Sunday, 27 February 2011

How Not to Write Horror: The Conclusion

Firstly, I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has commented on the contents of How Not to Write Horror, and I hope that it's been interesting for you.

The biggest comments have comes from endings, so I'll come to that in a minute, but first Jessica A Weiss (Author, Editor and Founder of Wicked East Press), whilst commenting on her preference towards situational/suspense horror, said this:

It all comes down to personal tastes.

Too true. Whilst most authors that I know don't peddle gore in the market, there is a place for it (and hey, I like to read it sometimes) and there is no right or wrong.

On the predictability of the Vampire and Werewolf:

Charles Day (Author and Founder of Hidden Thoughts Press) said:

It is true, you need to breath new life into these legenday characters, and they too need characters in their story that people will fall in love with!!

On endings:

Sean T Page (Author of The Official Zombie Handbook UK) said:

I think one of the biggest traps is falling into a predictable massive twist ending - it you do it right, it will be brilliant - get it wrong & you fall into every cliche bucket in the world. Sean is of course correct he said, "Actually, she died last week so how can you have seen her!!"
No one needs to see these endings, they're tride and predictable.

So that, I think, about wraps it up for now.

Hm. I suppose I should end with a great inspirational statement. How about:

Read Richard Laymon if you want great twists, the right way to write gore, and frankly, to have your socks scared off of you.



Sunday, 20 February 2011

How Not to Write Horror: Part 5

Part 5: Endings. Happy or Not?

Back to films (briefly), another question raises its head. Should it really finish? Freddy, Jason and the likes have been going for years, with each film leaving you with the impression that they’re coming back. That’s movies.

If I have invested my time in reading a book – or short – that isn’t recognized as part of a bigger picture, I’m annoyed at a cliffhanger ending. Just saying.

So happy endings, should we use them exclusively?

I recently gained criticism from my peers over a story that didn’t have a happy ending, although I thought that I was justified in my not-so-happy ending. If you’ve read my work, you’ll know that I happily dispatch main characters in closing scenes. So I’m not a rainbows and flowers writer. But does that mean my stories don’t have happy endings?

Ultimately, it depends on you, the author, on how you want the story to finish. I’m looking for one word – closure.

If you kill your main character/s are you justified in doing so? Not for a happy ending, but to complete the story. All I ask for is an ending, without the ambiguity of, say, a Freddy film.

There is nothing wrong with killing off the cast to achieve a satisfying end.

That said, do you need to kill them all off? Of course not, no.

Take Clive Barker’s shorts in the ‘Books of Blood’. There are stories in there where no one of consequence dies, yet the chilling nature of the stories won’t let you put them down.

It can be done in many ways, but I urge you to finish the story, and most importantly, satisfy the reader.

Satisfying the reader leads to the other question, one predominant in horror writing… the twist. We know that ‘the twist’ is massively important in a horror story… or is it? From my personal writings, I feel that a twist is always there, sometimes significantly, sometimes not. My twists can unfold during the story, or in other cases are literally revealed in the last sentence.

Twists need to be shocking and surprising – that’s easy. They need to be believable in the context of the story (Yes, I’m looking at all the tales that end with ‘it was all a dream’ etc.) and if you’re going to put in a major twist at the end, it needs to stand up to re-reads.

I’ve seen The Sixth Sense many times – you all know what I’m talking about – but at no point during the viewing can you say, “Hey, that doesn’t work with the end.”

Sometimes the end doesn’t rear its head (to even the writer) until the last minute. Make sure you follow these rules as best you can:

Don’t cheat the reader – they’ll hate you.

Conclude the tale – no one wants to be left with half a story.

Rubbish twist? Rubbish story.

Plot holes – leave none.

This (sort of) concludes How Not to Write Horror, although in the next week I will be compiling a summary of the feedback that I have received from authors, editors and publishers to help you know… How Not to Write Horror.

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

Part 2 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.

Part 3 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.

Part 4 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.


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

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ransom: Now Available

The anthology Ransom: Give me what I want and I'll go away... (Maybe) is now available.

What happens when your child goes missing and the ransom is your own humanity? Can an obsessive fan drive you insane? When a mob boss forces you to play piano against your will, can you escape? How would you react to a family secret that changes the entire history of your family? These questions and more are answered in this collection of 14 tales of intrigue.

You can find it here in the UK:

And here in the US:

It's the first Antho to be published by Wicked East Press, so I urge you to buy it!


Sunday, 13 February 2011

How Not to Write Horror: Part 4

Part 4: Three Golden Rules…. if you want to be published.

There are many things that individual publishers and presses seek from their writers, each as unique as the house itself. That said, there are many different ‘rules of thumb’ that may help in the endeavour to achieve work on the printed page. Here’s just some that, in my experience, they don’t want:

Graphic and unnecessary sex: A lot – and I mean a lot – of horror movies tout sex. Especially to a new writer, this indicates that it should be there. It doesn’t. On the silver screen sex is there for a different reason – nudity.
Sometimes scenes of an erotic nature are necessary for the plot to move forward, but mostly they’re not. Think about your reasons.

Children: A vast amount of horror has the inclusion of children (sometimes intrinsically woven into the plot). There really is nothing wrong with that. However, there are some things that I would warn you away from when dealing with them.

Firstly, brutal violence towards children is generally unnecessary and gives the result of revulsion to the reader – not horror. Secondly – and more importantly – is sexualizing children. Don’t do it. It’s not creepy in a good way. No one wants to read it. Ever.

Language: We (the human race) don’t all talk like Samuel L Jackson in a Tarantino film. The delivery of lines that include ‘M……r F…..r’ can be pulled off to great dramatic effect… by the right actor, however, generally, the reader doesn’t want to read a paragraph of text laden with colourful metaphors.

Sometimes this sort of language feels in place and necessary to the scene, but don’t be surprised if the editor removes it to make it more family friendly. I’ve have swearing removed from my work that’s going into a horror collection aimed at adults.

Concluding in the final part, Part 5: Endings. Happy or Not?

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

Part 2 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.

Part 3 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.


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

Sunday, 6 February 2011

How Not To Write Horror: Part 3

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

Whether you’re new to writing or a seasoned author, when someone mentions horror, the vamps, undead and lycan tend to spring straight to mind. That’s good – they can be scary. But whoa there, think just a little about it.

I’m back again to what’s scary?

Okay, in part 2, I said that you needed effective characters to allow the reader to invest emotion. This is true. That said, if your character (built up to a status that you care more about than your best friend) is in a repetitive situation that you’ve seen before – well, who cares?

Confusing is it not?

Take this:

Jasper, who has a young daughter that lives alone with him since the untimely illness and departure of his wife, Cali, has problems. Financially he’s ruined. Spending so much time with his beautiful and adoring six year old girl has left him penniless, and close to losing the house. It’s all been worth it, because he loves her so much.

There is investment for the reader (I know I’ve simplified).

One day, Jasper answers the door to man shrouded in darkness, who promises untold riches to him and his daughter, and an eternity to love each other… if only they join him as a vampire…

There you go, I ruined it. It’s a bit too close to Anne Rice really. Lestat et al were outstanding characters in themselves. Why invest time and emotion in a remake – when let’s be honest, the original was probably better.

This applies to all horror genres. If you think it up, then it’s already been done so you need to move outside the box. Think different.

If you want to write vamp, and this goes for werewolf as well, if you’ve seen it in a film, read the story, or looked over the comic book, you’re failing from the start. The last story I had published about a vampire (I don’t write about them much) involved a vamp, a child, a man walking his dog and street walker. It makes the mind boggle. (exactly!)

This leads to zombies (and the like).

Zombies come in hordes. (I know that I said in part 1 that hordes are bad – but due to market forces people like to read zombie fiction)

The point that I made in part 1 is that ‘the horde’ itself doesn’t make scary. This stands. Aside from the above (you remember, originality), the horde only works if you’ve read part 2 (characterization). What can you do differently – originally – with a horde of zombies? The answer is generally nothing. So you need to be original with the characters.

So the conclusion here is: Originality wins. Every time. Trust me.

Continuing in Part 4: Three Golden Rules…. if you want to be published.

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

Part 2 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.


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