“On Writing Horror” – Part Seven

David | Oct 15, 2009 min read

Part 7 of On Writing Horror is titled “Genre and Subgenre”, but the 10 articles also cover concerns with medium as well (screenplay, theater, audio).

Archetypes and Fearful Allure: Writing Erotic Horror, Nancy Kilpatrick

I really struggled with this one. Kilpatrick seems to rely heavily on the concept of Archetypes, and the crux of her advice can be summed up in the following quote:

This means that the energy embedded in the image resonates with all readers because it taps into and stirs up the collective unconscious.

I don’t see anything practical in that sort of advice. I mean, conceptually, it’s a neat way of thinking about it - Archetypes as a framework for developing characters can be useful. But, I didn’t find any truly functional advice in here.

A few other things bothered me. She makes a pretty bold statement when she addresses the balance between Erotic and Horror in a single story: “The story needs to perform on both levels equally.” My problem is, this is a black and white statement. The story works if it achieves and appropriate balance, not by achieving 100% equality on each side.

The rest of the article reiterated a lot of the same things as the other. Reinforcement of good ideas, but nothing really new or useful to me personally.

Writing for the New Pulps: Horror-Themed Anthologies, John Maclay

This one interested me. I always thought Anthologies were ‘invite only’ publications. Goes to show how little I know about the publishing world. Anyhow, Maclay and the editors he interviewed make some good cases for working with anthologies.

  • They are geared to sell, although not necessarily in a way that authors make significant money.
  • They are an opportunity for new authors to get published next to established authors.
  • They have taken the place of the old pulp magazines, many of which are dwindling or defunct.

Never considered it as an accessible market, now I will. I guess that’s what I got from this.

Freaks and Fiddles, Banjos and Beasts: Writing Redneck Horror, Weston Ochse

Great introduction to Urban Horror. Honestly, I’ve never really given much serious consideration to what exactly it is, but I really think Ochse gets to the heart of the matter. Urban Horror is about isolation, not locale. Urban Gothic, Brian Keene’s latest novel, is a great example of this concept. It’s a standard Cannibal Clan story, along the lines of Wrong Turn or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it takes place in a New Jersey ghetto. In today’s world, that ghetto in NJ is just as isolated as the solitary farm in Appalachia.

Ochse goes on to discuss what a Redneck is, and gives a comparison of the ‘stereotype’ with great examples from current works. He boils it down to a perspective on the world that’s derived from the isolation, the lack of “book-learning” and a reliance on intuition. He adds in this sort of fiction relies more heavily on dynamic characterization, but I think that’s a good target regardless of subgenre.

What really spoke to me in this piece is Ochse treatment of style. He claims that Backwoods Horror is neither genre nor subgenre, but a style. Maybe, maybe not. The style he goes on to describe, though, is one I’ve found myself striving for as of late. He says that “imagery fails as sentence structures expand”, and he cites Ed Lee as an example of strong prose through “active voice and transitive verbs.” The writer still has to describe things to the reader, but:

This is done with short, declarative sentences and strong transitive verbs. The reader gets the image in a one-two punch instead of a long visual wrestling match.

I’ve found that the more I focus on achieving this style of writing, the less my work wanders. I guess in a way it forces me to get to the point, and I think it creates a fast pace for the reader regardless of the level of action.

Youth Gone Wild, Lee Thomas (aka Thomas Pendleton)

I’m not interested in writing YA stuff, but there are some interesting observations in here. Thomas notes that teens are in a unique point in their lives, and I don’t think anyone can argue with that. Teens are in a constant struggle, one that can serve as a metaphor for the human conditions of life and death, of movement and journey, and of loss. These are all very powerful emotions that can serve as underpinnings for good horror.

The rest of the article covers usage of slang (sparingly, just like dialect), boundaries, and an overview of what editors look for in teen fiction. Not interesting to me.

Writing Horror comic books - And Graphic Novels, David Campiti

This was another enlightening article. As with anthologies, I personally never considered writing comic books. Much of the actual writing advice in here is a rehash of ideas presented throughout with some focus on comics, but the gem is revealing how lucrative comic books actually be for a writer.

Acts of Madness: Writing Horror for the Stage, Lisa Morton

I have no interest in being a playwright. Morton’s article covers the peculiarities of being a playwright, from working with a company to the mechanics of portraying visceral horror on the stage. But, I personally found nothing in there that would help me be a better writer. Not a shortcoming of the article, just a mismatch of interests.

Fear Spins Off: The Tie-In Novel Comes Into Its Own, Yvonne Navarro

Tie-Ins are a long way off for me. If ever. Actually, probably never. I prefer to work in my world, not someone else’s. Navarro makes it pretty clear that Tie-Ins are really only available to writers who have proven themselves, so experience and reliability are key to even getting a chance in this space.

I found it interesting that Tie-Ins are usually written just from the script. It explains why the visualizations contained in the novel version often stray quite a bit from the movie.

The Play’s the Thing on the Doorstep: Writing Video and Role-Playing Games, Richard E. Dansky

Another one I’m not interested in at this point. I’m just trying to be a better writer! Anyhow, writing for RPGs and video games is clearly a team sport. Dansky does a nice job of delineating the writer’s role in both processes.

Now Fear This: Writing horror for Audio Theater, Scott Hicky and Robert Madia

Another interesting medium to work with, one I might tackle some day. What I found fascinating, although not surprising, is that dialog has to spell things out for the listener. What makes for good dialog in print makes for terribly ambiguous audio scripting.

Hicky and Madia also make the claim that “…the time is ripe for a comeback of the genre in new and emerging media.” Okay, yes, the Internet certainly provides a readily accessible channel for setting audio theater. But, having an accessible channel doesn’t mean this will make a comeback. I’m not arguing against it, but I didn’t see anything in the article aside from “the internet makes it so” to support this statement. Is there an audience for it? In the face of competition from the likes of On-Demand cable and streaming video like YouTube, is there a contingent of folks other than the nostalgic few to make and keep audio theater horror as a viable market? I don’t know, but it seems counterintuitive to me.

Good Characters and Cool Kills: Writing the Horror Screenplay, Brendan Deneen

What I got most from Deneen’s article is a sense of proportion. He covers the issues of premise, protagonist, villian, kills, second act, and conclusion, much of it similar to what’s been said before.

In his discussion on Second Act and Conclusion, he gets at something not really covered. The idea of timing (or pacing), and how it needs to be tracked and manipulated to meet audience expectation. He talks in terms of screen time, but I think it’s an important notion. In order to keep things moving along, to keep the audience engaged in the middle, the story must have layers. And, it’s during the second act that those layers are explored and peeled back, momentarily leaving the prime horror element to explore the lives of the characters. It’s a good framework, I think, for tackling the middle of any story, not just screenplays. The conclusion, then, serves to tie all the layers together. He adds that in a screenplay, the conclusion should be open-ended enough for a sequel.

One other bit Deneed pulled out that I had not put any thought into is that the protagonist and villain should have a direct connection. When I read it, I thought, “duh”. But in considering my current work, I realized I had not made a direct connection yet between the two. So, I got some work ahead of me.

NB: All in all, I didn’t get a lot out of this section. I think that’s because it covers so much in such broad terms that there’s bound to be parts that aren’t of interest to all horror writers.

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