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

Wednesday, June 19

The Four Act Structure For Story Writing

The Four Act Structure For Story Writing

I've been both reading horror and reading about horror, about how to write it.

As I said yesterday, the structure of a horror story feels different, though perhaps not substantially different, from that given in the monomyth.

(For more on normal story structure, see Writing And The Monomyth, Writing And The Monomyth, Part Two, Writing And The Monomyth, Part Three and Story Structure.)

+Steve Devonport was kind enough to point me to this article, The 4-Act Story Diamond, by Belzecue. In it the author makes an excellent case that it is much easier to write stories with four acts rather than three. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, take a peek at my blog on story structure.)

Whatever your opinion about the appropriate number of acts, I do think the four act structure could be useful when writing a horror story, a point made especially well by Belzecue's story diagram.

The Four Act Structure

Here's how Belzecue describes the four act structure:


The hero's Ordinary World.

This is the realm that the hero knows -- he knows the terrain and how to live in it. But here is just your average Joe Public, although he displays hero potential.


The Netherworld.

This is the realm the novice hero must pass through to reach the Kingdom of Evil. This territory is unknown, frightening and wonderful. Here, the hero is swept along on an inexorable tide that leads to ...

REALM 3 The Kingdom of Evil.

Here the forces of evil are the masters. This is their home turf, where they are strongest. The hero is gonna have to be very clever to avoid capture.


Back to the Netherworld.

Only now the hero knows the rules and expectations of this realm. He'll need this knowledge to help him evade the pursuit by the Bad Guys.


- Each act is the reflection of it's opposite. Realm 1 is the opposite of Realm 3, just as Realm 2 is the flipside of Realm 4. Where in Act One the hero feels relatively safe, secure, and in control, in Act Three he faces mortal danger, uncertainty, discomfort, etc.

- In Act Four, the flight, the helpers of Act Two reverse to become hinderers (revealed to be agents of evil all along), the hinderers of Act Two reverse to become helpers (swapping sides to join the forces of good).

- The development of the hero shows a similar opposition between Act 1 & 3 and Act 2 & 4. In Act One the hero is a powerless orphan; in Act Three he has become a powerful warrior. In Act Two he is a wanderer in the Netherworld, acting on his own behalf and being pulled or lead toward the domain of evil; by Act Four the hero has become a Martyr working for society, leading the way instead of following. (The 4-Act Paradigm)

Three Acts: Get your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, then get him down

Instead of getting your hero up a tree (first act), throwing rocks at him (creating conflict in the second act) and getting him down (third act) Belzecue suggests that it would be more interesting to whip out a chainsaw in the third act and start cutting the tree down!

And he's probably right. We want to ramp up the conflict, the tension. Belzecue writes:
I swear, if I hear once more that line about "Get your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, then get him down"... It's a god-awful illustration of the three-act structure and an even worse representation of storytelling. ....

So what on earth does that pithy gem describe, really? I get that the 'up a tree' part stands for Act One: the inciting incident, the trigger, the destabilisation of the hero's world, jeopardy. And I get that the 'rocks' represent Act Two and conflict. It's not mentioned but it's a given that the rocks get larger and meaner with each throw, to create rising conflict.

... then get him down... ?? Is it just me or is that just a teensy bit anti-climactic? As a third act that simply will not do. Not around here.

Having exhausted our supply of rocks, it's time to get serious about making tree-guy suffer. Remember that chainsaw you stole from the set of Evil Dead: Army of Darkness? (Yes, I know about that; No, I never told The Chin, but I think he suspects.) Go get it. Because the writer's job is not to get the hero out of the tree. Your job is to make your protagonists suffer to the point where they have only one way out, where only one thing can transform the suffering into a solution: change.

I'm talking earthquake-fault-line-sized change. I'm talking about straddling the abyss with one foot on either side as it groans and cracks and widens beneath your hero, forcing a decision to go left or right, zig or zag, one way or the other, or do nothing and perish. At that moment, for the hero, standing still is no longer an option.

Change. (The 4-Act Story Diamond, Emphasis mine)
Great articles, and if you haven't already, take a look at his story diagrams here (old one) and here (new one).


Photo credit: "a mongrel rougue" 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.

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 13

Harper Voyager Open To Unagented Submissions For 2 Weeks

Harper Voyager Open To Unagented Submissions For 2 Weeks

Who is accepting submissions:
Harper Voyager

When to submit:
October 1 through October 14th

Where to submit:

What sort of submissions:
We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. For more idea of the type of books we love to read and publish, check out our authors and their titles at
How to submit your manuscript:
To submit, go to and follow the instructions to fill out the form and upload your manuscript.

Due to time constraints, we will not be able to respond to every query. If you do not receive a response after three months, unfortunately that means your story is not right for us this time.
Why is Harper Voyager allowing unagented submissions for two weeks and then only publishing ebooks?
The growth of eReaders and e-books have created an exciting new opportunity that allows us to begin increasing the number and diversity of our speculative fiction list. And speculative fiction readers are the most savvy early adopters so we’re keen to provide our readers with the best ebooks possible.
Read more here: Harper Voyager Guidelines for Digital Submission – Accepting Manuscripts from October 1st – October 14th, 2012!. Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for mentioning this opportunity.

Harper Voyager plans to release one book a month. Initially the books will be published as ebooks but if one does well a print copy will be issued.

Good luck!

Other articles you might be interested in:
- Writing Resources
- Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden and the Dresden Files
- Amazon's KDP Select Program: The Power Of Free

Photo credit: Unknown

Sunday, June 3

Quotes From The Master of Horror, Stephen King

Here's my favorite:
People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy... and I keep it in a jar on my desk.
 Some more quotes from the King of horror:
Fiction is the truth inside the lie.

Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.
Read more quotations here: Stephen King Quotes

Another great source for King Quotes is his book On Writing.

Related reading:
- Neil Gaiman Interviews Stephen King, King talks about Dr. Sleep
- No Ebook Version For Stephen King's Next Book
- Stephen King: 15 tips on how to become a better writer

Wednesday, September 28

Book Blog: Good idea or bizarre miscalculation?

This blog started out being about book blogs and then it morphed into something slightly different. Is this post the better or the worse for it? I'll let you, kind reader, be the judge.

Book blogs. I've considered starting a book blog on and off for some time. As far as I understand it, a book blog contains bits of a work in progress. Not posts about a work in progress, the work itself.

I think I would name the blog, "The Naked Writer," after Jamie Oliver's show "The Naked Chef" where the idea was to "strip food down to its bare essentials"[1]. I guarantee you the blog would be PG, no nudity except the intellectual kind.

To test the waters, I've been thinking about writing a blog post containing the rough draft of a horror story I've been working on for the past few days. I know, I know, horror isn't my genre, I'm urban fantasy gal, but I wanted to challenge myself to do something different, something I've never tried before.

I've got the story more or less plotted out and have even started writing it but I feel like an extra little bit of motivation might be just what I need.

I want to skip out of the flow of this post for a moment (I told you about this!) to mention an incredible moment of ... what? synchronicity? Basically something happened that I think is pretty darn cool. Sneak peek: it involves Stephen King.

A few minutes ago I got up to get a cup of coffee and (it's a habit!) checked my email when I sat back down at my desk. One way I get content for my Twitter feed and this blog is though a bunch of Google Alters on a great many topics including Stephen King.

The latest Alert (I imagine them as spiders on a great web scuttling to and fro, juicy morsels of information grasped in their shiny chitinous jaws) contained a link to an interview. The article, "Stephen King: One of the best writers of all time?" was about King's collaboration on Scott Snyder's graphic novel series "American Vampire".

Okay, bla, bla, bla, here's what I've been leading up to. At one point in the interview Snyder is asked:
Q: Horror plays a big role in your books. Where did you get this wild imagination?
Synder's answer is great, and I'd encourage you folks to read it in its entirety, but here's the part of Snyder's answer that made me catch my breath:
... for me, really, really good horror is a character being challenged by their greatest fear as it manifests itself in the form of either a monster or just a challenge. It really cuts to the heart of what that character is afraid of. The story matters in that way, especially in comics, where you are taking these characters that are so heroic and have so many amazing qualities, and then going for something that you think is a great quality but also going for the weak side of that thing.
Q: Can you give us some examples from the superhero world?
For Superman, it’s almost like the fact that he’s a god, or almost a god, in terms of his limitless power can also be something that you could write a story about in a way that really frightens him about being completely alienated and lonely and turned upon by everyone. Or, for Batman, his knowledge of Gotham, his pathological and obsessive needs to not have connections to people and just be the best there is. You could easily do a story where that’s thrown in his face by somebody like the Joker who’s calling him crazy and saying, “You should live in the Asylum with us.” At that point the Bat-world is like Stephen King; it puts you in a situation where you face your fears, where there are terrible things you did … or the things that you don’t want to tell anyone about, but that you’re frightened of that are coming from life and coming for you in some way. In that way, I’ve always been a big fan of psychological horror. Or, it might just be that I watched too many of those slasher films in the ’80s.
Wow! The horror writer puts you, the reader, in a situation where you face your fears, where the terrible things things you did, the things you didn't want to tell anyone about, the things you're afraid will come to life, those things are coming for you.

As a writer, that's inspiring. I can see the ending for my short story. Gotta go write!

[1] From

Thursday, November 4

Cirque du Freak

A couple of weeks ago I watched The Vampires Assistant.  When the movie was reviewed on At The Movies, the TV show, the reviewer thought was watchable.  Overall I share his opinion but I was dissatisfied with the ending: there wasn’t one.  There was no resolution.

The day after I watched The Vampires Assistant I heard that it had been based on a series of books by Darren Shan.  More to find out what the ending was than for any other reason I started reading the series and am very glad I did.  C. S. Lewis once said that, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."  These are good children's stories.

Here is the reading order for the series:

Cirque Du Freak: A living nightmare
The Vampire’s Assistant
Tunnels of Blood
Vampire Mountain
Trials of Death
The Vampire Prince
Hunters of the Dusk
Allies of the Night
Killers of the Dawn
The Lake of Souls
Lord of the Shadows
Sons of Destiny


Darkly Dream Dexter, a novel by Jeff Lindsay

A couple of weeks ago I was prowling through my local bookstore looking for something interesting to read, and I found it: Dexter is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay. 

Have you ever been bored while reading a book?  I'm not talking about cardboard characters or a plot that makes no sense or an action, such as looking out the window, that seems to take up an entire chapter.  I'm talking about prose that is flat.  Lackluster.  Jeff Lindsay's prose is perky.  It jumps and pirouettes. 

I haven't read Dexter is Delicious, just the first chapter, but that was enough to make me feel that I absolutely had to read the first book in the series, Darkly Dreaming Dexter.  I did and I loved it. 

If any of you watch Dexter on HBO, I thought the first book stayed very close to the TV show, but I have been told that isn't the case for the rest of the series.

I am delighted to have found a new favorite author.