Tips for the beginning horror writer
Published: September 30, 2005
- READ BOOKS. Sounds like a no-brainer, and it is. But many beginning writers take their cues from horror movies, and while the slasher and the naked coed have their places, the written work of the genre is, at its best, light years ahead of Hollywood. Read the best, read the worst, and read outside of the genre, too.
- GET PAID. Horror is a commercial genre, even in the small press. It's easy to be sucked into giving away stories to some fan-run Web site "for the exposure," or publishing your book via a print-on-demand publisher that doesn't pay up front, but there's no need to. There are a significant number of markets that both pay-I recently sold a story to a small-press anthology for 10 cents a word-and provide real exposure. Start with the top-paying and most prestigious magazines and book publishers, then work your way down to the semiprofessional markets if you must, but get a check for your work.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH. People don't become serial killers for no reason. Until 1950s horror movies, the idea of a vampire with long, pointed fangs was fairly rare. Police procedures are very clear-cut and work very well at capturing criminals. There is an immense nonfiction literature on abnormal psychology, ghosts and the occult, history and theology, and all that other fun stuff-you need to read it if your stories are going to suspend the reader's disbelief.
- FIGURE OUT WHAT SCARES YOU. Horror is about fear, after all, and the best fears are personal fears expressed well. Mere buckets of blood and guts may gross a reader out, but they'll also just turn readers off and not frighten them. Dread, anxiety, worry, regret, these are all elements of fear and can all be harnessed by using your personal fears in your work.
- BRANCH OUT! Horror is generally published as the classic black paperback with a red or orange title, but plenty of it appears in bookstores under mystery/suspense, science fiction/fantasy, romance and mainstream fiction labels as well. As horror sections shrink and vanish, writers can find homes for their dark fiction in other genres.