Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? – Part IV

skeleton-writing-letter

Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? – Part IV

Know your Genre

Why is it important to read stories in the genre you wish to write?

In order to present your story in an original way, you must know what has come before in that particular genre. Did you ever have a friend that knew nothing about a genre come to you with a great idea for a story?

Mike, I got this great idea for a horror story. See, there’s this real estate planner and he’s living in this new area in the mid-west with all new homes, but what he doesn’t know is there was a cemetery there and they moved the headstones but never moved the bodies – so now all the dead spirits are angry…

Apparently, Jerry has never seen Poltergeist.

poltergiest pic 1

On the other hand, just because it has been done already, doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own. Before Chucky, there was Talking Tina. Before Christine there was The Car and before that there was Duel and the Twilight Zone episode, “You Drive“. Your life experiences are unique and are going to make your characters, point of view and your presentation of the story different than another person. The only thing is – you have to know what has come before, so you don’t write it the same way others have and people don’t think you’re just copying another author. You need that ripple, you need that twist, you need that different angle, or people are going to give your story the ‘yawn’ and dismiss it.best-bizarro-fiction-of-the-decade-cover

An important clue is often found in the submission guidelines to publications and e-zines you plan to submit to. I had recently read on a submissions page: We’ve seen way to many zombie love stories lately…”  Who knew there were dozens of zombie love stories published in the past 5 years? Horror fiction is usually on the cutting edge. If all you do is watch horror movies, be aware that the films market is usually about 10 years behind the horror fiction market.

book-of-cthulhu pic 1So, it is important to read. It is important to read stories in the same genre that you are going to write about. If you are going to write a ghost story, read a bunch of ghost stories – from the classics to new and underground writers. If your going to write Lovecraftian horror, read all the Lovecraft disciples – the Lovecraft inspired anthologies and the Cthulhu Mythos collections. If you’re going to write a comedy novel, read a bunch of comedy novels. A Western? Read westerns.  Got something really bizarre, read Bizarro fiction!

There’s a good chance your totally unique idea has been used already, more than once. You will have to rely less on ‘the gimmick’ and concentrate on the hard work – interesting characters, strong plot, and engaging dialogue – to carry your story.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott Card

Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? Part III

skeleton-writing-letter

Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? Part III

Proper Presentation

A couple of articles back I had mentioned that some of us just need to polish our presentation in order to get published. So, here is my 1st tidbit of extremely useful information when it comes to presentation:

Most editors prefer stories to be third person, past tense.

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Examples:

I run to the door and see the commotion through the window. This is first person present tense
I ran to the door and saw the commotion through the window. Now it’s first person past tense
He ran to the door and saw the commotion through the window. And now it’s third person, past tense

Even better: James ran to the door and saw the commotion through the window.

An important byproduct: Using third person ensures that you will name your characters early in the story. Some first person stories start with ‘I’ did this and ‘I’ did that…By the end of the story we still don’t know who ‘I’ is.

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We have all read stories written in first person – HP Lovecraft, Poe, and some of Stephen King’s short stories. When I build  a name and have my books being edited by my own personal editor, I will do more work in first person. However…

First person presents problems that writer’s don’t always realize. When providing information for the set-up or to move the story along, an editor will immediately ask, How does your character know this? And, How was this other scene being played out when your character wasn’t even there? In a first person story, everything the character knows about and all the events taking place, have to happen with your main character present. This is just one of the challenges that go unnoticed by the writer when writing in first person.
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typingAnother way to look at it is this: Do you get annoyed by all the found-footage, first-person POV films that come out? To an editor, that is exactly what a first person story is like. How many FF films are actually good? Out of the dozen or so that come out each year, only a handful have been good in the last 25 years.

One more frequent problem with first person stories – if the main character dies at the end of the story – how is he/she telling the story? If he’s not telling the story, and someone else is, then it should be in third person.

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One more tact when using past tense – every part of your story should be in past tense. If there is a flash back it needs to be in past tense. If someone is telling a story to another character – keep it in past tense. Even though a lot of people will relay an event in present tense (so, I walk through the front door and my girl is mad as hell…) you should keep everything past tense so there‘s no confusion for the reader.

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Naturally ‘third person/past tense’ is not a hard rule. One editor told me straight out, “I won’t even read a story unless it’s in third person.” The publication eventually accepted one of my first person stories, but only after I built trust by submitting a few quality stories in the format they prefered.

Several times, I had changed stories from first person to third person on recommendations by editors. I’m lucky they liked the stories enough to even ask for a rewrite. If they were on the fence with the story they would have just skipped it and I would have never even realized or learned that:

Most editors prefer stories to be third person, past tense

So why take a chance at having an editor skip over your story because of it?

related articles:
Do you want to write horror fiction? Part II

Do you want to write horror fiction? Part I

skeleton-writing-letter
Do you want to write horror fiction? Part I

Introduction
With recent successes in getting my work published, a few of my readers suggested that I write about the experience. I debated starting another blog but decided to post these here. So, every couple of weeks I will post an article about getting published in horror magazines, on horror web-sites, and in horror anthology books. However, the aspects and details I relay will apply to all forms of fiction, not just horror. Before I start, there is something you should all know:

Most of you who write blogs – and who’s blogs I read – are good enough to have fiction work published and sold!

I’ve read your writing, you’ve read mine. Is it so different? I would say, no. It takes a certain creativity to get someone to read a review of a film they have already seen. I have watched films and purchased books on your suggestions. If you can engage me to seek out a film or book, I would say you can engage me to read a story. You all know a good story when you hear one. Now you just have to apply those traits to your own story.

I am going to start with some very basic stuff. It’s the kind of info we all know, but we sometimes have to be reminded. Often in the attempt to be original we forget these basic story-telling principles. I count myself in with reviewing basics. I often love-to-write-thumb_0can’t see the forest for the trees and have to be reminded. Even worse is when you have an editor comment, I don’t understand the plot. When translated, that actually means Your story is crap! So I hope, instead of saying, “I know this already,” and just skipping over these articles, you will read them, be reminded, grasp something obvious and see it in a new light. Perhaps you’ll even realize, you are achieving the most important aspects of storytelling and your writing is ready to be published. Then, all you need is some proper presentation.

“People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them that I have the heart of a small boy — and I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
Stephen King

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Naturally, if I get a lot of likes on these posts, I will do them more frequently.