Character Building in Still Dark
Like any genre, horror has all sorts of shades to it. There are times, especially when I was younger, where I felt like I needed to be the nastiest, goriest writer in the room. I think it’s a natural spot for young horror writers to drift toward. So much of dark fiction is about shocking and scaring the reader, that it only makes sense that you would want to be as disturbing as possible.
As I kept writing, kept editing, kept peeling back the layers of who I was as a writer, I realized it wasn’t quite that simple. Take my seven-year-old son for example. He’s a lot like me, and already, he’s leaning hard into all things spooky and creepy. Like his old man, he loves a good monster, and I’m already impressed by his imagination and inventiveness with creating creatures and basic outlines for stories. It takes a certain type of mind to be able to conjure this stuff, but the thing my son will have to learn is where the fear and shock really come from.
Making an audience afraid or appalled is maybe impossible unless you can first make them care, and how in the hell do you do that? It’s all about characters, of course. That was the last piece of my becoming a capable writer to fall into place, and I suspect it’s the same for a lot of other developing writers. I, just like my son, could come up with some pretty gnarly ideas, scenarios, and sequences that would make a reader’s skin crawl, but all of that effort was wasted because I didn’t understand characters.
It’s cliché advice to tell someone they need to create real, three-dimensional characters, but it’s the truth. It didn’t really sink in with me until I was around 30 or so after I already had a handful of practice novels under my belt. My writing style didn’t necessarily change, but my patience level did. I began to see editing as less a chore, more just a natural part of the process, and soon enough, the characters started talking to me. Those extra passes helped me see past just the “story” and into the deeper recesses of who these people really were.
In other words, I finally started to care. When I killed off a particular character, it wasn’t a triumphant moment where I thought, “Look how hardcore this is.” No, now it kind of hurts because, in some way, I really want these non-existent people to be happy. That was the biggest piece of the puzzle, at least for now. I’m sure there are others hopefully waiting to fall into place.
I feel like I really made this turn successfully in Still Dark. I don’t want to spoil anything, but some of this was hard to write. Based on feedback from early readers, they agreed with me, with one reader even getting a bit mad at me for the way it all turned out. Check out the book for yourself and let me know if you agree.
D.W. Gillespie has been writing dark fiction in one form or another since he was old enough to hold a pencil. He’s been featured in multiple horror anthologies, both in print and online. Still Dark is his debut novel, and his second book, a short collection titled Handmade Monsters, arrives in 2017. He lives in Tennessee with his wife and two children.
About Still Dark
When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…
Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.
Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!
Now available on Amazon