Tag Archives: writing horror

My Muse is Dead

I’ve been facing an empty page, the character prompt flashing like a tiny rusted pin wielded by a sadistic acupuncture dropout, jabbing my impotent writing ego over and over.

There is nothing to write about. Well, nothing horror-related, which means the same thing to me. My haunted laptop taunts me, the keys pale and slick, letters worn to the point where they remind me of Celtic tombstones – still around to remind us of the glorious departed, but insufficient to read the names of the dead carved upon the monument.

I decide to take a break from the self-torture, tired from the creaking springs in my chair pushing against my spine. One of these days, I won’t be able to get out, and they’ll find me with the coils twisted around my ribs and through my vitals, flailing around like a spring-loaded clown doll.

My wife made a juicy, still-oozing steak, and left it by the crazy stove. I hate that stove; I’ve found it turned on in the middle of the night, belching flames and a curious brimstone odor. Our cat disappeared that night too, an odd coincidence.

The steak looks inviting, lying next to the garlic cloves and in a ring of mashed potatoes that acts as a dam to hold in the blood and juices. No fork for some reason, only a silver-handled knife embedded in the meat. I don’t mind. Even though I yell at my kids when they feast on flesh using their fingers, I personally like the feel of blood running down my arms as my teeth rip apart the muscle fibers.

After devouring the steak, I poke my head into the fridge, moving aside several random opaque containers my wife uses to store things. One of these days I need to look in them – no telling what she’s been up to. Behind the carton of thick nightcrawlers, some of which escaped into the strawberry pudding yesterday, there’s a jar of thick brownish liquid with a couple of round objects drifting around the bottom. I can’t make out what they are, but I get a flash of blue-green, perhaps hazel, when I swirl the container. Maybe it’s a leftover from some past dinner, who knows. Further digging reveals a container of cherry lemonade, which I chug right out of the pitcher. If my wife caught me, she’d embed a cleaver in my neck.

My hunger sated, thirst quenched, I head back to my little nest, surrounded by ancient whispering books and papers. The chair springs welcome my old bones, the laptop slides over like a glowing coffin lid, and I’m back to this damn torture of having my eyeballs assaulted by the stark, veil-colored blank page, the cursor blinking ghost-like, playing hide-and-seek with my consciousness. I wish I could think of something to write.

You know, if only my muse was undead, I’d have something to write about.



About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award®; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

What Makes Good Horror?

Guest Post by Craig DiLouie

Craig DiLouie headshot-sm-1

I enjoy writing horror because it allows a writer to really stretch and go way beyond standard norms and reader comfort zones. But what makes a good horror story?

First, let’s define horror fiction. Wikipedia defines it as a genre of literature that is intended to “scare or startle readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror.”

In other words, it’s fiction that produces feelings associated with horror-what Merriam-Webster defines as “painful and intense fear, dread or dismay”-in the reader. The Horror Writers Association essentially agrees with this definition.

I do as well, though I would add that effective characterization is so important to achieving the goal that it should be part of the definition. Why? Horror is more likely to be realized by the reader when there is a character, with whom they can relate, experiencing it at the same time. In this way, certain characters in the story are intended to stand in for the reader.

Character is doubly important when one considers the fact horror is a very subjective emotion. Some of us find the sight of blood horrifying, while others don’t. Some of us tremble and sweat at the slightest turbulence on an airplane, while others barely notice it. If the author can put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes, they should experience feelings of horror through empathy even if they themselves don’t find the object of the protagonist’s horror that scary or dreadful.

Before we continue, we should probably ask the question: Why would anybody want to actually experience this? Horrorperf6.000x9.000.indd is, after all, horrifying.

In Thrill Seekers Thrive on The Scary, published on WebMD.com, Dr. Frank Farley, psychologist at Temple University, says people can satisfy their curiosity about and fascination with the frightening, the bizarre, the unusual, and make sense of it. Dr. Glenn Sparks, professor of communications at Perdue University, believes people have a basic need to seek out situations outside their comfort zone. In some cases, they want to confront danger in order to conquer it.

Then there are the physiological changes that occur when confronted by danger, which some people enjoy-the adrenaline rush, the pounding heartbeat, the sweaty hands. Says Farley, “There’s almost nothing else, including sex, that can match it in terms of the incredible sensory experience that the body is put through.”

That’s powerful stuff. So how do we “bottle” that in a book?

The basic structure of a horror story goes like this: You have the normal, introduce the horror element that disrupts the normal, and finish with the new normal.

Force some interesting people in a story to face the fantastic with high stakes, and you’ve got the setup for a thriller. Make the fantastic horrifying, and you’ve got horror. Make the horrifying life-threatening, and you have survival horror. Make the horrifying element a ghost, demon, etc., and you have supernatural horror. Make the horrifying element a serial killer who brutally slaughters his victims, and you have splatterpunk. Make the horrifying element be life-threatening to everybody at once, and you have the makings of apocalyptic horror. And so on.

Personally, my favorite kind of horror stories are apocalyptic. There are so many great stories that can be told in an end-of-the-world scenario. When well told, these stories can be stirring to the spirit as well as the intellect, particularly when horror is contrasted with hope.

So now we know what horror fiction is and why it’s sought out. But what makes a good horror story? The answer is deceptively simple. In short, a good horror story is a good story that happens to be in the horror genre.

I’m not trying to be cute here. Too often, writers put the horror element so far forward that other elements of the story that matter, particularly character, take a backseat. At all times, a good horror story will give us people we care about, engaging conflict and so on.

Story always comes first!

The Killing Floor by Craig DiLouieIn fact, with horror, getting the basic story elements right is even more vital because the horror element may be so fantastic it requires a greater suspension of disbelief and therefore a higher degree of grounding. The more the reader can empathize with the character’s subjective response to the horror element, the greater their shared feelings of fear and dread. The more richly rendered the setting, the more the monsters that populate will stand out. The greater the willing suspension of disbelief, the more likely the reader will confront the horror in your story, find it believable, and experience genuine feelings of horror. And so on.

In short, the greater the story, the greater the horror.

Now let’s talk about the horror element, which can be conveyed as elements that are internal or external, imaginary or real, supernatural or physical, atmospheric or in-the-flesh. This is where you can have a lot of fun and let your imagination soar. Is it a plague that changes behavior? A trusted pet that turns on a family? A serial killer stalking a couple in a remote motel? A nice, outgoing family man slowly becoming violently insane? Tentacled monsters freed from an underground cavern? Hordes of the cannibalistic dead? A sadistic summer camp counselor? A derelict house haunted by the spirits of its victims? How successful the novel is will depend on two things-first, how well your writing gets the reader to empathize with the characters’ horror, and two, how much the horror element resonates with their imagination.

Horror is still a young genre that has been largely neglected by the major bookstores. With the advent of eBooks, online retailers like Amazon are eating their lunch as literally thousands of titles are becoming available, many of them very good. As a result, there is still plenty of opportunity for writers to break in and make a name for themselves. Forget your preconceived notions of what horror fiction is-that it’s werewolves and vampires, that it’s Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, or whatever else immediately comes to mind-and make it your own.

Most important is to tell a good story and have fun, and your reader will too!

Craig DiLouie is the author of the apocalyptic horror novels Tooth and Nail, The Infection and The Killing Floor. His latest horror novel is in contract negotiations with a major publisher. He is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association. For more information about Craig’s work, visit www.craigdilouie.com, where he blogs regularly about apocalyptic horror media.