Monday, March 11, 2013

I Was Afraid of That...

Today's bit of writing advice isn't exactly new, but it is one of the most important things to keep in mind if you want to write horror.

I want you to think about what YOU are afraid of. What gives you pause in the dark, or keeps you up at night?

Fear is a funny thing (well, not necessarily funny...) because no two people will have exactly the same set of fears, and when you're trying to write a piece of literature that tickles the terror bone, it's hard to find something that will inspire universal fear.

Some things come close - spiders, public speaking, heights etc. There are some fears that most of the population counts among their top ten, but you can never guarantee your reader will be one of them. So, how can you actually start scaring your brave readers?

It's all about keeping it scary for your character. It's a beginner mistake to make your character so bland that anybody can identify with them and project themselves onto your hero, but all that does is further distance your readers. If you make your characters living, breathing people, then chances are your reader will identify with them, regardless of whether they love or hate them. Part of making your character real in a horror novel is giving them their own set of fears. That way your reader doesn't have to be scared of spiders or heights: as long as your character is, they'll feel that fear for them.

But it's not enough to just list a bunch of fears for your characters like you're tagging a post. You really need to think about why they're afraid of what they're afraid of. If it's spiders, did your character have a particularly traumatic run-in with spiders when they were young?

Personally I love spiders, but I'm terrified of cockroaches, and it's all because I climbed into an abandoned treehouse when I was a kid, only to be chased out of the tree by an infestation of cockroaches. And I knew a guy who claimed to be afraid of the stickers you get on fruit because he accidentally ate one. To each their own fears!

Today's writing exercise is to write down your top five fears, and give a detailed reason about why you think you're scared of them. Is there a story linked to the fear? And if not, can you think of a believable backstory for it? Once you've done that, try it again with five things you're not afraid of.

If you can master the reasons behind fears, you're well on your way to giving your young readers nightmares and keeping them up at night. Congratulations!

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