The Writing Chamber: The Best Ways to Write Information in Your Horror

When writing a story, it’s really easy to write with “then speak.” What I mean by that is when the story goes:

She walked to the house and then opened the door. Then she looked inside.

This is a very literal example of this writing faux pas, but it happens all the time. Now imagine reading a really intense horror story with this kind of writing. Just from language alone, it’ll change from spooky to boring. As the writer, you want to intensify the creepiness of your horror, not dull it out by how you write it.

By now you’re probably asking how. How do you write a horror while avoiding the use of then? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can never use this word but as the writer, you shouldn’t rely on the word then to describe your story. Instead, rely on this writer’s rule: Show, Don’t Tell. It’s pretty self-explanatory; show your readers what is happening in your story through descriptive imagery and don’t just tell it. Think of like painting a picture for your readers, so the images of your scenes are clear and detailed.

Keeping this rule in mind, our example from earlier changes from simple to scary.

She walked to the abandoned house of decaying wood and stood there with an uneasy feeling. As she opened the door, she heard the creaking of the rotting hinges. She looked inside.

These two examples tell the same story, yet one is undoubtedly a horror story and the other could be any kind of story. The second example clearly paints the story, giving the reader no doubt what kind of story they are reading. It draws the reader in, having them anticipate what other horrors await. This is why it is best to avoid “then speak” and write with descriptive imagery.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, there are ways to use descriptive imagery uniquely within your horror. Before I move on, it is important to note that there are more unique devices out there from the one I am about to tell you. I am only giving you a taste of the options and abilities that you have as a writer to help you get started because uniqueness in a story also comes from the uniqueness of the writer, which is why I can’t tell you everything. If I do, it wouldn’t be your story.

One unique wplaceholderriting device I am going over is shown through the horror film A Quiet Place, particularly the moment when the audience is shown the whiteboard in Lee Abbot’s office. Keep in mind that this is not a book but a movie, so the storytelling technique is different since the audience is viewing the story rather than reading it. However, looking at the way John Krasinski was able to provide multiple pieces of information in seconds of film is helpful when thinking about writing a story. There has been some speculation on this whiteboard, where people dislike it because they see it as Krasinski taking an easy way out from telling the story. I disagree because the information told through the whiteboard was necessary to understand the story and Krasinski was smart enough to utilize the technique of summary.

In writing it is often the case that writers need to choose what needs to be detailed in a scene and what information needs to be shown through summary. As the writer, it is sometimes better to use summary over scene when artists are dealing with time limits or word counts. However, it is important to note that summary and scene should have a relationship with each other in a story, where one does not overwhelm the other. A story with all summary and no scene could read as too fast moving and lacking details.

Summary can be done in multiple ways, depending on what the writer chooses. Krasinski uniquely decided to summarize through a single shot of a whiteboard. By doing this, the audience not only knows information about the antagonist of the story but we also get a taste of Lee’s character through seeing his survival method that comes into play later on in the film. Now imagining this summary technique in a book, the descriptive imagery involved is not only informational but it is also can paint a clear picture of whatever details you want your readers to see. Thinking about portraying information the way Krasinski did opens doors to us writers as we can imagine various ways to summarize information uniquely rather than simply telling the readers.

All in all, the use of descriptive imagery can go a long way when writing a story, and deciding when to use summary and when to use scene will help you write a well-rounded story that portrays everything that you want your readers to know. Now you can go and make your imagery as spooky and creepy as you want when you write your horror.

 

 

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The Writing Chamber: An Introduction to the Art of Writing Horror

As a writer, I can tell you that the creation of a story and putting it into words for an audience to read is an art form. Just like any other art (like music, dance, or theater), becoming a successful writer is not about talent but instead, it’s about learning the craft to obtain the skill. Yes, writing a good story takes a skill that you’re not born with. Instead, you learn it.

This article will tell you all you need to know when writing a horror story, but take everything I say with a grain of salt because writing, like any other art form, is derived from artistic freedom. As the writer, you can take your artistry in any path, in any form, that you wish. That being said, it is important to note that literary genres have structures and techniques used to execute this art form, and writing horror is not different. As you may well know, the literary genre of horror has sub-genres. Through a marketing eye horror is one genre, but as a writer, you know that there are sub-genres underneath the branch of horror. As the writer, you can make the choice to mix and match these sub-genres or you can pick one to stick with for a story whether it be a poem, short story, or novel.

Let’s go over these sub-genres so as the writer you know what is available to you when writing in horror. First, there’s the thriller. This genre describes what readers will be experiencing while investing themselves in your story. Thrillers thrill the audience, giving suspense to the reader. Questions are often prompted by this genre such as:

Will she survive?

Does he know he’s being followed?

Forcing your reader to ask these types of questions is what makes your story a thriller.

Now that you know what a thriller is, there’s a technique you can use to ensure that your horror contains the thrill. The technique is called Dramatic Irony, which means that within your story you reader knows information that your character does not. Using Dramatic Irony places suspense in your story and puts your reader on edge as they are anticipating the moment when the character finally knows what the reader already knows. An example of this in the 1993 film Jurassic Park when Dennis Nedry deactivates the security system in order to escape with the stolen embryos. The audience now knows that the dinosaurs are free and they are in suspense until the characters are made aware. This example of dramatic irony only lasts a few moments within the story, but as the writer you can make the choice to leave the readers in suspense for as long as you want.

The next horror sub-genre is gore. The genre is pretty self-explanatory. Gore involves the bloody, gruesome, and morbid bits of a horror story. However, this genre has another sub-genre that branches off of it which is the slasher. An example of this classic horror genre is Friday the 13th. A slasher is essentially a story that derives from a mass murder. As the writer, you have the choice to make the murders as gory as you want. If you are struggling with deciding how morbid, bloody, gross, etc. you want your gore/slasher story to be a writer’s technique you can use is what I call the Reader Reaction. While writing your story think about how you want your reader to react. How do you imagine your reader responding while they are reading your story? Do you want them to want to vomit, to sit uncomfortably, or to simply say, “Ew.” Knowing how you want your reader to react will help you hone in on how much gore is in your horror.

The third sub-genre is the supernatural/paranormal. Although these two are very different, I have branched them together because the strategies and techniques used for executing these genres are very similar. In case you don’t know, the supernatural genre involves the use of mythical beings such as vampires and mermaids. The paranormal genre uses ghosts, demons, and any other spiritual being. Both of these genres have the story revolve around entities that question reality. With the supernatural/paranormal, it is easy to write the clichés to create another typical horror story, but as the writer you want to play on the uniqueness of your story. Give your readers something that they haven’t read before. A technique you can use to avoid writing the clichés is the Reverse and Opposite. Take a story and make changes to create something new. Some examples could be reversing gender roles, making your protagonist do the exact opposite, etc. Reverse and Opposite involves reversing aspects of your and making things the opposite from the original. Playing around with this technique will create interesting and new ideas that you probably wouldn’t have originally thought of. When using the Reverse and Opposite with the supernatural/paranormal, it opens your horror story to be more than just a story about a ghost or vampire because the horror plays with the unexpected, which can be truly scary.

The last horror sub-genre is mystery. A mystery is a story that involves the readers questioning aspects of your story, wondering what the answers are. This genre is mainly known as the classic murder mystery, but as a horror writer you probably want to go darker and more morbid than the cliché Agatha Christie detective story. To ensure that your mystery is as horror-like as you wish, use the techniques and strategies of the other sub-genres and go to town to make your story a true horror story. Going back to what I said earlier, the sub-genres of horror can be mixed and matched in whatever what you wish. You can write a gore mystery, or a paranormal one. Either way, there are so many options and techniques you can use when writing your horror story.

As the writer you have the artistic freedom to take your horror story in any direction that you want, using any techniques that you choose. The sky is the limit when it comes to writing. Now that you know the basics of writing horror, knowing the sub-genres and how to execute them, you can go to the drawing board to craft your horror story.