June 4, 2011
I’m All A-Twitter
Now I have to learn what it’s all about…!
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Now I have to learn what it’s all about…!
The non-printable (view-only) PDF version of THE SIXTH SEED is available for only 99 cents the entire month of June!
If you don’t have a Kindle or a Nook, here’s your chance to get the PDF version for cheap. Happy reading!
All fiction seeks to get the reader to identify with story characters. But there’s a special element of identification in horror fiction. In horror stories, the emotions of the reader should mirror those of the story characters in a certain way. Here’s how to recognize and employ this technique in your writing.
In his dissertation, The Philosophy of Horror (Routledge, 1990), Noel Carroll claims that “…[T]he appropriate reactions to the monsters in question comprise shuddering, nausea, shrinking, paralysis, screaming and revulsion. …This mirroring-effect… is a key feature of the horror genre” (p. 18).
Here are some common character emotional and physical reactions to the horrific that Carroll points out:
In Brian Keene’s Ghoul (Leisure, 2007), characters Pat and Karen are getting it on in a graveyard. (Note to reader: Bad idea.) When the monster arrives on the scene, we get these reactions:
Then the stench hit him. … It smelled like something rotting in an open grave. … Karen’s eyes grew wide, staring at something behind him. She screamed.
Without even describing the monster, Keene has encouraged reader identification with a nauseating smell. When Karen sees whatever it is behind Pat, her eyes go wide, prompting her to scream. So, without even describing “it,” we have the crucial emotion of horror displayed by character reaction. What your characters feel, your reader will feel.
From Scott Nicholson’s The Red Church (Pinnacle Books, 2002), little Ronnie and his brother are trying to escape a flying monster by heading into the dark woods. (Scared already, arent you?)
Something brushed his shoulder, and he bit back a shout. His body was electrified, sweat thick around his ankles and armpits and trickling down the ladder of his spine. The monster is going to get me.
Here we have the desire to scream, electrification, and sweating. All without seeing the monster. If your character is scared, so will be your reader.
And from my own The Sixth Seed (2011), we have the reaction of sweet six-year-old Emil who at first thinks he’s dreaming about being taken into a spaceship:
When he got real close, he noticed an opening like a door. Inside it stood some kids not much bigger than himself. Maybe as big as Whit. They looked like skeletons. Skeletons with big heads and bug eyes. They were looking at him, reaching out with their skinny arms and long fingers. One, two, three . . . three fingers and a thumb.
Emil barely felt the warm urine he released. It soaked his pajama pants and sprinkled down onto the backyard grass.
They reached for him, and all at once he thought he should be scared.
And then he was.
When the impure and threatening creatures reach for him, he wets himself—and his emotions catch up with his physical response. Scare the piss out of your character, and your reader will run for the bathroom.
Print the previous bulleted list of horrific reactions so that you can use it as a checklist. Take three or four horror novels off your shelf and leaf through them, finding the places where your characters react in fear. Check off reactions from the list. Be sure to identify not only the explicit reactions, but ones that are implied. Which are most commonly used?
When you are writing a horror scene, stop to evaluate what your characters’ reactions might be. When crafting your character reactions, can you use ones that are not so commonplace? And your reactions must be tailored to your character; what scares one will not scare another. For instance, if your character is a herpetologist, she is not likely to react like a fashion model to a monster that is slimy or scaly. Put in the extra work, and find out what scares your characters as individuals. Your readers will break a sweat in fright—and love you for it.
Novelist Len Deighton has an article in the Word Craft section of the Wall Street Journal online. It came at an opportune time.
Lying in the tanning bed this morning, I was meditating and praying about what my next writing project should be. When I arrived home, smelling a bit toasted, I sat down to check Facebook and saw that book reviewer extraordinnaire, Curt Jarrell, had posted a link to Deighton’s article. Thank you, Curt. I don’t mind starting a new project with a little direction from the Universe—and a friend.
“Facing the Hard Questions Before Chapter One” is an overview of Deighton’s planning process for writing a novel. It’s fairly general, but it’s always good to understand a writer’s approach to starting a new book. He makes an important point that I’d like to quote here:
I always have a “consideration period” during which I ask myself if I can live for a year or more with a book, its subject and perhaps its characters. Several projects did not survive this initial test.
This is something I need to consider. I hope to post more about my planning process in the coming months. I don’t want to give anything away, but perhaps it will prove helpful to you to see how a shophomore writer gets into and develops a new project.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about how you get from the idea stage to practical planning.Comments to this post
As a contributor to Many Genres, One Craft, an anthology of how-to articles for fiction writers seeking advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels, my work is featured on the MGOC site. Check it out!Comments to this post
Horror and thriller writer Scott Nicholson shares his practical and spiritual process in making his Liquid Fear a Kindle a bestseller. This is a great read, and I hope you’ll check out Scott’s books, both digital and print:
Why am I a horror writer? Because I can’t be anything but.
Well, I can write dark fantasy, dark crime, dark suspense, and dark erotica. And technical manuals. All horrifying. You can see the general theme here…
Writing horror began for me at a young age: I wrote my first story on ruled tablet paper in second grade. My teacher passed it on to the elementary school principal. He read it at a meeting of the local Lions Club, of which my father was a member. As president of the chapter, Principal Sprunger fined my father a dime because the preacher’s son had written such a sordid tale full of skeletons, witches and blood.
What does horror do for me, that I’m so attracted to it as a genre? Steeping myself in horror may seem toxic for someone who has struggled with depression for most of his years. Yet when I read a dark book or watch a chilling movie, I get charged up. (Perhaps I’ve developed an addiction to my own adrenalin—there’s a story idea!) Or maybe it’s because, when I consider characters with such awful problems, my concerns seem piddling, and this brings me hope.
Somehow, a horrifying story—one that creeps me out, makes my mouth drop open or my hair stand on end—has always filled me, strangely enough, with life.
What I read, I write.
Reading and writing horror not only stimulates me, it makes me laugh. I don’t understand this, but often when something particularly horrible happens to a character, I’ll LOL it up. Among other horror writers, we share a good chuckle. But in the wrong crowd, busting a gut when a character bursts into flames in their hospital bed (à la Let Me In) does nothing for their already dubious opinion about my sanity. But I don’t take it too seriously. Horror is fun. If you don’t think so, go find the pliers and pull all your teeth. Hahaha! See?
I write horror because I have always seen things from a dark perspective. But I have a spiritual side, too, as revealed on my blog, Building the Bridge). A masters in biblical studies came in handy when I edited an anthology of dark crime and horror based on the Ten Commandments: THOU SHALT NOT… .
My latest dark novel is THE SIXTH SEED for Kindle, Nook, and PDF readers, a dark paranormal fantasy fraught with suburban Pittsburgh horror. And SEVERED RELATIONS, a duo of deadly stories featuring blood an cutlery is just released.
These aren’t the only reasons why I’m a horror writer. The best way to find out more is to read and discover. 🙂
Editing is the art and craft of shaping and refining a manuscript into a publishable book. But gone are the days of a publishing house editor doing this work for the writer. For editors, buying books they think will sell has, of necessity, become the first order of business, and often takes most of their time.
So, before you submit your work to a publisher, introduce yourself to your very first editor: you!
That’s the start of my article about self-editing in MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction (Headline Books, 2011), an amazing anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.
MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT gathers the voices of today’s top genre writers and writing instructors affiliated with Seton Hill University’s acclaimed MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. This hefty book is like a “genre writer’s workshop in a bottle”! Every contributor is a seasoned veteran in the industry or an up-and-coming writer. Many are bestsellers who have won multiple literary awards for their potent and entertaining genre fiction.
More importantly, these contributors know how to teach genre fiction. They are all trained teachers, visiting authors, or published alums from the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program offered by Seton Hill University—the only grad school dedicated to writing commercially-viable genre novels of quality.
One of the things that prevents otherwise good storytellers and writers from achieving publication is an unpolished manuscript. In my article, “Your Very First Editor,” I teach practically how to hone your prose and make it shine, increasing your chances for sale.
MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, Powell’s, and other fine locations.
You can read the introduction on scribd.