Scaring Children for a Living: Writing Horror for Middle Grade and Young Adult
By Ty Drago
The release of my novel RAGS through eSpec Books in the coming weeks marks my fifth published horror novel targeted to YA or Middle Grade readers. RAGS tells its story through the eyes of 16-year-old Abby Lowell, who must navigate through one supernatural terror after another in order to save the people she loves. Her journey is harrowing, suspenseful, and often a bit gory. But that’s horror in the nutshell, isn’t it?
The challenge arises when the writer has to balance traditional horror elements with the demands of a younger audience. Miss the former and the story comes off as more of an adventure than true horror. Miss the latter and readers will shy away.
Let me elaborate.
Traditional horror novels are paced slow. Don’t believe me? Have a gander at Stephen King (back when he was still penning the scary stuff). Then check out Joe Hill, Dean R. Koontz, and even H.P. Lovecraft. In horror, one builds tension by “filling in the reader’s blanks,” describing the texture of the air, the nuance of a thrumming heart, the bitter coppery tang of blood. Every sensory experience of the character in the thick of things drags the reader from scene to scene. Anticipation is the order of the day—and all else, including action, takes a back seat to it.