Know Your Fears

Today, while on the NaNoWriMo forums, I came across someone asking for “tips for a first time horror writer”. Their plea read:

Up until this point, I’ve been a fantasy writer. But I’ve always had a thing for the horror genre. I wanna give horror a go for this round of nanowrimo. I’ve never really written any horror before. I’m just curious about some important points of horror writing and what to avoid?

My response was immediate, and even surprised me with how quickly and concisely it came: “Examine your fears.” In fact, I typed a full response, thought about it some more, and realized that I believe in this so much, I decided to hop on my blog and talk about it. So here we are, at my number one suggestion for the Newbie Horror Writer.

 

We’ve all heard the parable, “write what you know, draw what you see”. In the horror genre, especially, I believe that it is important to write what you know. Horror is a visceral experience. It gets in your body, in your mind, and at times very effectively, in your heart. Horror is a genre based on feeling, on crafting an experience for the reader, a ride they can stick with through to the end, hopefully loving you, The Author, for every hairpin turn and gut-lurching drop in your design. But how can you write these gut-lurchers if you don’t know what’s making your reader’s gut lurch?

“The way I look at it, it’s the job of the horror writer/creator (because I’m counting movies in this as well) to know what scares people inside and out, so they can pull those chords and hit those notes without the audience being aware of it.”

One of the worst things a newbie horror writer can do is ask themselves to write about a subject that doesn’t scare them, simply because they think it’s popular in the genre or have a good idea for a plot. You’ll need to really feel the fear of your characters to write your first horror piece, so make it about something that really scares you.

As an example, in my response on the forum, I talked about aliens.

“Aliens scare me. Always have, always will. But I’ve noticed that, for me, it’s not the ‘Alien’ style aliens that scare me, because they look like robots and otherworldly creatures. The aliens that scare me the most are the classic Greyman aliens because they are so similar to humans yet so freaking spooky, so they fall right into my Uncanny Valley.”

In order to explain more visually what I meant, I went to google to find images of Ridley Scott’s aliens versus the classic greyman aliens I mentioned. As soon as I typed “aliens” into the Image search bar, I realized what I’d done. Immediately visuals of the very thing that scares me are popping up on my screen in the middle of the night and my brain is screaming “ABORT! ABORT!”, my pulse leaping and my heart murmuring as it does. This is the reaction, the true visceral reaction of fear, I mean the New Horror Writer to examine when I say:

“Pay attention to what scares you… Then really think about that thing. Study the crap out of it. What is it about that thing, or several ‘its’ about that thing, that scares you? Why?

[…]

Examining your fears like that is honestly my number one suggestion/tip for a first time horror writer, because it’s thinking about fear this way that really gets you into the mindset of an effective horror writer, thinking about the reasons for the fear.”

No cheap scares here, just pure and titillating horror. So go forth, New Horror Writer, and write some spooky shit.

 

2 Steps to Prewriting

Some writers plan. Some writers go by the seat of their pants. I am, dare I say, an over-planner. As such, I can have a very long, over detailed, bordering on unnecessary pre-writing process. But I’m here to say from experience that you should never judge your own process as a writer. We do what we do for a reason. It’s crazy, but we get can get some really good shit out of it.

PreWriting Process

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Book Recs: “Night Shift”

Light of my life, fire of my loins…

night shift

 

“Night Shift” is a collection of horror short stories by the master himself, Stephen King, though he could hardly be called master at the time of these writings. The collection was published in 1977, a short three years after his first novel Carrie, and at the time, The Shining was still on the best seller list. But these stories were written long before, when Stephen King was writing short stories for periodicals and publications, snippets of horror that, on top of being the clear mark of artistic genius, serves an ever more practical purpose of putting a few dollars in the bank. How Dickensian…

But, in true Dickensian fashion, this is where some of the greatest morsels in the Stephen King treasure trove can be found. Notable works from this collection include the titular “Night Shift”, the soon eviscerated but ever beloved “Children of the Corn”, and the original “Jerusalem’s Lot”. Each of these could be considered a horror classic, a King classic at the very least, for tone and suspense, building upon the fear of both what is shown to the reader and, very effectively, what remains unseen.”Grey Matter” is a personal family favorite. Just the name of this story conjures up very visceral images of sitting around the campfire in Baja, listening to this crazy story of transformation with a build up for the ages. To be clear, this isn’t my memory, but it was this memory that was pressed into my hands by my god-dad, along with that same copy of “Night Shift”, when I received my first box of hand me down King paperbacks. This moment meant so much to my parents and their friends, it stuck with them until decades later when they stuck it to me. The power of storytelling.

The power of King’s storytelling touched me through “Trucks”, perhaps the least lauded of the included stories, but the one that pressed on my mind the most. Imagine being 10 years old, camping in the desert, surrounded by big trucks, motorcycles, dune buggies, toy haulers… and reading a story about murderous trucks with more blood and gore than many so called “zombiefests” I’ve read since. I’m serious, “Trucks” makes some apocalyptic stories look like children trying to play Whack-a-Mole. Maybe I was 10 years old, but reading these stories was the first time I can remember having that “I want to keep reading, but I’m too scared, but it’s so good I can’t stop” feeling I’ve come to love so much. “Children of the Corn” cracked my brain open to a world of perverse religious symbolism married with gritty, real life horror that still tantalizes and inspires me to this day. Stylistically, “Jerusalem’s Lot” was a formative key in my understanding classics such as Dracula. “Trucks” let me know I like blood… a lot.

It’s hard to judge a collection of stories in which they are all so different, but that is exactly the strength of “Night Shift”. This is the collection I recommend to friends who tell me they don’t like Stephen King or, more accurately, have never read anything of his. Short Stories are a gateway into horror, and “Night Shift” is no different. Reading this collection is like walking down the hallway of the mind of early Stephen King – the Stephen King who didn’t have legions of readers or a real career in writing, but a Stephen King who had already so clearly found his voice – and peering behind the doors. Behind one door, you may find a body decaying to nothing more than Grey Matter. Behind another, an abandoned church and a horrific ritual. Behind another, blood thirsty, semi-cognizant murder trucks.

And that’s really the beauty of the horror short story collection: If one premise doesn’t tickle your twisted family, go ahead and skip 10 pages to find something new… but you are encouraged to delight in each and every one.

Queen Loser of NaNoWriMo

Yesterday was June 1st which, on top of heralding the arrival of summer, sings out the start of yet another Camp NaNoWriMo season. So I’m crowning myself. Hand me the ball and staff, it’s official.

Queen Loser Ad

What is NaNoWriMo?

I’m not sure how, but any time I talk to other writers and mention something about NaNoWriMo, they hardly ever know what I’m talking about. This magic, maddening month created to test the limits of both creativity and commitment has evaded their spheres completely. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, has been pretty much ubiquitous in my life since I was in middle school, teasing me with its possibilities, so I don’t quite know how so many people have missed it…

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

(source: nanowrimo.org/about)

Like it says on the tin, National Novel Writing Month is a month long challenge to write an entire novel of 50,000 words (about 200 pages) in the 30 days of November. You sign up for a profile, announce your project to the community, and use forums and the Writing Buddy system to keep yourself inspired and supported along your journey. Winners win NaNo by completing the 50,000 words in the allotted time. For their more frequent, less intensive Camp NaNoWriMo events in April and July, you choose your own word count goal, but win the same way.

And I am a Big, Fat Loser!

I probably couldn’t give you an accurate count of how many NaNo’s I’ve attempted. NaNoWriMo has been a thing since 1999, so I certainly haven’t participated in every one, but almost every year through middle school and high school, I told myself I was going to finally do NaNo and I was going to win. Almost every year. Eventually I was cynical enough to be honest with myself, but picked the idea up again in college a couple of times as well. Now here I am, a community college dropout, with about 3,000 words written for the April Camp event.And that is the absolute best I’ve ever done.

I shouldn’t sell myself and my own commitment short. I was actually on my way to a much better word count in April, but I ended up moving just a week or so into the month, so that got a little derailed. I’m not good enough at adulting yet. That’s one month’s excuse, and I’m sure I could come up with a few for every month I’ve ever lost, but that’s just it. I’ve lost every month. I’ve never, ever won.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want one thing to be abundantly clear: I’m just a normal person. I’m a generic person with words in my heart and a full time job filling my schedule. I’m a regular person now living in a one room studio apartment I share with my long term boyfriend. I’m a normal person with a normal life… and that’s kind of the point. National Novel Writing Month clearly works for people, and there are some people for whom it works every year, because the format both inspires and challenges them. The format only leaves me wishing I had magical chronian powers. Were I to have said magical chronian powers, I could get up every morning at 2 am and pause the world, knocking out thousands of words every day only to unpause and go back to the rest of my REMs. Were I so endowed, writing a novel in 30 days and maintaining a job and a relationship and several friendships and eating and sleeping and….. all of that might actually be possible, let alone manageable.

Not only is there the time commitment, there is also the issue of inspiration. Not the kind of inspiration Faulkner tells us to bang out at our keyboards “every morning at 9 am”, but the basic inspiration of a story spark. Sometimes my NaNoWriMo dies days in because the book baby I’d conceived ended up looking too contrived, too overplayed, too uninspired as soon as I actually put words on screen. In this case, the story never gets written because I feel it doesn’t deserve it. I’d rather hack it to bits and just let it die. So die, it does.

But Lena, you said you do NaNoWriMo almost every year… Why?

Because none of these complaints are a valid enough excuse to deny that this is, in fact, a pretty inspired idea. For all the Cons that I can see, I also glean some pretty powerful Pros from my fairly regular “participation” in the event.

The main selling point of NaNoWriMo is the community aspect. Not only are you embarking on the journey to putting your creation into the world, but so are thousands, if not millions of people every single November (plus Camps), and you can reach out to them right on the website. The NaNo Forums are a wealth of resources, advice, pep talks, and general writer chat. Because of the popularity of the events and foundation, there’s always activity on the boards, even during non event months. If posting on forums isn’t your thing, you can also use #nanowrimo, and other event specific hashtags, on just about any social media and connect to other writers there. With such a large, active community, it’s easy to see why writers like me flock to the site almost daily, even if it’s not currently WriMo (*cough* add me @palmandpearl *cough*).

The format of the challenge itself is also incredibly freeing to me, despite what I said earlier about ideas dying as soon as there’s words on my screen. NaNo allows me to be unafraid and unapologetic in my own self judgment, as well as in the writing itself. The goal is write 50,000 words in one month? Then put those words on the page, throw them out there no matter how hard it is to fish them out of your own mouth, devil and consequences of shitty sentence structure be damned. The story is there, so just get it out. On one hand, NaNo encourages this “fuck it, I don’t care if it’s bad” attitude. On the other hand, we all have to draw the line somewhere. My line is drawn at trying to force the entire story just because I need to count words. If I have to shit out a couple of scenes to get through the narrative and edit them into glory later, so be it. If I’n shitting out an entire bad story just for the pride of calling myself an writer, the only thing I should truly be calling myself is a bad writer. That’s where I draw the line, and all my various attempts at NaNoWriMo events have taught me that. Where do you draw your line? NaNo will probably help you find out.

Perhaps most importantly, National Novel Writing Month reminds me every year, whether I win or even participate or not, that I am a writer. On months I participate, I just want to write more. For the months I don’t, I’ll sit around about mid month wishing that I had made the commitment and truly gone for it, imagining the work I’ll put out one day. Some months I spend just in the community, surrounding myself with people who write, supporting them and cheering them on, knowing I could and one day will be suffering the same struggles and celebrating the same victories. NaNoWiMo reminds me that I love to write, that I always have, and that I always will. For that reason alone, I continue to jump on the #nanowrimo bandwagon, and would recommend it to anyone who writes, even if they “fail”. In writing, there is no failure. We are constantly learning and growing, and, if you think about it, NaNo is essentially a 30 day immersion program, helping us learn and grow at an accelerated pace. And even if we don’t end up with completed, amazing manuscripts, ready to change the world, we’re writing. Isn’t that what matters?

Visit The NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo websites to sign up and get started. It’s only Day 2 of June, and writing starts in July!

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thanks for reading and visiting her mythic shit on wordpress. For more, follow me on twitter and tweet me @hermythicshit!

If you are a NaNo-er looking for a buddy, add me or message me @palmandpearl