing is not my comfort zone. I decided several months ago that I would write a ghost story (not sure if it’s technically horror or not, but whatever) as an effort to stretch myself as a writer. I identify as a science fiction writer and delve into fantasy mostly in shorter pieces, but I’ve never done horror, and haven’t read it much since middle school. However, being all about experimentation and trying new things, this seemed like a grand idea. When I needed to whip up something last week for my crit group, I eked out the first draft of a Pacific Northwest ghost story (with mushrooms). But after I finished the story, I didn’t feel much like patting myself on the back. Instead I felt like I hadn’t pushed the envelope of the story enough. And then I wondered if that isn’t a very sci-fi way of looking at things.From my limited experience, it seems like horror is less about the big idea (what if mangoes were aliens?!?) and more about using tone, pacing, and characterization to build tension. Accordingly, stories in these genres are approached in two very different ways. For instance, an oft-repeated piece of writing advice is “Get to the ghost pigs” (from Cat Valente). In other words, we do a disservice to our readers by burying all the cool bits in the story behind pages and pages of mundanity. Busting out with a magical T-Rex at the 95% mark is pointless, because people will have stopped reading the book by then anyway, and the ones who stuck around probably don’t want a magical T-Rex (too bad for them). Twists are hard to pull off.
Whereas with horror it seems like the slow build is not only incredibly critical to the telling of the story, but also jives with reader expectations. The ordinary world is used to set a contrast to the horrific elements. The hook is less obvious, so what keeps the reader reading?
I imagine it’s the style of the prose, and the sense of foreboding and impending doom. But if you read or write horror, I would love to hear your thoughts.
And finally, for the return of the “What I’m listening to this week” addendum, we have
Drabblecast 224 – I loved “Unintended Consequences” by John P. Murphy (a fellow Viable Paradise grad, though not my year). The premise charmed me, and the whole story felt really cohesive.
Escape Pod 323 – “Marking Time of the Far Side of Forever” was a robot story. I have problems with robot stories. (They make me cry, and not in a good way. I get depressed). Anyway, after listening to this story against my better judgement, I set myself a challenge of writing an unsympathetic non-anthropomorphized robot story. We’ll see how that goes. Also to be clear, the EP story was well done. It hit my buttons.
Writing Excuses 7.1 When Good Characters Go Bad – Basically how to make a believable character arc. This got me thinking about a novel I’d like to plot out. Howard left us with a great writing prompt, “Come up with a list of three things that are important to your main character. Push one of those things out of alignment so that it will draw your character to the antagonist’s side.”
AISFP 175 – After listening to this interview with Brian Hades, I added EDGE Publishing to my list of publishing houses of interest.