Tag Archives: Dan Wells

Don’t be Afraid to Write–Horror

monkey paw“What do you write?” is the most common question I get when people find out I’m a writer. At first I really wasn’t sure.

Fiction, I suppose. I write fiction.

“What kind?” would be the follow up. I really didn’t know so I would spout out some authors.

My writings are like John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and maybe Orson Scott Card. These were favorite authors, but my stories were a little different than theirs.


Hmm, not really. I guess you’d call it more thriller.

I asked one lady what she liked to read. “Horror,” she said. “I love horror.”

I was surprised. This little gal, sweet, nice, the church going type, loving horror? IT, Chucky, The Night of the Living Dead? I had only seen clips of these horror flicks and that was enough to haunt my sleep for a good long time.

A few months later I attended a writing workshop where I was supposed to bring my latest completed short story. I didn’t think anyone would read it, just that we would be shown how to self edit. Nope, we read it aloud to the group. I was immediately embarrassed as the piece was a little disturbing with some paranormal elements to it.

What do you write? Came the question to the group. Fantasy, I said. I had learned that fantasy engulfed a lot of make-believe fiction.

“Oh no my friend, you write horror,” the instructor said.

I was floored. Really? Horror? My piece had a little blood and a ghost, and well—suicide, but that was hardly the Night of the Living Dead.

As I grew in my writing and understanding of genre, I reflected on those stories I had read as a child that stuck with me like The Monkey’s Paw or The Veldt. I realized that they were horror.

I read Ticktock by Dean Koontz and absolutely loved it. That prodded me to read many more of his works. I quickly discovered that I read horror. I loved horror.

I am not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells is one of the best series I have read in the horror genre.

I also realized that many pieces I had written but hadn’t shared for fear of being thought odd or insane or psycho, were great pieces of horror. They addressed my fears. In a way, writing terrible things with horrific endings (story not prose) was a way to cope with my real fears.

I’ve learned that the horror genre in movies is different than books. Silence of the Lambs and The Ghost and the Darkness fall under the movie genre of Drama where they are clearly a Horror genre in literature. Horror isn’t necessarily blood or violence. But it can be both.

What I’ve learned most is to not be afraid of my own stories. I’ve had some turn their eyebrows up at me, wondering what sort of devil possessed my mind to turn out a story so horrifyingly brilliant. To that I smile and nod. Just wait, I have yet to write my best work.

jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.

Multidimensional Conflict

5707821514_23b89e4164_bI used to confuse conflict with action. In film, we decipher conflict from dialogue and character’s actions and reactions. In writing we have the added dimension of thought. We can introduce the reader to conflicts through our characters in an intimate way.

We spent a month discussing how to develop characters and it may be beneficial to review those posts. In order to have good conflict we must start with great characters.

When developing a plot I place my characters together wondering how they will interact, asking myself if they’ll fall in love or want to kill each other and everything in between.

Then I start to develop these interactions into a story.

As readers we desire conflict, because we crave the resolution. We want to feel that relief. The greater the conflict the greater the potential resolution.

Some ways to deepen the conflict is to harvest the POV character’s minds, telling their tale of woe and enlisting the reader to the cause.

Add another dimension to that conflict by blowing the reader’s mind when you reveal the antagonist’s motives for his/her actions.

Warning the following might contain some spoilers, though I’ve tried to leave them vague enough.

For example, in Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, Szeth (Picture courtesy of Flickr) is a bit of a hit man and the book opens showing him as the tyrant of the story. As we get to know Szeth more we understand that he is deeply torn between his actions and his religion.

Side note, Religion is a great tool in developing conflict because it can cause characters to do things that otherwise would seem wrong.

Back to Szeth. As a reader I care for Szeth even though he is committing heinous acts. I fear for what he might do and fear for what might be done to him. I suspect in the next book there is a battle between Cal and Szeth, two characters that I adore and wish the best for and would love to see succeed, but they are on a crash course and I am fearing the worst. That’s great conflict.

In Dan Wells book, I am Not a Serial Killer, the protagonist is very likable, even though he admittedly would like to do some terrible things. Likewise the Antagonist does horrific things and yet his motivation is sweet and kind. It makes me hate and love both characters at the same time and makes for some incredible conflict seeing it from the antagonist POV and longing to understand more the antagonist’s motives because the character is so unique.


koon_9780345533456_cvr_all_r1.inddIn Tick Tock by Dean Koontz, all of the conflict arises from the relationships of the characters. The conflict by itself, the plot of the story would be pretty haunting and neat, but adding in the relationship the protagonist has with his mother and a woman he only just met, adds dimension upon dimension to the conflict. Additionally, the reader discovers more about the characters as the story progresses creating new layers to the conflict.

Here’s a short example from film—Star Wars, episode IV. Pay attention to how the conflict arises out of the interaction of characters and advances the story along.

Conflict from Luke wanting to leave but Uncle and Aunt won’t let him. We later find out that one of their motivations was to protect Luke from Darth Vader.

Conflict arises from Droids. Luke and Uncle debate what to do with the droids. Droids try and run away. The empire is looking for the droids. Each of these is on a different vector, travelling in different directions, but all collide at the family farm and then Uncle and Aunt are killed.

Their deaths facilitate Luke’s deciding event. The Droids lead Luke to his mentor Obi Wan and the protagonist is whisked away on a great adventure to save the galaxy.

So in summary, develop your characters first and then ask how they interact with each other. What crazy situations may arise as their different motivations and directions collide? Then go deeper. Add more layers and more dimensions to those conflicts by further showing motivations and developing reader empathy for both sides of the conflict.


jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.



What is Horror? Really?

dan_wells[1]A guest post by Dan Wells.

I sold my first book about a year and a half ago, and I was bouncing off the walls more literally than you probably care to imagine. It the was the first step in the fulfillment of a life-long dream, and I was so happy I couldn’t stop telling pretty much everyone I knew or met or interacted with. I quickly learned there were only two basic versions of this conversation.

The Good One
Me: I just sold a book! I’m going to be published!
Other Person: That’s awesome!
Both of Us: Yay!

The Other One
Me: I just sold a book! I’m going to be published!
Other Person: That’s awesome! What kind of book is it?
Me: Horror.
Other Person: I don’t read horror.

This basic template held true in almost every situation, including–and this surprised me–dedicated genre fans. People who have read more fantasy and science fiction books than most people have ever read anything. The thing is, there’s a lot of crossover between the rest of the speculative genres: if you read fantasy, you probably also read a bit of SF, and a bit of paranormal, and a bit of historical, and so on and so on. There are exceptions, and most of us tend to group around one or two subgenres that really get our motor going, like hard SF or cyberpunk or urban fantasy or whatever, but horror, for most of us, is the odd one out. Except for a relatively small group of self-identified horror fans, nobody reads it.

Except that everybody reads it, they just don’t admit it, or maybe even know it.

Ask people what horror is and you’re likely to get one of two answers: “Stephen King” or “slasher movies.” Never mind that Stephen King hasn’t written a full-on horror novel in decades, or that slasher movies are in a medium so removed from novels as to make the comparison meaningless. These are what people think of when they hear the word “horror,” and that colors their entire perception of the genre. Our concept of horror is frozen in a single period of history, let’s call it 1973 (the publication of Carrie) to 1988 (when movies like Child’s Play represented the last hurrah of the slasher movie before they tipped fully into self-parody). Horror films have never truly left, because they’re cheap and profitable, but their quality and popularity have gone in waves; I count two horror film renaissances since the heyday of the 80s, maybe three depending on how you define them. But horror novels have never achieved anything like their 15-year peak, possibly because of the way the giants of that era (King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, James Herbert) so thoroughly dominated the genre.

And the truth is, this shifting definition is kind of correct, in its way: if we define “horror” as “the kind of stuff King and Herbert wrote in the 70s,” then you’re right, most people don’t read horror anymore, and that’s fine because most people don’t write that kind of horror anymore. The genre has moved on, and King and Koontz and Barker and a giant host of others are still writing it, but the genre label is still stuck in the past. Today we hide our horror in a jumbled pile of other labels, secretly infecting almost every shelf in the bookstore. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro writes “vampire historicals,” but they’re really horror. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books are “urban fantasy,” but they’re really horror. Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville books are “paranormal romance,” but surprise, they’re really horror. F. Paul Wilson writes “thrillers” that are obviously horror. These books and more are incredibly popular–Dresden got it’s own TV show and roleplaying game, for goodness sake–and the odds are incredibly good that the same people who claim they never read horror will, when pressed, admit that they’ve read a lot of these other things. They just don’t call them horror, and the bookstores don’t call them horror, and thus horror doesn’t sell and thus the myth perpetuates.

Trying to tie horror down to a single genre or representation is missing the point. Some say that horror is defined by its supernatural elements, but I think horror goes beyond the trappings and the props to get at something much deeper and more meaningful; it’s less of a genre, in my mind, than a style or a perspective. Let’s go back to the roots of modern horror and steal a definition from H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” So we could say that horror is about fear, and in that sense we can find horror everywhere. In military fiction much of the plots are driven by the uncertainty of who will live and who will die; they’re about the fear of death and the loss of honor; they’re horror. Espionage novels are about the fear that an enemy nation will subvert or conquer your own, literally stealing your way of life; that’s horror. Romance, at it’s heart, is about the fear that the person you love doesn’t love you back; that’s one of the most horrific things I can think of.

So what separates these genres from “real” horror, whether we label it as such or not? Let’s go back even further to Anne Radcliffe, the original godmother of gothic horror; roughly paraphrased, she separated terror and horror in a fascinating way, saying that terror is the emotion we feel while waiting for something bad, and horror is the emotion we feel while facing it. Terror is about dread, but horror is about confronting the thing that we dread–it’s about our revulsion, our shock, our struggle to understand and adapt. In a thriller we race the clock and stop the bad guy, but in a horror, the bad guy wins: the bomb goes off, or the protector dies, or the true love marries someone else. We have to pick up the pieces and survive. Horror is about facing our losses head on, and being either crushed or strengthened by your reaction to it.

In light of this definition, we can see the rise of horror in all our media, from The Hunger Games to Man of Steel. We are a society that has faced true horror (9/11 is the obvious one, plus any number of other terrorist attacks, military actions, mass shootings, and so on), and we’re dealing with those emotions and repercussions in our art. We are primed for horror, because we are searching for stories about survival. This, in turn, makes us a culture primed for heroism: we’ll face the horror, and we’ll live through it, and even if the characters die the readers will still be there at the end, breathless and alive and shaking our head in relief. Horror gives us a chance to overcome the things that try to break us.

Horror is everywhere. Go out and make some more of it.

Guest Writer Bio: Dan Wells writes in many different genres, including supernatural thriller (I Am Not A Serial Killer), psychological horror (The Hollow City), and science fiction (Partials). He has won two Parsecs and a Hugo for his work on Writing Excuses, a podcast for aspiring writers. Visit him online at www.thedanwells.com, or say hello on Twitter: @thedanwells. His newest book, called RUINS, is the climax of the post-apocalyptic Partials Sequence, and launches on March 11.

Life, the Universe, & Everything Symposium aka LTUE

Taken from LTUE’s website:  LTUE “is a three day academic symposium on all aspects of Science Fiction and Fantasy. LTUE is comprised of panels, workshops, presentations and papers on writing, art, literature, media, science and other aspects of speculative fiction.”

I attended it the first time several years back and have been a few times.  It has changed over time growing from a small student-run symposium for active Brigham Young University students being held in random rooms on campus to taking over the Continuing Ed building to now being held in a nearby hotel.  Although it is held in Provo, Utah and run by the Mormon students of BYU, everyone is welcome and it is not religious based.

One time I attended, Richard Hatch, Apollo from the original Battlestar Gallactica, gave a two hour presentation.  I was in full Battlestar-loving-geek mode sitting in the front row… six feet from my favorite teenage crush idol.  I have to think Richard Hatch is used to the glazed looks and drooling women cause he is as cute as ever!

But I digress.  This is a great event.  I’ve met authors like David Farland, James Dashner, Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Larry Correia, James Eric Stone, J. Scott Savage, Lee Allred, Jessica Day George, and Howard Tayler at LTUE.

It’s small enough that you can easily visit with the presenters and panelists.  They have readings, panel discussions, presentations, Q&As, workshops and book signings.  There are generally three or more activities occurring at any one time and you can literally go from event to event for five to ten hours a day… for three days.

Some stand outs for me over the years have been a workshop on how to create your own language, how costuming affects how we see characters, how accurate do you need to be with facts and history in fiction, how to generate ideas, how to create plot, many aspects of world-building, tips on collaborating, how to create web-comics/comic books/graphic novels, how to do research, writing stellar openings, marketing, editing and revision and too many more to mention.

It is a feast of options, knowledge and networking.  People travel to attend this event because it provides so much for the crazy reasonable price of only $30 for three days (and it used to be free).

I do recommend as soon as the schedule is available, highlight the topics you are most passionate about seeing and plan out your day.  You have a few minutes to get from talk to talk, but trust me, you’ll want to know in advance where you are going to next.  Bring lots of paper or a device for note-taking.  In the past, I’ve taken snacks with me so I didn’t have to miss anything by taking a lunch break.  They have evening fun like filking and a banquet as well.

If you are anywhere near Utah or can get here February 14-16, 2013, I highly recommend you do.  LTUE is worth attending in ways you can’t even imagine.

Anyone else attend LTUE before and want to share?