Showing posts with label horror stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror stories. Show all posts

Friday, July 4

Eight Tips: How To Tell A Scary Story

Eight Tips: How To Tell A Scary Story



Here are eight tips on how to write horror from Brad Falchuk, the co-creator of American Horror Story. These pointers come by way of Joe Berkowitz's article "How To Tell Scary Stories, From The Co-Creator Of American Horror Story." (Thanks to +Moxlonibus Krypt, fellow horror aficionado, for sending me the link to the article.) 

1. Start with a big idea.


Think of movie posters. They usually try and communicate one big idea, the idea the movie is based on. Star Wars was swords in space, Indiana Jones was a fearless adventurer, and so on.

The big idea for the first season of American Horror Story was that of a haunted house. It was about how ghosts--and other, hidden, things--can haunt people.

How do you know if your idea is big enough?

- Does your idea immediately suggest characters for the story?
- Does your idea immediately suggest various adventures--or misadventures--that could embroil your characters?

2. Start with a believable situation, then twist it.


Create a scene your audience could easily imagine themselves in.

When I was a teenager I babysat. A lot. So did my friends. For those of you who didn't have the pleasure, babysitting involves a lot of sitting, alone, in a stranger's house after dark. Many times you don't have anything to do except look out into the darkness and imagine what sorts of things it might conceal, and what they might do if they broke into the house.

So, naturally, one of the favorite topics at sleepovers was our fear that someone would break in after dark and go all squicky on us. We talked about gruesome stories we'd heard and scared ourselves silly.

Brad Falchuk says:

"[...] you can imagine being attacked by some kind of monster in your house. It could be nighttime and you hear noises outside, and if you can imagine yourself in some character’s shoes at that moment, it’s scary."

3. Horror is about truth, falsehood and consequences.


Always include a lie; the more, the better.

Brad Falchuk says:

"Scary stories are very much about the idea of truth. What is truth, what is a lie, and what happens when you lie? For me the greatest horror out of anything you do is to lie, and so in any instance of great scary storytelling, there’s a lie. The biggest lie in the more typical horror movies is that you’re safe. You’re out by Crystal Lake, its beautiful there, and don't worry--those murders that happened were a long time ago! They’re not going to happen again! So you're living in a lie and you're going to suffer for it. In almost any great horror story, there’s a lot of lies."

I hadn't thought of it quite that way before, but yes. That.

Horror plays with the comforting lies we tell ourselves: "Sure the house is built over an ancient burial ground but, hey, we got it cheap! I'm sure nothing bad will happen."

Or perhaps a teenager tells her parents she's going to the family's summer cabin to study. Uh huh. Right. And then her (totally sober) friends disturb the spirit of the lake, or they run over someone, and then a gypsy curse is involved and it's all downhill from there.

4. Relationship trouble: real-life horror


The first season of American Horror Story is about infidelity. It's about how people, living people, can haunt our lives and how, sometimes, that doesn't stop after they die.

Memories of people and past events--of opportunities lost--do tend to stick around and pull one back into them when one least expects it.

5. Start an idea for a scary scene and work backward.


This works well for any kind of story. Brad Falchuk says:

"You might have this one thing, like, 'He’s a Nazi doctor doing experiments on people.' Then you just start talking through story points--does this happen? Does that? Once you hit one or two big story points--like, the doctor’s injecting something into the victim’s eyes or he chops off their legs and injects them with this stuff--then you start to think about how the victim got captured by him. What can we do in the scene before this one to make it feel even worse, and where does she end up after this happens?"

Wow. Injecting eyeballs. I'm definitely an amateur.

We're used to thinking about scenes in terms of one flowing into another so it is often less natural to think what the build-up, the preconditions, for a particular scene could be. Reversing the flow of the story, asking not what has to happen now, but what had to happen for this to be the case, is just as effective--sometimes more effective--in creating a gripping tale.

6. Don't be afraid to use tropes in your work, but be sure to put a twist on them.


Audiences often want the same thing as whatever else they loved--just different. Brad Falchuk says:

"You’ve seen the shower scene in Psycho--the shocking moment with the music blasting--and it’s hard to not use those kinds of moments. People come looking for them because they like them--they just want to see a different version."

That's the trick, isn't it? To take the thrills and chills from a great scene and transform it, give it a twist, and make it new but still scary as hell. BF gives us a few tips:

- If it feels too easy then it probably is. 
- Does this scene get you excited? If it does then it'll probably make others feel that way too.

BF tells writers to keep pushing, to go further, and suggests two ways of doing this:

a. Take the trope further along the same lines. The movie Saw did this well. That film wasn't my cup of tea but I have to admit that it pushed squicky torture to a new level.

b. Push the trope in a different direction. "Any time you think left, you go right. The moment when you think this is a great moment for brutality you go into kindness and vice versa."

7. Show the Big Bad in all its hideous glory.


But not too often. One of the reasons Jaws worked so well was the guessing, the not knowing. As BF says, in Jaws you see the severed head float by and imagine the moment of decapitation--and probably do a better job than most special effects departments!--but at some point the audience needs to see the shark, the big white, in all its hideous, low tech, glory. Great movie.

8. Have a big-picture outline.


You want to know where you're headed, even though that can (and usually does) change as you write the story.

You don't have to know every single aspect of the story, just the big picture. BF says that "It’s like driving from New York to L.A.: you know you’re going to get to L.A., but there’s 10 different routes you could take."

I like that analogy.

Again, all quotations are from "How To Tell Scary Stories, From The Co-Creator Of American Horror Story." Thanks for reading.

Photo credit: "Twitham Court Farm B&B" by *Light Painting* under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, January 6

409 Horror Tropes And Suptropes

409 Horror Tropes And Suptropes


I'm in the process of revising my post on How To Write A Horror Story and, as part of that, just came across a massive list of horror tropes over at tvtropes.org.

Below are 409 horror tropes. All of these--all of them--are from the article (just ONE article) I linked to in my last sentence. AND each one has a link to its own article, one that will tell you more than you'll likely ever need to know about the troupe.

Just for fun, why not pick a random number between 1 and 409 (if you like, you can do this by heading on over to random.org) and exploring the associated trope? Or how about picking two or three random tropes and using them to write a piece of flash fiction?

What twists could you add? Which non-standard characters could you use?

Click here for a list of character tropes: Characters.

409 Horror Tropes & Subtropes


Once again, these tropes are from: Horror Tropes.

1 Abandoned Area
2        Abandoned Hospital
3            Abandoned Hospital Awakening
4        Abandoned Playground
5        Abandoned Warehouse
6        Ghost City
7        Ghost Town
8        Ghost Planet
9        Haunted Castle
10        Haunted House
11    Absurdly Ineffective Barricade
12    The Adjectival Man
13    Afterlife Express
14    Alien Geometries
15    All Hallows' Eve
16    All in the Eyes
17    All Webbed Up
18    Alucard
19    Always Night
20    Anal Probing
21    Ancient Tomb
22    And I Must Scream
23    And Show It to You
24    Ankle Drag
25    Another Man's Terror
26    Apocalyptic Log
27    Artifact of Doom
28        Artifact of Death
29        Summoning Artifact
30        Tome of Eldritch Lore
31    Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever
32    Attack of the Killer Whatever
33    Attack of the Monster Appendage
34    Autocannibalism
35    Ax-Crazy
36    Backstory Horror
37    Bad Black Barf
38    Bad Humor Truck
39    Barred from the Afterlife
40    Barrier-Busting Blow
41    Bat out of Hell
42    Bat Scare
43    Bear Trap
44 "    Beat Still, My Heart"
45    Belly Mouth
46    Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts
47    The Blank
48    Blood Bath
49    Bloody Handprint
50    Blue-Collar Warlock
51    Body and Host
52    Body Horror
53    Body of Bodies
54    Brain Food
55    Broken Heel
56    Buried Alive
57    The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House
58    Campbell Country
59    Camp Unsafe Isn't Safe Anymore
60    Cannibal Clan
61    Cannibalism Superpower
62    Cat Scare
63    The Chain of Harm (especially #4 and #5)
64    Chest Burster
65        Spawn Broodling
66    Child by Rape
67    Chinese Vampire
68    Chupacabra
69    Circus of Fear
70    Clingy Costume
71    Cobweb Jungle
72    Complete Monster
73    Conjoined Twins
74    Connect the Deaths
75    Corpse Land
76    The Corruption
77    Cosmic Horror Story
78    Creepily Long Arms
79    Creepy Basement
80    Creepy Cemetery
81    Creepy Changing Painting
82    Creepy Child
83    Creepy Children Singing
84    Creepy Circus Music
85    Creepy Doll
86    Creepy Housekeeper
87    Creepy Long Fingers
88    Creepy Souvenir
89    Crop Circles
90    Cruel and Unusual Death
91    Crusty Caretaker
92    Curiosity Killed the Cast
93    Damsel in Distress
94    Dangerous Key Fumble
95    Dangerous Windows
96    Danger Takes a Backseat
97    Dark Lord on Life Support
98    Darkness Equals Death
99    The Darkness Gazes Back
100    Dark World
101    Daylight Horror
102    The Dead Can Dance
103        Vampire Dance
104    Deadly Bath
105    Deadly Prank
106    Deadly Road Trip
107    Death by Materialism
108    Death by Mocking
109    Death by Sex
110    Defanged Horrors
111    Demonic Dummy
112    Depraved Dentist
113    Developing Doomed Characters
114    Distress Call
115    The Doll Episode
116    Don't Go in the Woods
117        Stay on the Path
118    Drool Hello
119    Ear Ache
120    Eaten Alive
121    Electromagnetic Ghosts
122    The End of the World as We Know It
123    The End... Or Is It?
124    Enemy Rising Behind
125    Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette
126 "    Everybody's Dead, Dave"
127    Evil Elevator
128    Evil Hand
129    Evil Is Visceral
130    Evil Phone
131    Exorcist Head
132    Extremely Dusty Home
133    Eye Awaken
134    Eyeless Face
135    Eye Scream
136    Eyes Are Unbreakable
137    The Eyes Have It
138    Face Revealing Turn
139    Facial Horror
140        Tear Off Your Face
141    False Innocence Trick
142    The Family That Slays Together
143    Faux Horror Film
144    Faux Horrific: Pretending something is scary for laughs.
145    A Fête Worse than Death
146    Final Girl
147    Fingore
148    Flat Scare
149    Flaying Alive
150    Flies Equals Evil
151    Food Chain of Evil
152    Footprints Of Muck
153    For Doom the Bell Tolls
154    The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You
155    Freak Lab Accident
156    Gate of Truth
157    Ghostapo
158    Ghost Butler
159    Ghost Story
160    Ghostly Chill
161    Ghostly Goals
162    Ghostly Glide
163    Giant Eye Of Doom
164    Giant Spider
165    God and Satan Are Both Jerks
166    Gory Deadly Overkill Title of Fatal Death
167    Gory Discretion Shot
168        Sound-Only Death
169    Gross-Up Close-Up
170    Grotesque Gallery
171    Gutted Like a Fish
172    Gypsy Curse
173    Half the Man He Used to Be
174    Halloweentown
175    Hair-Raising Hare
176    Harbinger of Impending Doom
177    Haunted Fetter
178    Haunted Headquarters
179    Haunted Heroine
180    Haunted House Historian
181    Haunted Technology
182    Hazardous Water
183    Headless Horseman
184    Hell Hotel
185    Hell Is That Noise
186    Hockey Mask and Chainsaw
187    Hollywood Exorcism
188    Homicide Machines
189    Horny Devils
190    Horrifying the Horror
191    Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday
192    Horror Host
193    Horror Struck
194    A House Divided
195    Humanoid Abomination
196    Human Resources
197    Human To Werewolf Footprints
198    I Can See You
199 "    I Hate You, Vampire Dad"
200    I Love the Dead
201    Inescapable Horror
202    I'm a Humanitarian
203        Cannibal Clan
204        Cannibal Tribe
205        Horror Hunger
206        Invited As Dinner
207        No Party Like a Donner Party
208        Picky People Eater
209            Brain Food
210    I'm Cold... So Cold...
211    Impromptu Tracheotomy
212    Indian Burial Ground
213    Infernal Retaliation
214    Initiation Ceremony
215    Inn of No Return
216    Inscrutable Aliens
217    In That Order
218    Ironic Nursery Tune
219    It Can Think
220    It Won't Turn Off
221    The Jersey Devil
222    Jump Scare
223    Kaiju
224    Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge
225    Kensington Gore
226    Lamprey Mouth
227    Life or Limb Decision
228        Amputation Stops Spread
229    Light-Flicker Teleportation
230    Lightmare Fuel
231    The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday
232    Living Bodysuit
233    Living Shadow
234    Long Neck
235    Losing Your Head
236    Lost in the Maize
237    Made from Real Girl Scouts
238    Made of Plasticine
239    Madwoman in the Attic
240    Magnetic Medium
241    Malevolent Masked Men
242    Malevolent Mutilation
243    Man-Eating Plant
244    Marionette Motion
245    Meat Moss
246    Meaningful Background Event
247    Medical Horror
248    Menstrual Menace
249    Mirror Monster
250    Mirror Scare
251    Mobile Menace
252    Monster Clown
253    Monster Progenitor
254    Monsters Anonymous
255    Monstrous Humanoid
256    Mook Horror Show
257    The Most Dangerous Video Game
258    Mother of a Thousand Young
259    Mouth Stitched Shut
260    Mummy
261    Mummies at the Dinner Table
262    Mundanger
263    Murder by Cremation
264    Murder Water
265    Murderous Mannequin
266    Murderous Mask
267    Museum of the Strange and Unusual
268    Nested Mouths
269    Never Sleep Again
270    New House New Problems
271    Nightmare Face
272    Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book
273    Night Swim Equals Death
274    No Face Under The Mask
275    No Immortal Inertia
276    Not a Mask
277    Nothing but Skulls
278    Nothing Is Scarier
279    Not Using the Z Word
280    Occult Detective
281    Occult Law Firm
282    Offscreen Teleportation
283    Ominous Crack
284    Ominous Fog
285        Fog of Doom
286    Ominously Open Door
287    Ominous Music Box Tune
288    Once is Not Enough
289    Organ Theft
290    Orifice Invasion
291        Orifice Evacuation
292    Our Werewolves Are Different
293    Paint the Town Red
294    Peek-A-Boo Corpse
295    People Farms
296    Personal Horror
297    Perverse Puppet
298    Phlegmings
299    Picky People Eater
300    Pleasure Island
301    The Power of Blood
302    Prank Date
303    Pretend We're Dead
304    Protect This House
305    Psychological Horror
306    Psychological Torment Zone
307    Psycho Party Member
308    Puppeteer Parasite
309    Over The Shoulder Murder Shot
310    Rain of Blood
311    Raising the Steaks
312    Razor Apples
313    Regret Eating Me
314    Resist The Beast
315    Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain
316    Rise from Your Grave
317    Room 101
318    Room Full of Crazy
319    Room Full Of Zombies
320    Rule of Scary
321    Sadist
322    Safe Zone Hope Spot
323    The Savage South
324    Scare Chord
325    Scary Flashlight Face
326    Scary Jack In The Box
327    Scary Scarecrows
328    Scary Scorpions
329    Screamer Trailer
330    Screaming Woman
331    The Secret of Long Pork Pies
332    Security Cling
333    See-Thru Specs
334    Senseless Phagia
335    Sensor Suspense
336    Sensory Abuse
337    Serial Killer
338    The Seven Mysteries
339    Shadow Discretion Shot
340    Shaggy Search Technique
341    Silver Bullet
342    Sinister Scraping Sound
343    Skele Bot 9000
344    Skeleton Crew
345    Slashers Prefer Blondes
346    Slow Transformation
347    Sole Surviving Scientist
348    Sorting Algorithm of Mortality
349    Spiders Are Scary
350    Spooky Painting
351    Spooky Photographs
352    Spooky Seance
353    Spring Loaded Corpse
354    Stages of Monster Grief
355    Staking the Loved One
356    The Stars Are Going Out
357    Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome
358    Supernatural Proof Father
359    Surprisingly Sudden Death
360    Surreal Horror
361    Swarm of Rats
362    Taxidermy Is Creepy
363    Taxidermy Terror
364    Tentative Light
365    Television Portal
366    Terror At Make Out Point
367    Too Much For Man To Handle
368    These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know
369    Things That Go Bump in the Night
370    Through the Eyes of Madness
371    Too Many Mouths
372    Touch of the Monster
373    Tongue Trauma
374    Torso with a View
375    Torture Cellar
376    Town with a Dark Secret
377    Traumatic C-Section
378    Tulpa
379    Überwald
380    Ultimate Evil
381    Uncanny Valley
382        Uncanny Valley Makeup
383    Undead Author
384    Unexpectedly Abandoned
385    Unfinished Business
386    Urban Legends
387    Vampire Invitation
388    Vagina Dentata
389    Van Helsing Hate Crimes
390    Very Loosely Based on a True Story
391    Viral Transformation
392    The Virus
393        The Corruption
394    Virus Victim Symptoms
395    Walking Backwards
396    Wax Museum Morgue
397    We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties
398    Wendigo
399    What Happened To Mommy?
400    White Mask of Doom
401    Who You Gonna Call?
402    Wipe That Smile Off Your Face
403    With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
404    Word Salad Horror
405    The Worm That Walks
406    You Are Who You Eat
407    You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost
408    Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb
409    Zombie Apocalypse

Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-005 pulvis et umbra" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, December 6

Writing Horror: What Makes A Story Scary?

Writing Horror: What Makes A Story Scary?

If, like me, you're looking for tips on how to write a horror story that will scare the bejesus out of your readers, then I recommend reading Talia Vance's aptly named article, Writing Scary.

Talia's article deserves to be read and re-read, but if you're a skimmer (like me) here are the highlights:


The Goal of a Horror Story


The goal of a horror story is to elicit fear in your reader.

Okay, no surprises there! The trick is: How?

Here are a few tips:


1. Atmosphere


Let's say you want to create an atmosphere that cultivates fear. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

- Night vs day
Night is scarier.
- Weather
Stormy, Angry clouds. Wind lashing the trees.
- Location
Dungeon, abandoned house, haunted mansion, cemetery
- Sounds
The scrapping, chittering, sounds of rodents,  the dry slithering of insects.
- Smells
The smell of decay, of slow rot, of decomposing flesh.

But perhaps you don't want to cultivate an atmosphere of fear. Perhaps you want the reader to feel safe. When I was a kid sometimes I'd hide around a corner and try to scare my mom (yes, she put up with a lot!) In that case you want everything to seem as safe and normal as possible. Talia writes:
A murder in a dark alley in the middle of the night might not be as scary as one that happens during a six year old’s birthday party on a sunny Saturday.  
(Cringe) Good point! To me, though, that's scary but also very, very, creepy.


2. Set the Stakes: Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character


Make your reader emotionally invested in your protagonist and they will be afraid for them when they accept a bet to spend the night, alone, in a haunted house. Talia writes:
Make your characters relatable, likeable and give them a personal stake in the outcome.  No one is afraid for the red shirt guy who dies on Star Trek, but they care about what happens to Spock. 
Very true. Also, on the subject of getting your readers to relate to your character, Michael Hauge teaches that there are 5 ways to do this:

a. Make your character sympathetic.
b. Make your character funny.
c. Make your character likable.
d. Put your character in jeopardy.
e. Make your character powerful.

Michael writes that your character doesn't need all 5 of those things, but they need at least two. For more on this subject see: How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character.


3. Foreshadowing


Drop hits that something bad is going to happen soon. Very soon.

Example: The movie Alien. I held my breath as I watched Sigourney Weaver work her way through the bowels of the ship toward the safety of the shuttle. At each turn I expected an alien with extreme dental issues to spring out and capture her.


4. Primal Fears


These are fears common to everyone.

Death
Our death but also the death of family and friends.

Disaster (fear of death)
- Nature vs human: Natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, etc.
- Human vs human: Spree killers, serial killers, hitmen, etc.

Loss & Rejection & Embarrassment
Fear of speaking in public (--> fear of loss/rejection), fear of flying (--> fear of death), fear of heights (--> fear of death), and so on.

Talia writes:
You can give your characters’ quirks and unique fears based on their own experiences, but find a wait to relate them to universal, primal fears to incite fear in the reader.
One thing that made the movie Alien scary was that the insect-like critters didn't just kill humans, they incapacitated them and implanted their body with a larva that devoured them them from the inside out. Now that's primal and off-the-scale creepy.


5. Pacing


You want your readers' fear to build throughout your story right up until the resolution when your protagonist either faces their fear and defeats it or is defeated by it.


6. Red Herrings


As you know, if everything your readers anticipate will happen does happen your story will be predictable and therefore not all that interesting. You need to have a few red herrings, a few false alarms.

For instance, one of your characters needs to go into a scary situation where your reader will just know something is going to jump out from the blackness and eat them up but then ... a black cat jumps out from the darkness, terrified out of its wits and runs away. Your reader laughs. Then your character gets eaten. :-)


7. Payoff/Resolution


The threat, the personification of your characters' fear, must step on stage at the end of your story. There needs to be a resolution, one way or the other.

Well, that's it! Great tips from Talia Vance, not only for writing horror stories, but for any kind of story. Thanks to Elizabeth S. Craig for tweeting the link to this article.

Have you written a horror story? I'm curious, were you a little scared yourself as you wrote?

Other articles you might like:

- Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
- Before You Start Writing Test Your Characters: Are They Strong Enough?
- Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction

Photo credit: "why so serious, ann arbor?" by erin leigh mcconnell under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, September 6

Writing: Contract Negotiation Horror Stories

Writing: Contract Negotiation Horror Stories

This is from the blog of Kris Rusch:
... I got something from a New York Times bestseller who, in the middle of a contract negotiation, was promised 10 and 12.5% royalties on a mass market paperback as a deal sweetener in a contract negotiation. The publisher added this sweetener in lieu of better terms elsewhere in the contract, terms the writer had asked for and the publisher refused. The writer then discovered through another source that the publisher never planned to publish a mass market edition of the book.

In other words, the sweetener became sour. The great royalty rate was only added to get the writer to sign on, not because the publisher ever planned to publish that kind of book. If the writer had been a little less savvy, he would have lost some other positive contract terms by believing that this one was important.

Not illegal or even unusual these days, but still, bad enough to make the writer feel cheated in the midst of negotiating a new contract. Dumb on the publisher’s part, but only because the publisher got caught.
Read other stories as well as how to avoid this happening to you: The Business Rusch: A Good Offense.

Other articles you might like:
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