WIHM: Writing Horror Is A Nightmare

By: Colleen Anderson

For some writers, everything is easy: the flow of words, the subject, the conflict and the resolution. For others, there are areas that are a struggle. And sometimes, you must hunt and trap the muse because it just doesn’t want to inspire.

But writing horror: oh yeah, that is its own special nightmare. 

Don’t get me wrong; there are many reasons that any type of writing is difficult for the best of us.

  • You write alone, whether in the dark or not.
  • You can make many stories that are never sold.
  • It’s not as easy to get someone to tell you what they think, say, as showing them your painting, sculpture or song. They have to read your whole novel!
  • Rejection: forget about being ghosted by someone you had one date with. Writers face numerous rejections on their stories and poems all the time.

Now, I didn’t think I had a love of horror when I first started writing. I mean, I hate gore movies, didn’t really watch any spinetinglers, did not read horror novels and didn’t know much about the genre. Of course, I never thought that when I was watching all those old shows like The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits that I was watching horror. Or that when I read Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe that they were horror. Or that I loved anything with Vincent Price and all those old Universal monster flicks, and they were gothic and horror. 

When I found that publishers were turning down my subs because they didn’t “do horror” and that I was nicknamed “Splatterqueen” at Clarion West and that I started selling more horror and dark stories than other types, that maybe, just maybe I was into horror. Call me a slow learner.

But this is the worst part of writing horror and dark stories: the research. You’re probably thinking Oh, poor baby. Not! but researching dark themes can be truly disturbing. Horror isn’t called horror because it makes you feel all bright and fluffy. No, it’s all about unsettling you, making you jump at a creak in your house, checking those shadows twice, and eying your fellow humans, wondering what is just wriggling beneath the skin. 

To write effectively in the realm of darkness, you must dig into the viscera. Sometimes it’s exploring the motives of humans. I’m fascinated by the sociopathic mind, and judging from the popularity of Dexter, which I never saw, many people are. Sociopaths at their worst are really a different race of being. To be human we understand and relate to the human condition—the pains and worries, the loves and joys that make each of us individuals. But sociopaths cannot relate and do not feel any empathy. I had to research this mind, to be accurate and realistic in my portrayal. And then, of course, I had to try to think like a sociopath. If you aren’t one, it’s not easy. To have my character in “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” torture and kill animals and experiment on a child was extremely difficult to write. My mind kept shying away. In fact, I had too much detail at one point and had to pull back. The point wasn’t to completely disgust the reader but to make them feel as uncomfortable as I felt, to see the alien aspect.

I also had to research decomposition and the number of insects in the world. To find out that if you added up all the insects and all other species, the insects outnumber every other living creature, and that it’s a very fine ecological balance before they overrun the earth—well, that is truly, absolutely terrifying. It’s no wonder so many alien invasion movies feature insectoid invaders. It’s also a cautionary tale about climate change.

I’ve written several stories on sociopathic minds. I’ve sometimes presented my characters with the most awful choices and the consequences. I’ve lost sleep over my tales. So, yes, writing horror is a nightmare, but it wouldn’t be a good story if it didn’t ring true. A tale that stays with you is effective. It makes you think and see from a different perspective. I will reluctantly face this nightmare again, the next time I research and write something we might prefer stays in the shadows.

Colleen Anderson

Colleen Anderson


Colleen Anderson is a Canadian author who has been twice nominated for the Aurora Award in poetry, several times for a Rhysling award, and longlisted for the Stoker Award in fiction. As a freelance editor, she has co-edited Tesseracts 17 and Aurora nominated Playground of Lost Toys. Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland (Exile Publishing) was her first solo anthology. She has served on Stoker Award and British Fantasy Award juries, and guest edited Eye to the Telescope. Over 270 works have seen print with some new or upcoming pieces in Polu Texni, The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias, Thrilling Words, Nameless Magazine, and many others. Her fiction collection, A Body of Work was published by Black Shuck Books, UK. She is also working on a poetry collection and alternate world novel. www.colleenanderson.wordpress.com

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