Paula Cappa on Horror Writing
Creating The Story
Where do stories come from? I don’t know where my stories come from most of the time, but I’ve learned to trust the creative process for the story to unravel. I’m not so much writing the story as it’s writing me. My novel The Dazzling Darkness (synopsis: Antonia Brooke searches for her lost child, Henry, in a haunted cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts where an ancient secret is buried.) began with a thought by Ralph Waldo Emerson of Concord. He wrote in his essay Nature … “Even the corpse has its own beauty.”
Shocking statement, right? Why would someone say that? We don’t normally think of corpses as beautiful. And while we can read that as metaphorical, I had to find out Emerson’s meaning. The more I read about Emerson’s personal experiences with death, the more my story began to take shape. Emerson lost his young wife Ellen only a short time after they were married. He buried her in the family vault and a year later, still driven by intense grief, he opened her coffin. What a heart-breaking experience. And then twenty-five years later, after his young son dies at five-years-old, Emerson viewed his child’s corpse. These images all connected for me: images of a cemetery, images of coffins opening, viewing the dead, a cemetery keeper.
My character Elias Hatch emerged as the cemetery keeper in Old Willow Cemetery and became the threshold guardian in the story. He knows the secrets buried there and is a transcendentalist like Emerson. So it seemed natural for Elias to reveal the story to me. I let him lead on the page and found plot and theme moving forward with every scene. Ray Bradbury once said, “First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.”
My goal in writing this story was to explore death and consciousness. Where do we go when we die? Where does our consciousness reside? This is the story of five-year-old Henry and what he experiences inside Old Willow Cemetery with the dead that reside there. Elias Hatch provided me with plenty of narrative tension to play with because he had the most to lose if the secrets of Old Willow were exposed. Hatch created not only conflict and mystery but also motivation for the other characters to dig harder to resolve the issues and locate Henry.
Some writing gurus advise to develop your story plotted out on index cards. For me, that’s like going to jail because the characters can’t express thoughts, can’t express desires, can’t express fears on the flow of the pages. Horror is a serious fictional form and often about the dark inner consciousness. Maybe letting a character guide the writer deeper into that dark world is the path. What is your path to creating a story?
Paula Cappa’s novels include Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural, and The Dazzling Darkness (Gothic Readers Book Club Award Winner for Outstanding Fiction and Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Award), published by Crispin Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Whistling Shade Literary Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Every Day Fiction, Fiction365, Twilight Times Ezine, and in anthologies Journals of Horror: Found Fiction, Mystery Time, Human Writes Literary Journal. Cappa’s writing career began as a freelance journalist for newspapers in New York and Connecticut. She writes a weekly blog, Reading Fiction, Tales of Terror http://paulacappa.wordpress.com/
Visit her web site at http://paulacappa.wordpress.com/author/.