Sunday, 30 January 2011

How Not to Write Horror: Part 2

Part 2: Why should I care… if you die?

… and by die I mean any of: Death, Mutilation, Kidnapping, Torture, Toe Stubbing, Poisoning, Orphaning… and generally anything else bad happening. I mean, that’s the point of horror, isn’t it? Threat is a good word to describe what we write about in horror. So why should I care if you’re threatened?

Reading stories involves an investment by the reader – their time and emotion. If they’re reading horror, the investment should reward with heightened feelings, adrenaline pulses and sensory arousal.

This mostly comes down to the characterization of the people in the world that you create. A novel about a man that does nothing, says nothing and has no objective holds little favour in the eyes of the reader. What I’m saying, is that if you want to draw a reader in to your story, you need to give them a reason. The number one reason for investing your emotion in a story is to care about the protagonists.

Depending on the length of horror you’re aiming at, depends on how much the reader should care. I know that there are many lengths of story, but for convenience (mine, mostly) I’ll break it down to three: Flash Fiction, Short Story, and Novel.

Flash Fiction

Back in Part 1, I used the term scary, now I’m talking about characters. Flash fiction generally has a maximum word count of between 500 and 1500 words. Building a character in 1500 words isn’t too hard… but hold on… you need a story as well – a scary one. Hm. It’s tough isn’t it?

There is actually a vast difference between the word limits that I’ve mentioned. A 500 word story gives you no time for anything: a short build of story and a shock.

Flash fiction of this length shouldn’t have, and doesn’t need, character building – you don’t have time and the reader isn’t looking for vast investment in any sense. It’s about the shock. 1500 word stories are different, but the worst thing that you can do is spend 1000 of those words describing how your hero’s beard is perfect.

What I’m saying is, that in flash fiction, build your story not your character.

Short Story

Let’s say up to 7000 words. A lot isn’t it? No. However, a short story rattling up 5-7K in length is plenty time for you to create a character.

If you want to scare, the reader has to care.

It’s difficult to create a persona in less than, say, 1000 words, but with a short story you have the ability to develop the main character over the progression of the story. Don’t flood the reader with inane details about who they are reading about right at the start. Some inane details are worth knowing – but spread them over the story.

By the end of the story, a well developed character should be present – one in which the reader feels justified in caring about.


There are two ways to look at character development in novels. The first is the one that develops a character (or characters) over the first few chapters.

This has one great advantage… throughout the novel you care about those described.

But also, you have to be really good at it. I’m reading a novel, I want to be scared, why am I reading about Bob Smith? Read Stephen King. He’s good at it.

The second way is to develop characters over time – you’ve got plenty of it – but you must invest a little in the character at the start, and most of all, you mustn’t forget to characterize over time.

So the conclusion here is: You’re not going to scare anyone by talking about a faceless nobody.

Continuing in Part 3: Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves and the like.

Part 1 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.


These are my own opinions, and should only be taken as a guideline.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


I was lucky enough to be interviewed by the Heroic Fantasy website. You can find it here:

(The interview before mine was with Michael Moorcock! Eek!)


Sunday, 23 January 2011

How Not to Write Horror: Part 1

Part 1: The Misconception

So you want to write horror? Good. You’ve never written it before? Fine. So what is this misconception? It’s simple. By simple, I mean simple for me to say… not for you to write.

Let’s take it to its base term: What is horror?

Films are generally where most of us find our first love of horror: Alien, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser… yes, I’m citing classic horror of the last thirty years or so, because I know that you’ve all seen them. Wait. What? You haven’t seen those films… go and watch them now, I’ll wait…

… seen them now? Good. I’ll continue.

All three of the above are great examples of horror well done. It doesn’t matter for this part that they’re films, it’s about the misconception.

Each of them exhibits a different mood, theme and vitally, different take on scary. Now I’ve changed horror into scary. Horror, true horror, should scare the reader. Now scaring the reader is a whole different part, but after all, this is how not to write horror and for that we can look at the scary takes that each of the examples have given, and how in the same contents we can fubar it.

Whether it’s a monster, a dream or hell itself, these films are there to scare. They are dark, intense and atmospheric. So how can we ruin that?

Misconception 1: More is better.

I think that all writers have done it, and to be honest, in the realms of the finished article, the stories turned out the way that we wanted. They may be good stories, they may be great, but what’s wrong with them? Take these two brief scenarios (clich├ęd that they may be):

Driving down the windy road (night, raining, lightening of course) the car containing male A and female B breaks down. Male A goes for help, never to return. Female B goes in search of him, bumping into random spooky male C. Horror ensues.

Driving down the windy road (night, raining, lightening of course) the car containing male A and female B breaks down. The broken down car in besieged by twenty or so hungry vampires, and much swinging of crosses and gnashing of teeth ensues.

The second of the two may make for a great story, an epic action tale of heroism and slaying, but is unlikely to draw the reader into the scary zone. If you want scary… stay simple.

Misconception 2: Blood, gore, guts and horribly and graphically described sticky deaths.

There is a massive misconception that revulsion is the same thing as horror. It’s not. I’ve written horror where virtually no one dies, and especially being described on the page. Whilst equally I’ve had stories rejected by a press for the simple reason that I’d hidden my story under a fountain of blood.

Writing about the bogie man (whether it be monsters, vamps, zombies, humans, etc.) doesn’t need be a blood-fest of graphic violence.

It needs to about your ability to stir emotions in the reader, emotions that they may not want, but will turn the page until you are ready to take them away.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for gore, graphic violence and torture porn, but it’s not in horror fiction when you are replacing scary (or the story completely) with it – only when it’s there to nurture it – and it’s unlikely you’ll need it… not if your story is scary.

So the conclusion here is: Hordes of anything is unlikely to be scary in a story, and, ripping the throat out of someone maybe necessary, but if it takes you 500 words to do it, and your thought on the finished article is, “that’ll terrify them,” you’re most likely wrong.

Continuing in Part 2: Why should I care… if you die?


These are my own opinions, and should only be taken as a guideline.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Coming soon...

Shortly, The Filing Words Blog will be putting up a five part advice section on wrtiting horror and what not to do...

How Not to Write Horror.


Sunday, 16 January 2011

Hidden Thoughts: Open Call - True Stories in Mental Wellness

From Hidden Thoughts Press:

I want raw, no holding back, from the heart stories about your ups and downs, time as a patient and more importantly, how you pulled through. You stories of success will inspire others who read this anthology book, giving and sharing the knowledge needed to survive and defeat their illness so they too, will be able to attain whatever goals they want and desire.

Hidden Thoughts Press is a small press dedicated to Mental Wellness and the sharing of real life stories to help others understand and deal with their own problems.
It's a fantastic cause and supported fully by The Filing Words Blog.
If you are interested in following and supporting Hidden Thoughts:
Open Call for Real Stories on Mental Wellness

Charles Day (Founder) 

Friday, 14 January 2011

A New Year, and Time to see if Kevin's back.

Well, I'm back after my Christmas break (and by break I actually stopped writing for about five days - mostly over New Year).

So it's time to flush out some stuff. Currently I'm working on short, (still got those novels sitting there half done) and waiting on some subs - predominately 'Redemption'. Both Charlie and myself must've chewed down to our knuckles by now.

So, the question remains, is Kevin back to haunt more writing, or will I have writer's block?

The answer is simple... neither. I've been writing a short this week, the words are coming out slowly, but surely... it's working, so it's all good.


Cup of Joe and Ransom from Wicked East Press should be making an appearance soon.

Rock & Roll is Dead from Blood Bound Books has been delayed due to health problems, but will be out hopefully in the next two months or so. (Get well Marc)

That just leaves There can be Only One, and the Wicked Bag of Tales, both of which close to authors at the end of this month, but I'm all done and dusted with them. ('cause I'm a good boy)