It would not have occurred to me to write a list of writing tips, but as an author of a couple of published books that some people seem to like, I’m already often asked by bloggers and friends about my advice on various aspects of writing anyway.
We’ve reached November, that wonderful month when writers try their hands at finishing a novel in a month. No, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo myself; I’ll be doing is another high speed project, trying to bring my work in progress from first draft to something readable.
But as this is a month when many first time or near first time novelists come out to play, I’ve gathered a selection of the advice I’ve found myself offering, some previously published, some not.
May it be of use.
(Click here for last week's tips on writing action scenes)
On Writing to Scare
The Evil Within:
Villains and monsters that are thoroughly alien are frightening, but so are the ones that are a little too familiar. There’s a special kind of horror that comes from understanding a villain, comprehending how easily a person could end up that way.
Among these kinds of villains, I personally have a soft spot for The Riddler. His obsession with proving himself is sick and destructive, but it’s also relatable.
Equally horrifying are the protagonists you root for until – and even after – realizing that they’ve done worse things than some of your favorite villains for their perfectly relatable reasons. One of my favorites is Sweeny Todd, whose well-earned revenge story turns into a massive, senseless serial slaughter.
Which of these sorts of characters speak to you will depend largely on who you are. My own grayest heroes and villains generally have prominent egos and an obsessive intensity of focus. Dare to put what scares you about yourself on the page, and chances are there are other people it’ll scare too.
Control (and Lack Thereof):
I find this the single most indispensable weapon in my horror writing arsenal. While it’s true that not everyone in the world is as big a control freak as I am, there are many people who are, and I’m convinced that everyone suffers from control-related fear to some extent or other.
Consider, for example, a few of my own real life fears: falling, flying, and going under general anesthetic. All variants of the fear of losing control, and they’re among the most common fears in the world.
Bringing that fear into fiction can be challenging, because if your protagonist is out of control all the time, he or she ceases to be a protagonist. Your readers will quickly lose patience with total powerlessness and look for hope in some other book. The trick is knowing when to give characters control, and when to take it away.
Zombies are a great example of the necessary balance. Half the fun of zombies is in fighting back. Characters get to pick up weapons, barricade doors, and compare body counts. Then you’ve got zombie bites sprinkled in, ultimate helplessness, enough time to anticipate impending death without any possible recourse.
When playing with loss of control, think of your characters not as riders on a rollercoaster so much as inexperienced ice-skaters on a lake. Taking control of their own paths is challenging for them but both possible and necessary. The villains and monsters aren’t doing the driving, but they can throw rocks in the way. Tension builds and maintains nicely as your characters steer themselves through danger. Then, occasionally, a skate hits a rock, and then a skater hits the ice and sits up to assess the damage (or not).
The rock is scary, the ice is scary, but it’s in that instant of helpless freefall in between, the place between the zombie teeth and death, where I find true terror.
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or keep up with my fictional musings by joining me on Facebook, on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates in the panel on the right!