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Horror, ghost, vampire, zombies

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How To Write Horror, ghost, vampire, zombie fiction
by Maria Z.

Horror fiction is one of the popular book genres that evokes feelings of terror and suspense in its readers. This very fear differs from person to person as every reader interprets a piece of horror writing differently.

This is probably because readers have differing phobias and past experiences which relate to the horror in different ways. When they read horror fiction, readers willingly step into an unknown realm, preparing to face what they cannot expect.

Among the most noted horror fiction writers are Stephen King, Mary Shelley and Anne Rice. Each of them has written of different kinds of horror; from vampires, to possessions and Frankenstein.

As with these great writers, you should find your niche in horror writing. Do you do well with ghost stories or psychological thrillers; mysterious massacres or underworld wars? To write stories of this genre, one must perfect these three elements: the plot, extremes and suspense.

Horror subgenres

Dark fantasy

o Fantasy stories that contain supernatural elements but not the horror canon (vampires, demons, werewolves, etc.).

Can replace supernatural with pan-dimensional aliens for a cross-over style. Includes most SF alien horror tales, anything involving dimensions or parallel worlds. Which are of course horrible.

Gothic

o English Gothic fiction usually chose place settings that would reflect cruelty, decay and suffering (eg. crypts, isolated castles, etc.)
o American Gothic fiction worked mostly around bizarre psychological conditions; how the human psyche deviates and deteriorates.

Psychological

o Psychological conditions or behaviour that is out of the ordinary are the highlights of this subgenre. The warped state of mind in which the antagonist (or sometimes by a tremendous manipulation of plot, the protagonist) is in usually leads to murders and the commission of abnormal, twisted deeds.

Suspense and thriller-type horror

o There is usually minimal to zero presence of supernatural elements here. This subgenre keeps readers sensing impending doom from which the ‘horror’ is drawn.

Supernatural

o Possibly the most popular subgenre. It houses the demons, poltergeists, vampires, werewolves, zombies and so on so forth.

Ghost stories

o This is a huge area and also traditional – vampires etc are quite a recent invention.

Teenage Horror

o Popular now with a mass of TV series about teenage vampires, angels, etc. May contain mild peril.

Torture or sadism

o This is big film genre, and overlaps Suspense, Crime and Thrillers.

Think of (if you dare): the Saw films, James Bond‘s recurrent abuse by baddies, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, even CSI which seems to be mainstream horror.

Planning your story

• Which subgenre will your story fall into?

o If psychological, what illusion is your main character under? What mental ‘disorder’ does he have and what led him to that state?
o If supernatural, choose your place setting (it doesn’t have to be entirely out of this world, it could be a completely innocent, ordinary place like modern-day Mumbai or a Swiss boarding school) and pick your monsters. Vampires? Evil spirits? Decide what their evil goals are and define them through the eyes of the protagonists.

• Are there any themes that you want to work around?

o The classic tale of Frankenstein had several themes: human injustice towards others and bliss in ignorance are among the main themes.
o Having a theme helps give you purpose in writing, which will in turn provide you clearer plot ideas.

Plot

• Begin your story with a brief taster of the horrors within the later pages. Using gruesome images or bone-chilling descriptions will do the trick; just remember to keep it short and lure your readers in with as concise and impactful an introduction as possible.

• Work up to the climax after introducing all the main characters of the story. Add in a few close encounters with the evil or danger that lurks within the next few pages to create suspense.

• At the climax, the protagonists meet the antagonists. Something extreme should happen here (an attack, a death, or transformation).

• The parts that follow the climax should reveal more about the evil that is taking place in the story. Eventually, the evil must be destroyed or overcome if there is a hero or heroine. The story could also end in a cliff-hanger that suggests the continuation of the evil (like in ‘It’ by Stephen King).

This is also used in the literary horror novel ‘The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea’ by Yukio Mishima builds to a horror climax, but is not revealed, so there is the possibility of a happy ending (although unlikely). Yukio Mishima‘s Japanese pen name is ‘mysterious devil bewitched with death’.

• Unlikely happy endings are a secret weapon; as in the film Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage.

Lots of literary novels us a bit of horror to spice up a dull plot; usually domestic horror, or travel horror (eg, Ian McEwan).

Characters

• Ascertain the following for all your characters:

o Name
o Age
o Location (Where they live)
o Occupation
o Significant information (past experiences, family problems, depression, ancestor is a witch/vampire/the undead/an alien etc.)

• Draw a relationship map or web that shows every character link in your story. This will help clear up any confusion (it can take time for you get used to the names you choose for your characters) and thus make it easier to develop the rest of your story.

See also Teenage horror vampire werewolf and zombie >

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