A welcome to the blog as well as a few thoughts on Finding the Fear when creating horror stories.
Thank you, all, for tuning in to the inaugural post of Screams and Dreams, my blog in support of my author’s website. The plan is to post at least twice a month to begin with, with the aim to eventually post weekly about works-in-progress, writing tips, and conversations about life in general. We’ll connect up with readers from Facebook, and hopefully some of the posts here will spark some interesting conversation both here and on other platforms. So, with those thoughts in mind, let’s continue on…
Finding the Fear
When I start thinking about writing a horror story, one of the first things I think about is where, in the story, the fear resides. Sure, it’s always easy to fall back on the monstrous; rabid animals, werewolves, vampires, crazed axe murderers…yes, those are scary, but in the conventional way that readers can see coming a mile away. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make these creatures bad, just lacking in…I dunno… subtlety.
To me, fright lives somewhere deeper than that in the psyche. If you can tap into that sort of fear, your story can be far more effective and satisfying for your reader than any bloody, gore-filled romp through the woods. But then the question becomes, how do you find the fear that will be effective? What does it look like in your story once you do find it?
The first thing I do when I’m looking for the fear is to take a step back and examine my story idea. I try and look at the big picture of the story before I even write the first word. Occasionally I’ll take some brainstorming notes at this stage, but sometimes I just let my mind float and examine the world I’m attempting to create with my tale. When I examine the story idea, I try to identify two things.
First, I want to identify what overall feeling I hope to evoke with the story. And no, “afraid” isn’t good enough. There are different types of horror, as we all know, and you need to identify which type of horror you’re trying to portray. Do you want to portray the slow, psychological horror of a stalker? Do you want to portray the fast-paced horror of a chase through a misty, shadowy wood? Or, maybe, you’re trying to portray the gradual realization that someone (maybe even the protagonist) isn’t who they say they are. These are all “big picture” fears; once you’ve got these identified you’re halfway there.
Second, I want to identify the fear that will take me to the type of horror I want my story to express. Let’s take the example of “the gradual realization that someone isn’t who they say they are”. First, think about the different ways you can achieve this overall “horror”. Does someone have amnesia? Does your protagonist suspect a friend or family member is hiding something? Maybe your protagonist is possessed by something and is hiding something from themselves. Next, think about how this situation – in our example we’re going to choose amnesia – can be fearful within your story. Since we’re thinking about how amnesia can be fearful, let’s consider the different effects of amnesia. Our character with amnesia could think they are a “good person” but perhaps has urges that are opposite of this. Maybe the amnesiac is the protagonist and can’t understand why they want to do troubling things. Let your mind run wild with the possibilities of where the fear can be found in your situation.
Now that you’ve identified your overall horror situation, then identified the path to the fear, all that needs done now is the actual writing of the story. Whether you’re using the supernatural as your vehicle to the fear, or if you’re finding fear in the every day, put yourself in the shoes of the characters you’re writing. Not just your protagonist, but all the characters you’re choosing to portray. How do you feel as the “source” of the fear? How do you feel as the “victim(s)” of the fear? How do you feel as those on the outside of the action looking in?
If you can find the fear and then find a connection to that fear, you’re ready to create an effective, satisfying, and scary horror tale.
Thank you for reading the first blog post, and I hope something here is useful to you as a writer and helps improve your creative process and your writing! Until next time, I am…