Category Archives: Horror Writing

Write a Guest Blog for the Feckless Goblin

write a guest blog

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We’re currently looking for some great content for the site from indie writers and other artists. If you think you’d like to write a guest blog for the Feckless Goblin then contact us on the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Benefits When You Write a Guest Blog

It’s gone a little out of fashion in some circles but guest blogging is good for getting additional traffic to your site and widening your reach to a whole new audience. It can also help you improve your search engine ranking because of a strong inbound link. We’ll publish your post and then send out a message to our 30,000 Twitter fans as well as our Facebook followers.

What to Write in Your Guest Blog

We’re looking for anything relating to the writing process and the marketing of books. It should be informative and useful to our readers and shouldn’t be about promoting your own book or product. Ideally the length needs to be between 500 and 2,000 words. Each post will include a bio of the author at the end with a link to your website, Twitter feed, Facebook page etc.

Fill in the form if you’d like to write a guest blog.

 

Vampire Fiction: A Beginner’s Guide

vampire fiction

Vampire fiction has exploded in the last three to four decades. There are now literally thousands of books, short stories, films and comics featuring our fanged friends. They’ve managed to inveigle their way into large parts of our society, almost to the extent that many people believe these fictional creatures really do exist.

Vampires have become so popular they’ve bridged the gap between genres. No longer a simple staple of horror, you can find vampires leaching horribly into romance, comedy, young adult fiction, sci-fi, gaming and even the odd serious semi-serious tome such as Let the Right One In.

So what makes vampire fiction endure? Why are we still so fascinated by these undead creatures? Has everything blood sucking been done to death?

Or does our friend the night crawler still have a few more tricks up his or her bony sleeve?
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The First Vampire in Fiction

The Vampyre by John William Polidori, written in 1819 is often put forward as the first blood sucker in literature. Our friends were part of folklore long before that, however. Precursors to the more modern vampire can be found in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt – creatures who came at night to pray on humans and drink their blood. Although we have some evidence the Middle Ages were rife with them,  the true essence of the vampire, however, appeared out of South West Europe in the early part of the 1700s.

In Voyage to the Levant, writer and traveller Joseph Pitton de Tournefort revealed a belief in the undead in the south of Europe including Greece. The word ‘vampyre’ was used in 1732 when the London Journal mentioned it in connection with Hungary.  The country appeared again in ‘Treatise on Apparitions of Angels, Demons and Spirits and on the Revenants and Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia‘ published over ten years later.

People rising from the dead was not an unusual occurence in fiction and poetry at the time. Goethe in the Bride of Corinth talks of a young woman returned from the grave who says: ‘Still to love the bridegroom I have lost, And the lifeblood of his heart to drink.’ In England, Southey and Byron both penned poems that had vampirism at their heart.

Vampire fiction really began to gather pace with Polidori’s Vampyre, a short story that was immediately successful. It spawned numerous 19th century imitations that blended romance and sometimes eroticism as the genre began to evolve and come of age.

The daddy of them all, however, was Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Even now, over a century later, the Prince of Darkness remains one of the most enduring and memorable characters in literary history.

Without him, vampire fiction may well have disappeared into the mist instead of imbedding itself in our collective psyche.
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Dracula: The Ultimate Vampire

We certainly wouldn’t have the plethora of vampire fiction we have today if it wasn’t for Dracula. Published in 1897 by Irish author Bram Stoker, the book introduced two major characters, Dr Van Helsing and the eponymous vampire himself. In truth, the book wasn’t an immediate success when it first came out and it wasn’t until popular movies were made in the 20th century that the character really began to capture the public’s imagination.

In fact, the book made hardly any money for Bram Stoker and he was to die in poverty in 1912. Over the years, Dracula and the vampire myth found it easy to penetrate society, whichever decade happened to be passing by. He gets repackaged every so often for a new audience but his appeal seems to endure. Perhaps, in a literary sense, he really is immortal.

The Vampire in Popular Culture

The vampire has made an impact on practically all areas of modern culture. It’s not just in vampire fiction that we see the fall of the blood sucker’s shadow. In comic books, music, film, and now even online games, the bared fangs and desire to feast on the necks of myriad victims has spread its satanic fictional tentacles.

There are people who profess to be real vampires, there are those who are fans of particular series or genres to the point of obsession, and countless indie writers can’t seem to give up the lure of blood suckers no matter how hard they try. And there are those who just love a good scare now and again.

vampire fiction 30 days of night

My Top 6 in Vampire Fiction

1. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

A personal favourite from the mid-seventies about the time when Stephen King was becoming popular worldwide. Salem’s Lot is traditional vampire fiction at its best, as the mysterious Kurt Barlow arrives in a small town and people begin to drop off the radar, only to return when night falls.

2. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I am Legend is another apocalyptic treat, this time from the early 1950s. There is a global pandemic that elicits the symptoms of vampirism and society has broken donw. For its time, the book was move away from the more gothic feel of the caped vampire with a dark secret to something more crude and threatening.

This is probably the point at which vampire fiction began to morph, slowly at first, into other genres. Indeed, Matheson’s book is sometimes credited with the rise of the zombie hordes we all know and love today.

3. They Thirst by Robert R McCammon

Probably lost in the shadow of King’s Salem’s Lot, They Thirst is another traditional vampire novel, this time based in Hollywood. The book is a genuine classic of the vampire fiction genre and if you haven’t read it yet, you should give it a try.

4. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Okay, so there were a whole series of books about vampires by Rice but this was the one that kicked it off. For the first time, we started seeing things from the blood sucker’s point of view and it spawned a whole series of gothic romance wannabes with everything from The Vampire Diaries to Underworld owing something to the anti-hero Lestat.

5. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

While vampire fiction has mostly sat comfortably in its own genre, Let The Right One In moved it into more literary territory. At the time this was hailed as the reinvention of the vampire novel and made into a successful film. It’s less about the blood sucking undead as the rights of passage of youth and the terrifying bloom of first love.

6. The Last Vampire by T M Wright

Seems to fallen off the book list in recent decades, Wrights book is a mini-masterpiece as his unwilling vampire sits at the end of the world in a post-apocalyptic future. One book to read if you can find a copy somewhere. Vampire fiction as it probably should be.

nosferatu vampire fiction

Nosferatu, Dracula and Other Vampires in Film and TV

1. Nosferatu (1922)

Apparently, they’re about to remake this silent classic. The big draw, back in the 1920s, was the actual vampire himself. Max Schrek is the perfect blood sucker and his shadow crossing the wall is one of the most memorable images in horror film history.

2. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931)

For a long while, Lugosi was the iconic vampire and became one of the most famous actors in Hollywood. While now the acting seems wooden and the sets a bit stagey, it’s still one of the most famous vampire movies on the planet.

3. Christopher Lee’s Dracula (1958)

Hammer breathed life back into the vampire legend in the late 50s and this film was an immediate box office success. It gave birth to a lot of sequels through the 60s and 70s, of course, before Hammer finally went under and Lee’s vampire was finally put to rest with a stake through the heart.

4. Fright Night (1985)

A surprise hit when it came out in the mid-80s, Fright Night continues to have a cult following today. Undoubtedly helped by the presence of screen legend (and former monkey in Planet of the Apes) Roddy McDowall, it was one of the highest grossing films of the year.

5. The Hunger (1983)

Avant guard meets vampire eroticism in Tony Scott’s film. Star David Bowie was the perfect choice for an 18th century cellist turned blood sucker. In truth, The Hunger is an acquired taste and have many found it too heavy on mood and with not enough plot. It remains one of the top vampire films of the last 30 years or so though and still has a decent following.

6. Near Dark (1987)

Another surprise hit despite its failure initially at the box office, Near Dark managed to mix Western influences with vampire delights and followed on from successes such as Fright Night and Lost Boys in the 80s. A more serious effort than its two predecessors, it too has gained a cult following over the years.

7. 30 Days of Night (2007)

While many other vampire films and books at the time were focusing on gothic romance and slightly comic book approaches to vampires, including the Twilight series, Blade and Underworld, 30 Days of Night went back to a more visceral approach to our blood sucking friends. One of the better vampire films in recent years.

8. Let the Right One In (2008)

I’ll throw in the film version of Let the Right One In as well, the original Swedish one, not the US remake. In truth, the film is a little better than the book and has some startling performances from young Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson.

9. The Strain

It largely disappeared under the radar as far as the popularity stakes are concerned, The Strain is a traditional good vs evil vampire epic. Forget trying to put a new spin on blood sucking, the makers have gone for an invincible master and destruction of all human life on the planet. What’s better than that?

The Future of Vampire Fiction

Have we said all that we need to say about vampires? In truth, these night dwelling creatures have actually become their own sub-genre over the last 30 years. They have an (undead) life of their own and it’s difficult to see them disappearing anytime soon. There have been some 170 different film versions just of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on its own so far and probably a good few more to come.

There have also been thousands of novels and short stories, as well as poems, produced, written and released over the years. The number is actually increasing, especially with the popularity of self-publishing and a growing band of indie authors who just love a bit on the neck.

Let’s face it, we’re never going to get rid of them. Vampire fiction is here to stay.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favourite vampire film or book? Why do you like vampires? Why do you hate them? Where next for our blood sucking friends? As always, put your comments in the bloody space below and I’ll try to get back to you.
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HP Lovecraft | Inspired by Darkness by Scott Roche

H P Lovecraft

I’ve been a fan of HP Lovecraft’s fiction and perhaps more importantly of adaptations of his fiction since grade school. This probably goes a long way towards explaining the quirks in my personality. Regardless of his effect on my psychology, his effect on my writing has been profound. And I’m not the only one he’s touched. I recently received a copy of Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions by Guillermo del Toro. It’s not surprising that del Toro was also influenced by Lovecraft, to the point that he has a life sized and very lifelike statue of the author in one of his libraries.

In that first sentence up there you may notice that I put supreme importance on the adaptations of Lovecraft’s work. There are countless movies, books, games, and graphic novels that have used either his mythology or his direct writings as a jumping off point. If anyone has influenced my writing more than Lovecraft, it’s writers like Brian Lumley, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. Without the founder of the Cthulu mythos, we arguably wouldn’t have those three gents as we know them.

The impact of an artist on the world goes far beyond just the first generation of writers and readers they inspire. I can only hope that the style that I’m honing will cause future Metallicas to write music taking my lines of prose. If there’s an artist like HR Giger who takes my works and gives it three literal dimensions I would be absolutely tickled even though I, like H.P., wouldn’t likely be around to see it. And that’s even more impressive. The man died at the tender age of forty-six. He’s been dead for just over seventy five years, and he continues to inspire creators.

I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. I did a little digging and the breadth and depth of what HP Lovecraft wrote is staggering. In addition to his short fiction and novels, he wrote a staggering amount of poetry. He also has a large body of non-fiction work in the form of letters, scientific and philosophical articles, and editorials. I likely haven’t read even one percent of everything he produced in his lifetime. When you’re as smart and/or as prolific as he was, there’s bound to be something in there worth thinking about.

The other, and to me even more interesting, thing about HP Lovecraft is that he was typically published in pulps. His writing was far from popular in his own day. He received rejections because his works were often seen as controversial, and I suspect because they were in many cases very non-traditional. As a writer who struggles to make my career take off, I take some comfort in knowing that, even if that never happens, we as writers can attain varying degrees of immortality through our work.

So how did HP Lovecraft impact my writing?

One of the things I appreciate most in the Cthulu mythos is that evil is often inexplicable and ultimate. Bad things happen in his worlds and the human beings that they happen to are tossed around like bowling pins. They lose their lives or their sanity or both in confronting the evil. I love playing around with Big Evil in my stories. It will often use human beings as pawns, much like in Lovecraft’s works. The important thing for me and the thing that stands out, perhaps more in those works influenced by him, is that no matter how dark things get or how high the odds are stacked against them the heroes of the story fight to their last breath. They may not always win, and even if they do the victory may be small or temporary, but they strive.

His heroes and mine also have a few things in common. The men and women in my stories are usually very much the products of our modern times. They don’t believe that there are things hiding behind the surface of the world that want to, can, and will eat their souls. They barely want to acknowledge the mundane “evils” of our present world, much less the ancient and perhaps unknowable evils that exist on its fringes. The supernatural conflicts that occur in my stories remove that choice from them. The heroes must look upon the face of that evil and change or die. The evil presence and the magic it uses in my stories are also often of a primitive and visceral nature.

Don’t get me wrong. As a person he may have been absolutely horrid, or perhaps just a product of his time. I don’t know. He certainly had views on women, people of other races, and religion that I vigorously disagree with. I am not and will not defend those things. The measure of a great artist transcends these things in my mind though. I don’t have to admire an artist as a person in order to appreciate the art and its impact. Whatever you think about him and the more controversial aspects of his life, I don’t think you can deny that the impact of HP Lovecraft’s thoughts and writings will echo through our culture for decades to come.

About Scott Roche:

Scott RocheSome creatures feed on blood and revel in the screams of their prey. Scott Roche craves only caffeine and the clacking of keys. He pays his bills doing the grunt work no one else wants to take, bringing dead electronics back to life and working arcane wonders with software. His true passion is hammering out words that become anything from tales that terrify to futuristic worlds of wonder. All that and turning three children into a private mercenary army make for a life filled with adventure.

 

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The Accidental Horror Writer by Katherine Hajer

horror writer

I told a co-worker about seeing The Woman in Black. I admitted that I’d deliberately seen a matinee, but wound up putting on extra lights at night because I was still freaked out come nightfall.

She laughed. “Why did you go see it if you scare so easily?”

“I thought it would be scary like Skeleton Key.”

Pause. “I saw that. That wasn’t scary.”

“Yeah it was. For me.”

“Wait,” she said. “Wasn’t that story you got published last spring about someone being buried alive?”

Yes. Yes it was.

Horror, like its next-door neighbour science fiction, has invaded the mainstream cultural consciousness to such an extent that it can be hard to tell where the genre ends and the mainstream begins. It can be difficult for the reader, but difficult for the writer, too. It isn’t necessarily horror just because it’s scary, and it isn’t necessarily horror because it has supernatural elements and/or gore in it either.

On both the reading and writing sides of stories, there’s a tendency to feel around what a story is with syllogisms: “X recommended this to me, and I liked the last thing X recommended to me, so I will try and read this (or try to write more like that)”. Or simply, “Everything I ever like to read in this bookshop winds up being from this section, so this must be the genre I like the best.”

It gets tricky when the fit is less than perfect. Horror means gory much of the time, and if you can’t handle a lot of gore (I can’t), it means there’s a lot of perfectly good and scary books and movies that you can’t experience. It also means that it can be difficult to see yourself as a horror writer (or just as someone who wrote a horror story) if you associate the genre with things you can’t handle, rather than the stories you enjoy.

A few years ago I wrote a short story based on a passing remark a horror-fan friend of mine made. Since I quoted what he said in the story, I passed a polished draft to him to get approval for using the quote.

When we discussed the story, he gave the names of some magazines to submit the story to for publication.

“But those are all horror,” I said.

“It’s a first-person account of someone reanimating after being dead for days,” he said. “That counts as horror.”

And maybe that’s the problem with the idea of genre in general: too much overlap, too much activity at the border areas, too much debate about what is “core” and what isn’t. Just because someone likes near-future thrillers doesn’t mean they like space opera. Just because someone enjoys zombie films doesn’t mean they enjoy serial-killer slashers or torture porn.

Maybe the accidental horror writer is a sign that it’s time for the genres to be redefined.

You can find out more about Katherine Hajer at http://the-eyrea.blogspot.com/

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20 tips for the perfect short horror story

short horror story

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The key to writing the perfect short horror story is not to panic!

  1. Pick something that could happen to your reader.
  2. Pick a location that’s familiar to your reader.
  3. Eat, drink, sleep the horror that you have created before you actually begin to write. Lie back in a darkened room and really visualize it. Scare the pants off yourself.
  4. Go to your location or one that looks like it and sit there quietly for a while. If your story takes place on a quiet street in the early hours, find one, get up in the early hours and drink it up. Take a pad and write down some notes about what you see and how you feel.
  5. Try to see the story from three or four different views even if they won’t be in the final version. Choose someone timid, someone thick skinned, someone religious. The choice is yours.
  6. Take your time, build up the pressure, slowly but surely. This may be a short horror story but you’ve got more time than you think to lay out your stall.
  7. Stay focussed. Don’t get bogged down in back story. In fact, try giving back story a miss altogether.
  8. Anticipation is nine tenths of the horror story battle – let your reader know something bad is going to happen, lead them there by the hand.
  9. Dig deep into that horror. Choose one that scares you. If it doesn’t scare you, how do you expect it to scare the hell out of your dear reader?
  10. Throw a few red herrings in there, twist them on their heads. The old cat jumping out of the fridge is a bit of cliché but you get my drift.
  11. If you’re scared of heights, go and stand on the edge of a tall building and lean over, if you’ve got a spider phobia, go and put one on the palm of your hand. Remind yourself how real fear feels.
  12. Don’t overload your reader with gore. It becomes boring and they quickly attain sensitisation. A splash of blood here and there will do fine.
  13. Don’t over describe. You’re not Dickens. Give your reader some credit that they can imagine your ultimate horror. Don’t be afraid that they won’t get the point.
  14. Keep the monster/horror hidden for as long as possible.
  15. Read the best and the worst of horror. Reread the passages that got your heart racing and try to see how the author did it. Look at the way you reacted and imagine that’s what you want your reader to feel.
  16. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles. Write a couple of different versions of your short horror story to see how it comes out.
  17. Leave your first draft for a decent amount of time so that you come back to it fresh. For some people that’s a couple of days. For others it’s a couple of months.
  18. Always, always read your draft through once without touching it before you sit down to edit.
  19. Check you have the right vocabulary to scare. Choose the words to describe your fear with care. Make sure they fit and sound right. Try not to use unusual words that your reader won’t readily know the meaning to. It will break the flow. You’re trying to build fear not a larger vocab.
  20. Don’t forget that your short horror story isn’t written in stone. It can change. It can evolve. It can be totally different from the original. Don’t be afraid to delete stuff that doesn’t belong.

Got a tip of your own for writing a short horror story? Add it in the comments section below.

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Writing Horror by Lisamarie Lamb

It seems an odd thing to do, writing horror. When there is a wealth of genres out there and I could be writing about perfect love or fantastic dragons or gun-toting cowboys, why choose to create the most terrifying, the most soul-shredding, the most unwelcome?

My answer is a simple one: because I like it. I like horror.

I like to read it, I like to watch it, I like to think about it, and I like to write it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.

As to why I like it, that’s a more complicated question, with a different kind of answer.

As a child, I was scared. A lot. Most of the time. Not that I wasn’t a happy child, with a normal family and normal surroundings and normal friends. I was. Perfectly normal. But I was also perfectly scared. There was a seeping, creeping horror that hovered around me, enveloped me, and at night I would scrunch my eyes shut and hide beneath the covers in the hope that whatever it was wouldn’t see me because I couldn’t see it.

And there was, as far I can tell, as far as I can remember, no reason for it. Nothing that particularly stands out as being that one specific moment in which something happened – something ghostly and ghoulish and downright petrifying – that haunted me for the rest of my days.

I was a normal girl, but a strange one.

Being alone was bad. I hated it. These days I crave a bit of solitude, but then, when that fear stole over me, I only wanted to be around people. It’s just that sometimes, there were no people to be around. And so I created some. I reached the age of twelve and simply decided that I needed constant, immediate access to someone.

But who? And how?

I started to go to bed and instead of cowering under the covers I moulded myself heroes and heroines, safe houses and refuges. I began to make up stories. These stories became my talisman, protecting me from the real evil by pretending about it. It seemed to me that nothing in the real world could possibly be as frightening as the world I was creating in my head, and so my heroes were slain, horribly. My heroines were kidnapped and tortured. My safe houses and refuges were pillaged by monsters and demons and ghosts.

And because I’d made it all up, just me, by myself, it wasn’t so scary after all. I enjoyed it. And I began to write my stories down. I began to read other people’s stories. I began to watch the films. Because it was all safe. It was all made up.

I’ve been doing that ever since.

Just don’t ask me to read or watch any ‘true’ horror stories.

They keep me up at night.

You can find out more about Lisamarie at The Moonlit Door.

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The Perfect Horror Monster by Brian Fatah Steele

horror monster

The perfect horror monster? Sigmund Freud would’ve had a blast with that concept. Joseph Campbell would’ve just thrown some random book of mythology at your head. Jean-Paul Sartre had the quote, “Hell is other people.” Perhaps, if anything, the truly monstrous is relative and personalized, unique to the individual.

But, hey…monsters are cool! From Lovecraft’s Cthulhu chomping on your sanity to DC Comic’s Doomsday leveling a city for giggles, we get a kick out of them. And if we should attempt to objectively describe ten characteristics of the perfect horror monster, well, that’s just fun. However, we may need to dig deeper than sharpened claws and alien origins.

10 tips for the perfect horror monster

Something Recognizable. No one’s imagination springs anew from a vacuum, and even if it did, nobody else would understand what you were talking about if you tried to describe the creepy stuff in your head. As much as Howard Philip spoke of things “unknown and eldritch,” he brought up tentacles a lot, too. Readers understood tentacles, and knew they were gross. A great deal of Christian symbolism relies heavily on images of bats and goats when detailing the Devil. Why? Because humans can more easily conceive of animal parts than a living darkness that wants to torment their souls for eternity.

Something Perverted. No, not in a sexual way. I’m talking about taking something familiar and comfortable, then twisting it into horrible new proportions. This is why toys, pets, grandmas, doctors and anything we usually perceive as innocent or benevolent is instantly rendered terrifying and becomes the perfect horror monster when revealed in a distorted manner. You’ve recognized it, but now it’s been transformed into an incorrect version of itself. Hello, Pennywise!

Something Imminent. Whatever threat or danger presented by our monster, something must somehow be displayed as impending. Here we get our blood-dripping fangs, our cybernetically implanted laser guns, and our crackling beams of dark magic. We need something that can cause immediate harm, and therefor, immediate fear. Any demon-possessed maniac swinging a chainsaw at you is a good example of this.

Something Subdued. While the giant scorpion tail or exoskeleton made out of razor blades is freakin’ horrific, we need more for our perfect monster. It needs a presence, an aura of sheer malevolence that we feel in our guts. Perhaps a certain sound it makes, or the way it moves, something about it affects us on a deeper level. This is the malignancy that lingers and haunts us later. We’re now in Hannibal Lector territory, but with actual shark teeth.

Something Revealed. The horror lurking in the shadows is always disturbing, but sometimes knowing can be worse. A glimmer of knowledge, a snippet of information, that’s all we get, but it’s enough to know we’re screwed. Have we discovered its origin, its destination, its reason for eating everyone’s faces? That little puzzle box you’ve been trying to open just got a whole lot more ominous.

Something Reserved. It needs intellect, or purpose beyond being a mindless killing machine. Unreasoning zombies are bad, yes, but you can take out one with a shovel to the skull. This thing had a hidden agenda, secret abilities and maybe even disposable minions. Maybe we don’t really know it’s origin, just what it wants us to think. This is a singular monstrosity hellbent on something we can’t even fathom, deceptions behind the lies, and chances are we’ll never know everything.

Something Abstracted. In some manner, this perfect horror monster must transcend our rational mind. Whether from a post-apocalyptic future, the pits of hell, or the planet Yuggoth, it has to have some ties to a concept that forces us to suspend belief. This is an atrocity incarnate, so logic isn’t really going to apply here. Some part of it will factor outside the realm of reason, a large part of why it’s so terrifying. Dracula does not care if his snack believes in him or not.

Something Actualized. Dropping back into the real world, there has to be some aspect of it that we comprehend as well. Remember the giant scorpion tail? Kind of like that, but we’re more into the essence of our monster now as opposed to the appearance. Should we give it a name, or has it named itself? We understand names, and we even can conceive of the future, hell, and other planets. Nyarlathotep was bad as The Crawling Chaos, but somehow it sucks way more when it’s smiling at you from across the coffee shop.

Something Conscious. At the end of the day, our perfect monster must somehow reflect the human experience. We have to see some identifiable part of ourselves in it, and feel that connection on a cognitive level. There has to be something that makes us say, “This monster represents this,” or “Is a manifestation of that.” Whether these allegations are true or not is irrelevant, because some part of us will feel as if we’ve conquered it… right up until it tears our limbs out.

Something Unconscious. Finally, we must empathize with this horror monster on a more emotional level. It has to speak to us in some deep, almost primitive fashion. We acknowledge it is an avatar of nightmares, a walking obscenity, and accept this fact. While we may not agree with this abomination’s existence, we agree that it does indeed exist. The monster buried inside all of us finds comfort in its more obvious abhorrent nature, but we will never voice this.

So there you go, ten characteristics of the perfect horror monster. A bit philosophical overall, but deconstructed to more base creative elements. Needless to say, if anything remotely this nasty decided to stroll down the road, I’d sob like a little kid. Regardless, I’d still love to see it through my tears those last few moments before all the screaming and the bleeding ensued.

BRIAN FATAH STEELE, a member of the indie author co-op Dark Red Press, describes the majority of his work as “Epic Horror with lots of Explosions.” Along with multiple books, his articles and stories have appeared in various e-magazines and online journals. Steele lives in Ohio with a few cats that are probably plotting his doom. Surviving on a diet primarily of coffee and cigarettes, he occasionally dabbles in Visual Arts and Music Production. He still hopes to one day become a Super Villain.

http://brianfatahsteele.com

http://www.darkredpress.com

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What makes good horror by A W Marsden

What’s that? Corner of your eye… no, don’t look. See. That’s it. Over there, at the very edge of your field of vision, in that fuzzy zone between colour and shadow. It’s gone now. But it was there, wasn’t it? You believe your own eyes, don’t you?

What about that noise? The little rustle from the far side of the room. Just rubbish settling, plastic uncurling in the wastebasket. Or is it?

I grew up on Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Every night after school, I would rush in, get changed out of my uniform, grab a plate of Jaffa Cakes from the fridge, and settle down in the living room to be scared.

Not every tale scared me.

So I started reading the books, harassing the librarians for more every week. The books did scare me. Not just when I was reading, but long after I’d put them down. Alone in my room. As I turned the lights off. It was my own imagination that scared me the most. I was hungry for more.

So began my love affair with all things dark and macabre.

These days, I still get scared. I sometimes scare myself, late at night when writing. Getting too caught up in your own little worlds is a hazard of the job, I suppose. It’s not the buckets of blood and gore that scare. It’s the sudden movement you think you saw a moment ago. The sound that you don’t recognise. The strange coolness that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you realise you’re the only person in the room, in the house, but the door is open to the landing and the stair just creaked and at any moment something will walk or crawl or shuffle or lumber through the door.

Our imagination, given enough fuel (by enough I mean: very little), can wreak havoc on our vulnerable nerves. When Ofelia (Pan’s Labyrinth) eats two grapes despite the Faun’s dire warnings, it is not the grotesque image of the Pale Man, eyes-in-hand, that frightens us. It is the thought of what he will do to us if he catches us that makes our hearts hammer and our knuckles bite deep into the arms of the chair. We get that not from him, but the sketches on the walls of children ripped apart and eaten.

The opening of Jurassic Park still sticks in the mind long after the film is over, a fierce yellow eye and a flash of teeth are all that hint at the poor worker’s fate before Bob Peck orders his men to “Shoot her!” A serene lake dissolves into view to the sound of gunshots, while we breathe deep and try to calm ourselves.

A trope of theatre for centuries, the worst violence almost always occurs off stage. Only the bloodied daggers are testament to the atrocity that Macbeth has visited upon King Duncan, yet in our minds eye we play over and over every cut and thrust of the blades as they pierce Duncan again and again.

Good horror, in my humble view, uses scares that we cannot see, forcing our own imagination to do the work. Even with modern CGI effects bringing every little drop of blood and viscera to the lens, the best scares are when something appears for only a moment. I’m not talking about that overused cliche ‘jump-moment’ either. That tactic is a tired, pathetic excuse for horror. Give the audience a clue, the slightest one. They are intelligent, they will scare themselves easily enough.

But why? What does horror set out to do, other than just scare people? After all, the blood, gore, monsters, death and jumps are all capable of inducing fear.

These aren’t enough, because they don’t get people to think.

There are many horrors in the world today, real, tangible. From Gaddafi’s bloodied face on the front pages of the tabloids, to the bodies falling from the World Trade Centre towers, through mutilated corpses of women and children online. These things are terrible. But people easily form detachment from them. I’ve seen young teenagers reblog gore-fest pictures right alongside fluffy kittens and cute topless girls on Tumblr as if they’re just texting their mates a ‘hey’. To them, it isn’t real.

Horror has to be real, to remind people of what is good and bad in the world. Good horror does that by scaring us deep in our hearts and souls, with the creepy sense that something is not quite right in the world. Everything is not okay, you are not okay. I am not okay, I promise. And we need to do something about it.

Now, what was that? Over there, corner of your eye…

You can find out more about A W Marsden at  http://terrierandy7.com/

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Good Horror by Smokey Joe Mayes

good horror

I love good horror stories. As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved being pushed to the edge of my nerves, being terrified to the point that I couldn’t sleep, wondering if the ping, ping, ping outside my bedroom window was the sound of killers breaking in or simply magpies pecking at the dog’s dish again.

I grew up watching Dark Shadows, Night Stalker, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, and any horror movie that was playing after midnight on the UHF channels on Friday and Saturday night.

I never stopped to think about why I liked these, let alone why certain stories had the power to frighten me. I just loved the feeling of being carried off to another world, being in the middle of the action, and being completely powerless to alter the outcome.

While I enjoyed the crisp telling of a good horror story on television and in movies, the first book I remember being truly terrified by was Stephen King’s “The Stand.” I had just completed basic military training where 30 of my closest friends and I shared not only military training but also seemingly every germ any of us had ever encountered. For more than a month, it was a continual transference of viruses so coughing and sniffles were rampant for all of us.

As the story unfolded it became apparent that during the time I’d spent in basic training, a new strain of virus had been launched on the world. I plunged into the book as I battled my perpetual cold symptoms, every sniffle and sneeze convincing me that Project Blue had claimed another victim. Captain Trips had me and I was not going to survive to the end of King’s epic masterpiece.

After I finished the book and crawled out from under the covers, I asked myself why this book scared me, why I had bought into King’s story. Why did this book scare me when others had failed?

The answer was simple: I believed this could actually happen to me.

The symptoms of King’s killer superflu weren’t far-fetched. It wasn’t like the victims were covered in paisley warts or grew third arms in the middle of their foreheads. The onset of the superflu was marked by simple sniffles and sneezes, symptoms I’d experienced often in my life and was, in fact, experiencing as I read the book. I could have been part of King’s 99% of the population affected by this killer bug.

Over the years, as I’ve watched, read, and especially written in this genre, I’ve thought back to the simplicity with which King roped me in. I noticed that all good horror stories (in addition to good storytelling, of course) presented the terror as something that could happen to the audience. It was presented as something that could happen to me.

Of course all the other elements of a good story have to be there for the horror to work. The writer must create believable characters the reader (or audience) cares about. The theme of the story has to resonate with the reader and the action must engage them, propelling the story – and reader – forward.

If the reader isn’t emotionally invested in a story’s characters, the action will have no impact. Here’s an example (as well as shameless self-promotion): the opening scene of my short story “Love Stinks” presents a graphic murder scene. A man lies dead on the kitchen floor, a kitchen knife buried to the hilt in his lower abdomen. Blood and effluvium fill the room and a woman and small child are witness to it all.

But there isn’t any horror. There is no emotional reaction to the graphic display depicted in this scene whatsoever, in fact. It’s intentionally a simple recitation of the facts, a sterile description of the scene in the kitchen. As a result, there is no horror associated with it.

Why?

First, we don’t yet know or care about the characters involved. We don’t know the man who’s been killed. We don’t know the woman or the boy who stand over his dead body. In other words, this didn’t happen to real people because we don’t know who these people are.

Later in the same story, however, there is another murder scene involving the two main characters. At this point in the story, however, there is an emotional reaction because now we know them and empathize enough to care what happens to them. The fact that the reader cares about the characters makes this scene matter. It makes it horrible.

Another distinction between horror and any other good fiction is the nature of the action. The action must be such that it creates fear for the characters and, by extension, the reader. There has to be a genuine danger and the stakes of the characters’ conflict have to be graver than in other fiction forms.

Of course, putting a character the reader cares about in danger isn’t unique to horror. For example, in John Grisham’s “The Firm,” Mitch McDeere is a truly sympathetic character. He’s presented to the reader as very likeable, someone who has pulled himself up by the bootstraps to make a life for himself and his wife. Grisham puts this likeable character in grave danger by pitting him at odds with dangerous elements, people who want him dead and against whom there appears no defense for poor, overmatched Mitch.

But while certainly a well-crafted thriller, “The Firm” would never be considered horror. We have some of the elements of horror: good story, likeable characters, grave danger, and fast-moving action.

So what’s missing? Why didn’t “The Firm” scare me?

Because I didn’t believe it could happen to me.

I am not an attorney with a high-dollar law firm. I am not – and likely will never be – in circumstances like those faced by Mitch McDeere. I care about him making it out alive but I never once fear for myself.

In The Stand, 99% of the population was affected and I could easily imagine myself in that 99%. I could imagine myself as a writer in an empty Colorado hotel, tormented both by guests from yesteryear and by writer’s block (King’s “The Shining”). I’ve been to the beach and could be eaten by a shark (Peter Benchley’s “Jaws”). I could even imagine myself as one of the poor citizens of Haddonfield, tormented by the killing machine that was Michael Myers in “Halloween.” These horror stories all stir the nerves because they present situations in which I could imagine myself.

And triggering that imagination in the reader is the real challenge facing the horror writer. It’s not the horrific action alone that gives the audience the chills. Don’t believe me? Check out any of the “Final Destination” movies. Absolutely horrific events happen in these stories but, frankly, the stories are pure camp because the elements of a good story aren’t there. It’s gore for gore’s sake and leaves the audience laughing rather than hiding under the covers.

So the final element of delivering a good horror story is to know thy audience. The writer has to know who will be reading the story and how to manipulate their imaginations to the point that they put themselves in the middle of the action, or at least could imagine a scenario in which they could find themselves there.

In other words, the writer has to be at least as invested in the reader as the reader is in the story.

It’s the only way to make them believe it could actually happen to them.

Find out more about Smokey Joe Mayes at http://smokeyjoemayes.blogspot.com/ 

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8 steps to terrifying horror fiction

Sit tight. Here are some steps you can take to write terrifying horror fiction.

You’re going to learn how to scare the holy crap out of your readers. You’re going to do it well and you’re going to enjoy every minute, every second and every nano-second as admissions to mental health institutes suddenly rise in the wake of the release of your next unholy tome. You alone will be responsible for the mass nervous breakdown of the human race.

Because that’s what we do, right? Capiche?

1. Horror writer, know thyself

First of all, drill down into your own peculiar fears and see what comes spurting out. Have a close look. Take a stiff drink if you have to, but let them out of the dark well of your subconscious and subject them to the third degree.

My point is this: until you know your own fears and why you react to them as you do, you’re not really going to scare anyone else (okay, so you might give Aunt Mildred a cause to sit up screaming in the middle of the night but she’s only read Barbara Cartland novels and didn’t know what she was getting into when she agreed to proof read for you).

2. Communicate the reality of your fear

Once you have your fears out in front of you, and you’ve become as good a friend to them as you’re ever going to be (and for sure you don’t want to get that chummy with them), start asking yourself these questions: How do I write these fears? How do I get someone to feel the same way as I do? How would I communicate it to my best friend. What specific words suit this fear?

Understand that the correct choice of words is very important – don’t just throw the old ones you’ve used over the years down on paper, find some new ones. And, listen close, we’re talking about accurately describing the thing that causes the fear not the actual sensation of fear itself (you know the sweaty palms, the bumpity-bump of the old ticker).

It’s a whole different thing.

If you’re scared of graveyards, it’s the shadows clinging to the stones, it’s the cold bite of the air, the crunch of gravel under the feet, the noise off to the right that could be a bony hand reaching out of the ground. Okay, got it? Hand shaking a bit, the words scrawled on a page? The right words and not just any old cliche (Like wot I just wrote!!)? Get the idea now?

3. Now you know your own fears well dear writer…

Choose a universal fear. People are scared of a lot of things. And a lot of people are scared of the same things. Most people are afraid of the dark. And I don’t mean a street or house at night, but pitch blackness. Put anyone in a pitch black room (okay, except a blind person) and they’ll get nervous.

Most people aren’t afraid of ice cream so a killer Cornetto isn’t going to get anyone crapping their pants (save for a few seriously mixed up individuals who shouldn’t be allowed to read horror anyway).

Better still, take something everyone feels safe with and add another element that’s terrifying. Take a bunch of lovely flowers your boyfriend bought you and put a six legged alien in it, take your own bedroom and add a strange new shadow in the corner, or put something under the bed.

That’s what we do as writers. Twist the dial so that’s it a little darker and a little scarier. So it’s the same, but not, quite. And this is where it gets tricky. Ask yourself how you transfer that fear you felt before onto this particular horror scenario.

4. Haunted houses and secluded roads

Setting is important. No shit, Sherlock, I hear you cry in unison. Every novice horror writer knows this. So where do you place your story? An old deserted house? A dark, dank cellar? They’re clichés, of course, but everyone knows what haunted houses look like even if they’ve never been trapped in one.

But what about more mundane settings?

An ordinary house for example? A supermarket? A hospital? A city street early in the morning? Any setting can be used for horror. Choose one your reader knows well and then twist it. It’s the street outside their house. But now it’s suddenly dangerous because they can sense…what? It’s the shopping mall they used to go to that is now infested with malevolent creatures. It’s any number of safe things made dangerous all of a sudden by the power of your mighty pen.

5. Five horror senses, not one

Your senses are important too. People have five senses. Not just sight. They can smell. They can hear. They can touch. They can taste. Neglect any of them at your peril. Think to yourself, which of the five adds another frisson of terror to the scene you’re writing. Don’t be afraid to play around with it. But get your head glued to the idea that that it’s not all visual. Unlike film, you can experience anything in a book, you just need to be able to describe it.

6. Ramp up the horror, baby!

Time to build all that tension. Fear is all about building tension within the reader. You can get away with a “BOOH!” in a film every so often, especially with impressionable teenagers, but us oldies are used to it. What you need to do, and this is probably the most difficult things in horror, is slowly build up the tension until your reader is at the point of screaming.

Anticipation of something nasty is far more powerful than the nastiness itself.

Then ramp it up and up. Think of fairground rides. Personally I hate them. They make me feel sick to the point where I’d be quite happy to die. But, the thing with the good rides is they have peaks and troughs. You’ll scream like hell on the down ride and then there’s the relief you survived as you go up the other side. Before you have time to count your blessings, you’re faced with trepidation again as you come to the top because you know what’s going to happen…oh yes you do…and then suddenly you’re screaming with terror again…horror books should be like that, continuously ramping up the pressure until you get to that big, final drop…and boy, should it be a drop like no other.

7. Writers and the fear response

Your job is to elicit a response not to describe one. Describing your lead character’s heart pumping like a piston is not going to make dear reader’s heart do likewise (and by the way, if I see one more description of heart beats or goose bumps I’ll fry my own brain in garlic and olive oil).

If you’ve done your job, you won’t need to describe those emotions to the nth degree. Okay, you can put a smattering in here or there, but if you’re touching the core of someone’s fears, they’re going to do it for you. Trust me, I’m a doctor…

8. Horror writers should always deliver on terror

Finally, and this is true of every book ever written, DELIVER what you promise. Don’t cop out just because you can’t find the right words or the perfect scene or you’ve run out of the fear stuff. Your reader will never forgive you if you allow your hero to stutter down dark corridors for pages on end only to find the next door leading out to Sainsbury bread section.

If you’re heading for a massive confrontation with the abominable snowman then make it the biggest, most terrifying moment in the whole book. If your protagonist isn’t challenged to breaking point and beyond, the reader is going to feel cheated…and so he/she should. It’s like taking home a packet of Jaffa Cakes to find the it contains broken Custard Creams. You started this crazy journey…you have no choice but to deliver.

And if you don’t…well, frankly, you should be ashamed my young scribe of the dark naughtiness.

The darkness deserves to be treated with more respect than that..

Now, obviously, I’m just sitting down letting my horror shit pour forth as I normally do, so I guess I may have left a few things out here. Which is why it’s your turn to add your choice literary  tip of the day.

Let me know of any other ways to pile on the fear…Come on guys. Let’s help all those little horror writers out there to become better scary people before they lose their wills and become serial killers or some such thing…

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