You Can Write Horror – Really!
By Romance & Horror Author Kelli A. Wilkins
Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my non-fiction writing book, You Can Write—Really! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Fiction. As an author of more than 95 short stories and 19 novels, I’m often asked: Where do you get your ideas? How do I get published? How do you write a book? What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
I’ve answered these questions many times in interviews and addressed them in guest blogs, but I always wanted to say more. One day, I started thinking about everything I’ve learned over the years, and inspiration hit me: Why not write a book on how to write? The result? You Can Write—Really!
This fun and practical book walks you through the story-creating process step-by-step: from getting a great idea to meeting your characters, developing a plot, and on to writing, revising, and submitting your work. I also included helpful tips all writers can use, plus easy writing exercises to get you motivated.
Here’s an excerpt from the section on writing horror:
Horror readers want to be scared (or at least made to feel nervous), so start scaring people on page one. Use a clever hook, details, and setting to pull readers in. Start with a pool of blood on the floor or give us all the details of your haunted house. Let readers experience what it feels like to be chased across a field by a werewolf.
In horror, you can write almost anything and get away with it. Play on childhood fears and things people hate (or are afraid of). Here’s a short list: clowns, creepy dolls, being buried alive, stuffed moose heads, basements, closets, the dark…
As you write, keep the tension and suspense constant. Enhance anticipation and fear in layers. Your novel or short story needs twists and turns to keep the reader engaged and wondering, “What happens next?” Be sure to end scenes (and/or chapters) with a cliffhanger or other danger.
If your antagonist is a monster (of the non-human variety) you must believe your monster is real (whether he’s a vampire, a werewolf, or a slimy sewer creature). If you don’t write the creature believably, readers won’t buy into it. Make your monster as real as any other human character and show him in action.
Because your monster is not human, it’s okay for readers to hate him. They should know he’s bad news from the start of the story, so make him awful. You don’t want readers (or other characters) sympathizing with your monster—you want them to fear him.
TIP: Don’t mix monsters. Only include one primary monster or menace in your writing. Don’t have vampires, werewolves, zombies, and demons running around in the same story, attacking a town during a full moon on Halloween. It’s overkill—and not in a good way.
If your monster is human (serial killer), depict him at his worst. Don’t shy away from showing him doing really bad, socially unacceptable things. Horror stories are generally dark and explore themes and ideas that expose the bad side of people. If you’re not comfortable going to “the dark side” to write terrifying stuff, you may want to consider writing thrillers or suspense stories.
Your human “monster” needs to be fleshed out. Develop his character through details, give him a history, and show why he’s so warped. If your villain is a racist, show readers how nasty he is through his actions, dialogue, or vocabulary. Make readers hate him. Get readers emotionally involved so they can’t wait for him to get what he deserves in the end. (And he will!)
In a way, it’s fun to show two sides to your villain. Maybe when we first meet him, he seems charming and sweet and is a perfectly normal eighth grade science teacher. Later, when we see the torture chamber in his basement, we’re thrown for a loop.
When creating a human monster, take cues from reality. Most predators are cunning, manipulative, without remorse or conscience, and have a sense of entitlement. They’re great at tricking people and identifying weak spots or vulnerabilities. They are practiced liars and good at covering their tracks to avoid detection. In general, people underestimate them. Many serial killers blend into society and nobody suspects a thing—now isn’t that scary?
If you are writing a serial killer-type villain, be sure he exhibits traits consistent with a predator. He can’t be nice. He can appear nice on the surface as he lures unsuspecting people into his van, and he’s very polite—but it’s all for show. Underneath he’s dangerous.
TIP: There are a lot of books about serial killers/predators and their psychological profiles. Use them to understand your character’s thoughts and behaviors. If you are writing about a villain, you might need to know if he’s a full-blown sociopath or just has narcissistic tendencies.
I’ve written dozens of speculative fiction (horror and sci fi) short stories as well as three paranormal romances. For me, creating disturbing villains and exploring the “dark side” of fiction is fun.
Here are two writing exercises to motivate you to write a horror story of your own. How will you scare people?
EXERCISE 1: Take one of these first lines and write a few paragraphs about it. See what ideas come to you as you start writing.
Steve knew his house was haunted, but that didn’t bother him. He had bigger problems.
On a warm June day, the body of Ann Marie Duncan washed up on shore.
“I have to tell you a secret. I’ve got six bodies buried in the cellar.”
Mike got a strange call from Dave on Friday. After that, he never heard from him again.
EXERCISE 2: Here are some wild “what if” questions to get you thinking about story ideas. Pick a few and write three to five paragraphs about each. What if…
…archeologists uncovered a living mummy while excavating in Egypt?
…your character inherited a haunted house and knew the ghosts?
…a killer picks his victims according to their birth sign?
…the weird Goth kid down the block really is a vampire?
…a woman finds a blood-soaked clown hiding in her garage?
If you’re ready to write, order your copy of You Can Write—Really! here:
I enjoy hearing from readers and other authors. So feel free to drop me a line with questions, comments, and to let me know how you liked the book. You can catch up on all of my writings and follow me on social media here:
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ABOUT THE AUTHORKelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning romance and horror author who has published more than 95 short stories, 19 romance novels, and 5 non-fiction books.
Her short horror fiction has appeared in several anthologies. In autumn 2015 she released two horror ebooks, Kropsy’s Curse and Dead Til Dawn. In 2014, her horror fiction appeared in Moon Shadows, Wrapped in White, and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.
You Can Write—Really! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Fiction was released in February 2015. This fun and informative non-fiction guide is based on her 15 years of experience as a writer, and is available exclusively on Amazon.
Kelli published three romances in 2014: Dangerous Indenture (a spicy historical/mystery), Wilderness Bride (a tender historical/Western/adventure), and A Secret Match (a gay contemporary set in the world of professional wrestling). Her romances span many genres and heat levels.