The horror genre is something that I’ve always been fascinated with. Luckily, I don’t think I’m the only one. People like to be frightened. If they didn’t, Stephen King wouldn’t have a thousand novels and you wouldn’t find every horror film ever made running on AMC at this time, every year. Seriously. Click over to AMC, I can almost guarantee Halloween, or one of its sequels, is on right now.
Some people claim that there’s nothing new in horror. In a sense, that may be true. More than sixty years ago, H.P. Lovecraft drew up a list of the basic themes of weird fiction, and I can think of very little that the field has added to that list since then. It is difficult to think of something that hasn’t already been done. Creepy basements, loud noises from the attic, hidden rooms, Indian burial grounds, old hotels, multiple personality disorder, etc. It’s all been done before, and it’s all out there.
That is by no means as defeatist as it sounds, because the truth is that many of the themes we’re dealing with are so large and powerful as to be essentially timeless. Think of it as if they have simply defined the space you’re working in. Don’t let the cliches restrain your creative process. You know what’s there, now create your own story. Imitation has its uses. Here, as in any other of the arts, it’s a legitimate and useful way to serve your apprenticeship. It’s less a matter of importing techniques into the field than of seeing the field as part of a larger art. Of course, depending wholly on genre techniques can lend too easily to the secondhand and the second rate. There’s only one Stephen King, but there are far too many writers trying to sound like him.
It’s not a bad thing to follow the example of writers you admire, but only as a means to finding your own voice. You won’t find that, of course, unless you have something of your own to say. So stop writing about some other authors horrors and began to deal with what disturbs you personally. Being a successful horror writer can mean exploiting yourself. Reach down deep and think of what causes you fear or anxiety, is it fear of losing loved ones, or being alone, do clowns send a shiver up your spine?, Perhaps something spiritual like demons, or even kind of goofy like killer squirrels. If you exploit yourself and tap in to your own fears then what you write will come across in your writing. Your experience and inner exploration will also grip the reader.
Take the theme of evil, as the horror story often does. Writing about evil is a moral act, and it won’t do to recycle definitions of evil—to take them on trust. Horror fiction frequently presents the idea of evil in such a shorthand form as to be essentially meaningless—something vague out there that causes folk to commit terrible acts, something other than ourselves, nothing to do with us. That sounds to me more like an excuse than a definition, and I hope it’s had its day. If we’re going to write about evil, then let’s define it and how it relates to ourselves.
Beginning a new work is often the most challenging phase of the creative process. Its natural for us to search the internet for pointers and tips ( I have given some of my own on this very site), but at the end of the day you should just start typing and let the ideas flow. No list or technique will work for everyone no matter how well intentioned. Tips and strategies can be helpful, but it’s your responsibility as an author to know what works for you as an individual.
Listen to your heart.
This was probably the toughest obstacle for me to overcome, I spent twenty years in the military rigorously learning to ignore the influences of my gut and adhere strictly to what I was trained to do. That doesn’t work for creative writing. Remember that once you pick up that pen you are an artist not a cog in the corporate machine. Let the juices flow and the chips fall where they may.
If writing is more then a means to make a couple of bucks then you have to put yourself out there for all the world to see. You are an artist so be an artist.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”