E.Z. Morgan’s Seven Succulent Tips For Writing Horror
If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of horrifying ideas. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing! But moving them from your mind to the page is not an easy feat. Here are seven tips for writing the most terrifying tales.
1) Write what you know. First, I want you to think about what scares you. Really think about it, even the small things. Now write them down. Seriously – go open up a doc and start writing them down right now. Write it all, even if you think it’s not scary or too trite. For instance, many people are afraid of spiders. So write the word “Spider” with room underneath. Below the word, describe everything you hate about spiders (they jump, their hairy legs, their creepy eyes, etc). Under that, write down situations when you’ve encountered a spider and/or you would be terrified to find a spider (in the bathtub, crawling along your face at night, etc). This your starting point.
2) Be yourself. This may sound easy but it can be difficult to find your own original voice. We all have favorite authors, but in the end your story belongs to you. Your voice matters. Every unique work contributes to the canon and widens the limits of what horror can be. Don’t try to be Stephen King (it’s exhausting I’m sure!). Be you! Don’t know who you are? That’s fine! Keep writing and you will begin to figure it out.
3) Find horror in the small moments. I think it is often tempting to start writing large-scale horror. Writers go into their first story with the apocalypse in mind. While end-of-the-world stories can be amazing, it is also important to remember the small moments. These are the situations that most readers can relate to. Think of a time that someone got too close in the elevator or that strange noise you heard in your backseat. This is where fear lives. Once you grasp that, then you can kill all of NYC. (Sorry NYC).
4) Do not rely on cheap tricks. It can be easy to fall into the quick plot holes of using rape, incest, abuse, or mental illness to justify your horror. I am not saying you can’t use these topics (I’ve used them all) but don’t rely on them to carry your story. It needs to be scary without them. If you take out the rape is your story still good? Is it still scary? Use the movie ‘Split’ as an example. (Light spoilers ahead). The main character has multiple personalities, but there is also a supernatural element that is the real cause of the horror. If the supernatural element was not present, it would be a much different movie.
5) Embrace ambiguity. A lot of authors feel the need to wrap their stories in neat little bows (myself included). But, leaving a little mystery can really add to the reading experience. Allow the reader to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. This also goes for your writing style in general. If you feel confident writing in first person, then try switching to third. If you always write about monsters, try mixing in some psychological horror. Keep both yourself and your readers on their toes.
6) Do not be afraid of criticism. In the beginning, ask for feedback from the people you trust. They will most likely be kinder than the internet (take it from me). Once you feel a bit more confident, throw your work up on reddit or tumblr and see how it does. Average readers can be incredibly helpful in improving your writing. Once you are able to stomach a few nasty comments, think about using professional editing services. Editors will be blunt and to the point, but they will help you improve. We writers are always working on making our craft better. If you think you are above criticism then your writing will always suffer.
7) MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL – Read as much as possible. I guarantee you will become a better writer if you become a dedicated reader. Read horror novels, short stories, and comics. Try out big names but also make sure to look at indie authors. Get recommendations and follow through with them. If you get tired of only reading horror, move on to quality writers in other genres. Hell, read bad writers! The more you read the more you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. It will also help you define what kind of mood you want to create with your writing.
I hope these tips will help you become the horror author of your nightmares. Remember – the writing community needs you and your voice. Do not let fear keep you from writing.
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