Post by Admin Kbatz on Feb 25, 2019 14:55:58 GMT -5
Our very own dianearrelle has submitted a workshop to HOW. Thank you Dina!
Short Story - Make What Scares You Frightening to Your Readers
You like to read short horror. You like to be terrified by what you are reading. You want to return the favor to your readers. Well, it takes some thinking, before you actually write a horror story and here is some help with that.
What scares you? For me the answer is easy: EVERYTHING SCARES ME. I am always looking around and seeing frightening things in the moving shadows that haunt the corners of my vision, yet when I turn to look, they are gone. I fear spiders, the swirling darkness that is inside the dark corners of my bedroom at night, spiders, things that go bump in the night and sometimes in the day, spiders, my cat when she is watching something that is behind me although we are alone, and did I mention spiders?
When you have an idea, remember it is only an idea. You have to think about all the angles before putting that idea to paper. I know my main character before I start writing. That person has lived in my head for quite a while. I have a a large assortment of people living there. Sometimes when I am taking a long walk, I allow my characters dialog time. It develops them for me, I know who they are before I put them in a story. Just to clarify, the characters that I keep are definitely stereotypical. They don’t actually come to life until I put them into the story. Then they become real people to me with flaws and strengths, fears and hopes, loves and dislikes, or if the story warrants, hatred right down to the bone.
Once I have my idea and my characters, I spend an awful lot of time on the plot asking myself “so what?” for each plot turn I create. The story has to pass the “so what” test. So they have a problem. So what? The problem has to be interesting enough to engage the reader and it also has to move the story using scene, dialogue, and my favorite element of the fiction, point of view.
I’ve edited a lot of stories where the main character dies and the point of view changes. That is easy to do, but I feel the real challenge is to create the short story staying with that one character. Single point of view is fun and frustrating, the business of remembering to stay in the one character’s head as you write. But it adds to a reader’s enjoyment as they relate and emphasize with the protagonist. It adds to the terror you are building in your horror story to feel what that one character is feeling and thinking. I have written and had published multiple point of view stories, but I’ve done it for a reason and I always let the editor know tin the cover letter that it is a multiple point of view story and why I I decided to use it.
Now, you have the story you are ready to write. It’s a horror story. Fear is an emotion, the story should encompass more than just fear. Will the story be a romance, a tragedy, an adventure, a western or a comedy? Fear is the driving force but the characters have to have a reason to be there and interact.
So back to what scares you? My first sale was about slugs. They disgust me and I am scared to touch the slimy, little things. Is that enough? Would it bother someone who has never given slugs a thought? The story involved a couple who were alcoholics and lived in squalor. They were definitely not well developed characters, but the story was about 500 words long, funny and the point was the slugs getting even with the couple for salting their friends. It actually covered the more universal theme of nature fighting back which is so much more frightening than a bunch of mindless, slimy slugs.
I spent five months on a ten-thousand word story about what exists inside the dark. Darkness is always a great horror story idea. But not everyone is afraid of the dark. I spend a lot of time making the things we couldn’t see frightening on many levels. There were about eight characters in the story but the point of view was a woman who had a dark past that she had spent many years making up for. The darkness to her was her past and the threat it posed to those around her. It involved another form of darkness, the one of soul and spirit. The light people hold inside them was the key to winning the fight between light and darkness
It involved the evil that lived in the shadows. A story that long allowed for the slow build-up of suspense. That classic going down into the cellar, or up to the attic, or walking through a forest at dusk. The eerie music in the readers mind building up and up, the words “Don’t go in there!” on their lips. The door gets flung open, and . . . nothing! That is a great effect but not to be used too often. To me the most terrifying scene in the Exorcist is when the mother goes into the attic. The scene was excellently done. I peaked through my fingers the entire time, and yet nothing bad happened. It was there to scare you and build that suspense. I will just add that the story I wrote took so long to finish because I worked on it at night and most of the time I scared myself and ran to bed.
Just remember the thing that makes a scary story work is a universal fear, one that affects the reader on several different levels, so that even if the actual monster isn’t frightening to them, the story will scare them anyway.
I am terrified of spiders. I also hate killing them. One day I picked up a spider in a tissue and let it go outside. When I looked at the paper in my hand there was a little tiny spider leg still on it, long after the arachnid had fled to safety. That leg made a chill run through me and I got the idea for a story of a seven legged spider, growing bigger and bigger. That is a scary idea but as the story progressed and each scene with the spider was more and more frightening, I realized that the spider wasn’t the real threat to the main character, it was another person. The monster in this story turned out to be the abusive, homicidal husband with a large helping of ominous, giant spider in there to terrify the arachnophobes.
When you write your story, keep the scares coming by building suspense if you have the space. If it is a flash story don’t waste anytime with backstory. Start it in the heart of the suspense or terror. Remember make the fear feel real even when dealing with the supernatural. Whether your story is five-thousand words or five-hundred, make the terror universal and scare the hell out of your reader.
~ Dina Leacock